Collecting Weston Meters
When your mouse is hovering over a ‘Confirm Payment’ box, which is going to commit you to spending £200 on a small useless lump of fragile bakelite, it strikes me that you better have some idea where this is all going.
If I didn’t start out by having a clear idea of how or why I was collecting Weston Light Meters, I needed to be sure by the time I got to this point. I hope that, if I try and lay out my perspective, it may help any prospective collector who reads this, to bring their own objectives into focus. And I don’t expect them to be the same as mine.
A model 850 Direct Reading meter ordered from America. The auction photograph showed the scrolling display to be intact. It didn't survive the trip over.
A Master III Cine (UK model) that, once again, appeared fine on the auction pictures. The meter glass front was loose. It can be positioned to appear fine if laid flat, but if I display it vertically, I will have to anchor it in some way.
A number of factors evidently inform the collector’s approach. In no particular order they might consist of:
Historical / Social / Technical significance
Quality / Condition
Current and Prospective value
Purchase price (including shipping and import charges)
Operability / Functionality
Completeness (Cases, Boxes, accessories, documentation etc.)
Visual attractiveness (and cosmetic condition) / Desirability
Collector’s storage capability
Geography / Nationality
The nature and breadth of the collection. (Completion / Duplication)
The Photronic Model 617 is historically significant as the first photo-voltaic exposure meter ever produced. It is also rare. The upper example exhibits deterioration of the instruction legend and is consequently not very showable. The good news is that, with care, this legend can be restored. See the illustration further on on this page.
As with the DR 850, Auction pictures of the 852 Direct Reading Cadet showed the rolling display to be intact. It did not survive transit. I have pasted over a facsimile to make it showable, but have now managed to buy another intact example. The Diamond leather case is particularly nice.
I guess my interest in Westons started from an early age. I must have been eight or nine when I would spend time with my Dad up in the attic of our house that he had converted into a darkroom. It was a Sangamo Master Universal and appeared a very impressive piece of kit to one of my age. Dad explained to me its function and how it worked.
The needle had a habit of sticking and needed a tap to free it. A lot of the outer legend on the dial had also worn away, so it was far from perfect. But Dad still used it and relied on it.
When I started work in photography and studied it on day-release at college, I came across the Weston again. College lecturers, some of them very prominent in their field, respected and swore by this meter, the Master V or the Euro-Master, by then, and my boss and I used one at work. I was introduced to the Invercone and the zone system of exposure measurement.
As soon as I could afford it, I bought my own second hand Master V – and that’s the meter that I use to this day for ambient light work. Mind you, I’ve had the cell replaced. You need to do that every 25 years or so.
This Master Universal was one of a batch purchased and suffered damage during transit. Cracks and weaknesses in the bakelite shell do not always show up on auction pictures but the vendor should mention them.
Dial wear and damage should be obvious on auction site pictures. Such meters are not presentable and should, in the main, be avoided.
Green & Clean: These two Photronic 650s both had verdigris on the dial when purchased. Careful non-abrasive cleaning removed it successfully. I have kept one uncleaned however - because I like it.
I started on the precipitous path to collecting when I came across the occasional unit at car boot sales etc. I picked up a Photronic Cine meter boxed in excellent condition for £10. I was particularly taken by the Art Deco molding in the Bakelite. A colleague at work showed me his Model 650 Leicameter. I found out that these were quite rare and decided I wanted one. He wouldn’t sell it to me at any price.
That made me all the more determined to get one. Somehow I got from that position to an obsession with collecting an example of every Weston light meter ever made.
In the cold light of day I now know that’s impossible. Some meters, such as the Bolex and Filmo Cine exposure meters, I knew to be so rare, I feared I could never obtain them. A similar situation existed with the wooden cased Studio Exposue Meters. Weston also made bespoke meters for clients that are not listed in general documentation.
But then I had a stroke of luck. A major collector read a technical article I had published and contacted me. The result is that I was able to achieve most of my list of 'Holy Grail' items. And I still keep a look-out for the odd one or two that I don’t have that may just appear on an auction site, some time in the future. So, there's an open challenge for you. If you think you can beat me or alternatively have a Weston meter that I don't, please get in touch.
THE COLLECTING PERSPECTIVE:
Every collector needs to define the direction and boundaries of their collecting objective. It’s the only way to manage what, if left un-checked, develops into an unbridled obsession which will lead to financial ruin, a reduction in living space as the collection expands in volume, and a critical strain on personal relationships.
Weston Exposure Meters were produced, in the main, in Britain and the United States. It is a very realistic objective to aim to collect an example of every British model, that’s the ‘Master’ series, made. They all appear on on-line auction sites – the main models in large numbers. None of them are rare and a display of good examples of the set would grace any wall or shelf space.
Collecting the American set is also viable. This does not include the later and more common Masters that were only made in the UK, but does include the earliest ‘Photronics’ from the ‘30s and other late oddballs such as the Ranger 9 and the Pixie. An extensive set of good examples would look great on a wall. The Art Deco models are particularly showable.
And it doesn’t just have to be just us old techie wrinklies doing this. The five ‘Direct Reading’ meters could be collected easily by a younger enthusiast, on a modest budget.
And there are also the light meters designed mainly for workplace assessments rather than exposure calculation. These do not have built in calculator dials although the earlier models were used in photography and cinematography with the calculations being made off-meter. The basic core of models here is limited but what makes this field interesting is that Weston produced many bespoke models for other electrical companies such as Benjamin and Siemens. Serendipity is the mindset you need for these. If you come across them, then they can be worth picking up. You may never see another exact example again.
Unusual variants of the standard meters are worth collecting. This is the red dial variant of the Master III
Weston general purpose light meters are also collectable. Bespoke versions such as the Benjamin workplace meter and a variant of the model 756 made for use with the Wollensak Fastax High Speed Cine Camera only come up very occasionally on auction sites.
The condition of the meters being collected then needs to come into focus. A trawl through the various examples on an auction site will show how vendors describe their wares. Variously they promote the cosmetic condition, working capability and completeness of the meters. Prices tend to reflect whether they are working or not, and if they come with cases, boxes, instructions and Invercones.
Original Boxes with the meters - especially the Art Deco models - are of attractive design and worthy of collecting as an adjunct to the meters themselves. They are also handy for storage.
The Photronic model 617 shown earlier. Because the legend was recess-moulded in the bakelite, it was possible to restore it easily by applying white poster paint and wiping the surface residue off. I chose water-based paint because it is non-invasive. This meter is now displayable and has increased value.
I have seldom found any seller who mis-represents their items in these respects. The net seems to be a very reliable and safe marketplace for vintage items like these. But vendors do tend to over-rate the rarity of the meters, basing their assessment on their own, sometimes limited, knowledge of the market. This is particularly true of the earlier ‘Photronics’ and the Cine variants. ‘Buy Now’ prices can be high.
When assessing meter condition prior to buying, the collector’s end goal is crucial. In my case, if you are reading these pages then you are experiencing one of my end goals, the documentation of my collection in the form of an on-line museum. My other goal is to make a wall display at home.
Documentation, Accessories and Cases are all likely to be found with meters and offered on their own on auction sites. They are all collectable and lend breadth to the meter collection. It can be difficult to trace the origin of some third party cases however.
Now, having set that objective, I have applied it to my purchasing attitude. Cosmetic condition is therefore paramount. Whether the meters work or not is irrelevant. Whether they have cases, instructions, accessories, boxes etc. is seconary, though, of late, I have started to strengthen my collection in these areas. Actual rarity is extremely important, given that I am aiming for the most comprehensive collection I can, and filling a hole in it, takes a high priority.
And that approach may be different for other collectors. Cases for the meters tend to be well made and can be re-stitched by a saddler if they are falling apart. Some of them as very attractive and many were made by 3rd party suppliers.
The same can be said of the original shipping boxes. They had a variety of different and attractive designs and probably constitute a separate and vital specialist, collecting field. The same can also be said of instruction books, reference documents and advertising literature. Advertising in particular can be useful in assessing the diaspora of various Westons and the sales life of the individual models. But, as a source of technical reference, it must be remembered that most instruction books for vintage equipment can now be found on line. This informs their value as collectables.
So that’s my take on collecting Westons. By all means contact me if you want to discuss points or exchange information. And good luck with your collecting.