Harvey Dunn is a collector. The 85-year-old retired CPA collects all sorts of things, including hand-cranked movie cameras from the silent age of cinema. He has been collecting them for over 50 years.
He has two rooms in his large house in the San Fernando Valley dedicated to his collections, one filled with sports memorabilia and the other with 150 vintage cameras and projectors, including 30 very rare cameras and projectors.
Dunn is well-known in Hollywood, having spent 36 years as Laugh Factory’s emcee for its popular open-mic Tuesday nights. He loves jokes as much as he loves collecting.
“My mother was very funny. I take after her,” he said. “My father owned a bakery. He was always serious. I even worked for him, but I was never cut out to be a baker because there’s no dough in it,” he joked. “I was a CPA for 50 years – and a certified parking lot attendant.”
His collection contains extraordinary cameras and projectors.
“(Thomas Edison’s) son once owned my 1905 Thomas Edison projector, and I have the provenance to prove it is in his name,” he says. “It’s in immaculate condition and it’s one of my favourites. The other is the Luban (projector) because you can’t find any more. And then I have a camera from 1896 called Gaumont, which is French and which is my oldest camera, and it very rarely comes up for sale. You don’t see them in museums.
In 2017, Dunn’s wife Nancy encouraged him to sell his collection stored in a 900 square foot room upstairs.
“He was getting older and the stairs were getting difficult,” she says. “So when he was younger he could walk up the stairs and the whole room was full of everything. You can imagine, he collected sports and he collected cameras and uniforms. Yeah, anything collectible.
Nancy Dunn persuaded him to sell the collection upstairs, recalling, “I said we could rent that space up there, but you have to sell (the collection). He didn’t want to, but I talked to him.
Harvey Dunn sold his original collection but became depressed and started collecting again. It didn’t take long for the savvy collector to amass another museum-worthy collection.
At 85, Harvey is ready to sell his cameras and projectors for the second time. He would like the collection to stay in the United States, saying, “I think it’s a sin for our country to allow these very rare and collectible early motion picture cameras to go.”
Dunn sent a catalog of his collection to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hoping they would be interested, but he hasn’t heard from them yet, he said.
Although he would like his silent-era cameras and projectors to stay in the United States, he would let them go overseas if the price was right. “My loyalty is first to my family, second to the United States. … The United States should not allow such a collection out of the country.