Luebs Camera Collection


    The Washington County Museum camera collection now has about 650 cameras on display and is constantly on the 'grow.' It is one of the larger such collections in the U.S. Each camera is labeled with its make, model and date of manufacture. This collection is focused on cameras that an average person would be apt to have used through the years. There are a few specialty and professional cameras included to show the differences between the various camera types.

    Most people are amazed by the size and scope of the collection, and invariably, while going thru the displays, will stop and say, "I used to have a camera just like that!"

    The museum got its start in 1980 when local interests decided there was a need for developing the cultural and historical resources of the county. One of the participants in the plan, John W. Luebs, was then President of the local Chamber of Commerce, and operator of 2 photo studios in Kansas and one in Nebraska. Luebs became President of the Washington County Museum in 1982. In 1983 he, his wife and new son moved to upstate New York where his wife (Mariam) had a Special Education teaching position.

    Twenty-three years later, Luebs wrote to John Barley, President of the Washington County Historical and Genealogical Society and chief architect of the museum's Technical displays. Luebs, who had been collecting cameras for many years, and hoping to find a permanent location for his historical camera collection, asked John Barley if they would like to acquire "a few" cameras for a display. Barley, the Society Board, and Senior Curator, Ms. Arlene Hiesterman decided to accept Luebs' offer.

    The camera display was first opened in 2007. Since then, Luebs has sent well over 550 cameras without duplication, and other donors have sent over 110 assorted cameras. Barley expects to see many more donated cameras from museum visitors, "which fits in perfectly with Luebs' wishes."

    "We had to move a lot of things to make space for the huge collection," said John Barley. The south center room was emptied in the main museum building and shelves have been installed for the cameras. Display cabinets have been stuffed with roll films, glass plates, flash bulbs, electronic strobes, darkroom equipment, modern disposable cameras and many photographic paraphernalia.

    In addition to cameras, Luebs has donated the contents of a budding library covering photography topics, such as technical books, manuals, biographies, a boxed collector's edition on Alfred Stieglitz, a 1048-page hard cover "Price Guide to Antique & Classic Cameras 2001-2002," 12th Edition, by James M. and Joan C. McKeown. McKeown's book lists 161 consultants and contributors that includes Luebs.

    At the entrance to the Washington County Museum camera display is a massive Powers movie projector that was used in the Majestic Theater (1926-1936) and in the Major Theater (1936-1981) in Washington, Kansas.

    Luebs and his wife are active members of the George Eastman House Museum in Rochester, NY. They have a huge library and photo equipment collection. Their main camera collection has 4,000, but they have to add in donated ones that exceed and duplicate the main group -- an estimated 12,000. Their display space is small and they rotate less than 100 cameras on display at any time. Compare the Washington County Museum with the GEH display if you want to see a more comprehensive group of cameras.

    "I'm hoping that museum visitors will come away with a better understanding of the diversity and role cameras have played throughout the world and the impact of photography on our culture and education," said John Luebs.