It’s a great question. Yes, old cameras are valuable and they can be very fun to own, but the value of an old camera is not what it used to be.
Most modern cameras used to be sold from $500-$7000. The price of modern cameras is now far cheaper: $200-$300 depending on condition. But I am not suggesting that $200 is worth $500. What I am saying is that an old camera could fetch hundreds of dollars on the black market.
Old cameras usually use metal or brass lenses and sometimes have little knobs or buttons with little stickers on them that say: “Made in Italy. Made in Germany in 1914”. So these old cameras may not be the most desirable of the classic cameras. On the other hand, a great number of those cameras are used. They need to be looked upon as treasures rather than pieces of junk.
My advice would be to check out the camera and ask about condition (I would not suggest buying it without checking out the condition first). Make sure the lens is the highest quality possible. Then, if the camera is not in fantastic condition, then most likely the lens will be in poor condition.
A question on old cameras
What would you recommend for someone who has not tried to start their collection or has no idea what they are looking for…?
The camera and camera bag that they used to carry their cameras is part of the history and has sentimental value. If you find an old camera bag/camera in a location that nobody else has ever seen then that is something special. So there should not be an auction in which you see a camera from the mid 19th century or a camera that nobody else has ever seen. An old camera in very good condition is worth more than all the new cameras combined and the value of a good old camera might never be known.
I am sure that if the person does not have any intention of selling their camera then they may not realize that it is in such nice condition that there will be only one or two people who will be interested in buying it but it could be worth hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars. The camera could be the last camera in the history of photography. In my opinion, old cameras are important both for collecting and as a historical reference. Many of them are in excellent condition and many of them were used by the same photographers for decades. Old cameras are used by world-renowned photographers such as Henri Cartier Bress
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