Harvey Dunn is a collector. The 85-year-old retired CPA collects all sorts of things, including hand crank cinema cameras from the silent age of film. He has been collecting them for more than 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 antique movie cameras and projectors, including 30 very rare cameras and projectors.
Dunn is known in Hollywood, having spent 36 years as the Laugh Factory master of ceremonies for its popular Tuesday open mic nights. He loves jokes as much as he loves collecting.
“My mom was very funny. I take after her,” he said. “My dad owned a bakery. He was always serious. I even worked for him, but I was never made to be a baker because there’s no dough in it,” he joked. “I was CPA for 50 years — and certified car parking attendant.”
His collection contains some extraordinary cameras and projectors.
“(Thomas Edison’s) son once owned my 1905 Thomas Edison projector, and I’ve got provenance to prove it is in his name,” he says. “It’s in immaculate condition, and it’s one of my favorites. The other one is the Luban (projector) because you don’t find those anymore. And then I have an 1896 camera called Gaumont, which is French and is my oldest camera, and it’s very seldom 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 became difficult,” she says. “So when he was younger, he could walk up the steps, and the whole room was full of everything. You can imagine, he collected sports and he collected cameras and uniforms. Yeah, anything that’s collectible.”
Nancy Dunn persuaded him to sell off the upstairs collection, recalling, “I said we could rent out 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 got depressed and started collecting all over 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 U.S., saying, “I think it’s a sin for our country to allow these very rare and collectible early movie cameras to leave.”
Dunn sent a catalog of his collection to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hoping they would have an interest but he has yet to hear back from them, he said.
Though he would like his cameras and projectors from the silent era to remain in the U.S., he would let them go abroad if the price is right. “My loyalty goes to my family first, to the United States second. … The United States should not allow a collection like this to get out of the country.”