Restoring Leather Camera Cases
Here’s how to go about restoring leather camera cases. The restoration, in this case, was fairly simple but has greatly improved the overall appearance of my old Minolta 7s rangefinder.
Many photographers enjoy using these old leather and vinyl half cases, while others loathe them. Although they add bulk, they do a good job of protecting your old film cameras from bumps and scratches. You often find film cameras from the fifties and sixties, and earlier, that are like new because they have been kept in their protective leather cases since the day they were purchased. A half-case will also go some way to protecting your film from light leaks if the seals are a little perished.
Over time the leather can become scuffed and scratched, particularly on the corners, revealing the underlying, usually brown, colour of the leather.
I have found the quickest and easiest way to make leather camera cases look like new again is by applying a coat or two of Kiwi brand instant liquid wax shoe polish which contains carnaúba wax extracted from the leaves of a Brazilian palm tree. It comes in a plastic bottle with an inbuilt foam applicator making it easy to use without too much mess. The important thing is the application of this wax polish is not going to cause any harm to the leather. Kiwi polish comes in black, brown and neutral.
Begin by removing the leather case from the camera and cleaning off anything that might be stuck to the surface. Also, remove the strap so it doesn’t get in the way. You don’t have to remove chrome fittings as they can be wiped clean of polish with a soft cloth. I placed corrugated cardboard on the tabletop to catch any drops of polish and also wore rubber surgical gloves so I didn’t get the polish all over my hands.
You can apply the Kiwi instant polish quite liberally so that it soaks well into the leather to hide scuffs and marks. Any excess is easily wiped off using an old rag and dries in just a few minutes. After it dries you can also buff the surface with a soft cloth to make it even shinier. Another good thing about using this Kiwi brand polish is that once dry it won’t rub off onto your clothing.
Re-sewing the Seems
Sometimes when restoring leather camera cases you will find the thread holding the seems together has perished or is missing. When too much of the thread is missing the whole case will simply fall apart. That will have to be fixed first.
The name of the game when it comes to re-stitching the seems is to get the correct thread for the job from a craft shop, two needles of the right size (small enough to pass through the original holes) and most important, endeavour to sew it back together using the existing holes which is easier than it sounds.
Finally, it should be said that any leather or vinyl camera case restoration needs to be sympathetic and in keeping with the original. If you have an expensive old Leica you would probably be best to do nothing to its leather case. Should you later decide to sell it a potential new owner may not appreciate your restoration job, instead preferring the camera and case to be both functional and as original as possible.
Take a look here at the leather case on my old Yashica-Mat. It is very tatty and worn. It was like that when I purchased it over 20 years ago. I do have the matching leather neck strap but the chrome has long since worn off the “Yashica-Mat” logo, and the Yashica chrome plated emblem that would have been on the front of the case had long since gone before I got the camera. I could possibly find a replacement leather case on an auction site like TradeMe.co.nz fairly cheaply or even from a specialist camera store. This a lovely old film camera that takes excellent super-sharp photographs. I think that with this particular camera I am inclined to leave its leather case just as it is. What do you think?