In the camera world it’s known as GAS, Gear Acquisition Syndrome, a malady suffered by many photographers, including me. When you fall in love with analogue photography, collecting cameras can become an addiction. It is easy to go from a basic camera, to a better model, and before you know it you need a spare room and display cabinets to house a collection. Of Polaroid cameras to collect, the rarest and most highly sought after are the rare gold-plated versions, which command significantly high prices.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Polaroid produced a very limited amount of gold-plated cameras. With the exception of the NPC 195 and NPC 185 JP land cameras, which sell upwards of $3,000 USD, the gold-plated Polaroid cameras attract the highest prices.
There is very little publicly available information, almost nothing published, about these rarest and most desirable Polaroid cameras; only ex-Polaroid employees remain as sources of explanation. This guide will provide something for the public record. It may not be fully correct, but this is the most comprehensive and accurate information to be found.
Rarest: Cartier 22k gold-plated Spectra Camera
Production Date: 1988
Production Amount: 4
This is undoubtedly the rarest and most expensive amateur camera produced by Polaroid. Only four of the 22k gold-plated cameras, produced by Polaroid in co-operation with Cartier, were produced in 1988. They seem to have been based on the Polaroid Spectra Pro, with a Quintic f10/125mm lens, body in the characteristic Cartier gold tones, a Sapphire on top, handle, small strap, and original Cartier red leather box with gold embossing. One camera sold for $25,459 USD in 2011, and another sold for $12,384 in 2013.
2nd Rarest: 24k gold-plated SX-70 Sonar camera
Production Date: 1978?
Production Amount: Very few (undetermined) **
This model was produced for Polaroid’s 40th anniversary in 1977; cameras were given as gifts to Polaroid employees only. There were five hundred 24k gold-plated non-sonar Alpha 1 SX-70 cameras produced at this time, but the special sonar version was the height of technological achievement in the SX-70 line, so it is the better model for possible use; as a thing of beauty, following Edwin Land’s original vision, the Alpha 1 SX-70 version is wonderful, but the sonar variant is superior. The clear finder makes it fun to shoot and the autofocus is great to have as an option. The very rare sonar version, of course, has greater collectability. The few I have seen have "SX-70 Sonar One-Step" on the film door, but I have seen two with blank doors which may have been earlier prototype versions. The Alpha 1 version generally came with tan leather, while the sonar version seems to have also come with black leather as an option.
Many consumers had difficulty focusing the original SX-70s, so Polaroid released the autofocus model of the folding SX-70 in 1978. The SX-70 Sonar One-Step utilized a new and very advanced sonar technology. When the shutter button is pressed halfway, a series of ultrasonic chirps is emitted from an electrostatic transducer located under a plate over the lens. These chirps travel to the subject and bounce back to the camera’s receiver, alerting the camera to the subject’s distance, and the lens is turned by a motor to focus accordingly. The sonar version featured a 4-element 116mm glass lens, manual or autofocus capabilities, with a minimum focal length of 10.4 inches, electronic shutter, programmed automatic exposure, and a socket for flashbars or electronic flashes. Another nice feature is a socket for a remote shutter release.
Due to the rarity of this model expect to pay well over $1,500 USD. One is currently available for sale on eBay!
3rd Rarest: gold-plated SX-70 Alpha 1 Saudi Prince camera
Production Date: February 1978
Production Amount: 1,000
A 'half-lot' (1000) was produced for a Saudi prince to distribute as gifts. There is only one report of these by a former Polaroid employee, and I have never seen one for sale. I bought one from a former Polaroid employee who worked on the production run, and who was given one of the few extras that were produced. Although far more rare, because it has no serial number there is little to differentiate the Saudi Prince model from the Employee model below.
4th Rarest: gold-plated SX-70 Alpha 1 Employee camera
Production Date: 1977
Production Amount: 500
This model was produced for Polaroid’s 40th anniversary in 1977, and was given to Polaroid employees and some dealers only. The eBay seller Dr. Frankenroid has sold quite a few of these in the last 2 years and prices have grown steadily. The camera generally came with tan leather. Increase in demand and limited availability of this model has seen prices rise dramatically in the last 2 years, so expect to pay minimum of $1,000 for one in average condition and $1,500 or more for one with the original box.
5th Rarest: SX-70 Alpha 1 "Mildred Scheel" camera
Production Date: February 1978
Production Amount: 1,000
Identification: Sequentially numbered with Mildred Scheel’s signature
Mildred Scheel was the wife of the West German Bundespresident Walter Scheel. A great philanthropist and a friend of Andy Warhol, she used her husband’s influence with Polaroid to have 1,000 24k gold-plated cameras specially made to be auctioned for her charity, the German cancer fund "Deutsche Krebshilfe." The cameras have her engraved signature and were sequentially numbered on the side from 1 to 1,000 They were auctioned off on a TV special auction in 1978.
Because these camera were auctioned to the public they are the most commonly available; in good condition the prices for these nevertheless usually range between $700-1,200.