Amelia Earhart’s Leica….

…is up for sale by some guy on Ebay. 70K. Rest assured, it’s legit. Ms. Earhart was kind enough to sign some paperwork saying it’s her’s before she boarded her plane (the paperwork “almost like new”):

Im selling Amelia Earharts camera which was gifted by her to a family memeber in 1933 after returning back from a  trip to Chicago with her Husband.
The camera has been in my family possesion since that time and has been in long term storage, the camera appears to be working correctly.
The hand signed card was personally signed by Amelia and given to my Grandfather  along with the camera by Amelia Earhart back in 1933 in Rye New York
Everything is authentic , Ive known this camera all my life
the signed card is almost like new as it has been stored carefully
will post world wide
I would like the camera to go to a museum if possible.
Please note I have absolutley nothing to prove that this was in fact Miss Earharts Camera and research would need to be done to confirm such, I have absolutely no idea how to do that myself. From memory over 40 years ago my Father told me that she found it fidly to load, Miss Earhart may have studied Photography , my Grandfather had said as much and described her as a keen photographer , she preffered a Kodak folding camera as I recall being told a very long time ago. she was also described as very nice and down to earth,

Could be true, I guess, although it reeks of the typical “Third Man Camera” scam. Apparently, the same camera had previously been up for auction last year in Glasgow with a similar story:

A RARE camera which belonged to American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart is to go under the hammer in Glasgow.The pilot’s prized possession will be just one of a collection of vintage and modern cameras to go on sale this month.

Around 120 lots belonging to photography enthusiast Ian Macdonald, from East Ayrshire, are to be auctioned off by McTear’s Auctioneers on March 24.The jewel in the crown is a Leica 1, which was gifted to Amelia Earhart by her husband George P Putnam.The black paint camera, which was made in 1929, is thought to have been given to Ian’s grandfather Wullie Macdonald when he worked for a cleaning firm that collected laundry from hotels and homes in New York.One of his jobs was to collect clothing from Earhart’s house in Rye and during a visiting in 1933, he commented on the aviator’s camera.

Earhart, who was the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic, told Wullie she preferred to use another model and gifted to him along with a signed card.It is expected to reach between £10,000 and £15,000 and includes a leather carry case, lens cap, range finder, two reloadable film cassettes and holder.

Ian said: “The story behind this camera is fascinating and of all the ones I own it definitely evokes the most emotion as it’s been in my family for so long.”My grandfather began the collection, then my father continued it until it was eventually passed down to me.”Over the years I’ve added to it but I feel now is the right time to sell and allow others to get enjoyment from these great cameras.”

“A Leica camera and accessories that once belonged to pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart, which is among a collection of Leicas, prototypes and other cameras due to be auctioned this month by McTear’s Auctioneers, Glasgow”

I don’t discount the possibility that the story is true and this was Amelia Earhart’s Leica, but my sense is it’s another half-baked scam designed to fool some hapless collector with more money than sense. You just need one, and God knows they’re plentiful in Leica land. However, if you’re going to command a $69,500 premium for the camera based on that claim, you’d better have the proof locked down. In this instance, the “proof” is his word based on a tall tale Grandpa Wullie told him and a signed note alleged to be from Ms. Earhart.  While living in Los Angeles in 1923, Earhart did work in a photography studio; and she and a friend later briefly operated their own photography business. But there seems to be nothing in the historical record indicating Earhart used a Leica; on the contrary, all evidence points to the fact that she used a Kodak folding camera (the seller has cleverly noted the same in his auction). There’s also another guy claiming he owns Amelia Earhart’s camera).

It’s usually the specificity of the story which raises the red flags – the fact that the camera was special ordered by a Busby Catenach of Wawatusa, Wisconsin; or the father’s notes indicating some crucial fact, contained in a letter dated 1946 complete with return address and zip code (US zip codes weren’t used until 1963); or, in this case, the claim that the camera “is thought to have been given” to Amelia in 1933 and then by Ms. Earhart to grandpa in the same year because she found it “fidly to use” whereupon in went into his collector’s vault along with the signed note – yet the camera looks very well-used, presumably by Ms. Earhart.

And who the hell just gives an expensive Leica with all the extra goodies – given to you, no less, by your husband as a present – to the laundry man when he asks about it? Think of all the potential universes out there, and tell me with a straight face you can see that happening in one of them. [ Laundry Guy: “Nice Leica, Ms. Earhart!” Amelia Earhart: “Yeah, it’s a beauty. George gave it to me for my birthday. He’s such a dreamboat, that George. How thoughtful of him! Want it?” Laundry Guy: “You mean, like for nothing?!?” Amelia Earhart: “Yup. And, while we’re at at, allow me to sign a card for you proving it’s from me. Maybe it’ll help you sell it for scads of money someday after I get lost at sea!” Laundry Guy: “Gee. Thank you, Ms. Earhart!” Amelia Earhart: “No problem…and Wullie? Make sure there’s extra starch in Georgie’s shirts”.]

And don’t get me started on the signed note: it simply looks too good, all shiny and new, and in a plastic sleeve no less, a sleeve which wouldn’t conceivably be commercially available until the 80’s, and darn, doesn’t that note fit all nice and snug in that plastic sleeve.

In other words, if Mr. Ian MacDonald thinks he’s on the level (and he may), it sure appears Grandpa Wullie’s been telling him one heck of a story. And if you’d “like to see the camera go to a museum,” then ring up a museum instead of hawking it on Ebay. Just a thought. At least he’s considerate enough to wear white gloves when he uses the thing.

11 thoughts on “Amelia Earhart’s Leica….

  1. eric de montigny

    it sure smell fishy for me.
    That being smelled, oups said it’s the kind of kit i’d like to use for a while. Maybe add a 35 3.5 with a finder. A nice way to go back to basic. Get down to peru and follow robert frank’s trail.

  2. ScottP

    Leica Rumours just mentioned Amelia’s Leica.

    There seem to be a lot of six-figure black-paint Leicas on eBay just now.

    There was one that you would have liked; looked like they found an M2 that been dragged behind a truck, painted it, and then sanded most of the paint down to the brass. Not a black paint serial number, the wear pattern was, um, unlikely: almost the entire top surface completely brassed with what looked like sanding marks.
    I think they were asking $16,000, but the auction is gone now, not active, not sold, not complete.

    1. ScottP

      Oops. I meant “five-figure.” Still a lot for cameras with no history or provenance, distinguished only by their paint.
      About 8 years ago I sold a battered black-paint M4 for about $1300. Any day now I’m expecting to see it on eBay for $15,000.

  3. Van Marcu

    Amelia Earhart’s Leica

    I would like to point out a small, but possibly significant, detail in the photo of Amelia Earhart’s Leica. On the right are two reloadable Leica film cassettes.

    Leica made basically three versions of their 35mm reloadable cassette. The early one for the 1920’s Leicas, the FILCA for screwmount Leicas and the IXMOO for the M3 and later M-Leicas, which was also backwards compatible and will work in both M and screwmount Leicas.

    The usual way to tell an early FILCA from a later IXMOO is that the IXMOO has a silver/chrome knob on the top and the FILCA has a black knob.

    The IXMOO was introduced to work with the new Leica M3, introduced in 1954. I have not been able to find the exact production date of the IXMOO, though it would seem likely to assume that it was introduced around that same time.

    My point is, if Wullie Macdonald was gifted the Leica from Amelia Earhart in 1933, it would not have been possible that he received the two IXMOO (assuming that the one shown upside down is the same) with that kit, as they were not yet in production.

    Of course, Wullie could have added them to his kit later, but they would not be a part of Earhart’s original kit.

    I no longer have any early Leica catalogs, but perhaps a reader of your blog could supply specific dates of production for these cassettes.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Interesting. Thanks for the info. I do agree – something is massively fishy about the claim that that Leica was owned by Earhart. I suspect grandpa told a fish story to his kids.

  4. Ron Himebaugh

    There is a term for an object ascribed to a time before it was yet invented: prochronism. I didn’t know this, but I looked it up after reading Van’s post. This business reminded me of a visit to the very prestigous Smithsonian a decade ago. There was a WWll exhibit, featuring the work and tools of a few American combat photographers. No Robert Capa, but on display was the very Leica that was used to take several of the combat photos featured in the exhibit, according to a placard. Recall, this was WWll, but the camera on display was a 3f red dial with a collapsible Summicron, still seven years into the future. Moreover from 3 feet behind glass the camera was sterling mint, unusual for having seen combat.

    Not a too big deal, except we’re not talking high school history fair; it’s the Smithsonian for chrissake.

    It has caused me to question whether the Seinfeld “Puffy Shirt” that was a few steps away in its own display case was the real from-the-set deal that it claimed to be.

    1. ScottP

      Did you write the Smithsonian a letter, pointing out the problem? They really do care about this kind of stuff. They likely would have removed the camera.

  5. Ron Himebaugh

    Ah yes, in fact I did, no reply. I have no idea if they pulled the camera, but it was troubling how something easily vetted wasn’t. At least it was not a question of fraud.


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