Category Archives: Black Paint Leica

Leica M3 #1097779 and the Principle of Falsification

Having had published this blog for a few years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of interesting, knowledgeable folks who know a lot about Leica film cameras. Happy to say that I’ve been the beneficiary of more than a few person’s knowledge and expertise, in the form of advice given, life experiences recounted, expertise freely and gladly shared. I’ve taken advantage of the blog to sell cameras and lenses to readers, never an unpleasant experience among the many transactions. Suffice it to say that Leicaphilia readers seem to be good, decent people sharing a love of Leica film cameras and happy to do the right thing when dealing with others similarly situated.

One of the benefits of the blog is that I’ll frequently receive inquiries from people I don’t know, asking me about a camera or lens they’ve inherited or been given, and it’s always fun to help them identify what they have and often tell them they might have a few thousand dollars worth of equipment in hand, especially when they’ve previously been pitched a ridiculously low-ball offer by a friend, family member or local camera dealer. Invariably, they go away happy, armed with a fair assessment of the worth of what they have and grateful for the help.

A few weeks ago I received the following email inquiry from a guy in Alabama, name and exact location not really relevant at this time:

Sir, I came into possession of a Leica M3 a few years ago after my father in law passed. It appears never used, has multiple lenses, and some paperwork. The camera serial number is 1097779. From what I have been able to research online, there appears to be a wide valuation range, especially with the lenses. Can you provide an estimate or recommend a reputable appraiser for these items? I am happy to provide pictures of the camera and lenses. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Interesting: a late-run M3, apparently “never used,” with a bunch of lenses. Could be worth something. So,  I did what I’d usually do; I went to the appropriate source and ran the serial number given as a preliminary matter, and ….Holy Shit! did I read that right?….M3 #1097779 falls within one of the last 150 camera runs of factory produced Black Paint M3’s. If it’s genuine, this could be a very valuable camera. And it comes with “multiple lenses and some paperwork.” Yup…send me pictures. Send me a bunch of pictures.

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Above are a a few of the pictures sent back to me in response, pictures of what is obviously a Black Paint M3 with serial number appropriate for the claim. At first glance, and taking into consideration the relatively poor quality of the pictures, yes, it looks in damn good condition, possibly “never used”; as for the lenses, they all have their own boxes, apparently with matching serial numbers, at least one of them is black paint (the Tele-Elmarit 135 f4) and there’s some documentation about the provenance of the camera.

Back to the appropriate sources for reliable information on recent auction sales of legit Black Paint M3’s – and my research indicates that there is ample reason to assume the M3 body itself, without any of the lenses, might fetch in the neighborhood of +/- $40,000. I’ve found evidence of sales of legit Black Paint M3’s into the +$60,000 range.

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I’ve spoken with the owner at length, told him what I’ve repeated here, and am assisting him in proceeding in a manner that protects his ability to sell the camera and lenses for a legitimate price, without being screwed by unscrupulous “friends,” dealers or scammers. Luckily his wife, the daughter of the guy who purchased the camera back in the 60’s, recently turned down an offer of $3000 for the lot, rightfully deciding to make further inquiry about the value of the lot prior to making any decisions. She has numerous student loans to repay. Hence, the email to me.

I suppose the whole thing could be an elaborate scam – I’m not above being naturally suspicious in such instances; it could be an elaborate ruse cooked up by the likes of Third Man Cameras which I’ve documented recently. But everything about my interactions with the owner indicates legitimacy. The serial number matches a recognized run of Black Paint M3’s. The story behind the camera has the ring of truth. So: I’d like help from the collective wisdom of my readership: anything that looks out of place or doesn’t add up? I’d love your input.

People make decisions about what they’ll believe in two different ways. Most folks, uncritical thinkers, make an assumption and then go looking for facts that admit the assumption true. It’s a thought process that attempts to rationalize a flimsily supported belief by cherry-picking data that support the belief while willfully ignoring contradictory evidence, and it’s what scam artists rely on to hook you. You want a black paint M3, you see one with all the documentation being sold on Ebay – ‘Certificates of Authenticity’, Bills of Sale to a guy named Busby Catanach in Wisconsin, appropriate boxes and pamphlets, some cock-and-bull story about buying it from a guy at a garage sale – it all looks good because you want to believe, so you buy it for $21,000 on Ebay, which is a steal!…and you invariably find out later, if at all, that you’ve gotten screwed. Of course the seller knows nothing. This is the Third Man Camera business model. A sucker truly is born every few minutes.

Critical thinkers only make provisional assumptions until those assumptions have been tested by a process of skepticism.  In dealing with a question like this, they’ll adopt a provisional assumption provisionally supported by the known facts – it’s legit, let’s say – and then look for reasons that might falsify the assumption. Find reasons that don’t fit. If you look and look and look, and everything still fits, it’s a good bet your provisional assumption is correct. This is how good science operates – via the principle of “falsification.” If you can’t falsify a proposition no matter how hard you try, the proposition is probably true,

I’ve been unable to find anything in all this that leads me to believe this M3 is anything but a legit, pristine Black Paint M3, part of a batch of 150 produced by Leitz in 4/64. Anybody see anything I’m missing?

 

Anna Baldazzi’s M3 Up For Auction

Anna Baldazzi is an Italian free-lance photographer who worked both in Italy and New York. She’s photographed everything from Julie Christie on the set of Dr. Zhivago to Federico Fellini and Salvadore Dali, all with the M3 above.

Bonham’s London is auctioning off her M3 #1078602, factory black paint, mated with a 50mm f2 Summicron #2031524, purchased new by her in the sixties. Expected final hammer price is $4900-$7300 USD.

 

15 Clues Your Black Paint Leica is Fake

fake sculture

  1. Sold on Ebay
  2. Comes with “original box”
  3. Comes with a bunch of brochures
  4. Seller claims it was “special ordered”
  5. Description of camera includes reference to “Dad’s Notes”
  6. Has passed through the hands of Third Man Cameras in Stuart, Florida
  7. Looks like it’s never been used
  8. New Vulcanite, period
  9. Ebay seller’s mugshot found on web
  10. Serial number has asterisk
  11. Owned previously by Lenny Kravitz
  12. Found in trunk with 3 pristine Black Paint Noctilux (all for sale separately)
  13. Seller studiously avoids mentioning serial number
  14. Ebay seller has history of posts on camera forums asking how to paint M bodies
  15. Owned previously by “Busby Catanach” of Wawatosa, Wisconsin

The Curious Travels of Dual Range Summicron 5cm. f/2 no. 1531090

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July 16, 2002: Chrome Dual Range Summicron, #1531090, sells for 235 GBP ($364) at Christie’s Camera Auction.

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March 6, 2011: Black Paint Dual Range Summicron #1531090, offered by private seller “jdiconsult” from Andover, Hampshire, United Kingdom, sells on UK Ebay March 6, 2011 for 4600 GBP (about $6500). Seller claims it was his father’s:

A chance to purchase a very unusual early Dual Range 50mm F2 Summicon in black paint finish. The lens is in its original box with matching number and instructions.  We are told the Leica logo on the lens eyes is the very early version.  The lens dates from 1958. We have shown this lens to Leica experts and have been told the lens was probably commissioned as a special order as the number has a star at the end.  There are no special markings on the box apart from the matching number on the base. The condition of the lens is beautiful and the glass on both the lens and the glasses is clear and bright.  It does not look as if the lens has been used very much. The front cap is we are told very rare and the correct early Summicron type and the rear cap is there too. This part of my father’s collection and from his notes it looks as if the lens was purchased in 1972 but we cannot be totally sure. [Emphasis Added]. The is a beautiful piece of Leica engineering and are informed it was one of the sharpest lenses they ever produced. We have tried to show everything in the photos but please ask questions and we will try to answer them. Payment by PayPal, personal cheque from UK buyer or International Bank Transfer

On 01-Mar-11 at 09:59:27 GMT, seller added the following information:

PLEASE NOTE WE HAVE JUST BEEN ADVISED BY A LEICA EXPERT THAT THIS LENS HAS THE SAME NUMBER AS A LENS SOLD BY CHRISTIES AUCTIONEERS IN 2002. IT IS POSSIBLE THEREFORE THAT THIS LENS HAS SINCE BEEN EXPERTLY PAINTED IN A BLACK FINISH AND MAY NOT BE AN ORIGINAL FINISH.  WE WILL STILL LEAVE IT FOR SALE AS IT IS A BEAUTIFUL ITEM BUT BIDDERS SHOULD BE AWARE OF THIS INFORMATION AS IT CONFLICTS WITH THE PREVIOUS INFORMATION WE GAVE.  WE ARE ADVISED IT IS TOO MUCH OF A COINCIDENCE TO BE A DIFFERENT LENS THAN THAT SOLD IN 2002

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December 12, 2016: Black Paint Dual Range Summicron #1531090, offered by private seller “ween_111” from Dunfermline, Fife, United Kingdom, sells on UK Ebay for 3101 GBP (about $4000). Seller claims it was his father’s:

fake-bpsumm1

“A chance to purchase a very unusual early Dual Range 50mm F2 Summicon in black paint finish. The lens is in its original box with matching number and instructions.  We are told the Leica logo on the lens eyes is the very early version.  The lens dates from 1958. We have shown this lens to Leica experts and have been told the lens was probably commissioned as a special order as the number has a star at the end.  There are no special markings on the box apart from the matching number on the base. The condition of the lens is beautiful and the glass on both the lens and the glasses is clear and bright.  It does not look as if the lens has been used very much. The front cap is we are told very rare and the correct early Summicron type and the rear cap is there too. This part of my fathers collection and from his notes it looks as if the lens was purchased in 1972. [Emphasis added] This is a beautiful piece of Leica engineering and are informed it was one of the sharpest lenses they ever produced. Payment by CashorBankTransfer”

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To recap: the chap from Andover’s father bought the lens in 1972 (as best son can tell from his father’s notes). Somehow, after 1972 and before 2002 it made its way to Christie’s and was sold as a chrome version in 2002. Subsequent to this sale, it came back into the possession of the original owner’s son, now as a pristine black paint version, who re-united it with its original box and then sold it to a chap in Dunfermline for $6000 after having confirmed its legitimacy with Leica Experts. The chap from Dunfermline died (presumably) and left it to his son, claiming in his notes (admittedly also inconclusive) that he bought it new in 1972. His son sold it for $4000 to some guy on Ebay (after he (the son) also confirmed its legitimacy with Leica Experts), payment via Bank Transfer only.*

*A possible interpretive heuristic to make sense of all this : Quantum physicists claim that multiple versions of us are living in alternate worlds that interact with each other, what they refer to as “parallel worlds.”  In the “Many-Worlds Interpretation”, each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made. Thus, according to Howard Wiseman, a professor of Physics, “All possibilities are therefore realised – in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonized by the Portuguese.”

Cartier-Bresson’s LTM Summicron Sold at Auction

hcbsummicronHCB’s LTM Summicron

WestLicht  Auctions just auctioned off Cartier-Bresson’s 35mm Summicron, shown above.

“Unique lens used by Henri Cartier-Bresson with his black paint IIIg camera: the black paint 8-element lens (with very clean optics) was transformed from the original M-mount lens (0.7m, red plastic dot) on special order by removing the bayonet ring. Also the focus-tab was modified by removing the infinity lock and an extended lever was built-in. The lens has the same index dots made with nail gloss as the famous 2/5cm black paint collapsible Summicron used by HCB. It comes with both caps and a confirmation of authenticity by Lars Netopil from April 2015.”

Final Hammer price: 38,400 euros

The Coming Crash of the Black Paint Leica Market

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This, as Best I Can Tell, is a “Real” Black Paint Leica M2

I think I’ve made it clear I’m not a big fan of the “Black Paint” Leica craze. There was a reason Leica started producing their black cameras in black chrome starting with the M5 in 1971 – traditional black paint Leicas looked like crap after a few years of use. Black paint finishes quickly wore away or bubbled up, to the consternation of owners who expected their Leicas to be durable. Black chrome was much hardier, not wearing away, flaking or bubbling. A definite improvement.

Somewhere along the way – I date it to the late 90’s – a guy named Shintaro in Japan started painting M cameras black for about $500 a camera. He had learned to do so by painting a few of his own cameras black, experimenting with various techniques until he could produce a black paint M almost indistinguishable from an original. He did so not for any nefarious reason but because he liked the look of a black Leica M2/M3, and the originals were scarce and, when found, usually beat up looking. He had started by simply posting his results on the net, and soon other M owners were contacting him asking that he paint their Leicas. A cottage industry was born.

A few years thereafter, I started seeing other people get into the game, offering to paint your chrome Leica black for a fee. The results ranged from the really bad – chrome cameras simply sprayed black with enamel – to those dechromed and refinished almost to Shintaro standard. By the mid-aughts, everybody seemed to either have, or want to have, a black repaint, the point being to have a black Leica M2/3/4, not a collectable.

An effect of all this was that the original Black Paint Leicas – M2’s, M3’s and early M4’s painted black by Leitz – came into vogue as collectables. And then, of course, the scammers got into the game, with varying levels of cleverness, offering to sell you an “Original” Black Paint Leica at collectable prices. It was easy enough to do. While Leitz produced black M’s in official batches, allowing a potential buyer to cross-check Leitz records to determine if a given Black Paint Leica was legit or not, the fact is that, back in the day, Leitz itself would paint your M2 or M3 black by request, giving you an “Original” Black Paint Leica even though the serial number of the camera didn’t place it in a run of official black models. On such exceptions to the general rule, a lot of repaints were pawned off on unsuspecting buyers, usually on Ebay, as originals, some even with fake paperwork claiming to prove their provenance.

The end result of all of this is it’s now difficult to know for certain if the Black Paint Leica you’re looking at is original, and thus exponentially more valuable as a collector’s item, or a “fake” repaint. Not that a good repaint isn’t nice for what it is; I’ve had Shintaro paint both an M2 and an M3 for me back in the day, and they were beautiful, but they were what they were – Shintaro repaints, and I eventually sold both as such. God only knows where they are now, and who might be claiming what about their legitimacy. And this is the problem. There’s so many repaints floating around, the distinction between real and fake is now extremely problematic.

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Which leads us to the larger issue – with all of these Black Paint Leicas floating around, most with varying degrees of questionable provenance, what’s the value of the real thing? The real thing, of course, is just a Leica painted black. Whatever value it might possess over and above its practical value as a Leica camera is artificial, a function of its perceived desirability, which is itself a function of its rarity, and Black Paint Leicas are now seemingly everywhere. Insofar as you can prove the legitimacy of your particular camera as an “original” Black Paint, the current market dictates that it possesses an extra value as a collectible. This in turn is predicated upon the requirement that there be clear means to authenticate its legitimacy – serial numbers certainly are a first step – but, in the era of the ubiquitous repaint, one never knows. It might be claimed to have been painted on special order from Leitz, or it might be a legit Black Paint that’s been repainted along the way, or, to muddy the waters further, it may be a repaint whose provenance has been purposefully faked with supporting documents and gains legitimacy after changing hands a time or two. Who knows? The point is this: no matter how much due diligence you do, there’s a chance your $10,000 “Original Black Paint M3” is a fake. And, given that reality, even if you own a real one, astute collectors are going to be skeptical.

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As an example, I recently received an email from someone inquiring where he might get a reasonable valuation of a black M2 he had come into possession of. It’s the camera you see above, and at the beginning of the post. It sure looks nice, which, prior to the repainting craze, would have made it highly desirable. Unfortunately, now, you could argue it makes it highly suspect. This is what he told me about the camera:

I have a button rewind m2 (from the first batch of 500) that was used for a year and then stored away in a closet and never touched again. It is in such amazing condition that no one believes the top isn’t a repaint (even though the serial 948896) puts it right in that group. The man I purchased it from at an estate sale was probably in his late 70s/early 80s said he had purchased it and then bought a nikon SLR and never used it again. It does look a little too good to be true although there is minor brassing on the advance lever and the back edge of the top plate as well as on the front edge of the matching summicron lens. Anyway I was wondering about avenues for appraisal/info on the camera etc. I am not eager to sell but may if the price was right.

I have every reason to believe his story. The serial number certainly puts it in a batch of original black M2’s. The explanation sounds reasonable, but then again, it’s an explanation we’ve all heard before, and you can see from his description that he’s already encountered a healthy skepticism when in fact all obvious signs point to its legitimacy. And that’s the dilemma increasingly encountered by folks trying to monetize their collectible Black Paint Leica. It’s also the dilemma facing a prospective buyer. Are you willing to take a $10,000 chance it’s real, or that it hasn’t been repainted, or that it isn’t an elaborate fake concocted in a basement in Stuart Florida? Not me, and my bet is that fewer and fewer future buyers will be as well, which doesn’t bode well for the market.

Caveat Emptor, Again (or, Do Not Buy Black Paint Leicas On Ebay)

s-l1600

******UPDATED BELOW: AFTER FURTHER INVESTIGATION, IT’S CLEAR THIS IS A 100% FAKE. SEE BELOW FOR DETAILS******

Another “Original Black Paint” Leica, this one an M2, for sale by “Third Man Cameras” on ebay (Ebay http://www.ebay.com/itm/332015997511?rmvSB=true). Is it “real”? Who knows. If by “real” you mean an actual Leitz made M2, yes, it’s real. If you mean an actual Leitz M2 painted black by the factory, debatable. The serial number, 929348 puts it in a 1958 lot of 2000 chrome M2’s. The first known factory BP M2 starts with serial number 948601. However, it could be a camera done in black by Leica on a client request, which wasn’t unusual back in the day.

According to the seller,

This camera was ordered through Leica New York in 1958 and then the camera was produced at the Leitz Leica factory in Wetzlar, Germany. The original owner said that he had to contact Leica via postal service to order the camera. This is why it still has an original L-seal. It was produced by Leica / Leitz Wetzlar in 1958 at the factory in Wetzlar, Germany. The original owner had some position in photography while in the military because he has many camera items in his Air Force trunk. This website shows the camera to be an original black M2 ( http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-…n/index.php/M2 )

First of all, that explanation looks awful suspicious. It claims both that “the original owner said,” implying that he had spoken to the owner….and that the original owner “had some position in photography because he had many items in his Air Force trunk” – implying he doesn’t have first hand knowledge of the owner (it’s called a “tell.”) Erik van Straten, who generally knows such things, thinks it’s fake, and posted the following two photos below of a legit early BP M2 on a popular Leica forum to illustrate the difference.  (Editor’s note: I think any reasonable person not completely blinded by Leica insanity would say most BP Leicas look like shit– if you want to see a black Wetzlar made Leica film M that doesn’t look like its been beat to death the way black paint M’s invariably do, find yourself a black chrome M4. I’ve got a BC M4, made in 1974, that looks like it just came out of the box).

30027677283_4b51ba30a7_z 30361395470_a2c7e43850_z

The wear on the camera looks contrived to me, less a product of long usage than someone’s idea of what that usage might produce ( google “Lenny Kravitz Leica” for further edification). For me, the ‘tell’ that it’s not legit is the documentation. Real Black Paint Leicas, sold through reputable sources i.e. not Ebay, almost never come with original purchase documents…because almost nobody would have saved these documents for 60+ years. It was just a camera, a working camera for someone. Nobody buys a a BP M2 back in 1958 and then fastidiously files away the paperwork for 60 years with the idea they’d someday need it to prove its authenticity. I could be wrong, however, but, like most things Leica, I’m probably not.

s-l1600-1 s-l1600-2

******UPDATE******

OK, so this one is a stone-cold fake, sold by Third Man Cameras in Stuart, Florida  (whose motto is “Measuring Integrity.” True). I ‘thought’ it looked suspiciously like a previous “Original Black Paint M3” I had written about some time ago. I went back and compared the two auctions. In the first auction, for the M3, is a certificate of ownership said to be from Leitz Wetzlar to the original purchaser, a “Busby Cattenach” from “Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.“. In this new M2 auction is included a certificate of ownership from Leitz to the original purchaser who is listed as “Archie Baldwin” at the exact same address as Mr. Cattenach in “Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.” So, either Busby Cattenach and Archie Baldwin lived together back in the 50’s and shared a fondness for one off Black Paint Leicas; and both kept all the supporting documentation; both made sure to leave it all with the camera once they died; and then this seller just happened to find both cameras at different estate sales at different times, both in Florida…or these are fakes.

I contacted a genealogist friend and asked her to track down any “Archie Baldwin” who had served time in the Air Force and lived in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in the 50’s. Nothing. No Archie Baldwin showing on any census records or public directories in Wisconsin, now or ever. No “Busby Cattenach” showing on any census records or public directories in Wisconsin, now or ever. Clearly, the provenance of these cameras – Leica M2 #929348 and Leica M3 # 756902 – have been extensively faked.

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The larger question is whether Third Man Cameras is an unwilling dupe or a scammer. It just so happens that Third Man Cameras happens upon a lot of extremely rare Black Paint Leica items with extensive provenance.  Third Man Cameras eventually sold the fake Black Paint M3 mentioned previously, Mr. “Busby Cattenach’s,” for over $10,000 to someone through Ebay, even after they, the seller, had been alerted that the camera was a fake and had responded to the person alerting him of that fact as follows:

“My God your [sic] right. Thank You so much for pointing this out. I acquired this item at an estate sale. Before I purchased the camera I checked to see if this company called Leica ever made cameras in black during that time and I found that they did. So I proceeded with the purchase. I checked your information and you are 100% correct. I am going to contact the estate sales lady in the morning. I guess I will also remove the auction. This is terrible news for me. I wonder if there is any way that this could still be authentic? Any more information you have would be appreciated greatly. Thank you so much for pointing this out. I have a lot of work to do to cancel this auction. I’m going to start now. Thanks again and please let me know if you have anymore info regarding this camera. Regards”.

Which, of course, is such incredible bullshit it defies logic that anyone with any critical reasoning ability would not see through it – He sees this camera at an estate sale, knows nothing about Leicas (“this company called Leica”) yet holds off buying it until he confirms that the company made cameras in black at that time? Right.

They’ve since sold a Black Paint screw mount Summicron (with sketchy looking certificate) for $15,000, and another for $4500. The interesting thing about this seller is that seemingly every vintage Leica item he sells is accompanied by suspicious amounts of “original paperwork” claiming to authenticate the item for what it claims to be. Invariably, the Black Paint items are accompanied by a surfeit of certificates, invoices, letters, sales tags, boxes etc. How this guy in Stuart, Florida keeps finding these incredibly rare collector’s gems, while reputable auction houses almost never turn up the same amount of stuff, and certainly nothing with the extensive purported documentation this guy seems to produce for every item he sells, I’ll leave to the reader’s better judgment.

And clearly, this seller knows a lot more about “this company called Leica” than he cares to admit. From trolling through his feedback, it looks like he came into possession of a bunch of spare parts from Leitz – “Leica Camera Parts – Massive Inventory – New Stock – M2 M3 M4 M5 M6 M7 SL” – a few years ago and probably found the means there to fake various invoices, tags, certificates etc that might establish fake provenances for repainted cameras. It was after this inventory sale that the “Official Black Paint” items start appearing for sale on his site at fairly regular intervals.

Further investigation reveals that Third Man Cameras is operated by a Henry Obert of Jensen Beach, Fl, (a mere 5 mile jaunt down the road from Stuart) in Martin County, Florida, and the “Office Manager” of Third Man Cameras is an Erica Obert. Some auspicious googling turned up the following on photo.net in 2012:

Leica Airbrush paint

Henry Obert , Jan 29, 2012; 07:47 p.m.
Hello Friends. Im going to strip the chrome off my M3 & repaint it black. I want to use my Iwata airbrush. I was curious if any of you have suggestions for a good airbrush paint and a primer as well for use on cameras.

and then these pictures of a “Henry Obert” and “Erica Obert” from the Martin County Sheriff’s office:

27943486-henry-obert 38708387-erica-mills

Can’t make this stuff up.

He’s been contacted and the fake Black Paint M2 auction has been taken down without explanation. In contacting him, I offered him the chance to explain the various discrepancies as noted here. I’ve not yet received a response of any sort. If I do, I’ll be happy to publish it. Suffice it to say, his explanation better be good. Really good.