Category Archives: Collectible Leicas

The Rare Rigid LTM 50mm f2 Summicron, 1960-1963

In 1956, Leitz introduced a rigid version of the 50mm f2 Summicron, the revolutionary lens first offered as a collapsible version in LTM in 1953 and in M mount in 1954. The 1956 rigid version constituted a revised optical design with a harder front element and deeper rear element. A “Dual-Range” M mount rigid version was also introduced at this time. Leitz produced this “second version” rigid Summicron, both normal and dual-range, between 1956 and 1968.

Between 1960 and 1963, Leitz also produced 1160 copies of  this rigid second version in LTM, making it one of the rarer and most valuable Summicrons produced. Of course, its rarity soon encouraged the assembling of fakes; the rigid Summicron’s lens head can be unscrewed from the rigid mount, and Leitz complicated matters by supplying rigid mounts in LTM for a few years so that owners of M and LTM bodies wouldn’t have to buy two lenses but could simply swap one lens head between two different lens mounts, M or LTM.

The end result is that it’s a good possibility that the LTM Rigid Summicron you’re being offered for sale is a frankenlens and not a true factory assembled version. The situation becomes further confused in that the true focal length of the rigid Summicrons differed slightly, depending on the version – 51.6, 51.9 or 52.2 – while the LTM rigid mount required a specific 51.9 focal length lens head, and many of these self-assembled lenses contain 51.6 or 52.2 lens heads mated to LTM rigid mounts.

How can you tell you’re looking at a rare factory assembled example instead of one made up from a replacement focusing mount and a non matching lens head? Fortunately, on the factory assembled models Leitz engraved the serial number of the lens both on the lens head and on the detachable lens mount. If these serials match, you’ve got a legit factory assembled LTM Rigid Summicron; if not, you’ve got a self-assembled frankenlens with potential focal length compatibility issues, one that can’t claim to be among the 1160 produced by Leitz.

A further complication in identifying a real factory produced version is that Leitz apparently produced them in dribs and drabs instead of one sequential run of 1160 consecutive serial numbers. According to Dennis Laney’s Leica Collector’s Guide, accepted serial number ranges for a legit copy are 1,599,XXX, 1,704,XXX, 1,706,XXX, 1,762,XXX, 1,763,XXX and 1,885,XXX, “but, as always with Leitz, the fact that a lens falls outside of this range does not necessarily mean it is not original” [Laney’s words]. The litmus test is the matching serial numbers.

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I was recently contacted by Bill Moretz, the owner of a reputable brick and mortar photo establishment in business since 1988 doing repair and photo lab services and equipment rental – asking me about a rigid Summicron he had in inventory he wasn’t quite sure exactly what it was. I had him send me some pics, did a little research, and then asked him to remove the mount from the lens head to see if the serials matched. They did. His rigid thread mount Summicron is a rare factory assembled original, serial number 1,607,043. According to Bill, everything in great condition optically and mechanically.

Bill has asked that I put the word out through the blog that the lens is for sale, and I told him I’d be happy to do so in order that he might avoid the pitfalls of Ebay and the various ways dishonest buyers devise to scam honest sellers out of collectible items. He’s asking $1950 plus insured shipping charges of $30 within the States. In my opinion, that’s a great deal as I see undocumented versions with various optical issues offered from anywhere between $1700 on the low end to $2800-$3000 on the high end. It comes with the original matching Leitz hood and lens cap.

If you’re interested, contact me at leicaphilia@gmail.com.

Now THIS is a Beautiful Leica

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Currently for sale on Ebay from a seller in France, what looks to be an unused, pristine chrome two-lug M5, #13553167. The serial number puts its production date as 12/1972, which is smack dab in the middle of the M5’s production run but late enough to avoid the shutter issues that beset the earlier models. Seller claims everything works properly.

What would I pay for it? God only knows. I wouldn’t be interested in it as a collectible but as a user, so the box and all the supporting stuff would be irrelevant to me except insofar as it confirms the claim that the camera hasn’t been used much, but, of course, this potentially cuts both ways – lack of use for the last 45 years might leave you with a camera in need of service, and the one downside of M5 ownership is that M5 specific service isn’t cheap, usually double what you’d pay for a traditional M.

In any event, in my opinion, a good working M5 is about as good as you’ll get in a Leica M, and the chrome versions are the aesthetically more pleasing. Granted, not everyone agrees with me. Some Leicaphiles loathe the M5, which is their right. It’s my observation that the folks who hold the most negative opinions about the M5 are those who’ve never used one.s-l1600-1 s-l1600-5

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.

Automatic Leica M Leaf Shutter Prototype

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This is a “Leica M5” with Elmar 50mm f2.8 Compur shutter, designed by Leitz in the early 60’s. Calling this an “M5 prototype” is misleading. If memory serves me correctly, this was Leica’s first attempt at a metered M, dating to the early 60’s while the M4 was on the drawing board but not yet produced, and long before any plans for the actual M5. In actuality, it’s a prototype M7.

Yes it’s ugly, and Leica might have tanked in short order had they been stupid enough to produce it, but it’s still an amazing bit of Leitz history. As for the two ‘rangefinder windows’, the second window appears to be to read the shutter speed of the Compur lens.

Heads Up, Lenny Kravitz

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You can be one of the lucky few to own a red anodized version of the Leica APO Summicron f2 ASPH, soon to be available from Leica for $8950. That’s only $1200 more than the black version. Only 100 pieces will be made, (not counting any further fabricated under licensing agreement with Third Man Cameras in Stuart, Florida).

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

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******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).

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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.

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******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:

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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.

For Sale: The Leica That Didn’t Take the Famous Photo of Che Guevara

 

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Alberto Korda and his Leica IIIc

A Leica III camera belonging to Alberto Korda, he of the famous photo of Che Guevara looking revolutionary, is currently for sale on the Dutch auction website catawiki.nl.

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Korda’s Leica III

The Leica III is being sold by Korda’s son, Dante, who describes the camera as follows:

My father, Alberto Korda, was one of the few cuban photojournalists responsible for capturing the world’s attention with the Cuban Revolution Propaganda. He followed the Cuban leaders around and became Fidel Castro’s personal photographer for more than a decade (request from Fidel Castro, who was one of his admirers). My father’s passion and exceptional skills as a photographer made every event of the revolution a magnificent moment, a genuine representation of an era of changes and beauty.

This camera was one of the favorite cameras of my father. My father actively used this camera in the fifties and sixties and kept it the rest of his life. That’s why it’s likely that my father took with this camera one of the world’s most famous photo’s ever made. The iconic image of the freedom fighter Che Guevara.

Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and provenance from Dante Korda

Unfortunately for Dante, this is not the camera his father used to take the iconic shot, which was taken with a Leica M2.

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Korda took the photo on March 5, 1960, at a funeral service for Cubans killed when a ship carrying arms to the revolutionaries in Havana sunk. He attended on assignment for the newspaper Revolución, carrying a Leica M2 with 90mm. Castro, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Che were on the speaker’s platform. When Korda approached the platform, he immediately noticed Che. “I remember his staring over the crowd on 23rd street.” Struck by Guevara’s expression, Korda lifted his Leica M2 loaded with Plus-X and took just two frames — one vertical and one horizontal — before Che turned away.