Tag Archives: Henry Obert

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.

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



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


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.


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.