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 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 (…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 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.

Hits: 3486

12 thoughts on “Caveat Emptor, Again (or, Do Not Buy Black Paint Leicas On Ebay)

  1. Wayne

    I once had a friend, now deceased, who, to the detriment of everything else in his life, accumulated an impressive stash of firearms and motorcycles; and, to a lesser degree, he had accumulated a few Leica cameras. Another friend of his- also an acquaintance of mine- once told me a story:

    Years before our common friend died, he ( I will call him Ed) and our mutual friend took a trip to a camera show in St. Louis. During the show Ed had spotted a nice deal on a Leica M3 and multiple lens kit. To make a long story short, my friend (the greater Leica authority, of the two) convinced Ed it was not a good deal and they left the table. Later, Ed decided he wanted it anyway and returned to the table only to find it was gone…..He suspected our mutual friend of buying it, but could not prove it.

    Following our mutual friends death, Ed was helping inventory our freind’s vast collection, when he found the nice Leica M3 set he had seen all those years ago in St. Louis. Ed was smiling as he told me about the discovery. The deceased had hoarded that Leica for well over a decade. He couldn’t use it……at least not without exposing his deceit. Funny thing is, Ed and I had a big chuckle over it all. I guess our now deceased friend thought we could not see that side of him.

    My point? This Leica thing…..Watch it closely. It has the capacity to tell you a lot about yourself; not all of it pretty.

    I was there the day my friends wife- long estranged, but not divorced- helped an Arkansas gun dealer load his collection into a U-Haul trailer; and I watched the dealer, his wife, and the trailer drive up the road. For some reason, it seemed more funereal than my friend’s actual funeral…..Quite sad, really.

  2. jaapv

    I’m not sure the Wiki has been hacked, it is probably just mistaken. As Wikis depend on user supplied content they cannot be used as an authorative source anyway.
    I’m sure you are aware that the only more or less reliable sources are authors that have had access to the factory records, like Lager or Puts. Even if the factory records are a bit of a mess from time to time.

    No serious collector would regard an eBay buy as anything more than a gamble – there are more reliable sources – Westlicht, Tamarkin, reliable fellow collectors,etc, who verify the goods on offer.

  3. Rob Campbell

    I am driven to ask why anybody would want to buy a distressed camera? In a sane(ish) world, it strikes me that acquisition of a non-damaged Leica would be seen as more of an event for celebration.

    Assuming a genuine, worn out body, even that would be a measure of the guy who wore it out (of his use of it but hardly of his successes with it), not of the person who might later buy it to put it on a shelf. They do get onto shelves, don’t they, not hidden away as secret sins?



    ‘d lpvbe a brand new one, but I dn’pt honestly see on ep0n any Santa list for me, not that I see any list at all, for that,matter.

  4. Kodachromeguy

    If you think fake distressed Leicas are bad, you should step into (carefully put your toe into?) the minefield of “authentic” vintage watches. The Omega and Rolex factories would be thrilled if they had made as many special chronometer-certified models as appear on ePrey.

  5. Rob Campbell

    Don’t you just love the Latin at the end of the note? I think it should have read:

    “I’d love a brand new one, but don’t honestly see it on any Santa list for me. Not that I see any list at all, for that matter.”

    An expanding writing space would be a nice thing… or an editing device post-click!


  6. Len

    Extremely long post, and yet i read every word.
    Amazing story.
    And yet, a small question pops to mind: how do you forge a 50 years old paint? How do you forge a 50 years old brochure?
    On the other hand, how is the seller so lucky to find all those black leicas?
    Go figure (;
    Have a nice day

  7. Jimbob

    Thank you for the detailed research and information; it’s a great reminder to all.

    BTW, why do mugshots make people look so awful? Should have used a Summilux….

  8. David Murray

    I have not come across chrome Leica M3/M2 cameras having the chrome stripped off to be repainted black The chrome is tough, unlike the paint. I have seen examples where idiots have painted over the chrome which then wears letting the tell-tale silver peek through. Internet auction sites can give bargains, however, watches, Mont-Blanc pens and Leicas are to be avoided. Given the cost of service/repair of Leicas, it’s much wiser to buy from an established dealer who gives a warranty. In Britain, I suggest Peter Loy, Red Dot and Aperture Photographic. All in London.

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