Tag Archives: Black Paint Leica

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.

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Beware of Men With Guns Selling Black Paint M3’s

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Another “Black Paint” M3, # 1095310,  has shown up on Ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/191513054364…%3AMEBIDX%3AIT, offered by a seller who goes under the nom de plume “blkconcepts”. (If you click through to his feedback profile you’ll note his avatar is a hand holding a handgun in a slightly menacing manner.)

The seller claims its a legit factory painted Black M3, citing the serial number:

  • Camera is shown to made in Black in correct serial bracket ….. see photo that I included & this website for your proof that this is authentic ….  l-camera-forum.com/leica-wiki.en/index.php/M3

According to the wiki, the batch is both black and chrome; 1093801-1097700** Leica M3 (Schwz Lackiert+chrom-ss).  An enterprising capitalist could easily find a chrome M3 from that batch and repaint it black. Voila, an “official” black paint M3.

Is this one legit? It may be. Who knows. But the seller’s provenance doesn’t instill confidence. Looking at his feedback, you’ll see he’s been accused of selling fake Leica stuff before, in particular batches of M3 boxes that he apparently has knocked off himself. And burrowing down through his Ebay history, you’ll find this transaction, which takes on an ominous perspective for the present auction:

Item returned 4***2 ( 5291*) During past year
LEITZ, LEICA M3 – BLACK PAINT CAMERA BODY, RECENT PAINT, OVERHAUL & CLA! (#191089777670) US $932.00

This particular camera does betray signs of being a fake.  The black rings around the two flash output sockets on the back of the camera are black. On authentic black paint M3 bodies those are chrome. The white lettering on this particular camera seems remarkably nice, and the brassing looks contrived.

However, there could be an explanation that doesn’t involve deceit. As Tom Abrahamsson, he of the Abrahamsson Rapid Winder, notes, back in the day there were a lot of black M3 top plates floating around outside the official control of Leitz Wetzlar.  Leitz would transform your chrome camera into a black camera for a fee. Dealers and importers had orders and none in stock – so Leica would fill the void by sending the dealer black paint top and bottom plates. Bigger Leica importers had their own engraving machines with correct numbers.  They removed the top plate, engraved the number of the chrome one on the black top – and then “destroyed” the chrome one. It wasn’t that expensive either – somewhere around $ 100 at the time. There are also numerous factory “non black paint list” bodies that were special orders. These do not show on the “official” lists – only in the shipping documents.

So, who knows, maybe some dude who loves guns and operates a sideline business of forging Leica M3 boxes to sell in units of 10 on Ebay somehow got himself a nice Black Paint M3, all legit. And the guy who bought this one on Ebay for $3100 got himself an authentic black paint M3.

 

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The Genesis of the Black Paint Rangefinder

Nikon S2 black paint

The camera that started the trend of black finish was not the Leica MP, but the Nikon S2. The black paint Nikon S2 was introduced in October 1955. The black S2 is plated with black nickel and then painted.

The Nikon rangefinders possessed a fit and finish the equal of the Leica, although some folks mistake the inherent play in the fit of the detachable back for a lack of bodily solidity. It is not. In terms of finish, the Nikons sometimes bested the Leica. Unlike Leitz, the white markings are engraved – on the M3, M2 and M4 only the serial number is engraved – on the Nikon S2, all the white numerals, lettering and indications are engraved by hand.

The first of black M Leicas was a run of 5 black paint M3’s followed shortly by the famous black MP’s. Leitz made 150 of the black MPs.  The paint on these cameras is very dull and thin.

Black Paint M3 earliest

Black Paint MP 28

In 1958 Leitz introduced the M2 that was also made in black, the same finish and paint type that was used on the MP: dull and thin. Leitz produced 500 of the M2’s in this run of black paint production.

Black Paint M2 earliest

Towards the early seventies Leitz offered a service for those who were not happy with the flaking and bubbling paint on their early black M2’s. All the black parts were replaced by new ones and the original number was engraved, but slightly higher than the old ones from the fifties. The type of paint was the same of that of the black paint M4 and Leicaflex SL.

Black Paint M2 restored

For some reason lost to time, Leitz did not have a restoration service for the M3 as they did for the M2. However, owners could have their chrome M3’s transformed to black paint. These transformed cameras are very rare, due to the high cost. They were often made to match the Noctilux 50mm f/1.2, a black finished lens.

Black Paint M3 restored

The style of the engraved number will date the camera a bit. This one does not have any spaces in it’s number, so it can date from the M5 era when the numbers were engraved into the accessory-shoe without spaces. Note the position of the engraved serial number, just a bit lower than the M3 engraving.

*Thanks to Eric van Straten for the photos and expertise. This is essentially a verbatim reprint of a fascinating tutorial posted by Mr. van Straten elsewhere. Mr. van Straten is an amazing source of information for all things Leica film rangefinder related.

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Buying a Black Paint M3 on Ebay. Caveat Emptor.

fake BP1

Black paint Leica M3’s are rare, as in really rare. And, like all Leica rarities, they’re expensive. One recently sold at  auction in Hong Kong for $472,00.00.  So, imagine my surprise when a “Leica M3 100% Original Black Paint Finish – With Original Documents,” above, showed up on Ebay with a No Reserve starting price of $.99, complete with ample paperwork  from Leitz, NY proving its provenance. The seller (he of two feedback) apparently bought the camera from an estate sale:

  • Leica M3 in original black lacquer finish – Early Double Stroke
  • I recently found this entire set an estate sale. I have been a member of eBay since 1999. I recently started this new account. There is no reason for concern because any potential buyers will be protected under the buyer protection plan established by eBay and Paypal
  • M3 comes with original receipt, guarantee, and gold tag
  • All serial numbers match and you can verify that Leica made Black M3’s during this Serial Range by going to this website (L-camera-forum)
  • L Seal is intact on Camera
  • Camera come with its original brass body cap – made by Leica for their black cameras
  • Auction has plenty of original brochures and manuals (see photo)
  • Camera has glass film Plate
  • Camera is operating perfectly and firing at all speeds
  • Timer is working correctly
  • Viewfinder is clean and clear
  • Camera has been tested recently and takes wonderful photos
  • This camera has to be the rarest camera on eBay currently, a very early run of Leica’s Black finished M3’s
  • Kind Regards

fake BP3

fake BP2

Is the camera a “real” black paint M3? Who knows. Suffice it to say that there are numerous red flags that suggest its a fake: according to Leica’s records, before the original black paint MP’s, from no. 13 to no. 150 (1957), just after batch M3 882001-886700, no black M’s were made; the vulcanite looks suspiciously new; and the wear looks just a bit contrived. The amount of supporting paperwork also seems contrived, too comprehensive for a camera that was used as much as this one purports to have been (in my mind, somebody who would hold onto all that original paperwork and sales brochures, i.e. with an eye to posterity, probably would have treated the camera a little better).

Fake

But….Leica’s records, unfortunately, are incomplete, because the verified black paint M3 sold at Hong Kong auction this past May is serial number 746572. And this guy seems to think his, serial number 779019, is legit too. It is known that Leica would produce black paint M’s on order – even before the first “official” black paint M3s were produced in 1957/58.  Keep in mind: in 1955 black Leica’s were not “collectible”; maybe the original owner, a Busby Cattenach from Wisconsin, simply wanted a black camera, ponied up his $324 and had Leitz, NY send him one special, and 45 years later some guy with a new Ebay account and two feedbacks grabbed it for a few hundred bucks at an estate sale in New Jersey. It could happen.

Whatever’s up with this camera, it’s no longer for sale on Ebay, having been pulled down after a day or so on site, which is a shame, since I’d already configured my Bidnip account to bid it up to $2100 at the last moment. So much for scoring an under-the-radar deal on Ebay.

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