The Myth of the Ubiquitous Fake Leica

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This is Not a Fake Leica

Occasionally, you’ll see the subject of ‘fake’ Leicas earnestly debated on some internet forum site, usually started by someone who’s thinking of buying a Leica but wants to make sure what he’s buying is genuine. He’ll post a pic of the proposed purchase, note something he considers a minor anomaly, and will throw out the question of whether what he’s considering purchasing might be an elaborate fake concocted by the Russian Mafia in some subterranean workshop in Kharkov.

Needless to say, these discussions bring all sorts of self-described experts out if the woodwork, critiquing posted photos and pointing out various “tells” that should alert someone that something, somewhere is fishy, be it the look of the script, or that the serial number seems misaligned with the rest of the top plate, or it just doesn’t look like the one he once owned/borrowed/saw/held/read about in Popular Photography.

There’s currently an active thread on this very issue on a forum I will not name (to protect the innocent), an internet meeting grounds that offers almost unlimited hilarity if you desire to observe the human condition at its most unintentionally duplicitous – faux sociability masking aggression, sad virtual friendship rituals, misplaced bombast, “look at me” histrionics, naked power displays by ignorant forum moderators, pretentious buffoons who correct your English while quoting Chaucer. (This is not to say that there isn’t much of value there – there is if you know how to find it, but, of course, the human condition being what it is, the really knowledgable usually keep their own counsel while the neophytes trumpet their ignorance or give vent to their psychological maladies from the safety of their avatar. As an aside, I’ve often thought that the social machinations of internet forums would make a killer sociology PhD thesis. Who knows? Maybe somebody – that guy on your favorite forum you actively dislike, who always seems suspiciously intent on roiling the waters – might be doing just that…).

In any event, pardon the digression: we were talking of the subject of alleged Leica fakes, and the interesting phenomenon where otherwise rational people seem to spot them everywhere. If you deconstruct the assumptions made by the more suspicious, it seems that there must exist a fully functioning manufacturing plant, presumably somewhere deep in the bowels of the former Eastern bloc, tasked with machining Leica clones to exact specifications so that somewhere, somehow, they might sell them for the real thing and make a hefty profit in the bargain.


This is a Fake Leica

So, using the tried and true heuristic of the parsimony of explanation (google “Ockham’s Razor” for further details) if you merely suspect its a fake its probably not, the general rule being its a real Leica if it looks like one, unless its gold plated or has a swastika tattooed on it, or its a titanium M7 with “Property of Henri Cartier-Bresson” engraved on the top plate. For the most part, “Fake” Leicas were pre-internet phenomena, thriving on people’s greed and gullibility in conjunction with their ignorance of the nuances of various Leica models, itself a function of the relative difficulty of piecing together historical information about Leicas. You’d find them being sold at swap-meets or street fairs, usually in the Eastern bloc. If you knew much of anything about Leicas, they were easy enough to spot, usually a FED or Zorki crudely masquerading as some unidentifiable Barnack Leica, sold to suckers for a quick buck.

The internet has changed that business model. Anybody can now easily acquaint themselves with every nuance of every Leica model, pictures attached, with a few clicks of a mouse. As for the anomalies that give rise to suspicion – top plates were replaced, serial numbers re-engraved, or switched, or not inscribed at all. Leica engraved fonts changed subtly over time; Leitz changed things here and there without explanation or documentation. Remember, back in the day Leicas weren’t collector’s pieces, they were working cameras, meant to be used and repaired in a pinch for further use. Nobody was keeping an eye on maintaining their future viability as collector’s items.

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