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Revised History of the Leica

By: Heinz Richter

THE REVISED HISTORY OF THE LEICA



It is not often that we have a chance to rewrite history. This is one of those instances where it is possible to do so, not by some revisionist scheme, but with new facts, previously unknown. What I am referring to is the history of the Ur-Leica. A lot of what we know about the camera is actually false. I have written about this topic on several occasions on this blog, and I, like so many, have been misled by the published findings of others.

We do know the account of the events that led to the development of the initial prototype of the Leica, the Ur-Leica. I stand by my assertion that this camera was not the exposure testing device that Barnack made (see: HOW THE LEICA CAME TO BE - http://gmpphoto.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-leica-came-to-be.html). It is the many accounts of what happened after the development of the Ur-Leica that a lot of misinformation has been brought forth.

In spite of all the published information about a second Ur-Leica, there is and always has been only one example. The account given by Gianni Rogliatti for instance, that claims that the original Ur-Leica was given by Oscar Barnack to Ernst Leitz II, and that he used a second version for himself is inaccurate. Also inaccurate is Rogliatti’s claim that this camera had been in the possession of the Deutsches Museum in Munich and was later returned to Oskar Barnack’s son Konrad, who supposedly later sold the camera to a collector in the US.

It is correct that Konrad Barnack did have a Leica camera that was at the Deutsches Museum for a while, and it is correct that this camera was later sold by him to a collector, but this camera was one of the preproduction, Null Serie (0-series) models made by Leitz prior to the decision to manufacture and market the Leica. This camera was the 0-series camera #105.

Rolf Fricke, one of the foremost experts of the Leica and cofounder of LHSA, the Leica Historical Society of America, now called the International Leica Society, wrote the following:

The camera that was at the Deutsches Museum was not an Ur-Leica!!! It was 0-Series (or Null-Serie) camera No.105, which Konrad Barnack requested back from that museum and subsequently sold to Jim Forsyth of Florida. Many years later, Prof. Al Clarke of Columbus, OH and I bought out that collector, and Al kept No.105, which he later sold to another prominent collector, and Al also kept the large format camera that Oskar Barnack had used during his hikes in the woods, and which he found cumbersome and which motivated him to work on a smaller, handier camera, which led to the Ur-Leica. There is no solid proof whatsoever that there ever was a second Ur-Leica. References to a second Ur-Leica are always couched in the words "alleged", or "said to be", and this eventually creeps into the stories of superficial historians! The camera that Ernst Leitz took along on his visit to New York was the original and only Ur-Leica!

Over the years Rolf has had a rather personal connection the Leica, much beyond anyone outside of the company. He explains that he bought his first Leica, a used model IIIc on February 21, 1949. In Rio De Janeiro, where he grew up.

I still have that camera and the instruction booklet in Portuguese, the camera is still functional!
Next I very naively went to the local Leitz representative, where a kind elderly gentleman (Paul Louis Toinndorf) explained to me that the distributor does not handle retail matters, which are the responsibility of the dealers, but he invited me in anyway and patiently demonstrated to me what one can do with a Leica, like using a wide-angle lens, a long focus lens, a close-up attachment, etc, none of which I could even remotely afford.
He even very graciously offered to lend me such accessories, all of which endeared the man and his firm to me. Much, much later I learned that he had completed his apprenticeship at Leitz in the Hausertorwerk building, the very building where Oskar Barnack had his office, and he had met that legendary man in person! That warm treatment endeared the camera to me and created a loyalty that led to further acquaintances, all the way to the Leitz brothers and sister themselves, and even repeated stays at the Leitz villa Haus Friedwart.

I recently wrote about the possibility that I came across a picture of what might be the second Ur-Leica. It is a picture of a camera that obviously is of the same design as the know Ur-Leica, but it is outwardly different. I obtained this picture from the Deutsches Museum in Munich. I contacted the museum to shed some more light on this issue. I corresponded with Frau Dr. Cornelia Kemp, curator for photo and film at the museum. She wrote about the camera that used to be owned by Konrad Barnack:

Bei der Leica handelt es sich nicht um die Ur-Leica, sondern um die Nr. 105 aus der Nullserie, die ab 1923 hergestellt wurde. Sie gehörte aber nie dem Museum, sondern war ihm von Oskar Barnacks Sohn Conrad von 1939-45 leihweise zur Verfügung gestellt.

(The Leica is not the Ur-Leica, but the No. 105 from the pilot series (0-series) that was produced from 1923. It never belonged to the museum, it was given on loan from Oskar Barnack's son Conrad from 1939-45)

Dr. Kemp went on to explain the picture the museum had sent to me:

Am 30. 9. 1940 bat der Museumskonservator Theodor Konzelmann Oskar Barnack um Bildmaterial für einen Vortrag. Unter dem übersandten und am 30. 10. 1940 zurückerstatteten Bildmaterial befand sich auch ein Leica Dia welches die Ur-Leica darstellt. Ganz offensichtlich versäumte das Museum nicht , von dem Dia eine Kopie zu ziehen.

(On 9. 30. 1940 Theodor Konzelmann, the curator of the museum, asked Oskar Barnack for some photographic material for a lecture. Among the material sent on 10. 30. 1940 was also a Leica slide of the Ur-Leica. Obviously the museum did not miss out on making a copy of the slide)

This, however, does not explain the differences between the camera on the picture from the Deutsches Museum and the known Ur-Leica that is in possession of Leica Camera AG. Considering that the picture was taken in 1940 or even earlier, it stands to reason that the differences, which are mostly cosmetic, occurred during the time after the picture was taken, especially if one considers that until relatively recently, the camera was handled quite often in a rather cavalier manner.
Rolf Fricke made the following comment:

The one and only Ur-Leica (by definition, it would not be an 'Ur-Leica' if there was more than one!) traveled around for quite a bit after the Museum picture was taken in 1940. For example, the former Leitz CEO Alfred Loew brought it to Rochester, NY in conjunction with a presentation he gave at a Photo History Symposium at George Eastman House way back in the 1970s, for which I organized the program. He left the camera with me for a week while he went to Washington, DC on business and retrieved it on his way back. Nowadays that camera is highly insured and it is treated with significantly greater caution and security.

I can certainly confirm the relatively careless treatment of the camera from personal experience because I had the opportunity to handle the camera on two occasions during annual meetings of the Leica Historical Society. Once it had been brought by Rolf Fricke and another time by Dr. Wangorsch, then the curator of the Leica Museum in Wetzlar.

We do know of the existence of another prototype of the Leica, the so-called third prototype. It is a camera visibly different from the Ur Leica and it is always shown without a lens. However, there is what should be considered a third prototype which is relatively unknown.

This camera is thoroughly described in the Book “Barnacks Erste Leica” (Barnack’s First Leica), written by Dr. Günther Kisselbach. I did get permission from Dr. Kisselbach to use some of the pictures from the book. Since I have not yet been able to obtain this book, I am using a description by Rolf Fricke:

There is a large, very well-illustrated book by the very personable Dr. Guenther Kisselbach, an ear-nose-and-throat doctor in Wetzlar, who is the younger son of Theo Kisselbach, the erstwhile director of the original "Leica Schule". Guenther's older brother Wolfgang Kisselbach is the overall manager of the construction of the brand new purpose-built factory buildings and museum in Leitz Park in Wetzlar.
The book is entitled "BARNACKS ERSTE LEICA" (= Barnack's first Leica"), and it features a camera in great detail that is very similar to the O-series camera with the same optical finder, except that it is all brass with brown leather covering and has a different flat dial between the viewfinder and the rewind knob for setting the slit width (in mm) of the focal plane shutter. Evidently Kisselbach the father kept that camera when he retired and Kisselbach the younger inherited it, and he thoroughly studied it and had it disassembled and adapted for picture taking by expert repairman Ottmar Michaeli (who was one of my speakers at one of the LHSA Annual Meetings!), all of which is beautifully illustrated in the aforementioned book.
By "First Leica", Guenther Kisselbach means Barnack's first practical camera (still not named 'Leica'!) after the Ur-Leica. On page 187 of that outstanding book there is a photo of "Prototyp Nr.3" in what is left of the Leica museum, which was plundered for sales when the company was about to go bankrupt. That camera has no lens mount, a folding, recessed open frame viewfinder frame on top and an exposure counter on the front of the camera. There is no rewind knob, and the accessory shoe is located where that knob would be.

Since this camera is so very close to the 0-series cameras, one must assume that the so-called prototype Nr. 3 was made prior to it and I feel it is not wrong to refer to it as the second (not third) prototype. However, since no date for this camera has ever been established, this is simply conjecture on my part. What I can say with certainty at this point is that only one Ur-Leica was made by Oskar Barnack and that two other prototypes exist from the time prior to the 0-series cameras.

I am now looking forward to my visit to Solms in July of this year. If by chance I dig up any other interesting facts about the history of the Leica, I will report about it here. Otherwise my report will concentrate on current Leica cameras and possibly some rumors of what the future might bring.

For the complete article, including pictures, please go to:
http://gmpphoto.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-revised-history-of-leica.html

Can You Top This?

By: Heinz Richter

Some of the strangest reasons for repair on a camera that I have ever seen are the following: One gentleman came into the store with a camera that was obviously water damaged. I asked him if he had gone canoeing. He proceeded to tell me that he had dropped the camera into a toilet. Happens all the time. Another camera was in a very bad state. It seemed to have gotten wet, but somehow looked different and strangely discolored inside the mirror housing. The explanation was thart someone had dropped an egg into it when the lens was removed. I have heard of strange ingredients for an omelet, but that one is pushing it. One of my customers had just purchased a new Leica R4 the moment we received the first shipment of the new camera. It was less than a week when he returned with the camera totally beaten up. Of course I was curious what happened. His explanation sounded quite familiar; he had walked up to his car and set the camera on the roof to find his keys. After driving off he saw his new Leica bounce along the road in his rear view mirror. We sent the camera to Leica to have it repaired or replaced under their passport guarantee. A week had gone by when the customer came in to inquire about his camera. I explained that it would take a while longer for it to be taken care off. “I don’t want to wait that long to try out my new camera,” he explained, “give me another one with the same lens.” He left, happy to be able to shoot with his new Leica R4. Surprisingly, the camera that fell off the roof of his car was in good enough shape to be repaired rather than needing to be replaced. That camera became a proud possession of his daughter.

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c 1937 Summar lens with Reichsadler

By: Steven Pavlovich

I am hoping that my LHSA colleagues may be able to assist me yet again. I have a Summar lens c1937 which has a Reichsadler engraving on the lens flange as can be seen in the photos. Is it a fake or is it real?

If it is a fake it would seem a most unusual choice of lens and date, not to mention the hard to get at 'location' of the engraving.

I hope that a fellow member may be able to supply me with some information that might enable this to be verified.

best regards to all

Steve Pavlovich (ska3@iinet.net.au)
Perth, Western Australia

A Photographic Introduction to Portland, Maine

By: Edward Schwartzreich

An Introduction to Portland, ME As most LHSA members likely already know, Portland, ME has been chosen as the 2012 Annual Meeting Site. The LHSA Board and Madge Brown have already done most of the due diligence for the meeting, but since my wife Julie and I planned a short mid-winter vacation in Portland, we contacted Madge to see if anything was needed. Madge asked us to check out the site for the banquet, the Portland Masonic Temple. She got us in touch with the Temple caretaker (who is a film photographer!) and the event caterers, and asked us to tell her how long it took to walk there from the Regency Hotel and Spa, our meeting venue. And one of the other people she directed us to told us a place we definitely should not miss was the Armory Lounge at the Regency. We arrived in Portland at about 4PM on a crisp, sunny day. We were staying in a different hotel but in the same areas as the Regency: the Old Port district near the harbor. No sooner had we checked in than we resolved to take advantage of the late afternoon’s light. In Portland, it is important photographically speaking to realize that the sun sets on the inland side of the city, bathing the harbor in its glow. You won’t find the sun setting over the water, but instead the boats and harbor setting are illuminated most magically. We walked much of the length of the bayside road (Commercial Street) while the light still remained. At the north end there is a little outdoor museum devoted to narrow-gauge railroad cars, then walking south one finds various docks, wharfs and restaurants on the water, as well as beautiful 19th and early 20th century buildings facing these. You will find my pictures of the trip at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/imagere/sets/72157629502952879/ Flickr does not make arranging the images to fit a story very easy, so you may need to jump around the flickr set (labeled “Portland, ME”) to find everything. A bit tired from our walk, we decided to try out the Armory Lounge, per recommendation. This bar appears as a book-lined study with comfortable chairs in alcoves. The books are faux, because you might just like to take one and open it while you drink. The image I took of the bar, a time exposure with a wide-angle, gives the flavor. The food, drinks, and service were first-rate (so was the tab). We retired for the night, very satisfied. The next morning we walked to the Masonic Temple via other areas uphill from the bay. It took an easy 10 minutes to walk fairly slowly up a slight incline from the Regency to the Temple. We stopped in the nearby City Hall; there was not that much to see, but the steeple was interesting photographically. The Masonic Temple has a long history, which everyone should either Google for themselves, or wait for the meeting to learn of, but what was surprising to us was that it originally took up a 8-storey building, and that only two floors are in use currently for events. The Lodge itself has moved elsewhere from these two floors for its own purposes. The Masonic Temple is demanding photographically. The halls we will be using for our reception and banquet are large and grand, but dimly lit. I took pictures on the fly, stabilizing my M8 wherever I could; I had no tripod. I had brought a VC 15mm lens (about 21mm equivalent on the M8), and this was a bit too wide: 24 / 25mm coverage would have been ideal to get in the sweep of a room. There is a balcony in the room we will be using for our meal, and we were told that good group pictures had been made from there on prior occasions. So, bring fast wide lenses and a tripod. We spent the afternoon walking around another area near downtown, which had been (and probably still is in part) the historic African-American district. There were references on plaques to houses which had served the underground railroad, and the district’s old Meeting House still exists. We could not get inside to make images. Portland is an interesting old eastern U.S. city. It retains many 19th Century buildings, as does Boston or Philadelphia, but the city area is quite compact and easily walked. Do bring shoes with good support and rubber soles: the sidewalks are brick but not uneven. Fall in New England tends to have sunny days, so expect many pleasing images of the city.

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Luftwaffen - Eigentum IIIc ?

By: Steven Pavlovich

I am hoping that my LHSA colleagues may be able to assist me. I have a IIIc camera (serial number 367605) and 50 mm Elmar lens (serial number 477984) which have both been crudely defaced by grinding in a manner that is reminicient of the fate of many such cameras after the war. Unfortunately the defacement was very thorough and only one of the original engravings on the top plate FL No 38079 has survived in a legible form.

Since the leather case also seems to have had some sort of marking scratched out on the top cover it leads me to believe that perhaps the entire camera and lens outfit may be able to be traced to a single shipment date. I am not sure what date camera and lens outfits began to be issued together but perhaps this outfit is such an example.

I hope that a fellow member may be able to supply me with some information that might enable this to be verified.

best regards to all

Steve Pavlovich
Perth, Western Australia

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