Digital photography has all but killed off film, and even professional photographers are running around snapping pictures with their iPhones, but there’s still a place in this world for a classic mechanical film camera—especially if it’s a Leica.
The legendary German brand virtually created modern photojournalism, and its jewel-like, pocket-sized precision cameras became favorites of press and art photographers alike. That historical aura, coupled with its iconic modernist design, accounts for the enduring collector demand—and for the sky-high prices that collectors will pay for the rarest versions.
WestLicht Auction in Vienna has established itself as the worldwide go-to place for classic-camera obsessives, and its sale on May 28 will once again showcase the house’s ability to ferret out the most unusual and best-preserved Leicas.
Among the highlights will be a so-called “O-series” Leica, a prototype built in 1923 to test the market, two years before the camera was officially releasediver.
Only 25 were made, and WestLicht’s example is number 7. The “made in Germany” engraving on it indicates that it was destined to leave the country, and records show that it was in fact shipped to New York—making it the first Leica to be exported. It carries an estimate of 350,000–450,000 euros.
Special versions made for military use are also very popular with collectors, and WestLicht is offering a 1960 Leica M2 painted grey, as specified by the U.S. Air Force, with a lens equipped with a goggles-like attachment for close-up work. Only 10 of these cameras are known to exist, and this one, estimated at 80,000–120,000 euros, is the first ever to be auctioned. —John Dorfman