Life is strange sometimes. A few months ago, I was undergoing one of those periodic bouts of gear lust that afflict most photographers from time to time. For me (this time), it was a Summitar, one of Leica’s classic collapsible 50mm f/2 lenses dating back to the 1940s. Long-time readers will know I have a thing for lenses with classic rendering, and the Summitar has it in spades. And while I was at it, I was also perusing screwmount Leica bodies – the models descended directly from Oskar Barnack’s original design – because, hey, what’s a classic lens without an appropriate body to go with it? But this was not a serious case, and I successfully limited myself to a couple of half-hearted Ebay searches and left it at that.
Then along comes the Win My Leica contest, a story already told here, which results in me being awarded a fully CLA’d Leica IIIc and an Industar-61 55 f/2.8 lens. As I anxiously awaited the arrival of prize, I did the things I normally do – excited as I was, it was not so all-consuming as to prevent the continuation of normal life functions – which includes poking into various antiques shops when the opportunity strikes. Camera-wise, this usually this results in finding half a dozen dusty old Brownies of various sorts, a 1970s-era SLR or two, and maybe a few plastic point-and-shoots, all seriously overpriced. But not this time. Oh no.
No, on this particular trip into one of the more-or-less local antiques malls (I find that term odd, though I suppose the concept of a mall is becoming a bit antiquated in and of itself), I stumbled onto something worth a good, hard second look. Sitting at the bottom of a multi-tiered glass display cabinet – itself an antique – was a single small camera, fully enclosed in a brown eveready case. I looked closer to read the name on the case: Leica.
The case was locked, so after finding an employee to open it up, I was handed the camera, along with the original manual and vintage copy of the Focal Press Leica Guide. Opening up the case, I immediately realized that this was indeed a Barnack Leica, a IIIc in fact, and the lens it was sporting was a Summitar. The condition of the whole kit was exceptionally good, with just a few small cosmetic flaws in the chrome finish; it had clearly been used, but not much and by someone who was quite careful with it.
The obvious question was the price. I’ve seen some astoundingly ludicrous prices attached to cameras in antiques shops. But a glance at the price tag showed that this one was pretty reasonable, but not so cheap that I ran immediately to the counter, greedily clutching my prize. And the price was for the whole kit; there were no prices for the individual pieces, and this being an antiques mall (meaning absentee vendors), there was no way to see if the owner was willing to split them up. I decided to mull it over for a few minutes.
The mulling period was abruptly terminated by the simple realization that I could not leave knowing that that Summitar – my Summitar (as I was already thinking of it) – was still in the case. I found the same employee and asked for the camera. As I waited for him to retrieve it from the case, I noticed a sign on one of the chairs in the stall: SALE! All Items 25% Off! Excellent…
Once I got home with my find, I started checking. The camera, the lens, and the books all dated to 1949. The manual was stamped with the name of a store in Stuttgart. Given that the distance scale on the lens is marked in meters, it makes perfect sense that this kit was bought in Europe. Interestingly, there was also a single sheet of thin paper tucked inside the manual, with a single typewritten line in German stating emphatically that French-language manuals were not in stock (underline in original).
Not all was perfect with the camera. It clearly hadn’t been used in a long time, and the slow speeds were off. The rangefinder spot was non-existent, meaning the mirror was shot. The aperture was stuck wide open and the focus was stiff, but I’ve dealt with enough old lenses to know that this is usually just dried up grease. But the rest of the kit was in fine shape. Importantly, the most vulnerable areas – the vulcanite on the body and the glass on the lens – were both excellent.
With a through CLA, made more difficult by the fact that every screw was locked in tight, the camera and lens are back in service. Judging by what I saw, this was the first time the camera or the lens has been open to the light of day since 1949. With the strong probability that this kit has been together since four years after the end of the Second World War, I would feel terrible splitting them up. They belong together.
So now I have two Leica IIIcs. And a Summitar. Let’s hope this calms my gear lust for a while.