The rare Leica camera that broke auction records

Top view of Leica Series 0 No. 105, one of 23 prototypes that preceded the commercialization of the first Leitz 35mm camera. (all images courtesy of Leica Camera Classics)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that has nothing to do with a camera worth over $15 million. This is the new world record for the sale of a camera, set this summer at the Leitz Photographica auction, when a Leica 0-Series No. 105 hammered 14.4 million euros (approximately $15,151,847 at the time of the June 11 sale).

The auction takes place twice a year and is considered one of the largest and most renowned in the world for vintage cameras and other optical equipment thanks to its association with the Leitz camera. Colloquially known as Leicas, the Leitz camera was the world’s first 35mm camera, and vintage models are eminently collectable as artifacts of modern photography. However, the Leica that broke auction records in June was something very special – one of around 22 models of the “0-Series” prototype produced by Ernst Leitz, the inventor of the camera, before until it was widely circulated in the mid-1920s.

The camera, estimated between 2 and 3 million euros, broke estimates and records.

Teaming up with a prominent former owner, Oskar Barnack, further enhanced the provenance of the nearly 100-year-old camera. Barnack was a German inventor and photographer who designed the so-called “Liliput camera” in 1913, establishing a prototype for what would later become the first commercially successful 35mm camera at Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar, Germany. Germany. Barnack used the 0-Series 105 to capture moments of his family life and applied the experience he gained in the process to further develop the camera for consumer use. His name is engraved on the top of the viewfinder of the No. 105, making it a truly unique piece, imbued many times over with the origins of modern photography.

The camera once belonged to Oskar Barnack, who helped develop the Leitz camera for consumer use.

But while the special nature of the camera drew auction predictions of €2,000,000 to €3,000,000, it seemed no one was ready to see it shoot nearly five times the high estimate per shot. of hammer. Previously, the world’s most expensive camera – also a 0 series, serial number 122 – sold at the 32nd Westlicht Camera Auction in Vienna, Austria in 2018 for 2.96 million of dollars.

The enormous price achieved by No. 105 underscores “the interest in historically significant objects in the world of photography, which has been steadily increasing for years”, according to Alexander Sedlak, Managing Director of Leica Camera Classics.

You gotta love this Leica!

Obviously, Leicas also have a long symbiotic relationship with photography as an art form. Photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said “the camera is an extension of the eye”, extended his eye through a 35mm Leica. William Eggleston was also a fan, amassing some 300 Leicas in his personal collection. From the candid career of Bruce Davidson to the studio arsenal of highly structured studio shots of Annie Leibovitz, Leicas has helped shape the last century of commercial, amateur and artistic photography.

The identity of the buyer remains unknown, but whoever they are have shown their dedication to owning a piece of photographic history.