Vintage Leica cameras were manufactured in Germany starting in 1914 and certain models are still made there today. They are considered among the most prestigious in a camera aficionado’s collection. I first started selling them as a 25-year-old in central Illinois, when a physician neighbor tasked me with finding him unusual German cameras during my visits to local antique shops, fairs and shows. Under his tutelage, I became
quite adept at distinguishing common, beat-up Leicas from the rare and expensive ones.
Thirty years later I continue to buy them, and it is much easier today – because collectors have written books that pinpoint with precision the date, time, and era a camera was manufactured, as well as how many were made.
When collecting cameras – as with other antiques – condition is the most important factor after rarity. Most common Leica cameras that have been heavily used bring about $200 to $300. And indeed, with the advent of cheap, easy digital cameras, some that used to bring $50,000 to $60,000 now only bring $30,000 to $35,000. Some of the “sleepers” to look for are cameras with early serial numbers, cameras in their original box with papers, and A.) early M3 cameras with black paint (in good condition, these can bring $10,000 to $20,000).
Other unsung gems include the unusual, early, large or complicated lenses, such as the Noctilux series, B. – which bring $1,000 to $10,000 if in good condition – and early 90mm Thambar lenses, which bring $1,000 to
$20,000. Even small, common lenses in good condition bring from $50 to $400 apiece. The rarest Leica on record, C., was goldplated and made in 1932. It sold at auction for more than $2 million and was one of a limited edition of four. Only that one has surfaced to date. Could you have one of the other three?
Leicas with military insignias, especially German insignias, such as D., also bring a premium.