PW

Notable Leica Auctions

Rare Leicas are sought-after collector's items. The long history of small batch manufacturing, the use of exquisite materials and premium craftsmanship, and the heritage of being the prime tools of famous street and reportage photographers have enticed Leica cameras, lenses, and accessories to many photography aficionados and pushed up prices for old camera equipment. In what some observers consider "auction madness", Leica lots regularly beat expert estimations and sell for five, six or even seven figure US-dollar amounts at major auction houses. It is, thus, no surprise that the world's most expensive camera ever sold is a Leica – a 0-Series Prototype of 1923 – that was auctioned off for €2.16 million in May 2012. The costliest camera lens ever sold was equally produced by Leica – an APO-Telyt-R 1600mm f/5.6 – in this case as a special $2 million order item for a wealthy photography fan from Qatar.

leica 0 series westlicht
Leica 0-Series camera auction in May 2012[westlicht-auction.com]

Leica auction prices are driven by three main determinants: scarcity, technical and aesthetic condition, and historical relevance. There are a large number of technical and presentational variations of Leica equipment and for some of these varieties very few units were made or have been preserved. Leica has been fueling the differentiation of its cameras and lenses by issuing limited editions that commemorate particular events or anniversaries. This trend of producing small batches with special features started as early as 1929, when Leica issued "Luxus" versions of its 1-series cameras that had a gilded top and base plates and snakeskin leathering. The first of these Luxus-cameras sold for more than €1 million at an auction in May 2012.

leica mp black lpfoto
A Leica MP black paint that sold for €32,400 in Dec 2014[lpfoto.se]

The cosmetic and functional condition of an item is naturally a second factor that explains auction pricing. Fully functional cameras in excellent shape tend to outperform broken equipment or gear that shows heavy signs of use or age. Also, there is a substantial premium for original items over repaired, refurbished, or repainted equipment. Yet, scarcity clearly trumps condition. A heavily battered, broken camera that is rare will easily outsell a similar, but less exceptional piece of equipment that is in pristine condition. So if you happen to find an old Leica that looks ugly and beyond repair while cleaning out the attic, don't throw it into the garbage too quickly. It might well be worth a small fortune...

A third factor that has driven collectors to pay skyrocketing prices for some Leicas is historical context. Many Leicas used to be the photographic tools of choice of famous photographers or reporters. Cameras that belonged to these artists or photo-journalists often become memorabilia, which makes their valuations go through the roof. For example, the Leica III that was used by Russian photographer Yevgeny Khaldei to take the "Raising a flag over the Reichstag" photograph was auctioned off in Hongkong for more than $220,000 in November 2014.

Nowadays, the overwhelming share of vintage Leica equipment, including many Limited Editions, is sold through ebay. However, the most precious and rare pieces are often available from specialized auction houses, such as Westlicht, Tamarkin, or LPFoto. The latter generally organize one or two sales a year that provide an opportunity for Leica fans to gather and acquire missing pieces for their collections. The results of these auctions are available on the auctioneer websites, or are relayed via specialized news services, such as leicarumors.com. A selection of notable auction results is summarized below.

Some auction highlights

Sep 2016

Leica Family Tree

leica family tree showroom
  • Iconic "Stammbaum" of Leica cameras;
  • Tree-like arrangement of 107 camera models;
  • Retraces camera history since the Ur-Leica of 1914;
  • Display used to be shown in the entry hall of Leica's headquarters in Solms/Germany;
  • Part of Christie's "Out of the Ordinary" auction;
  • Starting bid: £220,000;
  • Winning bid: £362,500 (including buyer's premium);
  • More on the Leica family tree.
June 2016

Leica M3 Chrome No.4 (1954)

leica m3 fourth
  • One of the very first M3 with serial number 700004;
  • Bundled with Summicron 2/5cm;
  • First M camera to be exported to the USA;
  • Sold by Westlicht Camera Auctions;
  • Starting price of €30,000;
  • Winning bid of €312,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
  • More on Leica M rangefinder cameras.
June 2016

Leica M3D-100

leica m3d 100
  • Hommage to the 100th Birthday of David Douglas Duncan;
  • Copy of the Leica M3D built from the last surviving set of original MP spare parts from 1956;
  • Only four M3Ds had been custom-made for Mr. Duncan in 1955;
  • Auctioned at Westlicht, Vienna;
  • Winning bid of €108,000 (including buyer's premium);
  • Opening bid of €30,000;
  • More on Leica M rangefinder cameras.
Nov 2015

Leica M-P Gold "60 Years PRC" (2009)

leica mp gold prc
  • Limited edition to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China;
  • Leica M-P gold plated and covered in red calf's skin;
  • One of only 60 sets made;
  • Bundled with Summilux 1.4/50mm Asph;
  • Sold by Westlicht Camera Auctions;
  • Starting price of €15,000;
  • Winning bid: €48,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
  • More on Leica Limited Editions.
June 2015

Leica Gun Rifle Prototype (1939)

leica gun rifle
  • Chrome Leica Standard body with Telyt 4.5/20cm and Hektor 4.5/13.5cm;
  • PLOOT mirror housing and special bayonet mount;
  • Sold by Westlicht Camera Auctions;
  • Starting price of €150,000;
  • Winning bid: €288,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
June 2015

Leica M3 Prototype (1953)

leica m3 prototype
  • Leica M3 prototype camera with very early screw mount 5cm Summicron f/2;
  • Sold by Westlicht Camera Auctions;
  • Starting price of €80,000;
  • Winning bid: €192,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
  • More on Leica M-series cameras.
June 2015

Leica MP Black Paint (1957)

leica mp black
  • One of only 141 black MP cameras;
  • With matching Leicavit MP and black paint Summicron 2/5 cm;
  • Sold by Westlicht Camera Auctions;
  • Starting price of €140,000;
  • Winning bid: €264,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
  • More on Leica M rangefinder cameras.
June 2015

Leica M4 olive "BUNDESWEHR" (1970)

leica m4 bundeswehr
  • One of only thirty M4 cameras produced for the German army;
  • With chrome Elmar 2.8/50mm;
  • Sold by Westlicht, Vienna;
  • Starting price of €40,000;
  • Winning bid: €78,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
  • More on Leica M cameras.
Nov 2014

Leica ELCAN 90mm f/1 (1980)

leica elcan 90mm 10
  • Fast telephoto lens with bayonet fit;
  • Produced by Ernst Leitz Canada (ELCAN) for US Navy;
  • With integrated tripod mount;
  • Sold by Bonhams, Hongkong;
  • Winning bid: €135,022 (incl. buyer's premium);
Nov 2014

Leica III of Yevgeny Khaldei (1937)

leica iii khaldei
  • Leica III of Russian photographer Yevgeny Khaldei;
  • Used to take the iconic "Raising a flag over the Reichstag" image;
  • With SCNOO rapid winder and Elmar 3.5cm f/3.5 lens;
  • Sold by Bonhams, Hongkong;
  • Winning bid: $221,767 (incl. buyer's premium).
Nov 2014

Leica NASA (1966)

leica mda nasa
  • One of 150 Leica MDa cameras ordered by NASA for its lunar missions;
  • Body features extended controls to facilitate operation with space gloves;
  • With Noctilux f/1.2 50mm;
  • Sold by Bonhams, Hongkong;
  • Winning bid: $562,155 (incl. buyer's premium).
Dec 2013

Leica APO-Telyt-R 600mm f/5 (1987)

leica apo telyt r 600mm
  • 600mm mirror lens for the Leica R-system;
  • Unique prototype that never went into production;
  • Produced by Ernst Leitz Canada (ELCAN) for military intelligence;
  • Sold by Tamarkin Rare Camera Auctions;
  • Estimated price range: $15,000 – $30,000;
  • Winning bid: $70,000 (plus buyer's premium);
  • More on the Leica APO-Telyt-R 600mm.
Nov 2013

Leica M for (RED)

leica m ive newson
  • Leica M designed by Jony Ive and Marc Newson;
  • Custom made for the (RED) charitable auction 2013;
  • Main body of magnesium die-cast;
  • Outer shell of milled and anodized aluminum;
  • Lens based on APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH;
  • Only one unit made;
  • Winning auction bid: $1,8 million.
Nov 2012

Leica M3D (1955)

leica m3d
  • Previously owned by the LIFE photographer and Picasso intimate David Douglas Duncan;
  • One of four cameras custom built by Leitz for Mr. Duncan;
  • With black Leicavit (without MP label);
  • Black paint Summilux 1.4/50mm with special focusing lever;
  • Most expensive camera from a serial production ever sold;
  • Winning bid of €1,680,000 (including buyer's premium);
  • Opening bid of €150,000;
  • More on Leica M rangefinder cameras.
May 2012

Leica 0-Series Prototype (1923)

leica 0 series
  • One of 25 pre-production models, of which only 12 have been preserved;
  • Most expensive camera ever sold;
  • Final auction price (including buyer's premium) of €2.16 million (about $2.8 million);
  • Auction had started at €300,000;
  • Sold at the 21st WestLicht Camera auction in Vienna;
  • New owner remained anonymous.
May 2012

Leica I Mod. A Elmar Luxus (1929)

leica 1 luxus
  • "Luxus" edition with gold plated metal parts and lizard skin body;
  • First of only 95 "Luxus" cameras that were produced from 1929 to 1931;
  • With Leitz Elmar 1:3.5 f=50mm;
  • Sold by WestLicht Camera Auctions in Vienna;
  • Starting price of €70,000;
  • Winning bid of €1,020,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
May 2012

Leica M3 Chrome No.1 (1953)

leica m3 first
  • Very first production series M3 with serial number 700001;
  • Bundled with dual-lever Summicron 2/5cm;
  • Originally owned by Willi Stein, chief designer of Leitz;
  • Sold by WestLicht Camera Auctions in Vienna;
  • Starting price of €80,000;
  • Winning bid of €900,000 (incl. buyer's premium);
  • More on Leica M rangefinder cameras.

Further Reading

Many Leicas appreciated by collectors are from Limited Editions, of which there have been quite a few over time. Additional technical detail on Leica equipment is available in the M-camera and R-camera compendiums, as well as the corresponding M-lens and R-lens catalogs. Moreover, if a particular term or expression seems unclear, you might want to check out the Leica glossary on this site.