Vintage Leica Ads: It's the prices that make you think
I love looking at vintage advertisements, in particularly listings of prices for new and secondhand gear. Somehow they put things in perspective. Old receipts are even more fascinating as I showed in my story of the Woolwich Leica IIIc and when William Fagan told us about his father's 1940 Super Baldina.
It's not surprising, then, that I found this compendium of old ads on LeicaRumors of more than passing interest. While the emphasis is very much on US advertising through the years, there are one or two (such as the E.Leitz layout above) with a British slant. The American listings show a lot of detail, including two interesting prices, from around 1955, for a IIIg at $342 and an M3 at $456. Both these prices include a lens, by the way. In an earlier ad we find a IIIf with 50mm Summicron being offered new for $336 and a bargain IIf with 50mm Elmar at $177. In yet another instance, a pre-war listing has a Leica Model D with 3.5cm Elmar lens for only $84.
It is difficult to translate these prices into current pounds sterling because of the problems of both exchange rates and inflation. Before the war, at the time of the Model D, there were four dollars to the pound, so that little package would have equated £21 at the time.
This could have been second hand because, in one of the British listings, I find a used Leica Model III with f/2 Summar available at City Sale in London, for £39. 10s. This, I feel sure, is from the 1930s. After the war the pound settled down at an exchange rate $2.60 so the 1950s prices above equate to £130 for the new IIIg and lens or £175 for the M3 and lens. About right, I suspect.
Ten quid a week
The ~1955 M3 with 50mm Summicron at $456 (£175) can be compared directly with a the new Leica M-A, which is very similar in specification to the M3, and a current 50mm Summicron. The MA is £3,275 and the Summicron £1,750. So, around £5,000 buys you now what you could have had in 1955 for £175. I judge this to be about right in terms of earning power (£10 a week was an above-average wage in 1955) and commodity values.
Leicas may seem expensive now but, in reality, they were just as costly in 1955 when you could have bought a good used car for the same money as the M3 and Summicron. Interestingly, in decent condition, the £175 M3 outfit from 1955 would still fetch around £1,000 today: Not bad as a deposit on a new M-A and modern lens after 60 years of use.