End of an era in photography at London Leica specialist R.G.Lewis
This morning I paid a visit to R.G.Lewis in Southampton Row, London, to have a chat and look over the stock in the closing-down sale. Last week owner Len Lyons announced his intention to retire and 100-year-old business, once the UK’s leading Leica agent, will close in June. I came away having purchased a wonderful momento of a fine and dedicated Leica retailer.
Many times I had noticed a Leica marine enclosure sitting on top of one of the shop the display cases. It is a sturdy all-metal construction that was manufactured and sold by R.G.Lewis back in the 1950s. This particular model is intended for screw-mount cameras up to the IIIf. I suspect the IIIg, the last of the two-finder traditional Leicas, would be a little too large to fit.
The story behind this device, of which there were several iterations (some made for Reid cameras) is fascinating. As I mentioned in my previous article, the founder of the camera retailer, Norman Lewis, was an incredible operator: Photographic enthusiast, successful travel writer, British spy and, incidentally, a friend of Ian Fleming. There is a link to his autobiogphy in the previous article. On his travels he took up diving and decided he needed to take one of his Leicas into the depths with him. He design this contraption, which looks almost like a miniature deep-sea diving suit, and sold it through R.G.Lewis and other retailers.
The Leica (or Reid) fits snugly inside the housing, with jumbo levers and cogged wheels to handle focus, film advance and shutter release. The outside controls are also giant sized for easy manipulation while wearing gloves.
Once the backplate is screwed on, the pressure inside the camera was increased by pumping in air through a valve, just like with a car tyre. This, I presume, helped maintain the waterproof seals on deep dives.
If I wish to know more I can still buy an instructions manual. I also found an interesting little review of the case (it cost $85 plus shipping) in the American magazine Popular Photography from June 1956 . You can browse through the entire magazine here.
While I am certainly not planning to take up deep-sea diving, especially not with a 60-year-old camera, I can see the merit of having this unusual souvenir for display. It is a fairly rare item and I was delighted when Len agreed to sell it to me.
I grabbed a few quick shots today, but the “R.G.Lewis Photo-Marine Case” was just a little too hefty to carry back to Macfilos Towers. Next week I will make a special trek to Holborn to collect. It will have pride of place in my office as a special reminder of a wonderful, traditional photographic retailer that, sadly, will soon be no more.