Leica Collections: Fitted camera case and equipment as sold in 1936
Solid leather fitted camera system cases were immensely popular from the 1920s through to 1960s. They were in their heyday before the second world war and the smart Leica owner of the time is likely to have coveted a compact brown leather hold-all such as this Leica ETTRE with custom fittings for the equipment.
These cases, and similar, were the forerunners of today's Billinghams and Loewe Pros. However, because they were made to accommodate with precision a specific range of equipment, they were often kept together— as is the case with this 80-year-old set.
We were able to borrow the ETTRE case stuffed with period gear for a short inspection at our Holborn offices. What is particularly unusual about this outfit is that it was purchased complete in 1936 with a black-painted Leica III and all the lenses and accessories you would need for general snapping. It has been in one family for 80 years and, despite a bit of wear and tear, is still as serviceable as when it left the dealer's counter before the war. Unlike the M3 set which we covered last week, this is not a pristine, as-new collection. Instead it has been well used through its life and is a testimony to the sturdy construction and long life of Leica products of the era.
Focal point of this outfit is the very tidy black III. Although the black-paint version was marketed as a cheaper camera than the chrome III, things are now turned on their heads and it is the black version which commands the higher prices according to our LTM¹ expert, William Fagan.
At launch in 1933, he says, the black and nickel III with Summar was £33.13s.0d and the chrome equivalent was £34.17s.0d. One pound four shillings was a lot in those days and could easily influence a buying decision. By 1936, when this kit was purchased, the black camera and Summar lens cost £39.10s.0 compared with £40.16s.0d for the chrome version (see below for precise costings). The camera body, without lens, would have cost £23.2d.0d.
This is a well-preserved III with the nickel knobs and dials in almost perfect condition; normally there is significant scratching and tarnishing of the metal after so many years.
But the highlight is the 5cm f/2 Summar in nickel. This is one of the cleanest and most attractive period nickel lenses I have encountered. It is also unusual in that the front rim is painted black. This is quite rare and it is a sought after lens. The extension tube is remarkably unscathed and shiny, with minimal scratching and no evidence of tarnish. Aperture and depth-of-field scales are also gleaming like new. This is a lens through which you can thoroughly appreciate the undoubted lust that it would have attracted in grandfather's time.
The case holds three original filters with their screw-in tightening bands, made for the Summar and Elmar, a rather tatty but serviceable VIDOM universal finder (with the reverse image, rather disconcerting), a metal reloadable FILCA B film cassette and caps for the lenses. There are two vacant slots, one that should hold a 3.5cm Elmar, preferably in nickel to match the rest of the outfit, and one for the accessory-shoe rangefinder which was probably not supplied at the time of purchase because the III doesn't need one.
Jewel in this particular case, however, is not the tidy Leica III nor, even, the beautiful nickel Summar. The real gem is sitting in the middle, the 10.5cm Berg Elmar (Mountain or Alpine Elmar), a lens that is now quite rare and which has an interesting history. This is a good example, including tiny lens cap and microscopic hood. Only 3,975 Mountain Elmars were sold between 1932 and 1937, so this is one of the later examples. At the time they were not very popular, possibly because of the slow aperture. Now they are highly desirable and this item, alone, would be worth upwards of £800.
The Mountain Elmar is an ultra-compact and light (240g) medium tele with maximum aperture of f/6.3. It was designed primarily for outdoor activities, such as mountain climbing and hiking, from which the name is derived. Mounted on the III, it makes a very compact combination for landscapes and, of course, for portraiture.
In addition to the box of goodies, the set came with an f/4.5 13.5cm Elmar which is in reasonable but not outstanding condition. Discontinued in 1936 (and superseded by the Hektor), the Elmar is missing from the 1936 catalogue but was listed at £13.14s.0d in 1933.
This is an highly desirable complete travel outfit from the early days of Leica. I thoroughly agreed with Ivor Cooper's reluctance to split the consignment; this is a set that deserves to live together for another 80 years. Sometimes sentiment does come into business.
As for original cost, I happen to have a Leica General Catalogue for 1936 in front of me and have been able to work out the exact cost of this kit. It came to a total of £59.5s.0d, including the camera and two lenses, plus the case and accessories (but excluding the separate Elmar 13.5cm). That come to just under £3,800 in 2016. Indeed, if you were to buy a modern equivalent of the III (a Leica M-A at £3,250), plus equivalent modern lenses and accessories, you would pick up a bill nearer to £6,000.
The brown leather case and fitted equipment was on sale at Red Dot Cameras for £1,499 last week. The camera had been serviced and the lenses cleaned, ready for another 80 years of action. Not surprisingly, it was snapped up within hours of appearing on the site. The new owner was happy for this article to appear.
All photographs with the exception of the leading picture (a scan supplied by William Fagan) were taken by Red Dot Cameras. Thanks to Ash and Francis for their time and skill.
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¹ Leica Thread Mount, also known as Leica Screw Mount ↩︎