Last year, a Leica M3D rangefinder from 1955 sold for 1.68 million euros ($2.19 million) at auction, making it the world’s most expensive production camera at the time. The camera, once owned by Life magazine photographer David Douglas Duncan, was sold by the WestLicht photographic auction house in Austria, which is looking to break some new records at its upcoming 24th Camera Auction on November 23.
Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll fetch high bids, but there are plenty of photographic gems. You’ll find the usual Leicas, but there are some old Nikons (including an F3 designed for NASA) and glorious cameras from the 1800s. While the auction will draw mainly collectors with deep pockets, it’s an opportunity to buy into photography’s history and the technological marvels of the time. Here’s a look at some of the more intriguing items hitting the auction block. (The full catalog will be available a month four weeks before the auction.)
Leica I Mod. C Luxus
Before there was a gold iPhone, there were gold Leicas. This Luxus is described as 100-percent original and in fine condition. The body is covered in lizard skin with gold plated metal. Only 95 were ever produced, and WestLicht estimates it’ll fetch between 150,000-200,000 euros, with an opening bid of 90,000 euros; a Luxus from 1929 was sold for nearly 1.02 million euros at last year’s auction.
Nikon F3 NASA 250
Nikon made a splash last week (pun intended) with its new Nikon 1 AW1 waterproof camera, but the company has a history of building unique cameras. This heavily modified version of the F3 35mm SLR was made for NASA in 1986 and was designed to be used in space. Only 19 were made, and some never made it back to Earth; this one is in near mint condition. Although it’s amazing from a technical standpoint, its opening bid is only 26,000 euros and is estimated to fetch between 50,000-60,000.
Leica M3 Chrome No. 1.000.000
Known as the “One Millionth Leica,” this M3 from 1960 was presented to Dr. Ludwig Leitz (part of the Leitz family, which started the predecessor company of Leica) by Willi Stein, creator of the M3 (notice the 1,000,000 mark on the top of the camera). Having been in the Leitz Museum, it’s listed in “fine original condition, with matching and mint CF Summicron 2/50mm” lens, this camera has a whopping opening bid of 200,000 euros, and it’s estimated to bring in as much as half-a-million euros.
The auction will offer other Leica rangefinders too, including a 1950 Leica IIIf No. 500.000 that was presented to Dr. Ernst Leitz II, and an M3 Double Stroke “Leica-Technik” with three prototype lenses.
San Giorgio Janua
Can’t afford one of the Leicas listed? How about bidding on a knockoff with an opening bid of only 2,200 euros? But unlike counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags, this Leica copy from 1949 is a genuine camera with an interesting history.
You see, after the Second World War, German patents – Leica’s included – were nullified by the Allies and made available to the public, which led to a proliferation of Leica-like cameras from around the world and contributed to the birth of the Japanese camera industry. WestLicht says the Italian San Giorgio Janua is “one of the many interesting Leica copies in the upcoming auction,” and will come with a full kit containing case, instructions, filters, and accessories.
L’Anorthoscope by Joseph Plateau
Want to know what photography was like before film and digital? Check out this instrument from 1836. The set includes 12 anamorphic discs, the mechanical instrument, instructions, and box – all original. Two discs spin at different speeds to create a fixed image from the anamorphic ones. It’s so rare, WestLicht is only aware of three complete examples in private hands.
Also from that century, the auction will have examples of daguerreotype cameras, which are the first “practical” cameras.
Not to be confused with the mirrorless Nikon 1, the Nikon I (or Nikon Camera) was the company’s first 35mm compact rangefinder that took 24x32mm photos. Made in 1948 but sold in 1949, this particular unit has a based plate engraved with “Made in Occupied Japan,” in reference to Japan’s status after World War II. The Nikon I comes with its original blue velvet box, leather case, and accessories. It even includes the original sales invoice. If you want a part of Nikon’s history, opening bid starts at 9,000 euros.
East Wind / Dong Feng “Hasselblad Copy”
Calling it the “most rare Chinese camera,” this Hasselblad copy was made in 1970 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution. The camera was ordered by Mao Zedong’s fourth wife to demonstrate the capabilities of the China’s manufacturing industry at the time. It’s in fine and working condition, too, and there are hints it could be the first camera made. Yours starting at 12,000 euros.
Nikon Stereo-Nikkor 3.5/3.5cm Outfit
You might think 3D imaging is modern tech, but stereoscopic photography has been around for a long time. With this item, you get a chrome Nikon S camera body from the 1950s along with a near mint-condition Stereo-Nikkor 3.5/3.5 lens and accessories. This camera was pricey for its time, and it’s not any cheaper now: bids start at 20,000 euros, estimated to fetch between 35,000-40,000 euros.
Check out more cameras at WestLicht’s site. Want to know about more about the most expensive digital cameras? We have them here.
(Images via WestLicht)