My weekend visit to Bievres turned out to be one of the most enjoyable outings I’ve had this year. The camera fair in this small town near Versailles is one of Europe’s foremost places to buy used photographic equipment, from the very earliest days through to modern digitals. The crowds of visitors from all over the world were a testament to the pull of this annual event. This year was the 52nd fair and it has become an pilgrimage for anyone who is anyone in the collectors’ sphere.
I travelled with Ivor Cooper and Francis Qureshi from London Leica dealer Red Dot Cameras and Dave Woodford from MW Classics. And, once there, we were part of a large group of regulars, including London classics dealer, Peter Loy. Watching these experts in action was an education. Negotiating a deal is a craft, and I realise my jib is not exactly cut to the right measure for such a task. I finished the weekend in awe of the skills of the British camera pack, particularly those of Peter Loy who is surely the snake-charmer of all buyers.
To watch Peter in full flight is an revelation: Negotiating a discount on a batch of lenses or cameras, then bringing the price down by adding more to the pile. In the end most exhibitors were worn to a frazzle, not to mention thoroughly confused, and gave in gracefully. Norbert, a dealer from Germany, was driven to bribing us with Haribo gummibears as classic Leica lenses piled into a confusing pyramid at an unfeasibly cheap prices: “Now you see them, now you don’t, that will be €750 if you please….”
Peter, Dave and Ivor were there as traders, of course, and I had no such fixed objective or obligation. Still, I couldn’t resist a few bargains. I came away with a mint, boxed 15-year-old Leica M6 TTL, a very good condition X1 at a giveaway price and a couple of bonus items—a lovely little Rollei 35 kit, boxed, and a mid-30s 5cm Elmar, the archetypal screw-mount Leica lens that I have long had my eye on as a companion for the IIIf.
There were fewer Asian dealers than I had expected, after my experience at the London Photographica, but a number of stars of the Leica and collectible book market were in evidence. They included Jim McKeown from Wisconsin, author of the definitive and eponymous camera encyclopaedia, and veteran collector and author Shinichi Nakamura, perhaps Japan’s foremost expert on the German marque and scribe of Leica Collection. When it comes to old Russian cameras there is no greater pundit than Jean-Loup Princelle, the rather eccentric Bretonese author of The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras. Dressed in full kilt ensemble, presumably the Breton version, he insisted on playing his bagpipes at every opportunity.
After two solid days of tramping around the main square and adjacent streets of Bièvres, I can well understand how addictive this event can become. I’ve determined to go back next year but I will do more homework beforehand, home in on a few chosen targets and mug up on the latest prices. There is no doubt that if you want a Leica film camera—or any other type of camera for that matter—Bièvres is the place to go. The amount you can save on, say, a good M6 or M3 goes a long way to paying for the travel and the hotel.
Cameras? I was lucky enough to have Leica Mayfair’s little D-Lux in my possession for the weekend. But I added the Ricoh GR as a featherweight backup. After buying the X1 I popped in a spare SD card and was in business with little addition, renewing my experiences from four years ago. Since then I’ve owned the X2, with its electronic viewfinder capability, but the X1 is now a classic and works as well as ever, one or two little foibles apart. It is a great little digital to carry around in the pocket and it still looks like a true mini Leica.