The LHSA (The International Leica Society) recently held its 50th anniversary AGM in Wetzlar, the ancestral and current home of the Leica camera. I attended with my wife Laura. It was good to meet old and new friends who came from 19 different countries. Some of those friends were, like myself, also members of the Leica Society in the UK — such as Keith Walker and Macfilos editor Mike Evans in the photo on the left below and John Gregory who is in the photo on the right.
Click on individual pictures in the gallery blocks to see them full size
One of the first items was a tour of the factory, or, I should say, the outside of the factory as entry to the actual premises is not permitted to persons who are not staff. Our excellent guide was Lothar Lühring
In the back of the entrance foyer there are some examples of early Leicas, including a replica Ur Leica and an early I Model A, together with some Leica copies, including some from the former Soviet Union and a Reid copy from the UK.
The main factory areas, seen through windows, were involved in lens manufacture.
A cabinet beside the factory contains a notebook with some other items. The notebook includes numbers which were engraved or stamped behind the infinity knobs on lenses to indicate the actual focal length of a particular example. Time and space do not permit going into this in detail here, but I can write another article about this if anyone is interested. The note at the bottom of the page appears to have been written in 1936, some months after the death of Oskar Barnack. The handwriting looks like that of Mr Zuhlcke, the foreman of the optical department, who had reported to Barnack on lens development and manufacturing issues.
At the back of the optical department, some vintage Leicas were on display in glass cases. These do not really constitute a museum or archive. That will come later, probably in 2020.
On the afternoon of the first day we went on a trip around Wetzlar with some fellow LHSA members. Views here include the Lottehaus, associated with Goethe, the Eisenmarkt and Wetzlar Cathedral
I took the Eisenmarkt photo, while standing on the famous manhole cover, with a 35mm lens and then tried to crop it to the 42mm perspective of the Mikro Summar lens said to have been used by Barnack, but I could not quite match it.
There were many presentations at the event, including an excellent one by Stefan Daniel and his team on the current Leica line up, which has already been covered by Mike. One moment that really sticks in the mind was the round of applause which Peter Karbe, Head of Optics Development, received for the MTF charts for the upcoming 35mm APO Summicron TL. This was a new ‘first’ in my experience.
I believe that I may have spotted one of these lenses ‘in the wild’ at the LHSA Dinner.
Readers here will know that I have a special fondness for vintage Leicas. In the afternoon, after the presentation by Peter Karbe. we had a wonderful series of events, relating to the history of Leica and its cameras and lenses. Firstly, we had a presentation by Lars Netopil about his recent book on the contents of the Leica Museum which will open fully in 2020.
It is impossible to do justice here to this large two-volume tome and the best I can do is to provide this link to an interview with Lars about the book.
We then went on a visit to the recently opened Leica Archives with Mrs Monika Bock who is in charge. There was an ‘outer sanctum’ which contained many general items.
In the first shot on the left above, Mrs Bock is enthusing about Leica literature, watched over by a giant ‘red dot’. In the middle photo she is telling us about the Barnack image of the Eisenmarkt. In the final photo on the right she is showing us some early Leica design drawings.
We were then brought into the ‘inner sanctum’ which contained many cameras in boxes, including the very large collection of Rolf Fricke. We did look into the box containing his Leica IIIbs , but there was no sign of the rumoured black IIIb. We also looked into a box containing design mock ups for the Zagato Leica. The ‘inner sanctum’ also contains the very precious early delivery records. Sadly we were not allowed to take pictures in this area.
After the Archive tour, we had a presentation from George Furst, an LHSA member living in South Korea, who has made his own working model of the Ur-Leica. [Correction: See George’s comment below, he didn’t make the camera and has provided more detail]
In the middle shot, George explains his Ur-Leica project to a group of LHSA vintage enthusiasts, including the renowned Leica historian Jim Lager who is shown in the middle photo. The final photo of George on the right was taken with his Ur-Leica replica and it truly demonstrates the excellent photographic quality which George has obtained. He showed us many other examples taken in South Korea, and the early lens showed no sign of distortion of any kind.
We then dashed for a bus to bring us to the Alter Friedhof cemetery in Wetzlar which contains the graves of various Leica luminaries, including the Leitz family, Max Berek, the lens designer and, of course, Oskar Barnack.
We persuaded George Furst to place his Ur-Leica replica on the grave of Barnack as a tribute to the designer and creator of the Leica camera.
George also brought along a camera which he had made himself, shown below in brass and silver metal, with an interesting sliding shutter. It represents what is said to be an even earlier prototype of the Leica than the Ur model. Both Lars Netopil and Jim Lager said that there was no documentary evidence of such a camera, but George is determined to continue with his research.
The photo on the right above shows George explaining this camera at Barnack’s grave to a truly international group of LHSA members, including, from the left, Philip Ramsden from Australia, Dan Tamarkin from USA, Alejandro Blaquier from Argentina, George Furst from South Korea and Raymond Piganiol from France. To complete the international picture, the photo was taken by myself from Ireland.
The photo in black and white above shows little monk-like figures praying at the end of a tomb of a local worthy.
After lunch, we headed to the Marburger Schloss, Marburg Castle, where our excellent guide was Ulrika (Uli) Richter. Her surname, which means judge, seems to be common in that part of Germany. Ulf Richter, who attended our dinner that evening, is the author of a book on Barnack which has been translated by Rolf Fricke for the LHSA.
The last photo on the right above shows a group of LHSA members and spouses listening to Uli as she describes the Castle Chapel.
That night we had the AGM Banquet Dinner, which was attended by LHSA members and Leica AG staff, and featured various speeches and awards. Dr Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica AG, spoke about his own background and that of his company. In the photos below Dr Kaufmann is shown from the left with Gary Hough, the outgoing president of LHSA, our esteemed editor, Mike Evans, and while he was speaking at the event. The final photo on the right shows Alan Weinschel, the incoming President of LHSA, making a presentation to Stefan Daniel of Leica AG.
The following morning we set off before dawn for the LHSA Rhine Cruise from Koblenz to Rudesheim.
The dawn and early morning light were absolutely lovely.
One of the main attractions on this stretch of the Rhine was the series of castles, generally sitting above small towns. We were told that the occupants of such castles had in previous times demanded taxes from those travelling on the river.
The photo on the right above shows Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on an island in the middle of the river. This was a toll castle and in times past a chain was pulled across the river to stop boats from avoiding the toll. If the toll was not paid, the occupants of the boat were kept in a dungeon until a ransom was forthcoming.
The cruise was also an opportunity to meet with LHSA members from various countries in a pleasing social environment.
From the left, the members are Alejandro Blaquier from Argentina, Wilbur Norman from Santa Fe, USA, Kannan Palanisamy from Copenhagen, Denmark, and, finally, Philip Ramsden from Australia (they get everywhere those Aussies!) sharing a joke with my wife, Laura. Truly an international gathering on the Rhine.
The LHSA has asked me and other members to perform a liaison role in our regions (mine being Europe) with a view to expanding both activities and membership. As part of the membership drive, Leica AG has agreed to provide a card offering trial membership of the LHSA in the box of every Leica system camera sold. More details about this will emerge over time. An important aspect of this will be which activities will attract members in various parts of the world.
Many members brought vintage cameras with them on the cruise and I was somewhat sorry that I hadn’t packed one from my stable. This led to many discussions on the deck of our boat about such cameras and their lenses and the best way to use them. Jim Lager was on hand to provide definitive advice on many matters. I found out that Jim shares my preference for original, rather than restored, cameras and, also like me, he does not have a great fondness for special editions’ Jim is very generous with his knowledge and time when it comes to vintage Leicas. Here is Jim holding forth on the deck, regarding his books and classic Leicas, just before the cruise came to an end.
We greatly enjoyed our short holiday in Germany. The LHSA organised a splendid event in Wetzlar for its members from around the globe. Any Leica enthusiast would have been pleased with the content and the organisation by the LHSA team was superb. Leica AG staff are also owed a great deal of thanks for their part in the event.
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