Over at Quill and Pad, my favourite watch magazine, they’ve been looking at ways to spot a fake watch. Six good ways, in fact.
Now as I know from personal experience, spotting a fake watch isn’t always as easy as it seems. The layman knows instinctively that he could tell a fake Rolex or a Panerai from the genuine article. But he could be so wrong, so good have these fakes become. If you are in the market for an exclusive Swiss watch, definitely bear in mind the old legal maxim of caveat emptor.
Fortunately, in the modern world of digital cameras, we appear to be immune from fakery. In fact, I cannot think of any instance of a fake digital Leica, Canon or Nikon digital. Let me know if I’m wrong on this.
It wasn’t always so. In the early days of Leica fakes were common, quite apart from the Russian cameras which were copied but not misbranded. In the Leica collector world even a few details changed on a run-of-the-mill film Leica can add hundreds to its value. Conversely, early cameras that have been updated officially by the factory, can now command less money than the original, unchanged camera.
Our contributor William Fagan, who has a vast knowledge of the early Leica world, tells me that there are two main categories to beware of — fakes, where a camera purports to be a Leica and copies where a camera may look like a Leica but carries the name of another manufacturer.
He goes on to mention that a major area of fakery is in relation to military cameras which often fetch a premium, if genuine. There are some obvious ones to avoid, such as those with swastikas and eagles (the Reichsadler). Others are less easy to spot, such as those with the initials W.H. (Wehrmacht Heer) or “Luftwaffen Eigentum” (property of the Luftwaffe). They are relatively easy to fake, using a genuine period camera. There are lists of serial numbers of military cameras but William’s advice is to seek the opinion of an expert.
The final category, according to William, relates to tarted up or repainted cameras. A very common one is a black-paint camera that was originally produced in a chrome finish. They can look good. But most collectors, including William, seek the holy grail of “original condition” whereas a lot of people like cameras with shiny black paint and don’t mind the fact that it isn’t genuine. William sums up:
The real issue here is that paying too much might result in quite a shock if the owner ever tries to sell the camera. There is nothing wrong with cameras that were upgraded many years ago by Leica and which may carry the serial number of an earlier model.
But Purchasers should bear in mind that the valuation of the later model would apply rather than the value of the earlier model. That means that the camera would be worth less than one which had not been upgraded. In collecting as opposed to buying today’s cameras the ‘older the more valuable’ rule applies. The early serial number might fetch a small premium, but no mare than that.
Unless you know what you are doing, buying an early Leica that is considered special and therefore more expensive than lesser versions, is not something to do without advice. Auction sites such as eBay are fertile sales territory for the dodgy Leica.
If you wish to start collecting film Leicas there is plenty of advice to be found on the internet and in a wide range of books and catalogues. That said, the safest option is to buy from a reputable dealer such as MW Classic Cameras or Peter Loy. Both are on-line dealers but one of the finest displays of old Leicas in a retail environment can be found at Red Dot Cameras in London.