Back in September, I published an article on my discovery of the 70-year-old undeveloped Leica cassette. It seemed appropriate to dub it “the Swiss roll”. Now, of course, this story has had worldwide attention and aroused a great deal of speculation. This follow-up article sticks to the facts. What do we know so far?
I want to start with a big thank you to all of our readers here and elsewhere for their interest in this story, which is, of course, truth rather than fiction. The objective of my original article was and still remains to trace the families of the people in the photos and to present them with prints. I have no other motive in respect of all of this. I am an amateur photographer and collector of old cameras and other photographilia as well as being a sometime author on those subjects and intend to remain so.
The account of the mysterious roll has attracted worldwide coverage with possibly over five million hits or reads on the likes of the BBC, CNN, London Times, Irish Times, New York Times and most particularly and, most importantly, in media in Switzerland, Germany and Italy.
We have had hundreds of observations and suggestions here and elsewhere, particularly on the Leica Forum, not only relating to the identity of the people but also about places, buildings, the car, the year and the season among many others.
The most important issue, the identification of the people, has brought dozens of suggestions, some rather wild. We have had every type of person suggested, including European royalty, half of Hollywood, politicians, military people, scientists and authors as well as great grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters and even the folks next door.
We are working our way through these suggestions, and other information received, concentrating on the most likely leads. Still, to date, we do not have sufficient evidence to enable a confirmed identification. I would encourage anyone who has evidence, particularly of the photographic kind, to share it with us on Macfilos Mail — email@example.com
This article is intended to share all the hard in-period evidence that we have to date. That must start with the roll of negatives in my possession. Those familiar with photographic film will be aware of the frame numbers which are on the film edge with the most well known being the numbers 1 to 36 on a standard roll of 35mm film. In this case, even though it is bulk film, the roll of Perutz negatives has numbers on the edge. In common with other films, I have seen, it runs 1, 1A, 2A and so on, with the A indicating the half frame. In this case, the A is directly beneath the frames, but I will use just the frame number in this article. For the sake of clarity
What I have done below is to set out the frames in the journey stages and I am also matching them with modern Google maps to show the approximate locations where the photos were taken.
In many cases, we know the precise locations where these photographs were taken, even down to seats which are still there seventy years later. However, showing those on exact maps would greatly expand the size of this article without adding substantially to the narrative or the identification process.
The complete road journey would be about 546 km on modern roads and was probably longer in the early 1950s, with fewer direct road networks. This does not alter the likely validity of the stages, which are indicated by the sequence of the photos on the roll of negatives.
Finally, there is no image on frame 1 which may have been lost in the initial winding on and the story starts with Frame 2. The frame numbers show the exact sequence in which the photos were taken.
So let’s start the trip with our mystery couple, the little dachshund, the BMW 315 and possible a 1935 Leica Model III
Bahnhofplatz Zürich to Hotel Tamina, Bad Ragaz – 98 Km – Frames 2,3, 4
This has been the most discussed frame, particularly in respect of a possible date for the trip. It is taken in Bahnhofplatz in Zürich, and it shows the young woman with the dachshund talking to someone in the BMW 315, who is most likely the older woman seen in frame 3 which follows.
As regards the date issue, I could do a fifty-page article on this, which space and time do not permit. But, based on a number of features in this photo and particularly by cross-reference to these photos of the reception for Hugo Koblet the Swiss winner of the 1950 Giro d’Italia cycle race which ended on 13 June 1950, the photo in Frame 2 could have been taken in the Spring of 1950
I won’t go into this in detail, but a lot of the features in the location [which are shown in these Getty Images photos] match those in Frame 2. Still, some features are not seen as many of the photos were taken from the balcony of the hotel opposite the station. Given the weather shown in the later frames, we could be talking about Spring or late Spring of 1950 for the trip. I am not going any further with this for the present because (a) it is not totally relevant to identifying the people at present and (b) we could be here all night discussing it.
This frame shows the young woman with the dachshund standing with an older woman outside the station (Bahnhof) in Zürich. It was omitted from the original article because of the obvious light damage. The older woman could be a relative of either the man or the woman. She might have arrived in the car, or she might have also arrived by train, possibly with the young woman. There are other possibilities, of course, particularly as Bahnhofplatz is a regular meeting place in Zürich
Here we see the old Town Hall in Bad Ragaz and mountains beyond. The town hall no longer exists, but it appears in aerial photographs from 1942. This frame seems to have been taken from the fourth floor of the Tamina Hotel, which was just opposite the Town Hall. The hotel is still there today. Some of our readers have contacted it, but it has no records of visitors going back as far as the fifties.
A summary map, using a 2020 Google Map, of this stage is shown here, and a similar map will be shown at the end of the description of each of the subsequent stages of the trip.
Hotel Tamina, Bad Ragaz to St Moritz – 104 km, Frames 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
This frame shows the BMW cabriolet near to the Julier Hospiz, La Veduta, on the Julier Pass. The car is pointing in the direction of travel. While the road has changed, the establishment is still there today and is recognisable down to the rocky bank on the right with the flag/communications pole on top of it.
This grainy picture (the negatives vary in quality possible due to light leaks when the cassette was opened, by myself and, probably, others) shows a view over the snow-covered mountains from the Julier Pass.
This frame shows the young woman beside the BMW and probably holding onto the dog, on the Julier Pass, a few kilometres from La Veduta. The low building behind, which may be for equipment or animals or feed, is still there but is not as long as it was the fifties. The rear of the building appears to have been of wooden construction at the time that the photo was taken.
This frame seems to have been taken from the road on the way into St Moritz. There are many such scenes to be observed from that road today, but in most places, the trees are considerably higher than they were when the pictures were taken.
This has been identified as St Moritz, and many of the same buildings are still there today. There is some debate about whether this was taken from a hotel and whether the couple might have spent a night there.
A summary Map of this stage is shown here:
St Moritz to Menaggio– 96.8 Km – Frames 10, 11, 12, and 13
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted a pattern emerging of journey stages that were about 100 km long. Some have speculated about whether this journey was all undertaken on the same day, but we can only speculate about this. Certainly, the couple is likely to have been in a hotel in Bad Ragaz, and they also spent quite some time around Lake Como. This might point to some nights away, possibly two or three overall.
Moving on to this photo, it shows the BMW with the woman sitting inside it. The man seems to have been quite proud of this car, but whether this was because he owned it or just had a loan of it can be debated. People rarely photograph their cars when they have had them for some years. On the other hand, he might have wanted to or have been asked to photograph the young woman inside the car. We are getting away from facts and moving into some speculation here, of course.
This frame shows the car stopped on the road from St Moritz to Menaggio. It may have been for a short meal break. The building on the left seems to have outhouses and may be a farm.
The above frame shows a Como steamer (possibly the Bisbino which ceased passenger service in 1952) from above through some trees which seems to indicate that it was taken from Menaggio. Reader Chris Rodgers has confirmed that because of the point of view and the height that this must have been taken from the Grand Hotel Victoria and it is possible that the couple might have stayed there. He has optimistically written to the hotel about this seventy years later, and he is waiting for a reply. I am really grateful to Chris for his information about the location.
Below is a mountain view above the same location in Menaggio as for frame 12.
This is the map for stage three of the trip:
Day trip by boat – Menaggio – Bellagio — Menaggio – no driving distance – about 12 km by boat return – Frames 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
There is no sign of the car in Bellagio on the negatives. The trip across the lake by boat from Menaggio to Bellagio is considerably shorter than the drive around, so I am assuming that the couple made a day trip to Bellagio by boat.
This frame (which is my favourite from the whole series) shows a seat on the lakefront in Menaggio and trees which are still there on the lakeside walk today. A steamer (possibly the Bisbino) can be seen and some mountains behind. I needed to do considerable post-scan work to bring up some of the steamer and background detail in this photo, the content of which would be worthy of some of the prewar black and white film master photographers.
I should mention the steamer coming into the frame from the left ‘under the trees’ as one of the details which makes this photo stand out for me. I did not create or recreate this photo; I was just a repairman. What is surprising, though, is that there are no photos taken on the boat in either direction, but those were the days before spray and display photography.
Here is the familiar street scene from my original article with the Basilica St Giacomo at the end. The street, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, has hardly changed in seventy years and some of the shutters and railings still look the same as the following composite photo shows.
The most obvious change is the sign for the Gelateria bar.
This frame has not been seen before and it is an overexposed view of the lake, looking towards Menaggio. It appears to have been taken along the lakefront in Bellagio. I had quite a bit of work to bring up any detail at all in this.
This is also a familiar scene from the original article. We have since discovered that this seat is still in the same place as it was in the early 1950s. The same seats under the trees behind are also still there.
This frame shows the man for the first and only time. The couple seems to have had a meal in Bellagio before making the return boat trip to Menaggio.
This is the crop from the full-frame shown above to show the man more closely. He was very much overexposed on the negative, and I had to do a lot of work to bring out his features; hence this is very grainy.
This was taken at the same restaurant/cafe. It was even more overexposed than the last frame, and I had to make it very contrasty to bring out the woman’s dress and features. On a rescan, which was less contrasty, I also noticed that the little dachshund was sleeping under the table while they were having their meal.
Again I have to thank reader Chris Rodgers and Toby Vickers for identifying the cafe and the table position, at which the couple sat seventy years earlier, in thin the above current photo. The major difference which I can see is the table in that position is now round whereas it was square in 1950. There is no name on the premises, but there is a sign nearby saying Crown Gold Shop which may refer to a retail shop.
This is the map for Stage 4 which mainly shows a boat trip across the lake:
Menaggio- Lenno-Menaggio – 15 km return – Frames 20, 21, 22
The light seems much lower in the last three photos, which may indicate an evening trip. The car is parked near the lakeside in Lenno, near to where there is an ice cream maker’s shop today.
This photo was taken along the lakeside walk in Lenno perhaps on a little pier, given the angle of view over the water
The above frame was taken at the end of a little pier on the Lenno lakefront where there is a round seat at the very end. It is still the same today if anyone wants to have their picture taken with a lovely uninterrupted backdrop.
This is a map for the short Stage 5:
Menaggio – Zürich – 232 km – no frames
I am assuming that the couple went back to Zürich since that is where the trip commenced. But there are no further photographs. After Frame 22, the roll of negatives is completely blank, indicating that no exposure had taken place. When I received the camera, the FILCA brass cassette, which can only be described as an industrial-grade product, had the film completely rewound into its “brass tomb”.
The FILCA locks when it is taken out of the camera, but the film has to be rewound first. So, whoever rewound the cassette was doing something deliberate. There is, of course, no evidence as to who might have done this, the person who took the photos, a dealer or another subsequent owner. When you know how to do it, it is easy to check whether there is film in a Leica camera without opening it.
The other noteworthy thing about this trip is that the photographer was very parsimonious about using film. Only 22 frames in over 500 km of a trip around lovely places would be extraordinary in today’s spray-and-display digital world.
This is a map of a possible journey back to Zurich where the trip began:
What camera was used?
Unfortunately, I did not keep the FILCA cassette which contained this roll of film together with the camera it came with. The FILCA brass cassettes can be used only with Leica cameras. I sent the details of two Leicas, which I received with FILCAs and which were mentioned in my original article, to the Leica Archives and I have to thank Karin Kaufmann and Tim Pullmann of Leica for their assistance in providing me with the details I required.
The chrome Leica IIIa camera with the red box went to Berlin, but it seems it may have soon migrated to Sweden from where I bought it some years ago. The box, which carries the serial number of another similar camera, has writing in Swedish inside the cover which we have had translated with the help of some Macfilos readers. This indicates where it may have been used in April, May and June of 1935.
It seems that the camera may have been at an event on 2 June 1935 which was attended by the Crown Prince of Sweden and it may have taken the Crown Prince’s photograph, which we have from a book commemorating the event. A story about that camera will follow in the future. I have not eliminated this camera from the ‘Swiss Roll’ hunt as experience has taught me to expect the unexpected when it comes to old cameras.
In the original article, I said that the cassette might also have come with a black Leica III, also from 1935, with the serial number 172472. I will focus on this camera here. Below is what I received from the Leica Archives in respect of this camera. They are just vertical and horizontal images of the entry for the camera and the entry for the camera is across from the number 72.
The Leica Archives were handwritten in those days, and I had to consult my friend Jim Lager who is a fellow LHSA –International Leica Society – member and distinguished author on all things to do with old Leicas. He recognised the dealer of the camera as being a company called Perrot which is today in Nidau near Bern in Switzerland.
I have emailed Perrot in Nidau and also Koch in Zurich about the camera. Perrot is no longer a Leica dealer/distributor, but Koch is and has been since the 1920s. I have not heard back from them, which is unsurprising about an 85-year-old camera, notwithstanding GDPR and other modern hurdles.
I got the ‘Swiss Leica’, not five years ago, but a little over seven years ago at the Westlicht (now Leitz) Auction in Vienna where I am a regular customer. I have not approached them, but it is unlikely that whoever was selling it was any of the parties from over sixty years previously. The camera appears to have had a repaint of the top and bottom plate which are in better condition than the nickel ‘furniture’ on the camera. I would probably not buy this camera today as I prefer cameras with unrestored paintwork.
The camera came with a nice leather case, a user manual in German which was without the outer cover pages (I have the same manual—July 1935 issue—in English). It also came with an orange filter for the nickel Summar 5cm f/2 lens and also an orange ORAKO filter to improve contrast through the rangefinder window. Neither the leather case nor the manual has any writing or inscriptions of any kind.
The camera is still capable of producing fine images, as this example which I took in 2013 shows:
To finish up on the camera angle, all I know for certain is that a Leica was used as the cassette could only be used in a Leica camera. The FILCA brass cassette could have ‘joined-up’ with one of my Leicas at any stage in its long history since 1950. On the other hand, it might have been with the camera all the time since 1935. We might never know.
And what about the car?
…I hear you all say. A good 50 per cent of the comments and emails have suggested we check the registration number of the car. Well, we had been on that right from the beginning back in August. The BMW 315 was registered, probably in 1948, by the US authorities in Bavaria. We had thought it might have been from Munich, but more recently, Garmisch Partenkirchen has been suggested. This registration would likely have changed later, particularly if it was imported into Switzerland.
We made enquiries with the Munich registration office, but they do not have records for that period, and it seems that some of the records might now be in the USA. The records relating to the US administration in Germany in the immediate post-war years are huge, but we will give it a try, perhaps with some help from our US friends in the LHSA. I have also emailed the European Association of BMW Clubs about the car, and I am awaiting a response.
Does the search end here?
The search will go on. We might find something from camera, car or hotel records, but all of these are very much long shots due to the passage of time. The most likely way an identification will come about is through someone identifying one or both of the people in the photographs. There are many issues related to that, including access to online and social media, language, location and age.
I have many people to thank concerning this story. First, there is Mella Travers of The Darkroom in Dublin, without whom I would not have the roll of negatives. Next concerning the cameras, I have to thank Karin Kaufmann and Tim Bullmann of Leica for the excerpts from the Leica Archives and my friend and fellow LHSA member Jim Lager whose encyclopaedic knowledge of all vintage Leica matters led me to identify one of the cameras as having been distributed through Switzerland. I must also thank my friend and fellow Leica Society member Phil Coomes, BBC Picture Editor who started the global end of this search. Then there are all the many respondents here on Macfilos and elsewhere. I am loath to mention particular names and I apologise profusely in advance to anyone I do not mention. Still, I would like to reference Chris Rodgers, Christopher Walker, Toby Vickers and Peggy Rüegger on Macfilos and Thomas and Frank on the Leica Forum. All of them gave excellent information on various locations. Finally, I must mention our indefatigable editor Mike Evans, who I struggle to keep up with at times, even though I am a few years younger than him.