The fifth annual auction of Wetzlar Camera Auctions (WCA) was held in the town last Saturday, October 7 and yielded some spectacular results. WCA is owned by Lars Netopil, Jo Geier and David Pitzer. Some of the items which fetched very high prices featured in my teaser article a month ago.
From null to millions
I had thought that the Leica 0 Series No. 121 was conservatively priced, with an estimate of €1.5-2m, and that proved to be the case. The final price (including premium — all prices shown here are with premium) was €3.5m. This represents the second-highest price ever achieved for any camera at auction, the highest being €14.4m for the 0 Series No 105 (the ‘Barnack camera’) last year.
The No. 121 camera came from an Italian private collection and was last sold 30 years ago. In 1923, two years before the Leica was launched on the market, 22 to 25 of these cameras were created by Leitz for testing purposes, and 16 are currently known worldwide.
Based on the assessment of the Leica 0 series by the experts involved, Ernst Leitz II decided in 1924 to serial-produce the camera, designed by Oskar Barnack. The “revolution in photography” that was initiated as a result, took its course.
The Leica 0 series is, therefore, not just the prototype of the Leica, but, effectively, the prototype of the 35mm camera format, which still exists in the digital era through the “full frame” concept.
According to Lars Netopil, “Exactly 100 years after this camera was manufactured here in Wetzlar, we have been able to auction it here in Wetzlar—an honour for our auction house and, of course, an absolute highlight in our company history”.
IIIc with rear door
The 0 Series was not the only camera to fetch a very high price. A prototype of the Leica IIIc with a flip up rear door, not seen in production until the M3 of 1954, sold for €400,000.
Black paint items fetched the usual premium, but olive-green-painted Bundeswehr (German Military) items have been selling very well recently, such as this Leica M3 set, which sold for €162,500.
Black is best
The black-paint star of the auction was this Leica M2, with matching 50mm f/1.4 Summilux and 35mm f/2 Summicron lenses, which sold for €162,500.
On the lens front, 35mm and 50mm f/1.4 Summilux prototypes, both labelled Summarit, and which were mentioned in my article, sold for much higher than their estimate of €50,000-60,000. The 35mm sold for €275,000 and the 50mm for €137,500. I had expected that the estimates for these items might be exceeded, but the multiples here, particularly for the 35mm lens, were entirely unexpected.
Long reach, long price
On the super telephoto lens front, a Leitz Telecron 1200mm f/6.3 sold for €93,750, but the real surprise came with the very last item in the auction when a Nikon Nikkor 1200-1700 f/5.6-8 Zoom fetched €425,000 on a maximum estimate of €100,000. This was the highest price ever at auction for a Nikon lens. The high price was the result of a do-or-die battle between two bidders, one on the internet and the other, I think, by telephone. The latter was the winner.
Unfortunately, I was not present at the auction, so I do not know how many bidders there were for the multi-million 0 Series camera. But for such high-price items, the usual endgame is between two telephone bidders. In the photo above, the auctioneer seems to be making one last glance over towards the phone team to ensure that no more bids were coming in, before ‘hammering down’ the item.
All in all, this was a very successful auction for Wetzlar Camera Auctions.
The next event, the sixth auction, will take place on 12 October 2024. More details here.
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