There are vintage Leica cameras and then there’s the 0-Series.
One of the earliest 35mm cameras to help the German brand become one of the leading names in world photography is scheduled to hit the block this weekend as part of the 20th anniversary Leitz Photographica Auction. Be prepared to spend big, though. The auction house’s estimates suggest this camera could become the most expensive ever sold at auction.
The 0-Series was released in 1923 in an attempt to see if there was actually a market out there for a 35mm cameras. Although it received a mixed reception, Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (who founded the company that would eventually become Leica) still decided to release what would become the first commercially successful 35mm camera, the Leica A, just two years later. Only 23 0-Series models made, of which only “around a dozen” survive to the present day, according to the auction listing. That makes any example historically important, but this one also has the added distinction of having belonged to none other than Oskar Barnack—the inventor of the 35mm Leica.
Barnack’s 0-Series is serial number 105. Despite being nearly a century old, the camera looks to be in remarkably good shape, though its black-painted body has a distinct patina from decades of use. It also has Barnack’s first and last names engraved onto the viewfinder. The camera—which the inventor is said to have used until 1930, before he handed it down to his son—also comes with the original leather lens cap, a later aluminum cap engraved with the initials “O.B.” and a heavily modified Nettle Camera that Barnack used for photographic research.
Barnack’s 0-Series is widely considered to be the most distinguished Leica in existence. It will go up for bid this Saturday, June 11. The most expensive camera ever sold at auction is another 0-Series, serial number 122, which hammered down for $2.96 million in 2018. The Leitz Photographica Auction organizers clearly believe this example could sell for as much if not more: The pre-sale estimates for the camera are $2.14 million and $3.22 million.