Interview: Alexander Sedlak, Leica Camera Classics - Vintage Cameras on Trend

For 20 years, the Leitz Photographica Auction has attracted enthusiasts and collectors worldwide: Organized by the Viennese subsidiary Leica Camera Classics, the world's most prestigious auction for vintage cameras and accessories recently achieved a record price of 14.4 million euros for the nearly one-hundred-year-old "Barnack camera." ProfiFoto in conversation with Alexander Sedlak, Managing Director of Leica Camera Classics.

ProfiPhoto: Alexander Sedlak, after the knockdown in the record amount of 14.4 million euros for the so-called Barnack camera: Were you surprised by the hammer price? The estimated price was significantly lower.

Alexander Sedlak: With such unique exhibits, it is always difficult to determine an estimated price.
Our auction house has sold a Leica 0 series at auction three times before. Each of these cameras achieved a higher price than the previous one. Most recently, in 2018, a 0 series achieved a sale price of 2.4 million euros including premium. We used this price as a reference for our estimate. The fact that the sale price is now many times higher makes us all the more pleased and underscores the historical significance of the Leica 35mm camera as a milestone of modern photography.

ProfiFoto: How many bidders participated?

Alexander Sedlak: Due to the high starting price of one million euros, there were only a handful of bidders. Towards the end, a bidding war developed between two bidders connected by telephone.

ProfiFoto: Can you say something about the buyer? Where is the camera going? Will it be on display somewhere, or will it disappear back into a private collection, which is where it came from?

Alexander Sedlak: Unfortunately, we are not allowed to give any information about the identity or exact origin of the buyer - as an auction house, we are bound to secrecy.
However, we can reveal this much: The camera goes to a longtime customer of our auction house in the Asian region, who owns a large collection of important historical Leicas. Our customer plans to open his collection to the public in the medium term.

ProfiFoto: What can you say about the provenance? So what history the camera had after Oskar Barnack used it?

Alexander Sedlak: Oskar Barnack used the camera himself from 1923 to 1930 and took numerous photos with it. In 1930, he then switched to a Leica IC, the first Leica camera with an interchangeable lens, and gave the Leica #105 to his son Conrad. He loaned the camera to the Deutsches Museum in Munich from 1954 to 1960. In 1961, the camera was then sold to a collector in the USA. In the years that followed, it changed hands three more times.

ProfiFoto: After the record result: Will the insurance sum for the original Leica have to be increased? And if so, to how much? Or to put it another way: How would you classify its current estimated price?

Alexander Sedlak: The value of the Ur-Leica, which is owned by Leica Camera AG, can certainly be classified as significantly higher than that of Leica #105. All historical cameras owned by Leica Camera AG and Leica Camera Classics are safely stored and adequately insured.

ProfiFoto: There is said to be, or to have been, a second Ur-Leica. What can you tell us about this? Is this a legend? And if not, when was it last seen?

Alexander Sedlak: I know these rumors. In March 1914, according to the company archives, Barnack noted: "Lilliput camera completed" (singular). Most likely, parts of the camera were manufactured twice, but the existence of a second, completely functional camera could never be proven.

ProfiFoto: How do you explain the rapid price development for vintage cameras, especially those of the Leica brand?

Alexander Sedlak: Vintage cameras are in vogue, and interest in analog photography has been increasing noticeably in recent years. The high demand for vintage Leica cameras in particular is due to the history of the brand. In 1925, Leica was the manufacturer that launched a serially produced 35mm camera, ushering in the age of modern photography.
Many great moments of the 20th century were captured with Leica cameras, which additionally creates desirability among collectors from all over the world.

ProfiFoto: What other brands are coveted by collectors?

Alexander Sedlak: Cameras and lenses from other brands such as Nikon, Contax and Hasselblad, as well as cameras with unique histories or prominent previous owners are also in demand.

ProfiFoto: Who are your customers? Or rather, who are the collectors of classic cameras? Enthusiasts, investors, a combination of both? How big is this scene, and where do the most important collectors come from? USA? Asia? Europe?

Alexander Sedlak: Since we offer numerous fully functional cameras in a moderate price segment in our auctions, we also count numerous users among our customers. In addition, there are collectors from all over the world who are looking for specific pieces for their collection.
Due to the increased demand for historical Leica cameras and the associated continuous price increases at our auctions, new customers have also joined us in recent years, who see vintage cameras as a good investment. Basically, however, tangible assets require a high level of expertise, so the number of "investors" is manageable.

ProfiFoto: How sustainable do you think the price development in the segment is? What development do you expect in the next ten years? Stagnation? Decline? Rise?

Alexander Sedlak: For some Leica models, especially Leica M and screw cameras as well as lenses, we have seen continuous, sometimes significant price increases over the last ten years. In times of strongly fluctuating share prices and historically high inflation, we can assume that this trend will continue.

ProfiFoto: What has more potential for collectors, collecting photographs or photographic equipment? In any case, no photograph has yet been sold for 14.4 million ...

Alexander Sedlak: We are pleased to announce that this year in November, after a three-year break due to Corona, we will continue our photo auctions. Many of our customers who collect historical cameras also have a soft spot for inspiring vintage prints.
In November, we will offer vintage prints - originating from the 1920s - in different price segments.

ProfiFoto: If someone with a smaller wallet wants to buy vintage cameras, which models do you think have the most potential in terms of value appreciation?

Alexander Sedlak: We offer cameras and lenses on our website in the "Investment Grade" section that have shown continuous price increases in recent years.

ProfiFoto: Are there fakes of vintage cameras that are not obvious?

Alexander Sedlak: Since it happens again and again that Leica copies, improperly repaired or modified cameras are offered, we recommend to buy used exhibits best via Leica Camera AG directly in one of the worldwide Leica Stores or via our Vintage Online Store

ProfiFoto: What role does the provenance, originality and condition of a vintage camera play? To what extent would you restore a camera?

Alexander Sedlak: Provenance plays a big role in the collector sector, of course. In our auctions, there are always cameras from famous previous owners - such as the Leica M3D by LIFE photographer David Douglas Duncan, which sold at auction in 2012 for 1,680,000 euros.
If restoration is necessary, this is done in close exchange with the consignor, and such restoration is deliberately decided very carefully on a case-by-case basis. Due to our large stock of spare parts, we are able to restore and repair vintage cameras to the highest collector standards.

ProfiFoto: There have been and still are Leica special editions. Which ones are particularly interesting for collectors? Are these editions fuelling hype, or how do you assess their importance?

Alexander Sedlak: At the moment, for example, the silver version of the Noctilux 1.2. is very popular among collectors. It is being traded on the second-hand market for many times the original retail price. So the importance of these special editions also plays a big role for us as an auction house.

ProfiFoto: If someone wants to start as a collector, how should he build up his collection?

Alexander Sedlak: The start of a collection usually happens unconsciously. In our experience, collectors don't specialize in certain areas of collecting until somewhat later.

ProfiFoto: Last question: Has a valuable camera ever been "discovered" for little money at a flea market and is it worth rummaging around there?

Alexander Sedlak: In any case, it is always worthwhile to rummage at a flea market. You never know what treasures might be found there!

Leica Camera Classics
The Leica Camera Classics team gathered 433 lots on June 11 at the Leica Welt premises before the starting signal was given for the double anniversary edition of the auction - because Wetzlar was celebrating not only the 40th edition of the Leitz Photographica Auction, but also the 20th anniversary of the auction house of the same name. To mark the occasion, auctioneer Wolfgang Pauritsch called the auction of a special highlight in front of bidders participating from more than 100 countries on site, online or via telephone: Leica 0 series No. 105, produced in 1923 and known to experts as the "Barnack camera."

"Number 105, which came from the estate of Oskar Barnack, represents one of about a dozen surviving pre-production models of the first 35mm cameras ever made by Leica," explains Alexander Sedlak, managing director of Leica Camera Classics. "Barnack, who had worked as a precision mechanic for Leitz and constructed the prototype of the Leica 35mm camera, incorporated the experience he had gained with this camera into his further development work. All of these factors contributed to the 105 being one of the most historically valuable cameras ever auctioned," Sedlak said.

As was the case at auctions in recent years, the trend toward black-painted vintage Leicas also proved to be consistent. This was demonstrated not least by the bidding war for the 1957 Leica MP black paint no. 26, which was auctioned off at a price of 960,000 euros including buyer's premium. "The MP series is significant not only because of its limited number of units - only 412 cameras were produced, of which only 141 were in black paint," says Alexander Sedlak. "Its multiple uses by renowned photographers - including by the famous Magnum picture agency - have given it a place in the history of international press photography."

As always, after the auction is before the auction! The Leica Camera Classics team is now accepting cameras and photographs for the next auction, Leitz Photographica Auction 41, which will be held in Vienna on November 25-26, 2022.

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