Something of a photographic sensation has suddenly struck the German speaking auction world with a new record price for a 35mm camera seen at WestLicht Photographica Auction (25% buyer’s premium) in Vienna on May 29.
A remarkable €137,000 (£91,335) was achieved for a Leica 250 GG camera which the catalogue described as "the most important Leica ever offered at auction".
It comes only a month after another Leica of the same model was sold by Auktion Team Köln in Cologne for €90,000 (£60,000).
Four bidders competed for Westlicht's camera, which eventually sold on the telephone to a private European collector. It had the advantage over Auktion Team Köln's offering since the number engraved on the inside of the detachable 24 volt motor was identical with the camera number. Also, since this particular camera was not issued until October 1945, it survived the turmoil of the war undamaged and was therefore in considerably better condition than its counterpart seen in Cologne. It also came with a unique and specially made leather bag.
These cameras were created for the German Luftwaffe's Stuka dive bombers. Of the 92 that were made with completed motors, only 15 are known to still exist. They were usually destroyed when their fighter planes were shot down, but some, like the one seen at Auktion Team Köln were taken as souvenirs by allied pilots. However, after the end of the war, two of these cameras were issued to Americans stationed in Wetzlar.
According to the Leitz sales book, the Westlicht camera ended up with Captain Koonan of the 9th US Air Force. He is thought to have had the bag made at the time, but the camera, however, remained unused.
Apart from its rarity, the 250 camera is of historical importance because it was the first Leica model to have a motor drive.
When in action during the war, the motor would be fixed in the aeroplane, and the cameras were usually changed when a new film was needed. Since this particular camera was never in action, the original pairing of motor and body was maintained.