On May 12th, a rare Leica camera was put on the block at the WestLich Photographica Auction and broke all the records for an antique camera sale. The camera, a “null-serie” prototype of the Leica A, serial number 107, sold for 2.16 million euros, or about $2.77 million — beating the previous record price (also a null-serie Leica, serial #116) by nearly double.
The null-serie title roughly translates to “model zero”, indicating that the camera was an early prototype. In the 1920s, the Leica A became the first camera to popularize 35mm photography and bring the technology to the masses, but it wasn’t the first Leica made. Inventor Oskar Barnack worked for the Leitz microscope factory, and dreamed of a small-format camera that could easily be taken with on his travels. He adopted the 35mm film used in the movie industry, and built a small, lightweight camera to fit. His early prototypes proved successful during testing in 1914, but World War I delayed a larger-scale production.
In 1924, production began on the null-serie cameras, creating between 25 and 31 working models with a variety of different viewfinders, rangefinders, and other modifications to test the usefulness of the camera. The next year, a thousand Anastigmats (or model “A”) were ordered and badged with the name “Leica”, a contraction of “Leitz Camera”. The camera was officially launched at the Leipzig Spring Fair in July 1925 and it immediately became a smash hit. The features of the Leica influenced camera design, including the digital cameras of today, by establishing the position of the shutter release, viewfinder, film rewind and settings knobs, and even what direction the film was loaded in the camera. With this much of an impact on the history of modern photography, it is no wonder that the rare Model 0 Leica cameras continue to increase in value a million dollars at a time.