Flints Auctions Ltd. is one of the UK’s leading independent firms of auctioneers and valuers specializing in antique cameras, scientific and medical instruments, and other optics. And one week from now (October 18th to be precise) the firm’s next massive catalog of fine photographica will cross the block. Casual Photophile has linked up with Flints to highlight some of the most exciting lots of the sale. Picked from an astounding assortment of truly incredible cameras and rare lenses, here are just a few listings that grabbed the attention of the CP writing staff, and a brief history of the machines on offer. Enjoy.
Lot No. 143 – Wetzlar-made Leica 72 Half Frame Camera
Between 1950 and 1962, Leitz produced just thirty-three half-frame cameras in Wetzlar, Germany (while about 150 others were made in Leitz’ Canadian factory). These half-frame cameras were based on the screw mount Leica IIIa, and have come to be known as the Leica 72, as they allow the user to expose 72 18x24mm photos on a standard 36-exposure roll of film. They are among the rarest production Leicas, and were intended to be used in copying applications. The one that’s for sale in Flints’ upcoming auction is in beautiful condition, and I’d personally love to see it get some action.
With a working shutter, very good body, a nice Leitz Elmar 50mm lens, and the early flip-down window mask, this camera is sure to entice the Leica collectors out there. Better still if whoever buys it ends up shooting the thing.
Lot No. 241 – Ilford Witness Rangefinder Camera with Dallmeyer Super Six F/1.9
This camera has the potential to ruin my marriage. Of all the lots in the upcoming auction, this is the one that’s dangerously enticing to me. It’s also bound to fetch a hefty sum when the gavel finally drops. That’s because the Ilford Witness is a seriously rare and capable camera, and the lens that comes attached to this particular Witness is a legendary chunk of glass and metal.
Around the year 1945, two German-Jewish refugees, former Leitz employee Robert Sternberg and former Zeiss employee Werner Julius Rothschild, developed a camera prototype that they intended to be a high-precision, interchangeable-lens 35mm rangefinder camera to compete with the Leica and Contax cameras of the era. The backgrounds of the new camera’s creators meant that many elements of the Leica and Zeiss cameras of the day were incorporated into and improved upon within the new machine. Seeking a manufacturer, the two designers approached British photographic materials manufacturer Ilford in 1947, who agreed to produce the camera. Thus, the Ilford Witness was born.
Difficulty in scaling to cost-effective mass-production, a desire from Ilford to focus on more affordable “everyman” cameras, the harsh realities of a post-war economy in Ilford’s domestic market, and competition with established brands were all factors which doomed the Ilford Witness seemingly from the start. The result was that only approximately 350 Ilford Witness cameras were ever made.
But don’t let the low production numbers fool you. They are incredible machines. And this, combined with their rarity, has made them among the most expensive and collectible cameras one can buy today. Oh, and Flints has two of them in the October 18th auction. That’s just not fair.
Lot No. 328 Uyeda Moment Pocket Watch Camera
Made around 1910, this extremely rare sub-miniature camera is a Japanese copy of the British-made Ticka Watch Camera that I covered in detail in a retrospective article some time ago. Like the Ticka Watch Camera, the Uyeda Moment is a tiny camera made to look like a pocket watch. There’s a rotatable viewfinder on the “winding stem” of the watch, a lever to cock the shutter, and a wind knob to advance the film. It exposes roll film in a specialized cartridge through a tiny lens hidden where the crown would be on an actual watch. A rare and beautiful piece.
Lot No. 329 – Doryu Camera Co. 2-16 Pistol Camera
The Doryu Pistol Camera is a camera that’s often seen on camera nerd forums, Instagram, and wherever else collectors of weird and rare cameras lurk. This is partly due to its striking design, which looks more like a ray-gun than it does a camera, and the fact that it’s a truly strange device with an interesting history.
Created by the Doryu Camera Company in Japan in 1954, the camera was intended as a device for police to instantly record the moment that a crime took place. Specifically, it was intended to be used to record crimes in a public protest environment after the Bloody May Incident of 1952, in which a number of police officers were injured while taking photos with standard cameras held against the eye. The Doryu Pistol camera prototype was passed over by authorities in favor of the extremely similar Mamiya Pistol Camera. For the next couple of years, the Doryu Pistol Camera was marketed and sold to civilians, however the highly-specialized design meant that it sold in very low numbers. Doryu quickly halted production.
The camera itself is fairly ingenious. It comes with an f/2.7 standard lens (and allows for interchangeable cine-mount lenses) and exposes 16mm film. There’s a magazine in the handle of the “gun” that contains six magnesium-filled flash cartridges. When the trigger is pulled, the shutter is fired, and the magnesium cartridge fires a bright flash from the top of the camera. A photo is made and a crime (supposedly) recorded.
The example in the upcoming auction is in very good condition, with a working shutter, original manuals, and the original box. This is a very rare set indeed. And while I’d not recommend using the camera in public, it’ll look great on a shelf.
Lot No. 456 – Risdon Manufacturing Co. Canary Songster “Watch the Birdy” Decoy
Made in 1923, this Canary Songster decoy is the quintessential portrait photographer’s tool. Made in Naugatuck, Connecticut, by the Risdon Manufacturing Company, the Canary Songster is essentially a whistle. These metal birdie decoys (others were made by the Victory Mfg. Co.) imitate the call of a bird, with what a Popular Mechanics magazine article from 1922 calls “wonderfully sweet and perfect” trills and warbles. Often cited as the impetus behind the phrase “watch the birdie,” decoys like these would be held above a camera by a photographer, often to attract the attention of those whom he or she was attempting to photograph. The example on offer comes complete with a plastic air tube, and looks simply stunning.
Lot No. 458 – Berning Robot 375 Aerial Camera
We recently wrote a review of the Robot Royal 24, a unique square-format, clockwork driven, 35mm rangefinder camera. While shooting and researching that machine, I came across some records of Berning’s Robot Aerial cameras, so it was interesting to finally see one in such amazing condition when the Flints’ auction catalog came through via email.
The Berning Robot Aerial cameras were mostly fitted in the tails of German Junkers Ju87 ‘Stuka’ dive bombers to record bombing strikes during World War II. Records indicate that approximately 200 cameras were made and fitted to bombers, with many (or most) being lost in action. It has been suggested that less than twenty remain in existence today.
The example in the Flints auction comes with a cassette, a wooden storage box, and a working shutter. In fact, this camera has recently been serviced by a Robot specialist, making it a truly rare and exceptional piece of photographic gear.
We’ve highlighted some of the fun, rare, and unusual items that will be for sale in just over a week when the auction goes live on October 18th, but please do browse the full catalog yourself. In addition to the ultra-rare and extremely expensive, there are plenty of lots in this auction that will satisfy those looking for an everyday camera (check out the Canons, Rolleis, and the Leica R series cameras) or an unusual lens (The Ross Xpres lenses should be of interest). There’s even something for those of us who are looking for (what must surely be) the most beautiful microscope ever made.
Interested bidders may bid live online via the liveauctioneers or the-saleroom websites, via telephone, or by attending the auction in person. More information on Flints Auctions can be found here.
If you’d like to see more coverage of special auctions on Casual Photophile, let us know in the comments.
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Quite an interesting assortment there, James. I’ll have to check out the rest, though I’ve no doubt it’ll all be well over my budget. Thanks fpr sharing!