My First Leica

Oct 3, 2017  By Eric Baker

In the house where I grew up there was a room that served as a laundry room, a storage room, and — with a bit of re-arranging — a darkroom. Against one wall was a secondhand steel desk, whose drawers contained a multitude of used cameras. They were the spoils of my father’s frequent trips to the pawnshops of the city. Dad was forever in search of a “good deal.”

Most of the cameras that resided within those drawers were useable, but few would be considered rare or collectable, even by today’s standards. They were simply “good deals.” The desk held a virtual history of photography up to that point in time, ranging from ancient Kodak folders to the latest Nikons and Nikomats of the day. Nikomat, the non-export version of the Nikkormat, was a common sight on the shelves of Colorado Springs’ pawnshops, purchased by GI’s overseas and pawned when money was tight.

From within those drawers came the artifacts of my photographic education. Dad started me on the simplest camera and would issue me a new, more sophisticated model when he thought I was ready. All of us drew from those drawers, as photography was a family hobby — my dad having learned it from his father. My education started with a Pax Ruby (my first rangefinder), a Topcon Uni (my first SLR, with its problematic leaf shutter), and so on, until I eventually rose to the rank of Nikon, just as the pros used.

I was forbidden to rummage through the drawers without permission. But that stern warning only emboldened me to delve into its contents when no one was around. I was clever enough to replace everything exactly as I found it, lest my trespass be noticed. I would spend hours sitting cross-legged on the concrete floor, running the cameras through their paces, fantasizing that I was on assignment in some exotic location.

The jewel of the collection was a Leica M3. I didn’t know much about Leica at that time, only that it was a very expensive and highly desirable camera. As pawnshop finds go, this was more than just a “good deal”. Its previous owner had carefully custom fitted a wooden briefcase with feltcovered dividers, which at one time held a small Leica system. Now, the case just held an M3 body, a 90/4 Elmar and two Leitz filters — red and green. All were in pristine condition. Judging by the Auf and Zu on the baseplate it had probably been acquired by a soldier stationed Germany, who had pawned it for cash upon his return.

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