Image by Jason Schneider
Leica has offered special editions ever since the Leica Deluxe (more commonly known as the Leica Luxus) of circa 1930-1931. Essentially an exquisitely gold-plated Leica I (or A), the Luxus was offered in a choice of 4 coverings, including snakeskin. E. Leitz Wetzlar turned out only about 100 genuine examples, and when they brought forth the first coupled rangefinder model, the Leica II (or D), in 1932, they made a very small number of Leica II Luxus models on special order, which have now attained the status of museum pieces. Leica aficionados who wanted something less flashy but still distinctive could have ordered a standard black-finished Leica I with a handsome brown cowhide covering. In all cases, fakes are far more plentiful than genuine originals so caveat emptor.
Unbeknownst to many Leica fans, all through the ‘20s and well into the ‘30s, Leica would happily fulfill the desires of well-heeled Leica fans that wanted a Leica with special features or a non-standard finish. None of these options (with the exception of feature upgrades, such as adding a coupled rangefinder or slow speeds) were listed in the Leica catalog. But if you placed an order with an authorized Leica dealer, and were willing to pay the extra cost, your wishes would most likely be accommodated. As a result, there are many “factory one-off” screw-mount Leicas afoot
that can fetch princely prices if you can prove their provenance by citing factory records.
There was a United Nations Leica M3 that came out in 1957, but the postwar period of Special Edition Leicas didn’t really take off until the Leica 50th Anniversary models of 1975-1976 commemorating the introduction of the Leica I in 1925. They sported an elegant 50 Jahre logo complete with a laurel leaves motif and the cameras so adorned, including the Leica M4, the Leica CL, and the Leica R3, typically fetch premium prices. Notable Special Edition milestones include the Leica M6 LHSA of 1988, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Leica Historical Society (now known as the International Leica Society while still retaining the venerable LHSA logo), an edition of 1,250 platinum plated “150 Jahre Photographie/75 Jahre Leica Photographie” M6’s in 1989, and the very limited (200 pieces) Leica M6 Columbo of 1992 commemorating the 500th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus (actually Cristoforo Colombo) discovering the sea route and making the voyage to the Western Hemisphere. This attractively understated limited edition was produced at the request of the noted Italian Leica dealer, Polyphoto S.P.A, Opera, Lombardia, Italy.