Leica Serial Numbers: The Holy Grail of Camera Identification

Aug 31, 2020  By Jason Schneider

The numerical digits on your Leica can establish your camera’s provenance, and a lot more…

Keeping meticulous production records has been an integral part of the corporate culture of E. Leitz, Wetzlar and Leica Camera from the very beginning. Indeed, one of its greatest accomplishments is the comprehensive sequential list of serial numbers, models, and dates that allows Leica fans, collectors, and historians to identify virtually any genuine Leica with a high degree of certainty. If you’re not impressed with Leica’s almost compulsive (Germanic?) dedication to order in creating its widely published serial number list, consider for example, Canon. Compared to Leica’s the serial number list of that great Japanese camera company can charitably be described as chaotic and discontinuous, so it’s often difficult to identify, say, a Canon rangefinder 35 of the ‘50s or ‘60s conclusively without assessing its features. However as with most great things, the Leica serial number list is not perfect, especially if you check it against the actual handwritten delivery records as Leica historians are wont to do.

According to acclaimed Leica historian James Lager, “Regarding the serial numbers entered into the delivery records, the work is very carefully done and precise. However, there are entries where the penmanship varies from unreadable to perfect, usually done by hand in ink by different writers. Many 1944 entries are unreadable, chaotic, and perhaps, given the dire circumstances in Germany at the time, were entered under duress. The persons writing them may not have been fully trained or familiar with process. If one identifies a Leica by serial number in the deliver records only, the entered number may not match the camera in hand.”

Another possible sources of serial number discrepancies were the so-called “UMBAU,” or factory upgraded, Leicas. This amazing service (see price schedules attached) was emblematic of Leica’s dedication to its customers and probably generated little, if any, extra revenue.

During the 1930s especially, but also right after the War, many Leica cameras were upgraded to later models. In other words, the serial number indicates it’s a Leica I (model A) but the camera has a built-in rangefinder, a slow shutter speed dial on the front, and neck strap lugs. Ergo, it’s now a model III, thus the confusion. However, when E. Leitz Wetzlar added a newly engraved top to a post-War “UMBAU” Leica they retained the original serial number, but also added the letters DBP, which stands for ‘Deusches Bundes-Patent’, German Federal Patent. This acronym replaced the older DRP, ‘Deutsches Reichs-Patent’, after the German Federal Republic was established in 1949. One of the cameras included here, Leica serial number 150, began life as an ultra-rare Leica I (Model A) with 50mm f/3.5 Leitz Anastigmat lens and us now a gorgeous black finished Leica IIIa UMBAU—still a rare and valuable collector’s item but probably worth a lot less after the conversion.

Another wonderful thing about the great Leica serial number list is that it lets you spot fakes pretty easily. For example, if some nefarious fraudster has engraved an Fl. (Flieger) number on the top and added the words Luftwaffen Eigentum (property of the Air Force) to the back covering of a genuine but ordinary Leica IIIc to try to fob it off at an inflated price as a Luftwaffe Leica (this has actually happened!) a quick check of the serial number and the shipping records will reveal the deception.

What about all those zillions of USSR-made Feds and Zorkis bearing nicely engraved Leica logos, and fitted with collapsible 50mm f/3.5 Industar lenses masquerading as E. Leitz Wetzlar 50mm f/3.5 Elmars? Well, you can easily tell that they’re not genuine Leica II’s by carefully examining little details like their top shutter speed dial engravings, lack of a real leather covering, etc., but the clincher is the serial numbers, which are fanciful to say the least. The example shown here in nicely distressed gold, bears the serial number 0547, which would theoretically make it a Leica I (model A) of 1925—except that Leitz never added a zero preceding the actual serial number; it would have been engraved “No. 547!” As James Lager quipped, “I think the Russians must have engraved the serial numbers on all those fake Leicas after a week-long vodka party.” There may well be more truth than sarcasm in that statement, but we’ll never know.

The bottom line: Always ask for the serial number when purchasing or evaluating any Leica and always get clear photos so you can see what you really have. And even after passing over those hurdles, do as the Romans wisely advised: caveat emptor.


I don’t know if you can help but I’m desperate! My daughters inheritance was a Leica camera used by her great grandfather during a war. He was a photojournalist. Her camera was stolen at the beginning of this year. I’m willing to look up handwritten names to find the serial number. I still have the view finder on hand. This is very important to me. Please help if at all possible.

Regrettably, there is no way to do an owner’s name search to determine the model and serial number of your daughter’s stolen Leica even if her photojournalist great grandfather was the original owner. The handwritten sales records maintained by Leica are organized by serial number and generally indicate only the store or dealer that received the camera from E. Leitz Wetzlar and the date it was shipped from the factory. In short, you would have to have the serial number to determine which model Leica it was, and when it was shipped to the seller. If you have a photo of the person in question holding the camera it would helpful in identifying the model, but it’s highly unlikely that you’d be able to read the serial number unless it included a close-up of the top of the camera. Unfortunately, even if you had the model and serial number of the camera it would be of limited value in recovering the camera–the percentage of people who get their cameras back after sending detailed stolen camera notices to the police, auction sites, etc, is very small indeed.

I have a collection of cameras from my husband’s grandfather. I see No244605 Leica DRP Enest Leitz Wetzlar it’s in a leather case and seems very old. I don’t see a number on another one, but it has red liquid in a round thing on top? I’m not sure what else is here. Any advice as to what I have? Should it be in Camera museum? Lol

    I think the red liquid thing is a bubble level that is slid into the camera’s hot shoe. Perhaps if you slide it off, toward the back, you might see numbers under which would help identify your camera by people with much more knowledge than I. There are people on this site that know vast amounts about Leica and are very happy to assist.

Who would I contact to see what model I have with the serial number.

Can you find out from the serial number where a camera was first purchased? I have a IIIc, a IIIf, and a IIIg that I believe were all originally purchased in Europe.

Hi, hope you can help my with a doubt i have.

What makes a serial number desirable by a collector?

I have a few cameras that are pretty unique from the ww2 era
Leica iiia no.29358o( Luftwaffe no.10303)-

No. 1587653 Wetzlar (Leitz)-no.325027K
Olympic 1936

Panzerkampf no.10651

Hi, can someone please send me a number of Leica as I need to ask some questions about the camera I have.

Thanks in advance

Guten Tag…ich haben eine Originale Leica aus der Vorkriegszeit mit Tasche….seriennummer18238…wollt Mal fragen was sie Wert haben könnte…ist auch noch ein Film drin

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