It all began when I saw a nice Leica IIIa serial number 357220 in a online classifieds listing in Germany. Its price was very reasonable for a regular sample and it looked in really nice condition.
I had been searching for some time for an “interesting” Leica IIIa. The main targets had been the early black lacquered, the “Monte en Sarre” or even a war-time sample. The two first options, on top of their high price, concerned me a bit due to the amount of fakes in the market, specially nowadays.
So, even where there were some other potential buyers inter- ested in it, they didn’t buy it, probably because even when it seemed in really good condition, it had a hand scratched code in the back that the seller related someway to an inventory.
During my initial research, its serial number looked interesting due to – according to the usual lists – the last batch of the IIIa was numbered between 356701 to 357200 (500 cameras) and dated between 1948 and 1950. The serial number was not only twenty numbers beyond the last documented in those lists, but also and even more interesting, it was in a set of numbers that appears as “Unknown and/or probably not used” in every source I checked. I saw some vague reference to cameras in that range including FF and even to Leica-72 but really unclear. With that information, I decided to buy it.
My thought was that it could be that the last batch had gone longer (more than the documented 500 units) so this could well be one of the last Leica IIIa’s – if not the last one!! That would date this camera between 1950-1951.
In parallel, I kindly asked the seller about the camera and he answered that the camera served in the Biology Department of Münster University for many years, and, it was bought by and old professor when it was replaced by newer technology, who then sold to my seller. That was great and it matched with the outstanding condition of the camera, as well as with the mark in the shutter button due to a release cable typical of scientific use. He also said that the code scratched at the back was the university inventory number. I contacted the university to double check its history but unfortunately they didn’t answer.
On top of that, I wrote Leica inquiring about any information that might have about the camera.
So, with all the information above, I opened a thread in the Leica International Users Forum about the camera explaining my theory about being one of the last IIIa’s (if not the last one). As a side note, if you want your camera or lens to be challenged, there is no better place in the net!