The Story of Oskar Barnack & the Pix

Dec 16, 2020  By Bill Rosauer

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the LHSA, an English translation of Ulf Richter’s wonderful book, “Oskar Barnack – From the Idea to the Leica” was published and made available to the membership. If you don’t already own it, I encourage you to obtain a copy. In the book, Ulf talks about Barnack’s life, with chapters devoted to his childhood and education, and his earlier work life before he came to Leitz in 1910, culminating in his greatest invention – the Leica camera.

In the chapter on Barnack’s time in Jena, my attention was drawn to a letter written by Barnack. Right away, several things about the letter caught my attention. First it was in Barnack’s own handwriting in ink, which is pretty rare in that we are used to seeing only the short notes and drawings Barnack wrote in pencil about his mechanical designs. Second, there were several “notes” written in the margins of the letter, one of them, in the lower left by Barnack himself. Looking at the translation of Barnack’s hard to decipher handwriting, we find that this was essentially a thank you note from Barnack to a Herr August Leistenschneider dated 9 August 1933, for the beautiful mechanical pencil he had sent to him. He promises to use it and report back to him with his opinion of it. In closing, Barnack extends his best wishes to Leistenschneider and his son.

Original note from Oskar barnack to August Leistenschneider, thanking him for the gift of the Montblanc PIX mechanical pencil, dated 9 August, 1933. Barnack promises to use it and report back to him with his opinion of it. Of special interest are the additional notes on the letter written by Barnack and Leistenschneider. Barnack’s comment in the lower left corner states that he had in fact designed a mechanical pencil for Herr Hermann while at Zeiss and had applied for a patent on it. He then states that he had forgotten all about this, and that, “you will hear from me about this matter”. The other notes on the letter are from August Leistenschneider at one must assume were at several later dates. The note in red pencil under Barnack’s signature, acknowleges that Barnack, designer of the Leica camera, worked on what became the PIX in 1909. The note in blue ink in the upper left corner, dated 20 January 1940 mentions that, “He (Barnack) was with me from 1900 to 1901 at the Palmos camera works, and then at Zeiss in Jena. Barnack was already making automatic pencil experiments for me in Jena. Later at Leitz, Wetzlar in 1924, he showed me the first model of the Leica. I was a friend of Barnack until his death. He still visited me in Bad Wildungen.” Courtesy of the Rolf Fricke collection, via Ulf Richter.

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