Leica Lenses Without Serial Numbers

Feb 2, 2021  By Jason Schneider
2


Yes, but they weren’t oversights, but rare artifacts of a transitional era

Since E. Leitz Wetzlar was almost fanatically fastidious about engraving serial numbers on its cameras and lenses (even accessories!) and in keeping meticulous records that have proven to be of immense value to historians and collectors it’s kind of astonishing that there are a fair number of vintage Elmar lenses floating around that are utterly devoid of serial numbers in the usual places. The most common ones are nickel finished 50mm f/3.5 collapsible Elmars with no tiny numerals on the front of the black aperture setting ring. There are also a number of early black finished 90mm f/4 Elmars (affectionately known as Fat Elmars), and a much smaller number of exquisitely petite early 35mm f/3.5 Elmars, neither of which have the usual serial numbers engraved on their front lens I.D rings.

How did it happen? Well, the period between 1930-1932 was a an intensely active time of rapid transition at Leitz. The foundational fixed-lens Leica I model A was being replaced by the new Leica C which accepted interchangeable non-standardized screw-mount lenses, each of which had to be individually matched to a specific body and weren’t rangefinder coupled. Shortly afterward the standardized mount version of the Leica C arrived, which utilized standardized screw-mound (LTM) lenses. And finally, in 1932 Leitz unveiled landmark Leica II or D with standardized interchangeable lenses that were coupled to the camera’s ingenious built-in rangefinder. Understandably, many Leica I owners wanted to upgrade their old cameras to Leica II specs, and E, Leitz Wetzlar was only too happy to oblige, not only to serve and maintain their loyal customer base but also to expand the market for its new line of interchangeable Leica lenses!    

If a model A was returned to Leitz for an upgrade the original 50mm lens unit (which had no separate serial number) was removed and remounted, and if it was destined for a Leica D, it was remounted in a standardized rangefinder coupled focusing mount. The nickel 50mm Elmar (no external number) shown here may be such a lens, removed from a Leica A and upgraded. The fact that the lens is marked in mm rather than cm is a practice that extended well into late 1931. However, the 9cm f/4 “Fat Elmar” in the accompanying photo, which is marked in cm probably dates circa early 1932. Note: Some of the very earliest 9cm Elmars were not rangefinder coupled and the lowest that have external numbers, which date from very early 1932, begin at about at about serial number 94XXX.

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2 Comments

Hi,
My Leica II model D is Serial 71207 (the 8th sample) delivered on Apr the 11th 1932 has an unnumbered “Elmar 50mm”, that I’m pretty sure it’s the original for that camera, and I hardly can see it as coming from an upgrade of a I model A (and of course, neither from the upgrade to model D, nor stolen). The samples I’ve seen of those extremely early samples of model D share that “mm” and no serial, and of course are rangefinder coupled.
So my understanding is that unnumbered lenses not only came from conversions, but also there were brand new lenses without any serial at least till the first months of 1932, and not only coming from upgrades from IA.
Best regards


Hello Jason, I’ve probably encountered the lack of serial number story a number of times in my history with Leica. Having served on an aircraft carrier during the Korea event in the fifties, I became most interested in photography. My camera during my carrier life was a Kodak Flash Bantam, given by my mother but, a fellow crewmen possessed a camera called a Leica, definitely love at first sight. It wasn’t till a civilian few years later, I finally had the ware with all to acquire my first Leica, 1954 I entered a NYC 32nd street photo shop and came upon a Leica model II, 50mm Elmar. I eventually realized it was an early English version, feet rather than meters, ‘open’ & ‘close’ and ‘Germany’ printed on the accessory clip. Although not something I paid attention to at the time, I later discovered lenses generally were serial numbered, mine was not. After many other Leicas, I still own my original Leica model II, I feel it is somewhat unique being an early German export with English markings and, most likely, it’s original lens. I haven’t taken pictures with it for many a year but, growing up in a era that taught taking care, things will last a lifetime, I suspect my model II will still preform as new!



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