Tuesday, August 29, 2023



By Heinz Richter

David Farkas of Leica Store Miami wrote a very interesting article about the Leica company archives. Unfortunately, these are not open to the public. I have always been interested in the history of Leica. Subsequently, on my visit to Wetzlar on June 9, I decided to tour the archives myself, to see what other interesting items I might discover.

Unfortunately, our guide Tim Pullmann had only limited time because he was busy setting up for the Leica Auction that weekend. Even though with more time I might have seen more of the treasures tucked away, it was a memorable experience none the less.

Needless to say, much of what we saw has been covered in David's article. Here is his account first, with additional examples from my visit to follow:

David Farkas, LeicaStore Miami

Up a back staircase and through a few nondescript double doors, the Leica Company Archives house valuable documents, patents, design sketches, books, photographs, production records, prototype cameras, and more. We took a tour of the Archives, which is located on the second floor of the New Building. Even seeing just the tip of the iceberg, we came away duly impressed.

Records Room

First on our tour was the records room. Here, documents of all sorts were stored in large moveable metal shelving units and more classic file drawers.

Lots of records, with room to grow

An entire section with Leica patent records

Collection of Leica photography books

Dealer and trade show display model cameras and promo items

A book of old advertisements


Hand drawn 3D product renderings

Renderings for concept cameras that were never developed

Binocular schematics

Original screwmount camera schematics from 1929


The next stop on the tour was more of mini museum, with several glass display cases. On offer were some significant historical pieces, like a camera and lens from the Hindenburg, the Jony Ive designed camera for (RED) which sold for $1.8 million, Oskar Barnack’s original notes and sketches, contact sheets from the first roll of film ever shot, production records, and some prototyping models for various cameras.

Camera and lenses from Hindenburg

Camera and lenses from Hindenburg

Detailed production records

Oskar Barnack’s original employee ID card

Oskar Barnack design sketches

The first ever roll of film shot with a Leica camera, by Oskar Barnack

Notes by Oskar Barnack

Oskar Barnack design sketches

More Oskar Barnack design sketches

Old school prototyping

New school 3D printed prototyping, here for the X-U

Jony Ive (Apple’s head of design) designed M for (RED) camera

The Camera Vault

For the third and final stop on the tour, our guide led us through another set of double doors and into the crown jewel of the Archive – the camera vault. This large room, about the same size as the records room, had row after row of metal shelving, with almost every spot occupied by storage bins, each labeled with a product name or two. Our guide removed one of the bins and opened it. Inside was about a dozen cameras of that type.

Sadly, no pictures were allowed in there, so you’ll just have to imagine what a Leica collection with thousands of cameras and lenses looks like.

The Future

Leica plans to make the archive available to the public in the future. In the meantime, a team of full-time archivists keep the growing collection preserved for future generations. Leica created the first 35mm still camera over 100 years ago. In that time, the company has had an enormous impact on photography. Clearly, the company understands the importance of maintaining and curating this history.

Additional discoveries during my visit:

All photogrphas by Heinz Richter unless otherwise noted

Groundbreaking fo the new headquarters at Am Leitz Park in Wetzlar, April 25, 2012

Ceramic replica of a Lerica ! (model A), made by a Japanese collector

A while ago Leica acquired the Leica collection of Rolf Fricke. The collection was much too extensive to put on  
display and most items are tucked away in foam lined storage containers.

Leica M 4-P Half Frame

All individual parts of a Leica IIIf, including the manufacturing steps for the top plate

60mm f/2 Lens made for the US Navy

Early experimental model of a digital M7
For more information go here

Earliest production records for Leica cameras

Original negatives of photographs with the Ur-Leica by Oskar Barnack

Photographs of Ernst Leitz with the Ur-Leica by Oskar Barnack

Biggest Leica I ever had in my hands
Photograph: Tim Pullmann

For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right

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