Oskar Barnack’s 0-Series Leica prototype camera sold for a record-setting $15M at auction
At the 40th Leitz Photographica Auction, Oskar Barnack’s personal 0-Series Leica camera sold for just over $15M, shattering the expected high end of the $2.2 to $3.3M hammer price range that the auction house expected. DPReview TV’s Chris and Jordan were there at the auction and have a video in the making, we wanted to update you in the form of a news article in advance.
The final hammer price of €14.4M is a staggering sum, so what makes the camera so special? In 1923, two years before Barnack launched the Leica I, there were 23 prototype Leica-0 cameras produced. Of those 23, only a dozen are believed to have survived. That alone makes the 0-Series a rare, valuable camera. However, the specific 0-Series that sold for over $15M isn’t just any Leica 0-Series, it was Leica founder Oscar Barnack’s personal camera.
Barnack’s 0-Series is the most expensive camera ever sold at auction. The previous record holder was a different 0-Series camera. That Leica 0-Series camera sold for €2.4M (about $2.5M) in 2018. It’s fair to assume that if that same camera went up for auction in 2022, it could’ve sold for more, but it’s clear that the Barnack angle is valuable. Barnack’s camera includes his name engraved on top of the camera’s viewfinder.
On its Facebook page, Leica Camera quoted Oskar Barnack, ‘I spent years working on this first model, and I still have many photographs from that time. Today, we can safely say that the legitimacy of a high-quality 35mm camera has been proven.’ The prototype 0-Series was very important for Leica’s early cameras and helped pave the way for 35mm photography. Undoubtedly, the very 0-Series camera that someone just paid a lot of money for is a critical part of photographic history.
Barnack’s Leica 0-Series camera remained in his family until 1960, before it was sold to an American collector. The camera sold with an original leather lens cap on a string and an engraved aluminum cap. The camera has an attached 50mm F3.5 lens. The 0-Series prototypes helped inform the design of later interchangeable lens Leica cameras.
Although Barnack’s 0-Series camera was the most expensive camera ever sold at auction, the 40th Leitz Photographica Auction included more than 400 lots of cameras and lenses. You can check out the full catalog here and the final auction results here.