December 2020
Photos: Milan Swolfs
Wetzlar Camera Auctions

Going, Going, Gone!

It has become a rare thing that one can cause a little sensation with discretion and respectability. The managing directors of the still brand new auction house Wetzlar Camera Auctions succeed in doing so in an impressive manner.

As a general rule, auction houses are establishments with a long-standing tradition. Why? Because their success does not simply jump out of the hat like a white rabbit. And because it is a trade which is based on trust, discretion, and respectability which have to be earned over years and decades. All the more remarkable when three men open an auction house for antique photographic collectibles in Wetzlar – and manage to fetch top prices for rare to find curios in their first two years in business.

Evidently, the movers and shakers behind Wetzlar Camera Auctions do not believe in rabbits. But they have all the attributes required on the far side of magic to successfully establish an auction house within a very short time. Lars Netopil is considered to be one of the most profound experts on historical Leica cameras; the citizen of Wetzlar has dealt in classical cameras for a quarter century. The concept of the auction house had been on his mind for quite some time. “It would have been inconceivable to do it on my own,” he tells us, “but when I stood with the right partners on a terrace above the roofs of Vienna one evening, it suddenly became viable.” The second man in the partnership is Viennese Jo Geier who has more than 10 years of experience in the auction business of antique photographic collectibles and is also well known for his expert knowledge about cameras and accessories made by various manufacturers. David Pitzer finally completes the managerial trio of founders. He is responsible for commercial and legal issues and for everything to do with the appearence and design.

Competences and the market knowledge of the experts

As it is, the niche filled by Wetzlar Camera Auctions comes about due to the competences and the market knowledge of the experts. Thus, it stands to reason that the auctions take place in Wetzlar, the birthplace of the Leica camera. The focus is – of course – on products by Leitz and Leica but also on Leica copies as well as on cameras and lenses by other manufacturers. “For us, it is important that we do not only evaluate the collectibles which are brought in – however valuable they might be – but that we also verify and attest their value,” emphasizes David Pitzer. “We have made it our business that everything we know about the collectibles we put up for auction is made absolutely transparent. That’s why we allow ourselves the luxury of voluminous catalogs with copious details about sources and provenances as well as a great number of pictures which document even the slightest trace of usage on a camera.”

“We left nothing to chance and prepared everything in the best manner possible,” relates Jo Geier, “but when the first auction took place on 9th October, 2019, we were still rather nervous. Many long-time collectors were present in the hall, others made their bids online and via the phone.“ The nervousness was to quickly change into euphoria – at the latest, when the bid for a gilded Leica IA from 1929 was won at a price of 275,000 Euros (incl. buyer’s premium) and the prototype of a Leitz Summicron 50 mm lens from the 1950ies climbed from 6,000 to the record price of 100,000 Euros.


Very rare is this Leica M3 for the German Military from 1958
in an early double stroke version. At the 2nd auction in 2020,
the Leica M3 olive with the engraving “Bundeseigentum”
(“Federal Property”) fetched 93,200 Euros.

„Historisch bedeutend“

The early prototype of a NIKON L rangefinder camera with Leica screw mount from 1947/48 has been classified by the experts at Wetzlar Camera Auctions as “historically significant”. The camera was auctioned at the 2nd auction for the record price of 397,900 Euros.

Trust, respectability – and record results

In point of fact, it had been a foregone conclusion from the beginning that the auction in the fall of 2019 would not be a one-hit wonder. However, this was to be corroborated in a spectacular manner by the second auction on October 10, 2020. Of course, the auction took place under specific provisions due to the COVID-19 epidemic. But it went off no less successful. More than 250 lots came up for auction, among them a Leica M3, painted in NATO olive green and dated 1958, from the former armory of the German Bundeswehr (federal army), which yielded the unusual sum of 93,200 Euros. Leica copies from a high-profile collection scored in the higher five digits. What was particularly spectacular: After a suspenseful fight between bidders on the telephone, the early prototype of a NIKON L range-finder camera with Leica screw thread fetched a terrific 397,900 Euros (incl. buyer’s premium). This is the highest price that any Nikon camera has ever fetched in an auction worldwide.

“We are certainly very happy about such record results,” says Lars Netopil, “but we are even more delighted that we were able to convincingly demonstrate our competence and our market knowledge across and beyond the first two auctions. The feedback from the sellers and bidders has been incredibly positive.” So, the concept apparently proves to be successful; the afore mentioned trust of the clients in the respectability of the auction house is paying off. Wetzlar Camera Auctions has already registered significant items to be sold in the next auction on 9 October, 2021. And there is every indication that the still brand-new auction house for antique photographic collectibles will soon be an establishment with a standing tradition.

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