The Story of Leica 4387

4387 front view

Is this a black-paint Leica III? No it isn't!

First shots showing the qualities of this 70 year-old, but recently coated Elmar can be seen here.

Further and more recent shots taken with 'Ol' 4387' in its Wetzlar, Germany, birthplace can be seen here.

Among the many pieces of interesting Leica kit I inventoried for sale on behalf of my friendly Cork camera dealer was what looked like an exquisite EXC+++ black-paint Leica III with the exceedingly low serial number 4387.

I remarked to my better half that I'd seen this little jewel, but couldn't think of any really good reason to buy it as I already had in LTM an excellent IIIF RD, a chrome III, and a 1932 Leica Standard. When I'd finished the inventory and was reviewing it with my dealer, he asked me to take 4387 off the list as he'd decided to keep it. So I did, and thought no more of it.

Fast forward to my big six zero on 13 March 2005, and what did my discerning and generous wife present me with but a lovely little black-paint Leica No. 4387! I was delighted.

Looking it over very closely, I could see that it was going to have to go for a good CLA. The secondary rangefinder image was very dim, and the shutter wasn't functioning as it should at 1/20th. So off it went to England to Leica guru Malcolm Taylor in Herefordshire to work his usual magic.

On its arrival Malcolm rang me with some very interesting news. No. 4387 was not what it seemed. The first give-away was the 'sharkskin' covering as opposed to the more usual vulcanite used on IIIs in the 1930s. It also appears at some stage to have been sold by the now defunct UK camera dealer, Wallace Heaton, as the remains of their logo transfer are on the back of the body.

4387 back view

What I had was actually a Leica I from 1926/27 which had been factory converted by Wetzlar into a III just pre-WWII, or possibly around 1950. So I had a Leica which was actually older than my '32 Standard. It was, apparently, standard Leitz practice to retain the original body number even when the camera was upgraded into a different model. On a recent visit to the camera's birthplace, Wetzlar, in September 2006, Leica expert Lars Netopil had a look at it, pronounced it a fine example, and said that the white paint infilling on the top plate engraving pointed to a post-war conversion.

On opening it up, Malcolm's provenance theory was confirmed by the presence of original Leica I parts. The lens flange also doesn't carry an 'O' marking, which meant that originally the lens would have been specifically matched to the camera.In the event, Malcolm had to do a considerable amount of work to bring it to 'as new' condition. New rangefinder mirror, new Leica shutter curtains as the old ones were cracked with age, and the removal of shims both behind the flange and in the 50/3.5 collapsible Elmar which were the result of earlier work to try and calibrate the lens with the body. He also coated the Elmar, which seems to have markedly improve contrast and light transmission. First shots can be seen here.

So I now have a 78 year-old Leica which is good for another 50 years or so of hard work, and which will now accept, as a result of Malcolm's work, any standard LTM lens.

It really is far too nice to be left mouldering in a showcase.

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