Rare Leica gun RIFLE camera prototype goes to auction

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The New York Leica Gun RIFLE Prototype looks like it could do some damage, but only shoots photographs(Credit: Photomuseum WestLicht)

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The Leica Gun, or "Leica Gewehr" in German, is one of the rarest and most unusual Leitz accessories ever produced. Created in the 1930s for sports and wildlife shooters, of the photographic variety, it paired a Leica camera and lenses with a mirror-housing and barrel viewfinder along with a rifle-like wooden stock and trigger. This week a very rare prototype of the New York Leica Gun RIFLE is due to be sold at auction for an estimated €300,000 to €350,000 (around US$335,000 to $390,000).

Though by no means the first camera to be given a gun-like form, this Leica offering is one of the most iconic. It was produced by Ernst Leitz New York, is said to have been inspired by well-known wildlife photograpaher Commander Attilio Gatti, and allowed photographers better stability when shooting at long telephoto focal lengths. Because it uses a rifle-like stock and trigger, it meant photographers could hold the camera gun against their body when shooting.

Listed by WestLicht Photographica Auction House as a New York Leica Gun RIFLE Prototype, the model on offer is built around a Leica Standard body with a modified baseplate. It uses a modified Wetzlar PLOOT mirror housing and special bayonet mount Wetzlar viewfinder engraved Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Germany. This can be mounted to the rifle stock and connected to the triggers.

The New York Leica Gun RIFLE Prototype is said to be in "beautiful and 100 percent original condition," which is probably because it also comes with the original and extremely rare carrying case. The sale will also include two lenses, a Telyt 4.5/20-cm, and a Hektor 4.5/13.5-cm. Both lenses come with their respective hoods, and the 13.5-cm has a matching red maker's box.

The camera is believed to be a pre-series or prototype version which was finished in New York. This is because it uses a Wetzlar finder, which is completely different to the NY finders used on production models which were released 1938-1939. The camera body, all lenses and the reflex housing were delivered to Ernst Leitz New York between 1937 and 1939. The provenance of the camera is from the son of the original owner, Mr Pojol, a man from France who lived in Venezuela from 1937 to 1989.

Any potential buyers will probably not want to use the camera in a public setting, for fear of of ending up like Thomas Skaife, the inventor of the Pistolgraph. He is said to have been arrested after aiming the slightly gun-shaped creation (when compared to other cameras of the time) at Queen Victoria during a procession in 1860.

The New York Leica Gun RIFLE Prototype is to be sold at the WestLicht Photographica Auction on June 13 with a starting bid of €150,000 ($167,390).

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