Every day I walk along Harbor Blvd. No I’m not a prostitute, I just work there! Yesterday was Philly’s Best for lunch. Who knows what today will be!
I’ve known Slav for quite a few years, he walked into the camera store I work at one day speaking some strange language called Polish. Amazingly I know a few Polish words and managed a broken Hello. He humored me with a reply, pretending I hadn’t butchered his native tongue then set about asking all sorts of questions about film cameras. Something few people care to discuss any more.
What’s this, someone familiar with Poland and a connoisseur of film? I think I’ve made a new friend!
We’ve been having crazy discussions on the virtues of film and digital cameras ever since and rarely with out a nice glass of wine, pint of Guinness, or coffee!
I could tell you lots more about Slav, but you’re better off going here: http://blog.slavzatoka.com/
So I’ve always liked to collect cameras. The majority of them are not terribly rare or valuable, just interesting. My favorite cameras are Leica’s, which unfortunately are quite expensive to collect. I have one that I use but it’s not really a collectible, it’s just a tool.
During World War II, Leica made cameras for civilians and for the military. They usually marked the military ones with which branch of service they were going to be used in. Luftwaffen-Eigentum for the Air Force, Heer or W.H. (Wermacht Heer) for the Army, and M or M with a Reichsadler (Swastika with Eagle) for the Navy. If they had a special shutter with ball bearings for more robustness especially in the Eastern Front, they were usually labeled with a K by the serial number, and or a K on the shutter curtain itself.
The IIIc with a step by the rewind switch was the version made during the war.
Since I love both Leica cameras and all things WW2, my goal was always to own a IIIc for my collection. I had decided long ago that it would be so hard and unlikely to ever find a real military version that I was going to have to be satisfied with one made during the war that was of the same look and design but for civilians. No one knows how many military versions are still in existence but it is thought to be in the hundreds that survived the war. Most were either lost during, or were defaced after. Most Germans after the war did not want to be seen with something with military engravings in case they were thought a Nazi, so they would usually sand or grind off the markings so they couldn’t be seen anymore. Many of the authentic ones that survive now were war spoils brought home by Allied soldiers after the war.
Unfortunately, at some point along the way people started realizing there was a market both for Leica’s and for Nazi items. The combination of both was pretty tempting for some people. Consequently, there are far more fakes than original WW2 military Leica’s in existence. If you check ebay right now you will probably find 3-4 pages worth of fake ones and most likely, not a single legitimate one.
Last week, someone I know asked if I could look over all of their cameras. They had belong to his parents and he was looking to get rid of them. He mentioned one was a Nazi camera. I had my suspicions but said of course I’d look at them and let him know what to do with everything, if any of it had value etc.
On Wednesday I met him at church to look over all of his bags. He kept showing me camera after camera but was holding out on the Leica til the end. Finally we got to it. My first glance was that it did indeed look authentic. It wasn’t one of the obvious fakes. He said his dad had owned it from the late 1940′s when he’d been in Germany after the war. There weren’t many forgeries going on then because no one was really thinking of collecting 60 years ago.
After spending a few minutes looking it over I decided it was good enough that I needed to do more research. I contacted several authorities on Leica’s of that vintage and after sending serial numbers and photos of the different parts of the camera, they were able to confirm that it was indeed authentic. The body was delivered to Berlin from the factory on August 11th, 1944. The lens was delivered three days earlier on the 8th as part of the same order shipment number 13082.
The camera is not 100% original from the factory anymore. The top shutter speed dial has been changed. It should read Z instead of B. The vulcanite leather covering and the shell it goes on were also replaced. Lastly the black viewfinder in the back should be partially chrome so that was probably replaced as well. None of these things matter much as the core guts of the camera and the top cover with all engravings are original. It does hurt the value but it could be restored in the future.
After discussing it with the owner, I offered to purchase the camera. He agreed and I am now pleased as punch and have the crown jewel of my collection!
One final note because it does come up. Yes it’s a Nazi camera. I understand why many people want nothing to do with Nazi items. I don’t really see any reason to buy a Nazi flag or dishes with a Swastika on them, but in this case as I am a photographer, I already own one Leica that I use often, and I do collect cameras, I don’t feel any sort of shadiness for having this one. I do respect those who wouldn’t want anything to do with it though.
I bought the camera for it’s historical value, not because it was owned by a Nazi.
In 1966, after earning two Bronze Star’s for Valor and other awards as a US Navy journalist, Charlie Eggleston decided to join United Press International as a photographer in Vietnam.
He served UPI well and had a promising career in front of him.
In May of 1968 Charlie went to Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon to cover attacks during the Tet Offensive.
He did not return.
Charlie was killed while lighting a cigarette in Rocket Alley. Previously four journalists had been killed and Charlie had taken to carrying an M1 Carbine with him along with his cameras. No one knows what the shooters’ reasoning was but they probably weren’t too happy to see a journalist with a gun. Not that they really needed an excuse.
There were also UPI radio and film men with Charlie when he was killed. Roger Norum was recording sound at the time. Charlie’s death and Roger’s reaction was recorded and broadcast back in the US the same day he died.
This is the recording. Fair warning, while it isn’t gory sounding, it is very sad to listen to:
Charlie was sent home to his family while many of his possessions were left to his friends in Vietnam and to the orphans there.
Earlier this week, I bought this.
My research has found two people who worked for UPI with the same last name. Charlie and a gentleman named Steve. I started my research by looking for other photographers who had been in Vietnam with UPI during the same time frame as Charlie. I also found an email address for Steve Eggleston who is still living.
The first email I sent off about Charlie was to Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and Gerald Ford Presidential photographer, David Hume Kennerly. I knew he shot for UPI in Vietnam and though he was there a few years later, I thought maybe he would have a starting point for me. Luckily he did. David put me in contact with Bill Snead. Bill was in charge of the Saigon Bureau during the time Charlie was there.
After another email had been sent, I continued my research, still waiting for a response from the other Eggleston.
Bill Snead replied to me with a wealth of information about Charlie. He knew him well and in fact was the person to arrange for his body to be sent home. Bill felt that there was a high likelihood that the camera was Charlie’s because the engravings were not done by UPI and he remembered that Charlie did engrave all of his cameras.
Fast forward a day and I finally received a response from Steve Eggleston. He assured me the camera is not his, that while he did have a few cameras with engravings, they are all accounted for. He also mentioned Charlie’s name with no prodding from me and said he felt it was probably his camera.
My conclusion is that while the evidence is mostly circumstantial, it is extremely likely that my camera was originally owned by Charlie Eggleston.
I haven’t decided what to do with the camera yet. I think my next step is going to be continued research. I know the Newseum in Washington DC has a memorial section for journalists that died in the line of duty. I know that Charlie is listed there, but I do not believe there is anything else.
I know he is just one of the many that died, but my hope is that someday either the Newseum or another institution like the Smithsonian would be interested in this camera and the stories and documentation that goes with it. I’m going to try to put together a proposal and see where it leads me. It would be amazing to film some interviews with the people who worked with and remember him.
I think he deserves to be remembered.