Rare Leica 1937 prototype rifle-shaped camera headed for auction

No more than a dozen Leica Telephoto Assembly Rifles were ever produced. This is a rare chance to own a piece of photographic history.

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Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

The Leica Telephoto Assembly Rifle prototype. WestLicht Photographica

Taking photographs is known as "shooting," but we never thought to take it literally. Back in the 1930s, however, camera manufacturer Ernst Leitz -- now Leica -- did, producing what has since become one of the most unusual (and rare) camera accessories of any era.

The Leica Telephoto Assembly Rifle, also known as the Leica-Gewehr in German, or Leica-Gun in English, was only produced in very limited numbers, favoured by wildlife and sports photographers during the years between World Wars.

Even rarer is the model pictured above. It's a prototype model circa 1937 -- up for auction as part of the 27th WestLicht Camera Auction, taking place at 2 a.m. Pacific Time on June 13 at the auction house's premises in Vienna, Austria.

It's not the camera itself, a relatively commonplace Leica Standard, that makes the piece such a treasure: It's everything around it.

Inspired by famous photographer of African wildlife Attilio Gatti, the idea behind the Leica Telephoto Assembly Rifle is similar to the idea behind the rifle itself: by bracing the stock against their shoulder, the photographer could keep the device steadier than if they were holding it in their hands, unsupported.

WestLicht Photographica

It was, according to WestLicht, developed between 1935 and 1937, arriving onto the market in 1938 and remaining in production for just one year. It is not known how many remain in existence, but it is safe to say that the number is a very small -- WestLicht estimates it to be at around 10 to 12, spread around the world in private collections.

WestLicht Photographica

The prototype falling under the auctioneer's hammer this week has several rare custom features, including a modified baseplate on the Leica Standard camera body to fit it to the rifle and a modified housing for the Wetzlar PLOOT mirror and custom bayonet-mount Wetzlar viewfinder, engraved with the legend "Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Germany".

It also has two lenses, a Telyt 4.5/20 centimeters No. 272854 with hood, and a Hektor 4.5/13.5cm No. 326299 with hood in short focusing mount and matching red maker's box. It was acquired from the son of its first owner, a French gentleman named Mr. Pojol, who lived in Venezuela from 1937 to 1989. The entire kit comes with the original case and is, according to the seller, in fine condition and completely operational.

Its prototype status is determined by the finder, which is the Leitz Wetzlar brand. The parts were manufactured at Leitz facilities in Germany and shipped to New York, where Ernst Letiz would assemble them. The finders used in the New York production models were completely different from the Wetzlar finder used in this model.

A good condition Leica-Gewehr sold at auction in 2011 for $104,000.

This model is being offered for a starting bid of €150,000 (around $170,000) and is expected to fetch somewhere in the vicinity of €300,000 to €350,000 (around $340,000 - $400,000). If you have that kicking around, you can make your bid on Live Auctioneers website.