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Red Flag 20 camera (Pic: Leski Auctions)
The auction includes a rare Hong Qi 20 (Red Flag 20), a Chinese copy of the Leica M4 (Pic: Leski Auctions)

One of the world’s largest camera collections in private hands – thought to number up to 10,000 items – is to start selling at auction in Australia on Tuesday (9 August).

The auction, the first in a series which will take place over the next two years, is selling hundreds of cameras that had been part of a bespoke museum built by the owners of Melbourne’s Michaels Camera.

The camera seller, which had been in business for 105 years, announced last year it was closing both its store and the museum. The museum had been built up by owner Peter Michael’s father Alan and his uncle Tony in the 1970s, who had realised the worth or rarity of some of the cameras being offered as trade-ins and decided to display them.

In the following five decades, the collection grew into possibly the biggest private camera collection in the world. Its Leica collection was world famous.

The museum’s closure was announced in January 2021, alongside the closing of the Michaels Camera (latterly Michaels Cameras Video Digital) in the heart of Melbourne’s central business district.

Michaels Camera Museum website (Pic: Michaels Camera)
The museum was free to enter and had more than 2,500 items on display (Pic: Michaels Camera)

Australian auction house Leski Auctions will start selling the Michaels collection at 6pm AEST (9am UK time) on Tuesday (9 August).

The first of the auctions includes some of the highlights of the Michael Family Camera Museum Leica collection, which is likely to bring international interest.

Some of the expected highlights include:

  • A Leica I Model B from the 1920s with Compur dial shutter and Elmar 50/3.5 lens, one of only 638 ever made. (Estimate: $10,000)
  • A Leica Reporter with both film magazines and a highest shutter speed of 1/1000. (Estimate: $12,000-$18,000)
  • A Leica M3 with 35mm Summaron lens along with integrated spectacle viewfinder and UVA filter (Estimate: $2,000)
  • A Canadian-built KE-7A, especially built for the US Army. This military version of the Leica M4 had different lubricants to allow it to work in temperatures as low as -20C (-4F) aswell as dust sealing. Only 505 were made and only 40 of those were offered for commercial sale.
Leica reporter (Pic: Leski Auctions)
The Leica Reporter comes with two magazines which can hold enough film for 250 exposures (Pic: Leski Auctions)

In an interview with Petapixel, Peter Michael also said one Chinese camera is expected to draw huge interest. The rare Hong Qi 20 (Red Flag 20), a Chinese copy of the Leica M4 made under the orders of Chiang Ching, the last wife of Mao Tze Dong, is thought to be one of only 200 made, and is being sold with its accompanying 50/1.4, 35/1.4 and 90/2 lenses. T is expected to fetch as much as $80,000.

A number of other commemorative Leicas are also included in the sale, including a Leica M6 marking 150 years of the Wetzlar Optical Institute in Germany.

Another non-Leica highlights is a pre-war Hansa Leica-style rangefinder, made by the company which would eventually become Canon.

The first auction is largely made up of Leica and Canon models and accessories, but the museum collection ranged far wider than that.

Leica I Model B camera (Pic: Leksi Auctions)
There is expected to be international interest in the museum’s Leica collection (Pic: Leksi Auctions)

In a statement for Leski Auctions ahead of the sale, Peter Michael said: “Alan and Tony made the conscious decision to conserve, display and actively expand the evolving collection, which meant not just relying on trade-ins, but also attending auctions, swap meets and buying from private collections that offered unique or unusual additions to what they had already accumulated. The evolution of photography as reflected in these little masterpieces of design and construction was their inspiration and, within a few years, the collection had increased to the point where housing it and displaying it became a real challenge.

“At around this time an architect and die-hard Leica collector approached my father, as he wanted to sell his extensive Leica collection. My father bought the collection which became the foundation of the world class Leica collection you will find in the following pages of this catalogue. The collection continued to grow and eventually we had more than 3,000 items on display in a superb museum space created for the purpose. A visit was always free, and over the years we hosted many thousands of enthusiasts who visited from interstate and overseas, as well as many members of local historical societies and museum curators.”

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Stephen Dowling
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