Call out to rangefinder/Contax experts! Rare Contax I with chrome front plate?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by aleceiffel, Aug 10, 2018.

  1. Hi everyone, I need to pick the brains of some vintage rangefinder/contax experts if you would be so kind. I have in my possession a Contax I with matching serial numbers of V32351 (dating it around 1933/34) and an f2 5cm Sonnar + original case. The thing that is puzzling me is that the Contax I was supposedly only finished in black, whereas mine has a metal/chrome front plate. I’m wondering if this camera is somehow in a rare finish or whether at some point someone has stripped the paint from the front plate – this would seem to be a lot of effort to go to, as it would include removing the white paint in the recessed Contax lettering and I can see no sign of any paint remnants on this part of the camera (and also the metal finish shows signs of wear commensurate with the age of the camera). I’m 99.9% sure the camera is otherwise in original condition, and I’m wondering whether I have something rare here. I’d really appreciate your thoughts, and I’ll post some photos shortly.









  2. Looks like a Version 4 (Kuk's "In the Footsteps of Contax") at first glance.
    It's also missing the viewfinder mask for longer lenses.

    It must actually have been chromed, because my v4 has brass showing through the paint.
    I'm guessing it was done by the same folks who did the custom flash socket on top.

    I'll see if Kuk mentions anything about parts ever getting chromed or not.
    aleceiffel likes this.
  3. Thanks very much for your help Rick. Any info is much appreciated.
  4. So good, it has the widest rangefinder ever!
    aleceiffel likes this.
  5. and quite possibly the worst mechanical shutter ever...

    I have my doubts there's anything going on with that chrome front that wasn't created by one of the who knows how many prior owners who have had that body before it passed into the current owner's possession. It's like trying to figure out who made the latest fake Leica being posted as someone's unique find of the day.
    aleceiffel likes this.
  6. Hi Greg, I agree that we always have to be dubious about the authenticity of such things. The reason I'm currently suspending my disbelief is that it looks like a high quality job, and like the chroming of the II and IIa's I've seen, and shows the kind of wear that tells me it certainly wasn't a recent job. I would have thought that if it had been sent back to the factory to have this done it would have had an extra letter added to the serial number, just like when they were factory repaired. I also think that it would have been an expensive customisation after the fact. I'm leaning towards the theory that this was done as a factory mod at the expense and request of the original owner.
  7. I found this page, the chrome plating looks original and genuine on mine - I believe it may be one of these rare chrome face models. Mine appears to be in better cosmetic condition, but showing enough vintage wear to persuade me that this is not counterfeit:

    The Contax I Chrome Face Body
  8. For anyone who is interested I think the questions about these cameras have been solved by Henry W. Scherer of, it is a rare camera made from left over pre-war parts, chromed and modified with a flash sync by the manufacturer post-war, this is what he wrote:

    “Thank you for writing. I believe a small number of Contax 1 Chrome face cameras were manufactured out of spare parts after the end of WWII. The special paint Zeiss used on the black Contax 1 face plates was made for Zeiss in Russia. The lack of this black paint was pointed out by Zeiss in the end of its 1955 Zeiss Dealer Bulletin. This bulletin is posted on my Website.

    Germany had a post war famine that killed 3 million Germans. The Zeiss factories had been smashed by the war. Many cameras were made by Zeiss out of spare parts to sell to occupation servicemen so that they could obtain dollars to use to buy food. The Postwar Contax II is the most common postwar assembled camera I've seen but I have also overhauled one chrome face Contax 1 sent to me years ago from Dennmark. The man who owned this camera told me his father had purchased it new after the war. I also have two Chrome face Contax 1's here in my collection.”

    I'd like to sincerely thank Henry for his time and knowledge.

    If anyone has auction results for one of these cameras or a guide price for insurance, I’d be very interested to know.
  9. Thank you, that is very interesting :)
    I've leafed through Kuc's book again, but have not found any information about chrome plated Contax Is, though this might be in vol.2 dealing with cameras post-1945.
    aleceiffel likes this.
  10. Hi Rick, I think from what Henry was saying to me that only very small numbers were made in this way, and are rare in the extreme. In such cases it's possible that because of this rarity a lot of people aren't aware that these versions exist at all, because very few people have seen them. I also imagine that a fair few of the handful made have been discarded or lost since the 1950's. I've contacted Westlicht Auctions to try and gauge their thoughts.
  11. If you look at the "chrome face" Contax I on Henry's page, there are some differences between it and the one pictures here by the OP, and I do not believe the one on Henry's page has been sync'd for flash.

    The Contax I Chrome Face Body

    Color me not convinced anyway...
  12. I've looked closely at the photos and thought about this. I'm inclined to think that this was a "one off" custom job.

    The chrome looks to be polished, rather than the traditional powder chrome finish that was used. The screw heads also are damaged, which really is an indicator that someone opened the camera at some point.

    Also, a close look at the accessory shoe shows some paint, and I wonder if the paint on the upper inside of the rails is black.

    In any case, we'll never know. I think it's an interesting camera, for sure.
  13. Is "chrome" a generic term ? The coating looks like nickle anodizing, it's very thin judging by the rusty marks on the bottom of the plate (photos 5 and 7). Chrome usually bubbles if moisture can seep through a pore, and chrome is not so easily scratched off

    Anyway, here is a 28mm finder for it at $895
    The Zeiss Ikon Contax Camera Repair Website - Lenses for Sale
  14. Chrome can definitely peel too ( 1947-48 Leica IIIc cameras anyone?) if poorly applied or the camera is stored in humid conditions.

    But in this case I'm certain it's chrome, It has a much brighter color than the plating on the lens mount ring (which is Nickel-plated as I recall)
  15. Good point Rick, the silvery color would probably make it chrome, very thin plating though by the looks of it, done at a time when economy was absolutely necessary perhaps
    The front plate looks genuine to me, the "Contax" lettering is pretty neat and tidy, all the edges of the plate and window moldings look to be free of any polishing deformations. I give it the thumbs up
  16. I just realized there's a button missing on that camera, just to the right of the "Contax" logo (looking front on to the camera). How would that affect the value or authenticity?

    This link shows the button - this one is not my camera so have no interest in it's sale
    Zeiss Ikon Contax I w/ Tessar 5cm 50mm f/2.8 Lens RARE | eBay
  17. It's the pull-out knob for the viewfinder mask for the 85mm lens. Though I recall there were other masks available as well.

    Here's what it's supposed to do.

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