The Leica Manual 1935 – 1973

The 15th and last edition of the Leica Manual 1973

Toronto. As my eyes began to struggle with focussing my Exakta, I sought out an alternative design. On March 21, 1970 I bought Andrew Matheson’s “The Leica and Leicaflex Way” 9th revised edition at Mitchell Photo Supply on Dominion square in Montreal. It was one of the many Focal Press books from England available at that time. It was an eye opener to me and two years later in July 1972 I bought my first Leica – a model M4.

It served me well over the years and I still have it although it has sat unused now for 15 years as digital has overtaken film. On August 2nd, 1973, while visiting Mitchell’s again I spotted a stack of oversized books  by the doorway titled “Leica Manual” 15th edition by Douglas Morgan, David Vestal, and William Broecker.

There were 15 editions of the Leica Manual from 1935 to 1973. If you would like to see one, you can download the 2nd edition, released in 1936 and dated as 1937 here, or visit the Archive web site for the revised 3rd edition noted as 1938-9 here. The earlier editions featured chapters by specialists in various fields. The books were divided into sections: Basic Leica Technique; Leica in Science and Education; The Leica in Specialized Fields. The earlier manuals took great pains to show that tiny negatives could be enlarged to make big prints with little grain provided the negatives were correctly exposed, developed in fine grain developer and handled carefully.

I began collecting older editions of various Leica books including the Leica Manual. The earlier ones were half the size of the 15th edition, but all editions had 500 -600 pages printed on what appeared to be better quality clay paper, suitable for crisp photographs.
The 13th edition featured some colour photos, emphasized the M3 and the IIIf series, and dropped the number of pages to 456. It used cheaper wood pulp paper for the appendix on “Tables & Formulas”. Ads had disappeared. No specialists were mentioned as chapter writers. In the previous 11th and 12th editions ads were very slim.

Specialist writers appeared once again in the 15th edition, and rapidly changing “Tables and Formulas”  were moved to a new loose leaf book expected to be published in 1973 with annual supplements. I found a copy posted as published in 1975 and also “supplement 1” dated 1977. I believe the concept did not take hold like its predecessor, the Photo-Lab Index did (at one time I owned two copies of the P-LI which was also loose leaf and offered annual supplements). A modern take on the Leica is covered here by Eric Kim.

 

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