Review by Robert Carter
||The author is a retired member of the E. Leitz, Inc. New York agency for Leitz, Wetzlar. His reminiscences about the evolution of this important branch of Leitz were self published in 1996 with support from the Leica Historical Society of America and Manca Inc.
The book has a 1940s charm. It is a large format book with a deep red cloth bound hard cover. The cover material and lettering bring to mind the famous little red fabric-covered boxes that once contained Leica equipment. The paper is a cream tone and the images, of which there are many, are all black & white. The book is a modest 79 pages with a traditional quality binding.
Keller has chosen to address mainly the organizational aspects of the agency, especially the ownership issues. I personally would have preferred to see more technical and design information about the products produced by Leitz NY in the 1940s as the firm attempted to make do with the loss of products from Germany.
Keller begins with a recap of the history of the parent firm to introduce the reader to Ludwig Leitz who was the key family member involved in establishing the agency which became the portal to the firm's biggest market. According to Keller, in his trip to New York in 1893 to establish a sales agency, Leitz was accompanied by William Krafft, also of Wetzlar. Krafft had experience in foreign trade, and the new agency was initially called "William Krafft, Microscopes, Importer". Krafft is also credited with the founding of the London, England branch office in 1906.
A few years after Krafft returned to Germany, Alfred Traeger was sent from Wetzlar to New York to improve the agency's sales. Traeger originally worked for Hensoldt & Sons (which Keller calls Hansoldt at this point*).
For me the most interesting part of the book is the section covering the stormy life of the firm during and after WWII when the US government auctioned the firm off to Dunhill, a decision Keller reports as totally unacceptable to Leitz. For a short period the Leica name in the USA belonged to Dunhill, not Leitz resulting in the spectacle of authentic Leica's being defaced at customs so they could be brought into the States by returning citizens.
Dunhill eventually sold the agency to Henry Mann whose firm (Manca) was acceptable to Leitz. Keller mentions the formation of E. Leitz, Midland at this time, leaving one to ponder whether the North American plant might have been established in the States if Leitz had been treated differently by the Alien Property Custodian.
The story ends with highlights of the reorganization and change in ownership of Leitz as it slipped from the family and became part of the Wild Heerbrugg organization, in the process once more taking full ownership of the American sales agency from Manca.
Overall, the book is interesting and easy to read, but I would have preferred more depth and a tighter focus on Leitz NY (part of the book repeats material about the early days of the Leitz firm, the hiring of Oscar Barnack, and his creation of the ur-Leica). Many of the illustrations of microscopes and other goods are interesting, but not especially related to the New York agency or relevant to the text (the chapter entitled "The Introduction of the Leica Camera" has mostly illustrations of microscopes from the 1930s).
*Hensoldt was briefly involved with Kellner in the early days of the firm which became Leitz. Hensoldt formed his own business specializing in binoculars. His firm exists today as part of the Zeiss organization and is still based in Wetzlar.