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The Rare Retinas

by Max Dyble

Retina collectors are aware of the vast number or Retina & Retina Reflex variants manufactured during the production span from 1934 to 1964. But which are the really rare models, and why are they rare?

Retina 122 – showing the lever wind with stop on righthand side to prohibit sprocket damage

Retina 122 – showing the lever wind with stop on righthand side to prohibit sprocket damage

The ultimate find for most collectors, is, of course the first Retina 2 rangefinder camera, made in 1936/37, Nagel code 122. Although by no means the rarest, it is still the most coveted. The distinguishing feature is the lever wind, requiring several short strokes to advance the film, and the long retractable shutter release on the top plate. It is generally accepted that 5000 units were made, but only about 20 have been documented by collectors.

It has been suggested that the lever wind was a weakness, and as a result most of them were scrapped, and the model replaced within six months by the model 142, which had a conventional (for the time) knob wind. But I have looked at the workings, and the engineering is quite sound, so I would discount this theory. It is more likely that most of them were lost during the war.

Details of Tessar lens fitted to a Retina type 119

Details of Tessar lens fitted to a Retina type 119

Even this rare camera was produced with a choice of f3.5 Ektar, f2.8 or f2 Xenon lenses, and during its short manufacture underwent some design changes. The first batches allowed the film advance lever to have a long throw, which probably put some strain on the film perforations; later batches had a raised stop alongside the lever to prohibit the movement of the lever, thus avoiding this problem. The “Retina II” logo on the top plate was encircled on some cameras – but curiously not on all! This means that there are a possible 12 different variants to look for. Most collectors would settle for just one!

Retinas with Tessar lenses are also considered rare, and although these are very desirable and unusual, documentation and research has shown that there are a lot more of them around than was originally thought. They were fitted on Retina 1 models 118, 119, 126, 141 & 148, from 1936 to 1939.

‘ ...used by Sir Edmund Hilary to record colour pictures on Kodachrome at the summit of Mount Everest’

It is interesting to note that a Tessar lensed model 118 was used by Sir Edmund Hilary to record colour pictures on Kodachrome at the summit of Mount Everest, and in 1953 Kodak produced an advertisement illustrating this, and acknowledging his use of a Retina camera & Kodachome film, although the age of the camera (at least 15 years) was not mentioned. This camera was on show in New Zealand several years ago and I was privileged to view it. Apparently it was purchased second hand by Sir Edmund, who really did not know much about it and was unaware that the Tessar lens was a better option in this camera.

Retina type 141 with Tessar lens

Retina type 141 with Tessar lens

The Tessar models command higher prices than the more usual Schneider lensed models – other than the bought in Tessars, all other pre-war Retina lenses were made by Schneider, including the Ektars & Kodak Anastigmats which were named for the American market.

There is one other Retina 1 model which is extremely rare – the type 160. This was based on the folding Retinette 160, and was produced in 1939/40, probably after the war had begun when Retina and Retinette parts were combined to clear out camera parts prior to the factory changing over to wartime production of Time fuses.

The camera had the same lenses and shutters as the Retinette 160, ie f4.5 Kodak Anastigmat in 4 speed Kodak shutter, or f3.5 Kodak Anastigmat in Compur shutter. The Retina logo was embossed on the rear door. Most were finished in chrome, although some had black enamelled surfaces. Their authenticity can be verified by checking the serial number, as it is an easy one to fake.

Two other very rare models were not in fact manufactured for public sale, but were hand assembled from existing parts 10 years after the demise of the production cameras. They are the Retina III C/N, of which some 120 units were made, and an unknown quantity of Retina Reflex 1V/N. They were built in 1977 to commemorate 50 years of production at Stuttgart and were presented to senior Kodak executives and others associated with Kodak. They can be identified by a serial number of six digits embossed on the leather covering of the rear door, which are in the range of 997xxx & 998xxx. These command very high prices – circa £1,500+, and beware of fakes! The model 3C/N occasionally appears for sale, although they would normally change hands through the grapevine.

Alleged Retina 2

An alleged prototype Retina 2 sold by Christies in 1997. It appears to be a model 117 fitted with a chrome rangefinder housing

I have never seen a Reflex IV/N, or actually heard of one in the hands of a collector, and it is possible that only several exist.

The Rarest Retina of all must be the Retina 1 type 126 fitted with the Kodak Pupillar lens. To the best of my knowledge only one such camera exists. It was listed in Kodak advertising during 1936, and has been noted in Retina literature ever since. My pet theory (totally unsupported) is that this was a name used by Nagel at that time, but was not known in the USA where some of the cameras were to be imported, and the name was changed prior to manufacture to Anastigmat Ektar, which of course was a well respected name in the USA & Europe.

Some early catalogues list Retina 1 model 126 with an Angenieux lens, but there is no evidence to support this.

There are several post-war Retina 1 & 2 cameras that are rare because they are hand finished “landmark” models. The type 010 was celebrated in 1948 when its serial number reached 10000 – possibly two or more were given this number, and featured brown bellows and covering.

Fake Retina 2B

Fake Retina 2B

During 1950, the Retina 2 type 014 reached a serial number of 250000, and this was hand finished in dark green leather – possibly two of these exist – one of which is in the Kodak collection in Stuttgart.

There are also about a thousand special variants of the type 014 which were made at the end of the production run, which are fitted with the earlier flat fronted lens/shutter without flash synch., left over from the discontinued type 011. These were all imported to the USA, and only one or two have found their way into English collectors hands.

In 1952, a Retina 2a was numbered 500000, although this was a standard camera.

I have an American 1985 Robert Skinner auction catalogue which describes a Retina 2a covered in green reptile skin, and the metal surfaces finished in gold – but no mention of its provenance, and I suspect that this may be a privately re-finished job.

Other privately altered Retinas do exist – it is very easy for a good repairman to swap the lens and shutter units for a non-standard unit, and I have seen a Retina 1 type 126 with an f2 Xenon lens which looked very convincing!

I also have a ‘Folding Retinette 2B’, a hybrid made from a Retina IB and a solid fronted Retinette 2B, which works perfectly and really looks beautiful. These fakes are of little commercial value, but make good conversation pieces.

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