The story goes that then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s fourth wife Jiang Qing, a keen photographer, wanted to impress senior Communist Party members by handing out gifts.
She loved Leica cameras, but was not going to promote German products, so she commissioned a Chinese factory to replicate the Leica M4.
It wasn’t released commercially, but perhaps a comrade fell on hard times and was forced to sell one, because, somehow, there’s one in the Michaels’ museum.
On sale at the first Michaels museum auction will be authentic Leicas dating from the 1920s, late 1890s and early 1900s studio cameras, advertising posters, and a kerosene-powered 1890s slide projector.
Also on sale will be a three-meter tripod that Leski says in the 1930s was used to raise cameras above horse race finishing lines.
There is a working, see-through Canon EOS camera used by salespeople for demonstration purposes.
Items to be sold at future auctions include a telephoto lens damaged in the 1986 bombing of the Turkish consulate in South Yarra, and a 1928 ladies’ pocket-sized camera that includes a powder compact, lipstick and mirror.
Owner Peter Michael said he was sad to part with the pieces that he, his brothers Tony and Rob and their late father Alan collected for 50 years, starting with Alan buying a customer’s 1920s and 1930s Leica camera collection. “I loved showing people through the museum; there were so many interesting items,” Peter said.
“[The museum] was our pride and joy for so many years”.
He says he knows many items intimately, including a 1960s Canon Dial camera with a clockwork winding film mechanism he owned as a child.
After Michaels closed its store at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale streets to trade solely online early last year, the building was leased to a hospitality business.
That meant there was no longer a room for the museum, which used to attract camera enthusiasts from around the world.
“I thought that we’d be building this museum forever,” Michael said. “I never anticipated selling it. But circumstances have changed. You need such an enormous amount of space, just to maintain it.”
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