Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2006/04/11

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Subject: [Leica] Ted's "KGB camera"
From: pklein at (Peter Klein)
Date: Tue Apr 11 23:24:49 2006

Folks: Here's my take on Ted's camera, essentially a resend of my note to 
Ted earlier this evening.  I'm not a Soviet camera expert, but I can read, 
compare pictures, and my wife is a native Russian speaker.


Katya translated the inscription on the top plate.  Here it is, line by line:

Labor Commune
Named After
F. E. Dzerzhinsky

Note:  NKVD-USSR stands for "People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, 
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic."  Kharkov, you probably know, is a 
large industrial city in Ukraine.

The "Named After" syntax is standard in Russian.  For example, a friend of 
mine graduated from the "First Leningrad Medical Institute named after I. 
P. Pavlov."

Your top plate inscription actually matches the Type 2 inscription of a 
real FED shown on the Commie Cameras site. The serial number is about right 
for a Fed 1b, second version, which the camera looks like to my untrained 
eyes.  And the style of chrome on the top plate looks right--sandblasted 
and chrome plated with a matte finish. But the top plate does look too new 
for the camera, which should date from the mid-1930s.

I was wrong about the NKVD inscription being a fake.  Some of these cameras 
were actually engraved with the name of, essentially, the sponsor.  The 
story is that Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, who founded the CHEKA (the first name 
for the Soviet secret police), read a report about the problem of orphans 
created by World War I and the Russian Revolution. And as Marc Small notes, 
Dzerzhinsky and his cohorts contributed substantially to the supply of 
orphans by their activities. At any rate, he put the resources of his 
organization behind solving the problem.  Essentially, in addition to 
committing large-scale murder and torture, Dzerzhinsky and his secret 
police also built the Soviet equivalent of Boys' Town.

Dzerzhinsky died before the Kharkov labor commune opened, but it bore his 
name, and the name of the sponsoring organization.  By the time your camera 
was made, the secret police had been renamed the NKVD, hence the inscription.

It may be that before you acquired the camera, the top plate was restored, 
or a new one crafted to match the original.  That should be determined by a 
real expert, as should the exact model number.  I'm just reading a Web site 
and matching things by eye.

See here for the story of the FED:

And click on the first "FED" button on the left to see pictures of the 
various types of FED cameras, and your matching engraving.

You know what?  Throw a roll of Tri-X in that camera and see what comes 
out.  The lens is probably very much like an uncoated Elmar.


Replies: Reply from raimo.m.korhonen at (Raimo K) ([Leica] Ted's "KGB camera")