Lens Serial Numbers

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Recently I was considering a used R lens from a dealer and asked its condition and serial number. the dealer stated that the serial number was not a guide to the year of manufacture because Leica allocated blocks of serial numbers to particular lenses and that particular lens just ran through that block of numbers, after which a new block of numbers would be allocated to that lens.

For example, a block of numbers might be allocated for a particular lens and the lenses might be produced over a number of years. During that time, other lens serial numbers would have well overtaken all of the block of numbers, with the result that two lenses produced in the same year could have serial numbers which differred greatly.

The dealer quoted a "factual" story, stating that recently the dealer obtained a Noctilux for a customer and it arrived from the agent with a serial number in the low 3 millions. The customer refused to accept the lens on the grounds that it could not be new or had been in stock for years .

The dealer claimed that the customer emailed Leica and was advised that the lens in question was a current production number.

I can see that Leica might allocate some blocks of numbers to the Canadian factory and to Minolta for its R lenses and I can also understand that stock of esoteric lenses such as the 28 PC Super Angulon and the 15 Super Elmar might sit around for a while in leica's stock - but surely this dealer is stretching it a bit.

Could this be the reason that Leica discontinued providing tables of lens serial numbers and matching years?

I have noticed that Leica brochures are generally a very good guide to current lens numbers because the cameras shown are always fitted with the latest lenses (and the lens serial numbers are clearly readable).The brochures are always dated on the back so they are a good basic reference.

I would appreciate any confirmation or otherwise of this dealer's story.

-- Wayne Murphy (wmurphy@powerup.com.au), February 12, 2002


I do not think that it is true about the blocks of numbers, but I think it is true that Leica have such a long selling time that sometimes new lenses can actually be quite old and have been sitting in the Leica or the dealers' shelves for a long time. I am sure this is why Leica deemphasize serial numbers. I don't blame them. Personally, as long as the lens looks new then I would not worry. Leica specs do not change usually over a long period. But,no doubt, some people will chime in with outrages where 'old" Leica lenses have been sold as new. This problem is bound to be more acute with low selling lenses like the Noctilux or some of the Summiluxes. Personally it makes not a jot of difference to me as the lenses would come with the full Leica passport warranty and are still effectively new, whether they came off the production line 5 years or 1 year ago. No doubt many would disagree with me, so I am sure this is why Leica is not so helpful on this point.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), February 12, 2002.

In Erwin Puts' "Leica Lens Compendium" he has a detailed explanation on serial numbers, production dates and reservation dates. It is quite long, so I would not attempt to type it all out, but suffice it to say there are scenarios in which the common serial number charts would not be the true date of manufacture for a lens. (see Appendix "A", pg. 215).

Essentially, after all of the proto-type and testing phase is complete (which has a whole other serial number system) and it is decided to proceed with production of the lens, a block of serial numbers is reserved for this lens. This block may or may not conform to the actual production date due to several variables, like production problems, production batch sizes and whether the initial production was not complete, and had to run past the date that would match the serial number.

What does all of this mean? Probably nothing to a user. If an improvement was suppose to occur at a certain serial number, then I would go with that serial number, exclusive of the date that the lens was on the shelf.

-- Al Smith (smith58@msn.com), February 12, 2002.

There may or may not be a bit of hooey going on down at the camera store. You might look at this lens chart for some guidance.


Also I refer to Identifying Leica Lenses by Chester Sartorius and or The Leica Lens Book by Brian Bower. Good luck.

-- Don (wgpinc@yahoo.com), February 12, 2002.

1) It is generally true that 'blocks of numbers' are assigned to a lens type (and also body type). The lists available give the year that the numbers were set aside, but not necessarily the year they were used - depending on whether the item in question was high production or low production.

I have a very early 'small' 90 Summicron-M - the lens was introduced in 1980, and therefore cannot have been sitting on a dealer's shelf prior to 1980. The serial number, however, is from the range assigned in 1978 - and (I have heard) some of the 'big' older 90 'crons actually have serial numbers higher than my lens. Leica just had a block of numbers set aside for 90 'crons - and when the design changed they not only kept using the same block, but picked numbers out at random within the block rather than sequentially.

By the same token I have a "Leitz Canada" 21mm f/2.8 with a 1989 serial number - bought new in 2001. This one really did spent at least several years on a dealer's shelf, but not a full decade. Again - in 1989 they set aside 2000 serial numbers for 21s - and it took several years to work through that block, since the 21 is a slow mover compared to 35s and 50s and not as many get built.

Assigning serial numbers in blocks makes sense for Leica, since they have (or have had) lenses being made simultaneously in/by Solms/ Wetzlar, Midland Canada, Portugal, Schneider, Zeiss, Kyocera, Sygma, and Minolta.

The only way they can keep things straight and avoid number overlap and duplication is to say (e.g.) "OK - all 90mm Summicron Ms will get numbers from the range 2988xx to 2990xxx - when you've used those up come back and we'll give you some more."

Then the numbers 2991xxx-2994xxx will be assigned for 15mm Super-Elmar- Rs (or M 35 'crons or whatever). If it takes 3 years to build and sell 2000 90 'crons, the numbers get spaced out over 3 years - if it takes only 1 year to sell/build 2000 50 'crons, then the numbers only cover 1 year.

The same applies to camera numbers - they get handed out in blocks of from 100 to 10000 depending on model.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), February 12, 2002.

Leica assigns serial numbers in batches to each lens, and generally, these serial numbers provide an accuratereflection of when the lens was made, by consulting lists of beginning and ending lens serial numbers for each year. These lists are published in many reference books.

However, there are some discrepancies, where the SN assigned may not exactly match the year of production. For example, serial numbers in the range 593xxx or so were assigned to lenses for WWII, but some of these lenses were not actually made until as long as 5-6 years later.

There were also cases in which a SN was assigned, and then Leitz decided they didn't have the production capacity, so the lenses were not completed for another few years. However, there were actually early production lenses (eg., SN less than 1 million 50/2 collapsible Summicrons) that have SN corresponding to several years before the official introduction of the lens (1954) that were actually completed several years earlier than the official introduction, as the SN implies.

But, as I believe, in most cases, the SN corresponds well with the actual date of production. This does not mean that a new lens coudln't sit unsold on a dealer's shelf for several years, so that when sold it has a SN corresponding to several years earlier. This happens from time to time. The usual explanation is that the lens was issued earlier but just not sold. It s usually not the case that the factory just sent a brand new lens with an older SN. At least that's not the way it usually works with Leica.

-- Eliot (erosen@lij.edu), February 12, 2002.

Another factor to consider is that Leica makes up lenses in batches too. So they will run off x number of lenses and, if it is not a popular lens, they will wait until the backorders pile up before running another batch.

-- John Collier (jbcollier@powersurfr.com), February 12, 2002.

I don't buy the batch-number explanation. I have owned many different focal length Leica lenses with serial numbers that differed only in the last 2 or 3 digits.

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), February 12, 2002.

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