The great collector interest in the "Jena" Contax II camera is a recent development inviting fraud and counterfeiting. In 1995, at a large camera show nearby, I purchased three black enamel Contax II bodies. These are now known to have been made in Jena for the 1951 Photokina show. The seller at the camera show thought them to be unusual and so charged me $200.00 each. But at that time no one knew anything about a "Jena" Contax and I purchased them because they were black enamel painted bodies and not because they were the "Jena" Contax. Cameras described to be "Jena" Contaxes are showing up on the Internet with extremely high asking prices, some as high as $2700.00. Because of this it seems to be a good idea to explore some post World War II Contax history to see exactly what the postwar "Jena" Contax truly is and how it is marked and identified.
The first thing for anyone contemplating the purchase of a Jena Contax must understand is that a Jena Contax looks just like any other Contax. Any camera with engravings like "Carl Zeiss Jena" in the accessory shoe, or with a flash socket on the front is a fake.
1. The first question to be answered is; Were any Contax cameras marked "Carl Zeiss Jena" ever manufactured? I am absolutely certain the answer to this question is, "No, Never, Ever". These cameras are actually modern Kiev fakes with false engravings. This answer is explained, demonstrated and justified in the following:
2. The second question that needs to be answered is what is the time period during which the Contax II and III cameras, manufactured in Jena after the end of World War II, actually manufactured? There is some recently available old evidence allowing for this period to be determined. It is late 1947 to 1951:
3. The third question is were Contax cameras manufactured at locations other than Jena after the end of World War II? This question will be answered first.
Immediately as the war ended Germans were starving. Hitler had engaged in a deliberate program to punish the German people for the war defeat and had ordered his armed forces to destroy all civilian infrastructure, transport and food stocks. When the war ended workers at Zeiss manufactured cameras out of spare parts and sold them to American occupation forces for dollars so that they could purchase food for themselves and their families. These Contax I, II and III cameras are not Jena Contaxes. They are immediate post war Contaxes. The Zeiss workers, just like anyone else in their position immediately prior to the end of the war had to know that the war was lost and that they would have to fend for themselves for a while. Just like anyone else would do they took the things, like camera parts and lenses, and hid them so that when the war would be over they would be able to support themselves during the very bad times to come. Over three million Germans starved during the three years of famine following the war as a result of Hitler's program of revenge on the German population.
The Russians confiscated 92% of the equipment, machines and tools and certainly 100% of the spare parts from the Zeiss factory at Jena as war reparations. Before doing this they forced the workers there to fabricate a Contax II/III assembly line including all necessary jigs, dies and special tools. This was all disassembled and shipped to Kiev along with about 300 experienced Zeiss Contax workers. They also took all of the Contax spare parts they could find. Once the Contax assembly line was set up in Kiev the first thing the Russians did was to use genuine German spare parts to assemble Contax II and III cameras. It is almost impossible to tell these apart from Genuine German made Contaxes except for the use of certain Russian made parts and materials in them.
The very rare Chrome face Contax I is a postwar camera. The reason for this is that prior to World War II Zeiss had obtained all of the special black lacquer paint used on the Contax 1 from Russia. Once the Germans made war on Russia this supply of paint was cut off and it was not available until sometime after the end of the war. This explains the chrome plating on the front faces of these extremely rare cameras. The chrome face Contax 1 is the rarest of all the postwar Contax cameras.
There are two sources of Contax I, II and III cameras manufactured immediately after the end of World War II. What makes the Jena Contax distinguishable from these is the design of the shutter. The Russians had taken everything Contax to Kiev, including all the experienced Contax workers, and so the Germans in Jena had to re-invent the Contax shutter. In doing this they could not include several improvements that had been made to the shutter immediately prior to the end of the war. A genuine Jena Contax has a Jena design shutter in it.
This is a picture of a part of the Zeiss Jena factory dated 7/10/47 that is typical of the general condition of the entire Jena works at this time.. This picture is marked to be a United States Navy official photograph. As you can see the factory is empty. This is explained by a press release pasted to the back of the picture.
This press release reads as follows:
ZEISS LENS WORKS RESUMES OUTPUT
One wing of the Zeiss plant which was damaged and subsequently dismantled. Workmen are strengthening the structure so that it can be put to use when additional facilities become available.
ZEISS GERMANY - Efforts are being made to get the famed Carl Zeiss Works, located in the Russian-Occupied Zone of Germany, back into production of camera lenses with the use of old machinery brought from other parts of the country. The plant has been out of production since late in 1946 when the Russians removed 94 percent of its machinery and shipped it to the Soviet Union as reparations. The Russians who promised to leave enough machinery to form the nucleus around which production for civilian needs could be built, did leave about 700 to 800 machines of a total of 10,000. A plant machine shop was able to rebuild other old machines so the Germans now have 1,000 in working condition. With 5,000 employees the plant expects to get into limited production of camera lenses sometime in July 1947.
My belief is that the first priority for the Carl Zeiss Jena works was to get into a positron where the pre-war Contax camera and its lenses could be manufactured. The Contax was a cash cow generator of foreign exchange prior to the war and so it's a good bet they wanted it back into production as soon as possible. The fact the Contax II and IIi were being manufactured and available for sale around July 1947 is illustrated by advertising produced by the Peerless Camera Company in 1947.
This is a picture of the 1947 Peerless Camera Store Spring to Summer Photographic Catalog. This catalog is 74 pages long and so it is not duplicated in its entirety here. But it contains no mention of any German made camera except for the Leica iIIc and it is described to be a "brand new" model. This demonstrates that at the time of production of this catalog, very likely April 1947, there were no Contaxes being officially imported into the USA and none from other sources were available.
This is the first page of this catalog. It demonstrates that In 1947 Peerless was a huge New York camera store. If anyone had been able to get a newly manufactured Contax at that time it would have been them. They would have been very glad to get them. If you would like to see just how rotten the assortment of 35mm cameras available in 1947 was you can use this link to view the two pages of 35mm cameras available in this catalog. The recovery from the effects of World War II on consumer goods took a lot longer than people know today and these two pages clearly show this:
But later in the same year the Contax II and the Contax III appear in a Peerless newspaper advertisement::
Here's a close up of the Contax II part of this advertisement:
Here is a close up of the Contax III part of this advertisement:
Notice that the pictures of the Contax II and III appearing in these advertisements show the pre-war version of the Contax. Both cameras are identical outfits with both described to be Like New "L.N.". Both are being sold for new prices. In 1947 Contax cameras, lenses and accessories were being imported into the USA by German immigrants. Germany was impoverished at that time. There was no hard currency in Germany except for the dollars being spent by occupation servicemen. Germans immigrating to the USA knew the way to survive in the USA was to bring a new camera with them and then sell it once they arrived in New York City. A Contax could be purchased for German marks in Germany at that time. The Germans coming here after the war knew to do this because it was common knowledge in Germany to do this before the war. Before the war the German government stripped emigres of all their money and properly except they were allowed to take a camera with them. People leaving Germany to move to the USA before the war would buy a new Contax and as many lenses and accessories as they could get to take with them and sell here upon arrival. These two identical new outfits are doubtless newly arrived from Germany in the luggage of recent German immigrants to the USA. If they were used they would have been sold for roughly half the new price,or about $230.00. These were unofficially imported new cameras recently manufactured in Germany.
The official appearance of the Contax imported into the USA by Zeiss Ikon is demonstrated by a copy of the official Zeiss Ikon "Jena" Contax Instruction book. This is the 1948 Contax II and III Instruction Book produced after the war. This is a copy of the front page showing the 1948 date:
If you want to view the entire Contax Jena Instruction book you can use this link to a complete copy available for free download:
There are a some very important bits of information on this cover. The first is it identifies "Zeiss Ikon AG.", the pre-war name of Carl Zeiss. It is not marked "Carl Zeiss Jena". But, in 1948 the only Zeiss factory remaining in Germany capable of manufacturing a Contax was in Jena. This book demonstrates that Zeiss, in it's immediate post war condition, was using the "Zeiss Ikon" trademark on the Contax. This is an instruction book for a postwar German Zeiss manufactured Contax, a true "Jena" Contax. It also shows that this book is for Camera No. 218. This demonstrates that the Contax cameras being made at that time were not being made in large numbers as before the war. This book also shows that in 1948 everyone at Zeiss believed that the process of postwar reconstruction of Germany would proceed so that Carl Zeiss A.G. would continue just as it had before the war. No one understood that future political developments in Germany would result in two separate Germanys with two separate Carl Zeiss companies; Carl Zeiss VEB later Carl Zeiss Jena in East Germany and Carl Zeiss in West Germany. This instruction book and the Peerless newspaper advertisements also demonstrate there was a Jena Contax III in addition to the Contax II.
The question of the earliest time when a Jena Contax could be made is answered by a book that Carl Zeiss Jena published in 1959. Here is the cover of the book:
This book face shows that Carl Zeiss "Jena" as a separate entity distinct from "Carl Zeiss" in West Germany began it's existence in 1949. All Contax cameras manufactured between the end of World War II in 1945 and the establishment of Carl Zeiss Jena in 1949 were postwar manufactured cameras. These postwar cameras had two sources: They were made simultaneously in Russia using Zeiss tools, spare parts and kidnapped Zeiss workers at the factory set up in Kiev or they were made in Germany using parts that had been hidden. Both the Kiev factory and the Zeiss factories used pre-war Dresden made spare parts to manufacture Contaxes between 1945 and 1949. The manufacture of the new shutter used in the Jena Contax could not have taken place until the Zeiss works in Jena had been sufficiently reconstructed after being looted by the Russians in 1946.
The Postwar manufactured Contax SLR Camera, the Contax D, provides all of the trade marks used by the East German Zeiss company. This is the company that manufactured the "Jena Contax". These Contax D SLR cameras allow us to see all of the different trade marks used by Carl Zeiss Jena on it's line of Contax cameras from the time of the end of World War II in 1945 up until 1952.
This is the earliest known advertisement for the first modern Single Lens Reflex camera, the post war manufactured Contax S model camera. This advertisement is from the March 1950 issue of Popular Photography. Notice the Contax S is clearly marked "Zeiss Ikon" and not Carl Zeiss Jena. Yet, the advertisement clearly states the camera is manufactured in the "original Zeiss camera works". This is the same place the postwar Contax II and III would have been made. If you'd like to see a larger scan of this advertisement just click on it. There's a lot of very interesting information in it.
The Contax-S camera was imported into the U.S. by the "Ercona Camera Corporation". This company was established in the U.S. to import cameras and lenses, including the Contax II and III, marked with the Carl Zeiss trademark that had been manufactured in the Russian Occupied Zone of Germany (Jena) into the United States. It was put out of business in 1957 when the Carl Zeiss trademark was officially awarded by court order to the Zeiss Foundation that had been established in the U.S.A. Zone of Occupation. After the court decision in 1957 any Contax II or III manufactured in Germany was forbidden entry into the USA. This coincided with the production of the Contax IIa and IIIa manufactured in Stuttgart in the U.S. A. Zone of Occupation. This court order was also responsible for the famous "no name" Contax which was really a Kiev in disguise manufactured in Russia. The "No Name" Contax demonstrates that prior to 1957 fake Contaxes were manufactured in Russia and sold in the U.S.A. Just how many of these there ar no one knows. Use this link to upload the court order:
This is a picture of the prism cover of a Zeiss Contax D SLR camera manufactured very shortly the establishment of the two separate Zeiss companies, probably close to the 1957 - 1958 time period. "VEB" is the East German designation for a corporation and "GMBH" is the West German designation. This camera demonstrates two things. The first is that this is THE Contax manufactured after WWII in Jena. The second is that any Contax II or III camera made after the war in Jena during this time period; and this would have to have happened prior to 1951, would have been marked "Zeiss Ikon" and not "Carl Zeiss Jena". This camera also has high quality German made naturally tanned leather on it. This tells me that any camera, made in Germany after the war, did not have Russian oil tanned leather on it.
This is a picture of another Contax D Top plate, manufactured in the 1958 time period showing the trademark used for a very short while by the East German Zeiss company in Jena. It shows the Zeiss Ikon Tower in Jena along with "ZI" to abbreviate "Zeiss Ikon". At the time this camera was made a fierce court dispute between the two competing West and Eastern German claimants to the very valuable "Carl Zeiss" and "Zeiss Ikon" trademarks had been settled. Carl Zeiss in Jena lost this fight and so rather than use the Zeiss Ikon trademark, that they could only use illegally, they used the abbreviation "ZI". This top plate also shows this camera was attempted to be brought into the USA because the "Contax" trademark has been ground out of it and then this was later covered with a leather covering that has since fallen off. It was the practice of USA Customs to deface the name or trade mark on any item that was attempted to be imported out of a communist state into the USA that was marked with a name or trade mark registered to a company existing in the USA.
This is a picture of the bomb smashed Carl Zeiss Jena Complex in 1945. Shortly after this picture was taken the Russians cleaned it out of all its machinery, spare parts and materials. It is easy to see why it took two years, until 1947, before Contax cameras were being made there and why they were being made in small numbers:
The 1948 Instruction book contains several important pictures of the postwar Contax camera:
As you can plainly see this is not a dressed up Kiev with a far too obvious "Carl Zeiss Jena" engraved in the accessory shoe. It is a normal pre-war Contax II but with one exception. There is a very obvious "Zeiss Ikon" engraved on the front plate. I believe that only this camera, used to make photographs for this post war instruction book, was so engraved. The purpose of this engraving is to demonstrate that this camera is NOT being made in Russia. Immediately after the war the Russians moved in and cleaned out the Zeiss factories in their zone of occupation that included the Jena Zeiss Works. They also had the Zeiss workers in Jena manufacture for them a complete set of jigs, dies and tools to be used to manufacture the Contax camera. The Russians also took about 300 Zeiss Worker slaves to Russia to manufacture the Contax camera in Russia. These very early Russian made Contaxes are very high quality being made by German workers, on German made tools, using German made Contax spare parts and materials taken from Germany and put together in Russia. In 1948 this Instruction Book demonstrates that the Russians were making Contaxes and the Germans were making Contaxes at the same time and Germans knew it was necessary to illustrate the fact the cameras being sold under the Zeiss Ikon name were actually made in Germany. I have seen Russian made Contaxes and have here in my personal collection a Contax III that appears German made in every way except that the photocell has Russian Cyrillic writing on it and a 1948 manufacture date. The Germans at Zeiss in Germany clearly wanted to show that they were making Contaxes in Germany in Jena in 1948. The Zeiss Ikon front engraving on this camera also demonstrates this instruction book was produced entirely after the war.
The Instruction Book also contains another important picture:
Notice the bottom picture on this page clearly shows that the back leather on this camera has the official "Zeiss Ikon" embossment. In 1948 Russia had two sources of leather to use on their Contaxes. These were locally produced leather and Zeiss factory spare parts. The reason genuine Zeiss leather is so good is it is completely naturally tanned using natural tree bark extracts. This is the highest quality leather there is. The Russians did not tan leather by this method. They used an oil based process. The problem with oil tanned leather is it cannot take an embossment because it cannot be wet and will not absorb water whereas natural tanned leather will absorb water. The embossment process requires wetting the leather before it is pressed into the embossing die because without the wetting the embossment will not be permanent and will slowly fade away and become ugly. This explains why the Russian made Kiev camera back leather is not embossed. This also explains why the dressed up Kiev's with the excessively convenient "Carl Zeiss Jena" engraved into the accessory shoe do not have the "Zeiss Ikon" embossment on the back leather. These fake "Jena" Contaxes have Russian made leather on them because they were made in Russia and started out life as Kiev's.
This is a Contax IIa camera advertisement from June 1952 Note is does not say the Contax IIa is better than the Contax II. It says the Contax IIa is the Contax, the only Contax. The Contax IIa was introduced at the 1951 Photokina Photography Show in Germany. The Contax IIa was produced by Carl Zeiss in West Germany in Stuttgart. The East German Zeiss Jena VEB also produced a small number of black enamel painted Contax II bodies to demonstrate at the same camera show. The strange thing is the Contax IIa used lenses made in Jena at that time. This has introduced some confusion. But the Contax IIa was such a huge improvement the Contax II was effectively killed off at the 1951 Photokina show and none were produced after it. There was just no point in making the old style Contax II because no one wanted it or would buy it. There was another reason not to make it and this because the Russians were also making cameras labeled to be Contax at that time. The Russian Contax was cheaper than the German made one and no one could see any difference between them. The only reason the East Germans would make a Contax II would be to sell it in the West for dollars, and the Contax IIa had filled that market niche perfectly. The Contax IIa put any plan to re introduce the Contax II to death. This means that all available evidence shows the genuine "Jena" post war Contax II and III was manufactured in Germany only in very small numbers between 1947 and ending in 1951.
The big question is how is a genuine German made postwar "Jena" Contax manufactured between 1947 and 1951 identified? The answer is it can only be done through an examination of the shutter. The reason for this is that Zeiss made incremental improvement changes to the shutter during its time of manufacture in Germany from 1936 to 1944. These improvements resulted from problems experienced by owners whose cameras required factory service. The shutter design was "reconstructed" from memory by Zeiss after the war but all of the most experienced Contax workers had been taken to Russia. This resulted in several of these improvements being not included in the postwar shutters that were made in Germany starting in 1947. There is also an improvement made to the postwar German made shutter that was not included in the pre war shutter. I am not going to identify this here because to do so would only assist the counterfeiters who are at work today manufacturing fake Jena Contaxes.
This is a front view picture of a genuine postwar manufactured "Jena" Contax II. It was purchased by an American soldier stationed in Germany after the war. He purchased it as a new camera in a camera shop there. It was brought back to the USA by him and then kept as his most prized possession until it was passed on to his son who sent it here for an overhaul. It is truly a postwar manufactured "Jena" Contax II.
Here is the rear view showing the "Zeiss Ikon" embossment:
Here is a picture of the bottom of this camera:
As you can see. It looks exactly like a Contax II.
This is a picture of the top of a Kiev fake Contax II. The "Carl Zeiss Jena" that should be "Zeiss Ikon VEB" is just far too convenient and it is just plain wrong for the time period. To put it simply, the Carl Zeiss Jena engraving in the accessory shoe of this camera is a fairy tale designed to deceive and allow a $25.00 camera to be sold for thousands of dollars. These fakes are being manufactured today and the sellers are asking very high prices for them. If you see one you'll notice another thing about them. They all look brand new just like this one. There is not a single tiny use mark on any of them. They all look like they just came out of the box and I'm sure they are all very newly manufactured in Kiev or the Ukraine.
This is a picture of the back leather of the same camera:
As you can see there is no "Zeiss Ikon" embossment. This camera has Russian leather on it.
One of these fake Contaxes was sent to me for an overhaul. It had a Kiev shutter in it. The Kiev shutter in it was not an early Kiev shutter it was a late one. Late Kiev shutters have a little flash synchronization circuit board installed in it. This board has a switch and it is riveted into the shutter. The shutter in the camera I examined contained this board but the wires to it had been cut. This demonstrated this was a russian made camera using relatively recently manufactured components.
This fake Contax does have a very prominent post war Contax lens on it. This is, of course, part of the sales presentation because it just wouldn't be any good to have a Russian Jupiter lens on it. There are a great many of this particular lens model available in very high cosmetic quality on the market today. The reason for this is that while the Contax IIa body was made in West Germany, this lens was made in East Germany in Jena. Zeiss West initially used Jena lenses on the Contax IIa because lenses were not yet being made in West Germany. But as soon as lenses could be made there the Zeiss Opton and Carl Zeiss lenses West German made lenses were supplied with the Contax IIa and the Jena lenses were no longer provided with the Contax IIa and IIIa cameras. But Zeiss Jena did not stop making their versions of the Contax lens. The Jena 50mm f2.0 Sonnar was manufactured for a very long time. This is demonstrated by the 1954 Zeiss Jena lens catalog.
This is the cover of the East Germany VEB lens catalog from 1954:
While this document is in German it is easy to see from the Sonnar page that in 1954 Carl Zeiss Jena was manufacturing 50mm f2.0 and 1.5 Sonnar lenses for the Contax:
Notice that this catalog, produced by Carl Zeiss Jena VEB, does not specifically identify a "different" postwar Contax II. The catalog states the Sonnar lenses are for the Contax I through III and the Contax IIa and IIIa. Many of these lenses were produced and sold. They were not made specifically for the Contax IIa and IIIa. The 50mm f2.0 T marked Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar is abundant today. At the end of World War II there was a very great demand for coated lenses. This demand was so great that for a short time it was possible to send pre war manufactured Zeiss lenses back to Zeiss in Germany to be coated. The main point is the 50mm T coated Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar that appears on the fake dressed up Kiev's marked "Carl Zeiss Jena" are readily available today because a great many of them were made.
Here is the front page from the 1951 Contax IIa Brochure announcing the new Contax IIa::
Notice the Contax IIa has a 50mm f2.0 Jena lens on it.
If you want to view a complete copy of this brochure please use this link to a complete copy available for free download:
This is an illustration from this brochure showing the Jena made and labeled 50mm f2.0 Sonnar lens. You can see the "Jena" just visible:
Finally, just to demonstrate the Russians are very actively manufacturing Contax fakes today here is a picture of a fake Contax that was sold out of the Ukraine recently. It's quite a monster being labeled "Contax", with a "Zeiss Ikon" lens cap, and a black paint body. This camera is a true fraud designed to deceive and it is not the only one there is. There are lots of these. The Russians are manufacturing every conceivable version of fake "Contax" and selling them these days. If they can manufacture this then they can manufacture anything, including a Kiev labeled "Carl Zeiss Jena"
The one and only way to identify a true postwar Jena manufactured Contax is through a very careful examination of its shutter. The Russians are pumping out every kind of fake Contax based upon the Kiev.