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Dating the Contax

Interested in when your prewar/wartime Contax was produced? Although less Zeiss-Ikon documentation survived WWII than other manufacturers, it’s still simple to date your camera. This is due to the fact that Zeiss-Ikon used a letter code preceding actual serial number of any particular Contax camera. This letter indicates the year that your Contax (and many other prewar Zeiss-Ikon cameras) was produced. Once you know the code it’s easy to date them at a glance. Be aware of the fact that the serial number on the body and the removable back were originally the same. If the numbers are different, this indicates that the back was replaced or mixed up by some one with access to more than one camera time in the past. It’s fairly common to see this and it of course has no effect on performance. If anything it reveals the turbulent history the Contax passed through and the often intense usage these excellent cameras received. Though purists will prefer matching numbers, keep in mind that all Contax II and III cameras are roughly the same age due to the short production span from 1936-1942/43. (Accounts vary as to the exact end of production date which was caused by primarily by war damage, material shortages and shifting priorities.)

Additionally, don’t be confused if your Contax I has two letters in the serial number. Because of its complexity and the fact that it was an early design, the Contax I was often sent back to the factory for extensive service and subsequently it received a second letter there to identify it as such.

Z 1935/6

A 1936

B 1936

C 1936/7

D 1937

E 1937

F 1937/8

G 1938

J 1938/9

K 1939

L 1939

M 1940/42

N 1942/3

O ???? *

* Though not officially listed as far as I know, I have actually owned a war-time Contax II (complete with a correct T coated 1.5/5cm Sonnar) which marked on the body and back with a letter O. I would speculate that this indicates that a limited number of cameras were assembled just prior to the end of WWII .