The Fred L. Tonne Black paint Leica M2


by Bellamy /

4 min read

The Fred L. Tonne Black paint Leica M2
Sometimes I travel to get really really rare and unusual things (like this). So it was a big deal for me recently when I was called into action to head out to Chicago to get a very special camera.

Recently I was contacted about buying a camera. Usually I am pretty strict about this, I don’t buy from outside of Japan apart from in exceptional circumstances. Well these proved to be those circumstances when I found out a little bit more about the camera in question. It is not all that often that you see really clean black paint M2’s. And even less often that you find them with the Leicavit.
But so what?  Some of you might be saying. It is only a black paint M2, they made lots of those cameras (2451 if you go by official records). Well, this is one special for a number of reasons. And these reasons are why I was prepared to travel half way around the world to get this camera.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I love to find a camera with a history behind it (like this). And this camera really does have a history behind it. It was Fred’s camera and only Fred’s camera. Nobody else had it or used it throughout its lifespan.

But who is Fred L. Tonne? Well, Fred was a photographer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But he wasn’t just any old photographer. Fred was a passionate and dedicated photojournalist, who had an outstanding career that many would be envious of, spanning both military and civilian. Fred was a lifelong photographer.
Fred was born November 10th 1924 in Shawano Wisconsin

In the fall of 1942 he attended Lawrence University for one semester until he was drafted into the Army in 1943, During World War II.
He had his basic training at Camp Callan, California. In August 1943 he became an official Photographer of the US Army Signal Corps. On January 8th, 1944, he completed his Mechanical Maintenance of Combat Photographic Equipment training at the Graflex Photo Mechanical School in Rochester, New York.

Fred was stationed near London during WWII, and photographed the events during the Victory in Europe celebration (V-E Day). In November 1945, Fred was assigned to the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg Germany along with Ray D’ Addario as official US photographers to cover the war crimes of World War II. In addition to the 4×5 Speed Graphic cameras issued by the Army, the men privately procured Leica cameras and telephoto lenses to capture images that would have been impossible to take with their Army cameras.

When Fred returned home he worked as a freelance photographer for a couple of years in Shawano Wisconsin.
In 1949 until 1972, Fred worked for the “Milwaukee Journal” newspaper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his most notable photographs were;

The  construction of the Great Lakes St Lawrence Seaway

NORAD early missile dense system at the Northernmost US Air Force base in Thule, Greenland.

He covered and took the first published photograph of Ed Gein after his arrest in 1957

In 1964 he covered the Vietnam War.

The Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1960 and 1964

During the Milwaukee Journal years, Fred persuaded the newspaper to move from 4×5 Speed Graphic to 35mm cameras. He preferred and used Leica M2 and later M4 cameras during his career.
In addition to his work at the Journal, Fred also had photos published in Life magazine and various train magazines during his photojournalist career.
Fred L. Tonne passed away on Veterans Day November 11th, 2013 the day after his 89th Birthday.

And this was Fred’s camera. The black paint M2, with the Leicavit and 35mm Summicron lens. When Fred passed away his family found a massive collection of cameras. But Fred’s Leica’s were beloved to him and were all still in fantastic condition. Apparently this camera was purchased from Leica at the factory in Wetzlar, along with a sister black paint M2 which is to be kept by the family. Fred’s family contacted me to find a new home for the camera, and I thought it would be proper to have this camera and the history behind it go to someone who really understands it.

Knowing that this camera was used by a working journalist it is safe to assume that this camera was used during his career (sadly we were unable to find out what shots were taken with the camera), and could well have gone to Vietnam with him. When I picked up the camera I also picked up newspaper clippings, pictures taken in Vietnam, photos of Fred in Germany and France during WWII and many lovely little notes and details about the photographs.

And that is what made this camera so special for me. That it has a history that we can actually see. But hopefully it also has a future too, as it goes on to the next owner I hope that it will be used and not just put into a display cabinet. I feel honoured to have been able to have the opportunity to pass this camera on to the next owner.

You can read a bit more about Fred here

And more about my trip to Chicago here

This is why I love what I do. I get to travel and meet amazing people and take lots of pictures whilst I am on the road. But best of all I get to see little pieces of history right in my hands. There isn’t a feeling like that in the world.


12 comments on “The Fred L. Tonne Black paint Leica M2”

    Peter Kasbergen May 7, 2014 at 2:55 am / Reply

    That’s a great story. Love to read about these kinds of things!

    Francois May 7, 2014 at 3:22 am / Reply

    Wow!!That camera must have seen a lot!! Fascinating!

    Joey Pasco May 7, 2014 at 4:12 am / Reply

    I absolutely love this story. So fascinating! Thank you for writing it up and sharing it, JCH!

    Jeff Warren May 7, 2014 at 5:48 am / Reply

    Not a half bad lens either…8 element Black paint 35mm F2?

    Michael Alvis May 7, 2014 at 10:31 am / Reply

    Very interesting write up about a camera and the man who used it. Thanks.

    luca May 8, 2014 at 1:29 pm / Reply

    It is a dream camera btw I doubt a so mint jewel visit Vietnam during the war.

    Jukka Vatanen May 9, 2014 at 3:33 pm / Reply

    Sorry, I don`t think this Leicavit M2 has traveled ANYWHERE ! The black paint gets very easily marks on it. The strap eyelets have no signs of ever had a strap attached. To me it looks like a good repaint M2 … Ok nice story but hardly not true…

      Bellamy May 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm /

      I can vouch for this camera and I can tell you that if you look closely at the camera you can see that not only is it an original but it has also been well used. There is brassing on the base of the vit and the eyelets are down to the bare metal. This camera was not babied.
      I find it surprising that you would accuse me of promoting a fake or repainted camera.

    David Powell May 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm / Reply

    Jukka – Look at the photo again. The eyelets are completely brassed. I have a black paint MP-3 that I use almost daily and it still looks similar to this.

    GP Olson July 6, 2014 at 4:11 am / Reply

    While browsing for vintage Nikon lenses on eBay I came across a seller in Milwaukee who was auctioning some of the cameras in Fred Tonne’s estate. I was able to win both his original Nikon F with a waist-level viewfinder and also his F2 camera. I am pleased to own these cameras, both are in good but slightly worn condition, both were certainly used though how extensively I cannot know. If anyone is a real avid collector of pre-owned film cameras of notoriety they can contact me, I will provide links to the original ads placed by the eBay seller and photos of them as well.

    cory LUm August 10, 2014 at 7:15 pm / Reply

    cleanest black paint M2 i’ve seen from a working photographer ?!

    Gerry May 30, 2015 at 6:19 pm / Reply

    Thanks very much for the great article on your adventure, Fred Tonne and his wonderful camera. I also bought one of Fred cameras, just this week. The camera is a Graflex RB Super D 4×5. I hope you don’t mind I put a few photos your site and and the story link on my blog. I loved the Leica M2 story and wanted to share it, with as wide an audience as possible.

    Hope we both have good luck with our Fred Tonne cameras.


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