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Thorsten von Overgaard and Ken Hansen in front of Stumptown Coffee on 29th Street while the Fashion Week is closing down. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2016-2017 Ed Sherman.

   
 
   

The Story Behind That Picture:
"Coffee with legendary Leica dealer Ken Hansen"

 

By: Thorsten Overgaard. January 14, 2017. Updated April 27, 2019.

 

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To some, Ken Hansen was the greatest Leica dealer in the world. Ken Hansen was running the largest Leica dealership in the US without having a website or store. He passed on April 27, 2019 after some months of illness.

This is an article from our meeting in September 2016, and below I have added anecdotes from some of the many people who knew Ken Hansen. Feel free to share yours to if you like.

 

September 2016: All he's got is an e-mail address and a large fan base of Leica users who know him as the friendliest and most easy-going person in the world.

How do you become the largest Leica dealer in the US without having a website or a store? That was what I was curious about. During the New York Fashion Week in September 2016, I had the opportunity to have a coffee and get the fascinating back-story.

What I didn't know before we met was that he was born just a two-hour drive from where I come from. If Ken Hansen had been born 25 years later and a two kilometers drive north of his hometown, we could have been brothers.

But his destiny was different. His mother is Danish, from Sønderborg, and he was born in Kiel in the very Northern part of Germany bordering on Denmark.

But already by 1961 he boarded a ship to New York and got a job the same day he arrived.

His brother was in New York and insisted he had to visit a Jewish camera store on the 4th floor in Manhattan.

 

Ken Hansen on how he came to New York in 1961 and started a job in a camera store the very same day. Photo by Ed Sherman.
Ken Hansen on how he came to New York in 1961 and started a job in a camera store the very same day. Photo by Ed Sherman.

 

Ken was not that eager, he thought it could wait another day. But his brother insisted, pointed up to the 4th floor and Ken went there.

"‘You got a job if you can start right now,' they told me. So I did, and was with them for twelve years. I learned everything about cameras and the business there."

"In 1973 I decided to start for myself. I borrowed $20,000 from my family and went out and bought used equipment from every camera store I could find. I knew what would sell, so that was what I was buying."

"I placed a $350 ad in the New York Times every weekend with 10 items for sale, and by Monday they were sold out!"

"I was very blessed. It took off from the very start."

Twelve years after the beginning Ken Hansen opened a 600 square-foot office on the 10th floor, across from the Empire State Building on 34th Street.

Next year he expanded to 1,000 square feet on the 11th floor, then a little later, the whole floor of a building on 21st Street.

"It was a large photography store with really competent staff. Everybody was well paid without commissions. The business of photography wasn't an honest one, but we were. That's what made me open my own store and what worked the best about it. We tried to be straight and honest."

"Everybody came in our store. All the great photographers and everybody else."

He doesn't drop any names, so I try to check if he ever met Helmut Newton (1920-2004)?

"The last lens I sold Helmut Newton was the Leica 50mm Summilux-M f/1.4 lens (the previous version)."

Today Ken Hansen is little advertised, but very well-known. He operated his store from 79th Street. He starts the day at 5am and answers e-mails, then he run errands in town and ships stuff.

We had our coffee early outside Stumptown Coffee on 29th Street, and had a good long talk about the current status of Leica and their customer service, amidst busy people packing down the New York Fashion Week.

 

     
 

The Passing of Ken Hansen (April 27, 2019)

"Ken Hansen was more than a Leica dealer. He was hard-working, consistent and honest. In a mail from October 2018, he wrote, "Yes, I am working my ass off, every day, just like you!". And he was. Up early, busy all day.

Always reliable, and almost immortal. He was walking around with an oxygen tank years ago, and he said, "I thought that was the end. But it wasn't".

The most important lesson I think Ken Hansen taught thousands of people is that you are worthy of trust. He trusted people, and lived by it. Shipped any product to almost anybody, not questioning that they would pay. Exchanged any product with a perfect one if anything was wrong.

Often it's the unsaid that you remember about a person. In the case of Ken Hansen, it's not the products I bought from him, or the cameras and lenses he bought from me (when I wanted to let go of something quietly without having to answer people's questions as to if I didn't like that lens or camera) ... it's the man and what he meant for me and the many people he was in contact with over the years.

Ken was a hustler, and Original Gangster, a Viking and a New Yorker. The greatest Leica dealer ever. And a good friend of too many people to count.

Lou Reed said, "God should have a Leica". With the passing of Ken Hansen there's no excuse anymore. Ken would not be sobbing about this. He was a practical, industrious and fun man. Where he's going, he's going to make the best of it.

We're all gonna go someday, and if the angel coming for you has a Leica over the shoulder, don't be surprised. Be happy you're going to the place where the best Leica dealer is.

Farewell, Ken."

- Thorsten Overgaard

 
     

 

Share your Ken Hansen stories and anecdotes. Send it by email to me and I'll post it.

 

     
 

In true Ken Hansen fashion...

"I bought my first camera in November 2018. I read a great deal and watched several videos before deciding to buy a Leica. I heard about Ken and decided to buy a Leica from him.

Ken listened to my interests and suggested the Leica Q. He said he had one in stock and would get it out the next day. But the very next morning he called me to say he made a mistake. He didn't have a Q in stock. Rather than trying to convince me to wait, he said, "I can tell you where you can order the Q today and you will have it in 2 or 3 days."

It meant a great deal to me that rather than make the sale, he was willing to send me to another dealer. I said, "Thank you, Ken, but I will wait to get it from you." In a few hours, Ken sent me an email to say that he talked to Leica Camera AG and they would be sending me a Leica Q directly to me.

Of course I called him and asked how I could pay him. In true Ken Hansen fashion, he told me not to worry about paying for the camera until I got it. No one says that anymore! But that was pure Ken. The Q showed up in about a week, direct from Germany just as Ken said.

About a month later, I also bought a Leica M10 from Ken. I had made up my mind that he would be my Leica dealer ... period! Ah well, I only knew him for a short time. But Ken Hansen put my first cameras in my hands. I'll always think of him fondly. His memory is a constant reminder that humanity and kindness prevails above all."

- Philip Shucet

 
     

 

     
 

Patient with all of my annoying and novice questions ...

"I didn’t really know Ken Hansen that long or well ... although I did by my first Leica from him a few years back.

I was introduced to him Overgarrd when i expressed interest in owning a Leica Q. Ken and I corresponded first only by email. He was prompt and super professional in our first dealings and very understanding, kind and patient with all of my annoying and novice questions and concerns about buying the most expensive camera I would have ever bought.  

We overcame. I ordered the Q which he shipped to me immediately. When it came time to pay he wouldn’t accept my Credit Card right away but rather told me to wait till the camera arrived and was all good BEFORE i paid .. Needless to say I had NEVER experienced that level of trust in sales, especially since it was all via email and we had never met.

I was so impressed with this that he earned ALL of my business from then on. Subsequently I bought the Leica M10 and several lenses, ALL with the same prompt delivery and trust factor ... 

Thanks Ken for your care, trust and kindness .. You will be missed." 

- Tony Falcaro

 
     

 

     
 

True to his word ...

"I purchased the Noctilux lens from Ken Hansen and I continued to have focus issues which seemed very odd. I was returning to NYC for break and mentioned this to him. He said he had another one and he would swap – no questions. The point being, he never questioned, simply wanted to be sure I was happy! He would deal with Leica in Germany, have it tested etc. The new one I have never had an issue….

The point being that Ken was that guy – 100% reliable, true to his word and always tried to help.

I hope we can push Leica to dedicate some model/lens names for him— the least they can do for all his ambassadorial work around the world for them for decades!"

- Ed Sherman

 
     

 

     
 

A kind and honest man ...

"I was a customer and friend of Ken’s for many years. I think all of his customers were his friends.

He was an amazing, kind and honest man. I wrote a little piece about him last month on my blog. I will miss my friend."

- J. R. Smith

 
     

 

     
 

Coolest and most honest Leica dealer I have ever met ...

"The way I met Ken dates back to 2005. After a full month expedition in the Bolivian Andes and, following a story on the elusive “Chipaya” Native South American tribe, I returned to La Paz with around 40 rolls of Kodachrome film. With me I had my trusted Leica M6 and M4-P with my five favourite lenses.

One day before returning to Buenos Aires where I was living at the time, my camera bag disappeared in a flash from the front seat of my car. I lost my passport, credit cards as well and really all I had of value – except for the 40 rolls of Kodachrome which fortunately where in my Hotel room.

This was a desperate situation. After my return to Buenos Aires I researched extensively as to where I could rebuild my exact kit with used gear. That's how I discovered Ken Hansen.

After contacting him by phone, I went to New York specifically to replace my cameras. When I arrived at his superb store in an apartment on Madison Ave, I was so impressed!

I had never seen a store so elegant and full of everything Leica you could imagine! Ken struck me as calm and very nice person. He understood my situation perfectly and found my lenses and cameras exactly as I had lost them.

I walked out of Ken’s store with everything I had lost and an extra Leitz Wetzlar M6 early edition, feeling very happy and almost not believing it was true!

The work in Bolivia was my last serious Kodachrome photography. I replaced many of the camras later with digital Leica M9 and MM's but the Leitz Wetzlar M6 remains with me as my all time favourite camera.

I am proud to say they came from Ken Hansen, the coolest most honest Leica dealer I have ever met. R.I.P. Ken, you will be remembered." 

- Federico Quintana


Coipassa Salt flats, Bolivia 2005 - Leica M6, Tele Elmar 135mm, Kodachrome 200

 
     

 

     
 

Gem of a man ...

"In July 2011 I was hungry for a 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 . My lust was fueled by your articles and a pic by Ashwin (person entering a NYC cab near Times Square).

Research (through Steve Huff, IIRC) led me to Ken Hansen. He was prompt and courteous in his correspondence with me, and I got my Noctilux in less than a week, back when wait times stretched into months and years!

I had told him I was short of funds, so he sold it to me for less than dealer price, brand new. I still have that lens. 

Gem of a man. May he rest in peace."

- Chats (www.shutterblog.it)

 
     

 

     
 

Endearingly down to earth ...

"Much like the Leica cameras he lovingly placed in the hands of his customers, whether long time buyers or novice users, Ken Hansen treated everyone as if they were long time acquaintances.

I had heard of Ken through Thorsten Overgaard’s article and reached out to him when I decided to purchase my first brand new Leica, after having bought a Q second hand and fallen in love with “the Leica way”. 

Though my only connection with Ken was through Thorsten’s article, he treated me as if I had been a life long customer. He shipped me the camera and lens even before the credit card charge had gone through.

Ken was one of those rare people who could be classy and friendly, elegant but endearingly down to earth. He had a great sense of humor that always brightened our conversations. 

Ken possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Leica lenses and camera bodies. If asked, he could give you spot-on advice on the best lens and camera body for your needs, even if it meant steering you to a less expensive or used item. 

I would have loved Leica as a camera system anyway, simply because of its unparalleled technical and engineering qualities. But Ken Hansen gave Leica cameras and Leica ownership a special quality that let you know this isn’t just brand hype. This is the real thing. This isn’t just about the level of craftsmanship and materials that are a real pleasure to work with - this is about people. Real people. The kind of people it’s a real pleasure to know and work with.

My warmest regards to Ken, his family and friends."

- Dennis Downing, Brasil

 
     

 

     
 

I'd like to think my Ken Hansen stories are unique, but ...

"I've lost track of the bodies and lenses I purchased from Ken over the years. Two Noctiluxes stand out that he managed to get when they were scarce.

I bought two Leica M10 bodies as late as November 2018 when Ken was failing more than I knew or he let on. That was the last time I talked to him, and the weariness in his voice nagged at me.

Of course, I can go on as all of us could. I'd like to think my Ken Hansen stories are unique, but, after reading so many, it's clear Ken made everyone feel special. That is something we all share, because each of us is the most important customer Ken had.

Maybe that's the Ken Hansen Special Edition camera that Leica should commission. The inscription would be universal: "For my most important customer." - Ken Hansen."

- Anderson White

 
     

 

     
 

In Leica heaven where film development is free ...

"I wanted to buy from Ken because he was recommended on YouTube video. I had owned the Leica M6 and was infatuated with the Leica mystique.

I could not decide what i wanted to buy from Ken and was reluctant to buy anything. I left NYC and wont be back. Maybe Ken is in Leica heaven where development of film is free.

The opportunity has passed, don't let opportunities pass."

- Jonathan Guinsburg

 
     

 

     
 

I knew Ken was a special person ...

"I am so sorry to hear of Ken's Passing. I am sure many will reflect on his valuable contribution as a knowledgeable and legendary Leica Specialist who generously shared his knowledge with everyone and anyone who called him.

I worked in Boston MA for Claus Gelotte, Inc. one of the largest stocking Leica dealers in the USA back in the 1980's.

Ken Hansen's name was one I heard very frequently, and my boss, Ashod Jelalian knew that Ken Hansen would know what was going on and would be on the phone with Ken, often twice a week, to know what was happening with Leica in Germany and elsewhere (in that period, Leica was restructuring, working with Minolta and more).

if something special was needed for a prestigious customer, and Claus Gelotte Inc had many, Ash would call Ken to see if he had a lens or camera body that was needed. There was a constant dialog ongoing with Ken. I knew Ken was a special person.

I fell in love with Leica, and after working six years with Claus Gelatto Inc, I started working for Leica in NJ. To this day, I have my Leica M next to me in my office with several lenses.

Ken Hansen is part of the Leica story that we are all a part of – he is woven into the lore of the era.

God Bless Ken Hansen."

- Henry Girolamo

 
     

 

Ken Hansen. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 Black Chrome. © 2016-2017 Thorsten Overgaard.
Ken Hansen. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 Black Chrome. © 2016-2017 Thorsten Overgaard.

 

I hope you enjoyed this Story Behind That Picture. As always, feel free to email me suggestions, idea, comments to thorsten@overgaard.dk.

 

Where to go after Ken Hansen?

People ask, who will take over after Ken Hansen. I think it was not of Ken Hansens concern. All he dealt with was servicing his own customers, not the business of running a business. His children went off to other fields of interest early on (his son is in the Police), and thus there was no sign that the business would ever be continued by the family.

The only dealers in the USA I can think of, that I have used personally, that would offer a similar personal service, would be Tony Rose of PopFlash in Thousand Oaks, California and Dan Tamarkin of Tamarkin in Chicago.

 


Thorsten Overgaard
#1719-0117


   
   

 

 
 

 

 

   
   
   

 

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Thorsten Overgaard's Leica Article Index
Leica M cameras:   Small Leica cameras:
Leica M10   Leica Q full-frame mirrorless
Leica M10-P   Leica CL
Leica M Type 240 and M-P Typ240   Leica TL2
Leica M-D Typ 262 and Leica M60   Leica Digilux 2 vintage digital rangefinder
Leica M Monochrom Typ246 digital rangefinder   Leica Digilux 1
Leica M Monochrom MM digital rangefinder   Leica Sofort instant camera
Leica M9 and Leica M-E digital rangefinder   Leica Minilux 35mm film camera
Leica M9-Professional digital rangefinder   Leica CM 35mm film camera
Leica M4 35mm film rangefinder    
     
Leica M lenses:   Leica SLR cameras:
Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica SL 2015 Type 601 mirrorless fullframe
Leica 21mm Leica Super-Elmar-M ASPH f/3.4   Leica R8/R9/DMR film & digital 35mm dSLR cameras
Leica 21mm Super-Angulon-M f/3.4   Leica R10 [cancelled]
Leica 28mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica R4 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE f/1.4 and f/1.4 AA   Leica R3 electronic 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leicaflex SL/SL mot 35mm film SLR
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95    
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 and f/1.2   Leica SL and TL lenses:
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f//1.4    
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0    
Leitz 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 "rigid" Series II   Leica R lenses:
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Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4   Leica 35mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
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Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 60mm Macro-Elmarit f/2.8
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Above: Thorsten von Overgaard and Ken Hansen in front of Stumptown Coffee on 29th Street while the Fashion Week is closing down. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2016-2017 Ed Sherman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

Feel free to e-mail to thorsten@overgaard.dk for
advice, ideas or improvements.

 

 
           
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