Intriguing Vintage Spy Cameras: Covert Wonders of Espionage's Golden Age


This unique photo collection includes a stunning array of vintage cameras, some of which were ingeniously hidden in everyday objects.

From a camera hidden in a matchbox to a camera disguised as a pocket watch for covert operations, these devices showcase simple old-fashioned designs, some dating back to the 1880s.

Some of these special cameras were made to look like books, cigarette packets, binoculars, radio players, and even a handgun.

One of the more interesting pieces is the Cigarette Camera, which was designed after World War II but never mass-produced.

Another fascinating discovery is the Lucky Strike spy camera, developed by Mast Development Corp. for the US Signal Corps between 1949 and 1950.

This camera was designed to fit inside the outer wrapper of a Lucky Strike cigarette packet.

Despite its small size, it was capable of taking 18 shots at 16 mm with different shutter speeds. However, it never came into widespread use and remained an obscure part of history.

In the 1950s, two cameras were made for police use in Japan, both based on pistols.

The original Doryu Gun camera failed to gain traction due to its use of 9.5 mm film instead of the more common 16 mm format.

By the time it was updated, officials had switched to the rival Mamiya pistol camera, which was eventually discontinued.

The oldest and most valuable camera in the collection is an 1886 Ladies-Pattern Patent Watch Camera, made by J. of Birmingham. Made by Lancaster & Son.

The camera collection was auctioned at Bonhams a few years ago, where expert John Baddeley commented:

“The origins of these hidden cameras date back to the 19th century when 99.9 percent of photographs taken were poor quality photographs.

Reportage photographs were very rare, and if you wanted to photograph people acting naturally you had to be judicious about it.

It was considered very disrespectful to simply take out a camera and start taking pictures of people. Inventors have begun devising a variety of ways to hide cameras in everyday objects like books, wrist watches, and even rings.

While many of them were mere novelties, some were developed for James Bond-esque espionage.

Shortly after World War II the US Signal Corps came up with a camera that was hidden in Lucky Strike cigarette packets, while police in Japan created several cameras that looked like pistols.

Not surprisingly, many of these cameras failed commercially and so very few were made, but this is what gives them the value they have now.

The irony is that we now hide cameras in our telephones and photography has never been more popular.

Most of these cameras come from a single collector who has put together an incredible collection over the years that really highlights an aspect of photography that many people may not be aware of.

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