COLOGNE, Germany – Eighty years before subminiature “spy” cameras became part of the Cold War secret agent’s kit, manufacturers in France and Germany were experimenting with devices disguised as everyday domestic objects: books, binoculars, articles of clothing and, more surprisingly, revolvers. Auction Team Breker’s March 26 photographic sale includes a selection of disguised cameras that are usually rare, but for this auction have come to light.
A remarkable invention is the Thompson’s Revolver Camera of 1862, which could bring $40,000 to $70,000, designed for round exposures on a 3-inch wet collodion plate. If a revolver is not subtle enough a disguise, how about a live pigeon? Christian Adrian Michel’s Pigeon Camera, valued at $20,000 to $33,000, was one of a small batch of hand-made samples that never went into commercial production. Michel’s Swiss training as a watchmaker can be seen in the precision super-lightweight construction of his camera, which strapped to a homing pigeon’s breast and produced panoramic photographs, powered by a clockwork motor that ran up to 70 minutes on one winding. It is extremely rare as only two others are known; they are in the Swiss Photo Museum in Vevey.
Alongside items of elegant espionage such as Edmund Bloch’s silk Photo-Cravate, estimated to sell for between $17,000 and $24,000, are two extraordinary hat cameras. The first by J. De Neck of Antwerp, estimated at $19,000 to $27,000, resembles a conventional hat less than a portable developing studio with plate racks, changing bag, a viewfinder that could be fitted into the brim, and a pull-string for shutter for covert operation. The second, a unique German prototype, expected to sell for $6,500 to $10,000, is more recognizably hat-like in its appearance and features a lens with a long tube for taking photographs through a small hole in the crown.
Nuremberg toy maker Ernst Plank took a French idea for animating picture strips and added a dash of German technology in the form of a hot-air engine. The result was the Kinematofor, which could sell for $9,500 to $16,000, an automatic Praxinoscope that lets the viewer enjoy the show without the need to rotate the metal drum himself.
From changing pictures to moving pictures, the auction features an historic example of the world’s first commercially successful motion picture camera, the Cinématographe Lumière, estimated to sell for $23,000 to $30,000, as well as magic lanterns, photographic literature, classic wooden cameras, professional equipment and more.
To learn more contact Auction Team Breker via Lee Richmond at 703-796-5544.
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A selection of vintage miniature spy cameras
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