Spy cameras, Praxinoscope and more in important German photographic sale

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.

More from Antique Trader

Editor’s Pick – New Release

Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2012 by Mark F. Moran

Warman's Antiques & Collectibles 2012
As the longest-running guide and the most trusted name in antiques and collectibles, the 45th Edition of Wamran’s Antiques & Collectibles features more than 1,500 color images and 6,000 listings. It brings a fresh, 21st-century perspective that honestly assesses the market and looks at the best categories for investment–everything from glassware and toys to early flags and maps. “Future of the Market” reports share what’s hot, and where the experts are putting their money.

Top names in the trade weigh in on key categories:

  • Writer Andrew Myers looks at 18th- and 19th-century French furniture
  • Toy expert Andrew Truman shares insights on “Door of Hope” dolls
  • Tom Deupree and Morrow Jones reveal the secrets to finding vernacular photographs
  • Collector Forrest Poston looks at the market for West German art pottery

Get your copy today at Shop.Collect.com

A selection of vintage miniature spy cameras


Special discount prices on great books, digital downloads, price guides & reference books for every hobby

Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2012 Price Guide

Antique Trader Facebook PageMeet and share with other antiques collectors, dealers and auctioneers on Antique Trader’s Facebook page

Antique Trader Twitter ProfileGet special discounts and breaking news alerts on Antique Trader’s Twitter feed!

Browse (or place your own) FREE online classified ads

Sign up for your FREE AntiqueTrader.com email newsletters

For more trade news, auction reports, research and expert columnists, get a year of Antique Trader magazine for the special online price of just $24.98!

Antiques Auction Houses