Antique Appraisal: Tiny ‘spy’ camera is fun, but impractical

In her latest exclusive antique appraisals for Antique Trader magazine, appraiser Susan Mullikin evaluates a tiny "spy" camera and a lovely Art Deco necklace.
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By Susan Mullikin

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Antique Inquiry

 Tiny "spy" camera.

Tiny "spy" camera.

Do you know anything about this camera? It has no markings on it besides the “made in Japan” and “traveler”on the lens. It came with a yellow leather case with the word “traveler” on it. It actually opens up and there is a slot to insert film. I’m sure I would never be able to find film for it, of course.

The Japanese mini spy camera measures 2 1/8” x 1 1/8” x 1 1/2”.

— W.C.

Antique Appraisal

Never originally intended for use as a spy camera per se, it was known no self respecting spy would be seen dead with an inferior quality camera such as this. These tiny sub-miniature (measuring barely 2”) cameras of the 1950s were initially made by the Japanese Tougodo factory. After WWII The Japanese had a period of low spending capacity so they enjoyed using cameras that didn’t use much film material.

When introduced into the United States the tiny “hit” camera, the general term used to refer to all makes of these cameras, were never seriously intended for actual picture taking, rather they were used as toys or Christmas ornaments.

A shop window in the 1950s was crammed full of hit type cameras at just 52 cents each. They were advertised as a novice fun camera all packaged together. The camera, case, and film was the complete outfit. The case was marked with the camera name such as yours. It was a general fact that you could take pictures but one had to really want to take them. These cameras were poorly made, had simple shutters, and were of a single speed.

You did ask if one could find film for this camera and beyond finding vintage film that is very brittle, or by making film by finding tiny spools and backing paper, their is still a single source that you may have luck at, “Goat Hill Photo” at (www.subclub.org/sponsors/goathil2.htm). At 10 pictures a roll it may be fun to give it a try.

In regards to value of your tiny camera with case, I would assign a value of between $50-$75.

Antique Inquiry

Can you tell me approximately how much this necklace is worth? The chain on the necklace is 16” and the pendant is 1” long and approximately 1/2” wide. I was told it was made in the 1920s. There is a small diamond in the center of the pendant. I believe the metal is white gold, but it could be silver. I cannot read the markings.

— S.S.

Antique Appraisal

 Art Deco necklace

Art Deco necklace

The 1920s, the flapper era and the advent of the Art Deco time period, was a most interesting era in fashion and an era which gave us some of the most desirable jewelry today in the marketplace. Much jewelry production in the 1920s emulated precious jewels of previous years but was referred to as “reproduction jewelry” due to new plastics and rhinestones introduced into the industry. The discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb lead to new geometric shapes and clean lines which conveyed a sense of elegance.

Your stunning necklace from the photo provided and your question of worth I feel can only be accurately answered by a jeweler in your area upon examination. From the photo alone though I can say that the white material used as the base material of your necklace is referred to as camphor glass.

Camphor glass is a clear glass that when treated with hydrofluoric acid vapor gives it a frosted white appearance. Camphor glass was used throughout the decorative arts period and in jewelry making and was often cast with a star pattern on the reverse to give it a radiant appearance, of which your necklace is an example. You did question whether the setting of your necklace is sterling or white gold, with white gold being the more desirable of the two metals. When comparing both metals white gold is a mixture of pure gold and other white metals. If 18K is stamped 750 it is white gold. If sterling, pure silver mixed with copper is stamped 925.

I recommend a hands-on examination by a jeweler in your area clarifying what your setting is marked and if the stones are actually diamonds as you state or possible a rhinestone, now more so popular in the 1920s being introduced into the jewelry industry. At the low end I place a value of $175 on your pendant and possibly more as determined upon examination.

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