Snappy spy cameras feature in forthcoming photographica and film auction
The spy gear of the past may look cumbersome and even cartoon-like compared to the audiovisual tech we have at our disposal today, but back in its time, it was the bees knees of cutting edge skullduggery and one of the great drivers of technological innovation. In fact, the field of miniaturization owes a lot to the spy game, and several of these technical marvels are soon to be auctioned along with a number of rare and important items of photographic and film history at the Photographica & Film sale, to be held by Auction Team Breker in Cologne, Germany on September 21.
Among the sneaky gems are two bag-based spy cameras from Russia and East Germany, one each for the lady and gentleman spy. Perhaps the most impressive thing about these devices is the steely calm one would need to employ while using them, as the only thing spy-ish seems to be the hole in the side of the bag. The camera itself seems to have missed the miniaturization meeting, because in each case, it seems to take up most of the interior. As such, it's hard to see how either of these would make it past security at your local football game, let alone fool the savvy goons at the consulate gala dinner, so one can only assume that perhaps these cameras were meant to be used at a distance. Or that spies were caught – often.
Of course, no self-respecting sale of spy gadgetry would be complete without at least one example of the classic cigarette packet camera or the tried and true button-hole camera with remote shutter release – and this sale has one of each – but the absolute show-topper surely has to be the German-made bowler hat with built-in camera from the late 1800s. This item was mentioned over 40 years ago in the Uwe H. Breker publication Antique Cameras '78 with the intrigue around it boosted by an excerpt which claims "Up to now, it has only been known from advertising and patents that various hat cameras must have existed in the second half of the last century. Therefore, this is the first time that a picture of an original hat camera can be shown."
Contrary to what one might assume, the hat needs to be taken off in order to photograph anything other than clouds and ceilings, as the lens is at the very top-center of the hat. To operate the fixed-focus, fixed-plate camera, the user would hold the hat nonchalantly – one would assume – in front of them and tug on a small cord protruding from one side of the hat. The auctioneers estimate this fascinating item of elegant espionage at €12,000 - €18,000 (US$13,400 - $20,200).
The forthcoming sale also includes a number of detective cameras, but these aren't to be confused with spy cameras. While it's true that this type of camera was often used for discreet private detective work, the term "detective camera" was, for the most part, simply a precursor to the term "compact camera." These were small, easily stowed away and discreet, at least compared to the full-sized cameras of their day. Plus the detective tag would've been a great selling tool.
While the spy cameras are fascinating, the big draw for many will likely be the rare and significant Nikon S2 type 1, which is estimated by Auction Team Breker at €17,000 - €22,000. Breker is famous for its photographic and film sales, and as expected, this one features some beautiful, collectible pieces of photographic, film and imaging history. Pre-cinema magic lanterns, a 24-carat gold-plated body, snake-skin covered Leica R4, mid-century Arriflex movie cameras, a Graflex combat camera, all manner of stereoscopy, a number of daguerreotypes and even one of Daguerre's own technical manuals from 1839 feature in this massive sale of (at time of writing) 825 lots. Something for everyone.
Previews of the sale will be held on September 20 and 21 in Cologne, while the auction highlights can be viewed online at Auction Team Breker's website, which also has the catalog of all lots available to purchase. Those interested in viewing all lots online – or in bidding remotely – can view the sale at LiveAuctioneers.
Source: Auction Team Breker