Collectibles

Snappy spy cameras feature in forthcoming photographica and film auction

Detective hat camera, c. 1880 - 1890, is a standard bowler with built-in fixed-plate, fixed-focus camera – estimate €12,000 - €18,000
Detective hat camera, c. 1880 - 1890, is a standard bowler with built-in fixed-plate, fixed-focus camera – estimate €12,000 - €18,000
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Detective hat camera, c. 1880 - 1890, is a standard bowler with built-in fixed-plate, fixed-focus camera – estimate €12,000 - €18,000
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Detective hat camera, c. 1880 - 1890, is a standard bowler with built-in fixed-plate, fixed-focus camera – estimate €12,000 - €18,000
This Pullman detective camera, c. 1896 was the smallest version of the "Pullman" detective camera and is very rare – estimate €2,500 - €4,000
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This Pullman detective camera, c. 1896 was the smallest version of the "Pullman" detective camera and is very rare – estimate €2,500 - €4,000
This elegant replica Ben Akiba cane-handle camera has storage space within handle for four extra roll films – estimate €5,500 - €6,500
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This elegant replica Ben Akiba cane-handle camera has storage space within handle for four extra roll films – estimate €5,500 - €6,500
A bi-unial magic lantern by W. Watson & sons, London, c. 1890 – estimate €1,000 - €2,000
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A bi-unial magic lantern by W. Watson & sons, London, c. 1890 – estimate €1,000 - €2,000
A beautiful "biscuit tin" magic lantern, c. 1900 – estimate €13,000 - €17,000
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A beautiful "biscuit tin" magic lantern, c. 1900 – estimate €13,000 - €17,000
A very rare Historique et déscription des pro cédés du Daguerréotype et du Diorama, 1839 by Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerréotype – estimate €4,000 - €5,000
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A very rare Historique et déscription des pro cédés du Daguerréotype et du Diorama, 1839 by Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerréotype – estimate €4,000 - €5,000
A classic, spy-camera-in-a-cigarette-packet, made in Kiev, Ukraine. c. 1990 and using 16 mm film – estimate €500 - €700
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A classic, spy-camera-in-a-cigarette-packet, made in Kiev, Ukraine. c. 1990 and using 16 mm film – estimate €500 - €700
A 1953 Graflex KE-4 (1) 70mm combat camera, used by the US Signal Corps – estimate €1,000 - €1,500
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A 1953 Graflex KE-4 (1) 70mm combat camera, used by the US Signal Corps – estimate €1,000 - €1,500
A Vinten airborne reconnaissance camera, c. 1975 which used double-sided, perforated 70mm film – estimate: €1,300 - €1,800
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A Vinten airborne reconnaissance camera, c. 1975 which used double-sided, perforated 70mm film – estimate: €1,300 - €1,800
This Russian handbag spy camera used standard 35 mm film, had an electric drive and (oddly) manual focusing – estimate €1,300 - €1,700
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This Russian handbag spy camera used standard 35 mm film, had an electric drive and (oddly) manual focusing – estimate €1,300 - €1,700
A 1954 Leica Stemar stereo lens system, for use with the Leica-M cameras – estimate €4,000 - €5,000
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A 1954 Leica Stemar stereo lens system, for use with the Leica-M cameras – estimate €4,000 - €5,000
A beautiful 1957, Leica Ig camera with 35mm Summicron lens and universal viewfinder from the first year of production – estimate €700 - €900
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A beautiful 1957, Leica Ig camera with 35mm Summicron lens and universal viewfinder from the first year of production – estimate €700 - €900
This 1953 Mecaflex camera was in production for just 6 months, and is one of only 2,500 units made – estimate €1,200 - €1,500
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This 1953 Mecaflex camera was in production for just 6 months, and is one of only 2,500 units made – estimate €1,200 - €1,500
A rare 1938 Canon S (S-I) with meter scale – estimate €4,500 - €6,000
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A rare 1938 Canon S (S-I) with meter scale – estimate €4,500 - €6,000
A very rare and significant "chrome dial" Nikon S2, Type 1, c. 1956 with lens cap, case, original instructions and box – estimate €17,000 - €22,000
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A very rare and significant "chrome dial" Nikon S2, Type 1, c. 1956 with lens cap, case, original instructions and box – estimate €17,000 - €22,000

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.

This Russian handbag spy camera used standard 35 mm film, had an electric drive and (oddly) manual focusing – estimate €1,300 - €1,700
This Russian handbag spy camera used standard 35 mm film, had an electric drive and (oddly) manual focusing – estimate €1,300 - €1,700

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).

A classic, spy-camera-in-a-cigarette-packet, made in Kiev, Ukraine. c. 1990 and using 16 mm film – estimate €500 - €700
A classic, spy-camera-in-a-cigarette-packet, made in Kiev, Ukraine. c. 1990 and using 16 mm film – estimate €500 - €700

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.

A very rare and significant "chrome dial" Nikon S2, Type 1, c. 1956 with lens cap, case, original instructions and box – estimate €17,000 - €22,000
A very rare and significant "chrome dial" Nikon S2, Type 1, c. 1956 with lens cap, case, original instructions and box – estimate €17,000 - €22,000

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

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