|Victorian 'high tech' spy camera watch|
The word photography, which is derived from the Greek words for light and writing, was first used by Sir John Herschel in 1839, the year the invention of the photographic process was made public. During the previous decades perhaps as many as ten individuals had tried to make a photograph. At least four were successful : Joseph Nicephore Niepce, Louis J. M. Dagurre, and Hippolyte Bayard in France, and William Henry Talbot in England. Each of them employed two scientific techniques that had been known for some time but had never before been successfully combined.
Fast forward a few decades and the photography business had gone 'high tech.' The Lancaster Watch Camera and its little sister, the ladies version, offered some of the earliest, 'state-of-the-art' spy cameras. They represented the ingenious Victorian camera engineering of the 1890s.
The watch pictured above is the ladies version, a rarer and smaller type that sold for $36,000 at the Bonhams auction in 2007. Only four of those are known to exist, but not because they were particularly difficult to make, but because they were nearly impossible to use.
According to Bonhams’ camera expert, Mr. Lionel Hughes :
"It would have been very inconvenient to use as four very small catches had to be released in order to remove the glass screen and to fit a separate metal sensitized material holder for each exposure."
Constructed of engine-turned metal with nickel plating, the watch/camera expanded on its own when you opened it up. And if you could get them to work, the ladies version took 1.25 inch by .25 inch by 1 inch exposures, with the larger gentleman’s spy cam capturing 2 inch by 1.5 inch snaps. My favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes surely must have one of these cameras at his disposal when he matched wits with Professor Moriarty.