The Camera Bag: This Victorian-era pocket watch is a Steampunk-worthy spy camera


posted Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:12 PM EDT

Feast your eyes on this Steampunk-like 1886 Victorian Lancaster Pocket Watch Camera, which could be one of the first camera watches ever made. (Incidentally, camera watches are a now rare gadget subgenre that seems to have gone out of fashion with Dick Tracy.)


The Victorian Lancaster Pocket Watch Camera, which is one of only four original models that still exist, recently sold at a Bonhams auction for the equivalent of US$28,300.

Here's how Bonhams described the watch, which was, interestingly enough, designed for women:

"The Lancaster Ladies Watch Camera was brought into Bonhams by a gentleman whose grandfather had owned it originally. He was a cabinetmaker at the Birmingham-based firm J. Lancaster & Son, probably working on the many wooden cameras sold by the company. The vendor, consigning several watches to one of Bonhams’ sales, noticed that among his collection was what looked like an ordinary nickel-plated pocket watch case when closed – but when he opened it he discovered that it actually contained a tiny camera inside."

This particular camera watch actually sold poorly because it was quite difficult to operate. (A design flaw hindering sales? Imagine that!)

Lionel Hughes, Bonhams’ Camera Specialist, called the watch a forerunner of modern "spy" cameras.

"However, 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 sensitised material holder for each exposure," Hughes said. "As a result, the model sadly sold badly and is much rarer than the improved version which came on the market in 1890. The ladies’ pattern is therefore particularly special, and only four original models are known to exist."

(Via Watchismo via Retronaut)