An update to my original vintage subminiature spy watch-cameras post (link) the other week with this remarkable find (Thanks to Alex at QP). This 1886 Victorian Lancaster Pocket Watch Camera predates what I thought to be the first camera watch in 1907. It just sold at a Bonhams auction for £18,000
Lionel Hughes, Bonhams’ Camera Specialist, was delighted to come across the piece:
Subminiature Spy Watches
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Click to see one of my favorite new watches under $200
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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 is a truly exceptional piece, and the price achieved at Bonhams today reflects this,” he explained. “The Lancaster Watch Camera was patented in October 1886 and made until 1890. Such tiny cameras were the forerunners for the ‘spy’ camera – a mechanism disguised as a different object. 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. 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."
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