Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Subminiature Camera Watches - Spy Watches Part II

Once I think I've seen everything, somebody alerts me a mind-blowing gadget like this Steineck Subminiature Wrist-camera. Thanks to Max Busser, founder of MB&F Horological Machines who shared his find (above) from a vintage watch store in Lugano, Switzerland. Needless to say, I've been obsessed these antique spy/detective/novelty gadgets for the last few days and have uncovered a secret force of "Submini" wrist-cameras. A wide array of styles existed over many different eras, originating in 1907 with a pocket watch camera. Others were fit into rings, some were undisguised miniature cameras fit onto a wristband but my favorite remains the Steineck, with its robotic cyclops face and potential for Captain Kirk-ian prop-weaponry!

It all began with these patent designs from 1907 for the first concealed camera in a pocket watch. Later marketed as the "Ticka" (below) with dummy watch face permanently set at 7 minutes past 10 o'clock indicating the viewing angle making it possible to use without the detachable viewfinder. Exposing unsuspecting subjects on a cassette of 17.5mm film (wound by turning the key) and the lens is hidden by the watch crown.

An original Ticka with packaging
via UK Camera

Ticka's fixed 7-past-10 dummy dial

The worlds first wrist-camera was created by Japanese inventor, Jujiro Ichiki in 1939. Via Modern Mechanix

The above mentioned Steineck produced from the late forties into the fifties. Invented by Dr. Rudolph Steineck of Switzerland and highly regarded as one of the better quality subminiature cameras made. Uses a 24mm circular film disk and automatic film advance. The viewfinder is a reflex concave mirror with a sharp centre line pointer, which permits sighting from above when the camera, worn on the wrist, is held in picture-taking position. Through the centre of the camera is a hole, an alternative direct-vision viewfinder.

A complex mechanism best described from Submin.com's Steineck pages-->Link

The Steineck in more detail from the original drawings and patent summary here-->Link

1950s Pixie Wrist Camera
No tricks here, just a camera on your wrist.
via Link

1960 Tessina Cameras featured the only subminiature watch that uses standard 35mm film but is the size of 16mm cameras. A rare version exisits for the wrist (above) and one with a Swiss watch attachment (below). Made up of 400 parts and built by Concava of Switzerland, the Tessina was also designed and patented by Dr. Rudolph Steineck.
Via Submin.com

Tessina with watch attachment

1981 Magnacam Wristamatic invented by Bernard Seckendorf of New York. Not a spy camera but rather intended to be "on hand" for active sports. travel, sightseeing. Patent-->Link
Via Link and SubClub

Also from 1981, the Italian Ferro Ring camera. Very high quality and even had accessories. The lens was a fixed-focus 10mm with a variable shutter of B, 1/30 - 1/500. It takes special 25mm diameter discs of film and produces six 4.5x6mm images.
Via SubClub

Gold plated Ferro Ring Watch with case for $5000
via Lionel Hughes Photographica

Here's one I wish existed. An impressive and ambitious 1940 Patent shows this K.M. French design for a wrist-attached camera complete with expanding bellows! Patent-->Link

More information on all varieties of subminiature & spy photography;
The Sub Club
PI Vintage

Be sure to read my previous post on the 1950s Minifon Spy Watch/Audio Recorder (pictured above)-->Link And the history of James Bond gadget watches-->Link

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