Monday, September 28, 2009

Spy Cameras

September Meeting 2009
Our September program exhibited some of the cameras that have been made to take pictures surreptitiously. Why anyone would create a camera that required wet plates and looked like a big brass pistol is beyond anyone’s guess, but that was the first (from 1862) in a long line of disguised cameras. After that, Liz Whitaker showed slides of cameras disguised as purses, cravats, canes, binoculars and even bowler hats. Anyone attending WPHS meetings wearing a hat with a lens sticking out the top of it will be asked to remove the hat! Gerry Whitaker shared some cameras from his collection including the Expo (disguised as a railroad pocket watch, popular in early 1900s) and the Petal (a really small watch-looking device, featured in October, 1987 issue of the Smithsonian magazine). He also showed us a camera that could be hidden in a cigarette package, worn on the wrist or hung on a chain around one’s neck—the Tessina made in Switzerland in the ‘60’s. One of these was used in the Watergate burglary, but we don’t know who carried it. Gerry also had a special version of the Robot camera made for the Luftwaff in WWII which had a spring that would enable the camera to take several pictures with one winding. History has it that the pilot was to trigger the camera and then hold it out the window, taking pictures of whatever was below. (Should have just used Google Earth….)
Paul Garrett brought in a prized cigarette lighter camera, and it really works as a cigarette lighter. He also showed a large collection of miniatures including the Kombi, the first miniature roll film camera made in 1892. The little brass box was elaborately decorated and called a “Kombi” because it could be used both as a camera and as a viewer. Paul also showed us very small cameras from all over the world made in the 40’s and 50’s. The Mikronas from Czechoslovakia, the Minicord from Austria, the Rollei 16’s from Germany and the Mamiya’s and several “Hit” type cameras from Japan. He also had Hit style cameras from Germany and the US.
Jerry O’Neill presented miniature cameras from his collection and also from Joseph Pacholczyk. He showed us several of Joseph’s Minoltas that could easily be hidden in a pocket and used when no one was looking. Jerry’s Pentax 110 is still a very usable camera and was manufactured with a variety of lenses. The little Minolta XA4 took only macro shots and was intended for copying documents.
Any respectable spy in the late 20th century would have some Minox equipment. Paul brought in a whole collection of Minox cameras and accessories—lenses, tripods, flashes, right angle viewers and even an enlarger.
Of course, now all these great cameras have been replaced with digital spy cameras also in watches, pens, and even eyeglasses. The really great film cameras will live on in collections such as the ones we saw. Thanks to Gerry, Paul, Jerry and Joseph.
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