Mankind desire for concealed camera is not new, but do you know, human race has been experimenting and making concealable camera as far as back as 1800s? That’s 19th century, which at that point, was almost 300 years since the invention of camera and an era where camera was still a rather clunky device. The Hegelein Watch Camera, circa 1895, is one example of a concealable camera that disguises itself as a pocket watch, another device which was popular among the gents at that time. Hegelein watch camera was an American copy of the earlier British Lancaster watch camera and was sold in the U.S. at 5 bucks a pop.
The camera features a 1 3/4-inch diameter nickel-metal body and has a collapsible seven-section metal tube and a lens panel engraved with ‘THE WATCH CAmERA. PAT’D AUG 7 1894 JOHN C HELELEIN. NY’ (yes, it had a patent, apparently), shutter and meniscus lens. More details, extracted from Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, follows:
“The Watch Camera. Quiet recently many efforts have been made to furnish photographers with a really efficient camera that is truely a detective camera, which while being very compact and portable is at the same time capable of producing work of good quality that will stand enlargement. Many toys have been produced and many cameras of more or less complex mechanism. It must be remembered that simplicity in a camera is most desirable, and this is especially the case where the camera is very small, for then the mechanism is necessarily delicate and liable to go out of order……..
The latest novelty (the Helgelein)however seems to be free from complication and has the advantage that. while making a picture 1 3/4 inch diameter, it can carried in the vest pocket. It is in the shape of a watch and is in fact, a camera in a watch case. When closed, pressure on the stem-winder throws down one side and reveals a camera, fitted with a time and instantaneous shutter. Opening the back, a rim is exposed in which is fitted the film holder. The shutter being set and the slide withdrawn, exposure is made by pressure on a small button. The holder is removed, the front of the camera pushed in, the two sides closed and a compact, unbreakable “watch” may be slipped into the pocket. For bicyclists and tourists it should prove invaluable. In our hands it has proved very successful.”
The Watch Camera by John C. Hagelein, New York (i.e. 1895 Hagelein Watch Camera) will be going on the block, organized by Bonhams, this December in Hong Kong and is expected to fetch a cool HK$400,000-600,000 (about US$51,609-77,413).