Intriguing Vintage Spy Cameras: Covert Wonders of Espionage's Golden AgeThis unique photo collection features a stunning array of vintage cameras, some of which were ingeniously concealed in everyday objects.

From a camera hidden in a matchbox to one camouflaged as a pocket watch for covert operations, these devices show the ingenious designs of yesteryear, some dating back to the 1880s.

Some of these special cameras were made to look like a book, a packet of cigarettes, binoculars, radio player and even a handgun.

One of the more intriguing pieces is the cigarette camera, designed after World War II but never mass-produced.

Another fascinating find is the Lucky Strike Spy Camera, developed for the US Signal Corps between 1949 and 1950 by the Mast Development Corp.

This camera was designed to fit inside the outer wrapper of a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Despite its small size, it was capable of taking 18 shots of 16mm still photographs with varying shutter speeds. However, it never saw widespread use and remained an obscure piece of history.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

The Lucky Strike Spy camera was developed in the late 1940s by the US Military.

In the 1950s, two cameras were created for police use in Japan, both based on pistols.

The original Doryu gun camera failed to gain traction due to its use of 9.5mm film instead of the more common 16mm format.

By the time it was updated, officers had already switched to the rival Mamiya pistol camera, which was eventually discontinued as well.

Among the collection is the oldest and most valuable camera, an 1886 Ladies-Pattern Patent Watch Camera made by J. Lancaster and Son from Birmingham.

This camera was a true masterpiece, cleverly disguised as a pocket watch but opening up to reveal a hidden camera inside.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

The 1904 Ticka Watch allowed the user to take surreptitious photographs.

The camera collection was auctioned a few years ago at Bonhams, where Jon Baddeley, the expert, commented:

“The origins of these secret cameras goes back to the 19th century when 99.9 percent of photographs taken were stuffy portraits.

There was very little in the way of reportage photographs, and if you wanted to capture photos of people acting naturally you had to be discreet about it.

It was thought very offensive to just take out a camera and start taking photographs of people. Inventors starting coming up with numerous ways of concealing cameras in day-to-day objects like books, wrist watches and even rings.

While a lot of them were mere novelties some were developed for James Bond-esque espionage.

The US Signal Corps came up with a camera just after WWII that was hidden in a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes, while the police in Japan had several made which looked like a pistol.

Unsurprisingly many of these cameras were commercial failures and so very few were made, but that is precisely what gives them their value now.

The irony is that now we conceal cameras in our telephones and photography has never been more popular.

The majority of these cameras have come from a single collector who has pieced together an incredible archive over the years which really sheds light on an aspect of photography that many won’t be aware of.”

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This ABC watch camera, made in 1948, features a lens in the back of the watch’s body.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This ladies’ pattern patent watch camera would be used by a female agent in 1886.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This gun camera was developed in 1954 and shot on a 16mm film and is one of two gun cameras that were used by Japanese police.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This 1952 Mamiya pistol camera was also made in Japan.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This book camera was made in 1888 in Germany.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

‘Mast Concealable camera’ from 1950.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This 1886 concealed vest camera was designed to be worn inside clothing with the lens pointing out of a buttonhole.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

A 1981 ring camera from Italy.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

The Russian Minox camera is disguised as a radio.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

The bizarre French-made Le Photo Revolver.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This Expo Police camera from New York went on sale between 1911 and 1924.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This 1886 device was described as the Improved pattern patent watch camera and is one of the few surviving examples which uses photographic plates, pictured in the foreground, instead of film.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

The Watch Camera from 1894 allowed the user to quickly pull out the device, take a secret photograph, and return it to their pocket unseen.

 Vintage Spy Cameras

This Le Physiographe camera from 1896 was patented in both Britain and France and was disguised as a pair of binoculars.

(Photo credit: Bonhams / Daily Mail UK / Wikimedia Commons).