A Victorian Era Pocket Watch Spy Camera


The Lancaster Watch Camera and its little sister, the ladies version, offer some of the earliest proof that spys are, indeed, among us. Ok, maybe not that, but they are a pretty neat piece of 1890’s camera engineering.

The watch pictured at the top is the ladies version, a rarer and smaller type that sold for $36,000 at the Bonhams auction in 2007. Only four of those are known to exist, but not because they were particularly difficult to make — because they were nearly impossible to use.


According to Bonhams’ camera expert Lionel Hughes:

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.

Constructed of engine-turned metal with nickel plating, the watch/camera expanded on its own when you opened it up. And if you could get them to work, the ladies version took 1 1/4in x 1in exposures, with the larger guy’s spy cam capturing 2in x 1 1/2in snaps.

(via Retronaut)

  • Jg Correa

    Inspector Clouseau stuff

  • bob cooley


  • Jim Angell

    That is beautiful.

  • Jason G

    That’s not a spy camera. It’s a watch camera. It could never be used as a dedicated spy camera because of the exposure time alone. Why lie just to get hits? When did you decide your readership were idiots to exploit for hits?

  • Fil

    Because a camera that folds to the size of a pocket watch could never, ever be used for cloak and dagger purposes right?

  • Giselle

    Wow dude, you have anger issues. Chill it’s just an article about a cool little antique gadget.

  • Jason G

    No anger issues. Just don’t misrepresent for hits.
    The writer needs some self esteem. Don’t lie to try to make the story more interesting.

  • Jason G

    Maybe unfolding a pocketwatch camera and asking your subject to stand still for a 20 second exposure is the height of clandestine trickery in you bumpkin brain, but here in reality, it’s not much of an effective tool for turnofthecentury secret agents.

  • Spy Camera

    It’s really expensive $36,000 in 2007. Most of the spycameras are sales at cheap prices now.

  • Spy Camera

    It’s useless.

  • Andy Reeves

    Rawr Rawr! I hate stuff!