Posted 6 years ago
Long before the James Bond and spies, the first concealed [detective] cameras were bulky items built of wood, brass, and other materials. They first started appearing in the late 1800s in a variety of forms and are fascinating collectables.
By the 1890s, there was a growing interest in candid photography and builders responded. The idea was simple – build a camera that doesn’t look like a camera. A variety of forms appeared including books and walking sticks. Some were made to hide under layers of clothing: Yet the most common type was a simple box; after all, it was an easy shape for a camera and no one looked twice at a person holding a box.
The Facile is an early concealed camera intentionally built in the guise of an unassuming package or wrapped parcel. This particular example is an ‘improved’ model beautifully constructed of mahogany. It is rather bulky measuring 11" x 5-1/2" x 8-/12" high and weighing around 6 lbs. fully loaded with twelve metal sheathed plates. Amazingly, it still has the original leather straps and braided brass handle!
The famous English photographer Paul Martin used a brown paper wrapped Facile in and around Victorian London. As shown in the advertisement, we can imagine the photographer casually wandering the streets with the disguised camera tucked under a right arm with thumb and fingers resting comfortably near two thin shutter buttons [actually small brass posts]. A simple clockwise turn of the milled brass knob on the side of the camera and the itinerant photographer could shoot up to 12 pictures without having to visit a darkroom!
As note, Paul Martin's Facile and original leather case currently reside in the Royal Photographic Society's extensive camera collection.