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Fallowfield's "Facile": An 1890s Concealed Camera

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    Posted 9 years ago

    (304 items)

    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.


    1. camerafan camerafan, 9 years ago
      Thanks for all of the historical information you provide with the cameras you post! I feel like I'm getting into the nooks and crannies of the history of photography that they couldn't fit into our syllabus in art school. Really fascinating and important pieces!!
    2. Savoychina1 Savoychina1, 9 years ago
      Ditto !
    3. MsDowAntiques MsDowAntiques, 9 years ago
      More than one ditto -- would that be "ditti" ?
    4. bccanyon bccanyon, 8 years ago
      When will you publish a book? Your collection is amazing and you have a way with words. Just an idea... keep up the posts until then. They are greatly appreciated
    5. rniederman rniederman, 8 years ago
      Thanks for the compliment, bccanyon. I often get asked about writing a book, and given my narrow focus on early wood & brass cameras, it's a bit too specialized to be successful. On the other hand, that's what makes Collector's Weekly so interesting; I can post interesting cameras any time. However, there are many really well done books on the history of photography including some that describe cameras. One of my favorites was recently authored and published by the George Eastman House (GEH) Technology Curator (someone I know well) entitled: "Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital." In addition to the great content, it's a beautiful, 350+ page, coffee table size publication with lots of full color images of cameras from the GEH collection.
    6. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks officialfuel and AntigueToys!
    7. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, Scott!
    8. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, wood_cameras!
    9. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, Phil!
    10. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, Scott!
    11. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, miKKo!
    12. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, walksoftly!
    13. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, TrustyHuckster!
    14. gluepot gluepot, 6 years ago
      rniederman, I have a copy of that book by Todd Gustavson and agree it's beautiful. Considering the paperback edition costs less than $20, it;s a must for any collector or photohistorian.
    15. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks for the note, gluepot!
    16. tom61375, 6 years ago
      SÜPER AWESOME!!! GREAT piece Rob!
    17. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, tom61375!
    18. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, genevieve!
    19. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, Moonstonelover21!
    20. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, farmlady!
    21. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, Windwalker!
    22. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, trunkman!
    23. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, Elisabethan!
    24. ericevans2 ericevans2, 5 years ago
      Very nice Rob! I hadn't seen it before, as far as I recollect. There are some slight detail differences between yours and mine, but that was the nature of this type of product; it certainly was not mass-produced.
    25. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, f64imager!
    26. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, vetraio50!
    27. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, Sean!
    28. rniederman rniederman, 2 years ago
      Thanks, oldpeep!

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