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19th Century Spy Advertising

By Sarah Ashlock

Surveillance is often an integral aspect of every modern spy movie. From the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window to the Bourne Identity franchise. We’ve always been fascinated with spies. There’s even a museum dedicated to this secret profession!

In the late 19th century, C.P. Stirn’s Concealed Vest Camera hit the market, unbeknownst to most common individuals. Six inches round, it was plated in fine or oxidized nickel and had the ability to take up to 36 pictures using six plates.

When not in use, it could be carried in a walnut case that also doubled as a tripod. One simply carried the camera under a coat with only the lens exposed. According to advertisements, thousands were sold over the course of four years in New York and Berlin.

One individual who used this technology seemingly not for government espionage was a Norwegian 19-year-old student Carl Mülertz Størmer, who later became a renowned mathematician and physicist. He took about 500 secret photos total preserved at the Norwegian Folkemuseum website.

Below are just a handful of the secret photographs Størmer took. As many have noted, these images often feature individuals who are more at ease than the typically rigid 19th-century portrait photographs we are used to. They also allow the viewer to time travel back to Oslo streets in the late 1800s.