The Eastman M.B. matchbox camera, also known as the Camera 'X', is a spy camera made by Kodak at the end of World War II, for use by the Secret Service. It is said that the official name was "Eastman M.B." (with M.B. standing for matchbox), but the name "Camera 'X'" is also found on original accessories.
|image by CIA Museum (Image rights)|
The camera takes up to 34 exposures ½×½″ in size on a 2ft strip of 16mm film. The internals are made of bakelite, and are slid inside a metal outer casing. The film is advanced by a wheel slightly protruding on the camera's smaller side, with touch marks allowing use of the camera without looking at it. There is a button on the same side, certainly to trip the shutter, and a small lever at the other end, perhaps switching from Bulb to Instant exposures.
The Tessar 25mm f/5 fixed-focus lens is on the front side, and has two aperture settings: full or f/8. The shutter has Bulb or instant settings. These are certainly operated by the small levers visible on the side opposite the release button and advance wheel.
Some of the cameras, but not all, have a serial number. It is said that a first batch of 500 were produced, sometimes called "Model 1", loaded with plain rollfilm and having three touch marks on the advance wheel, then a second batch of 500, the "Model 2", loaded with spooled film and having only two marks.
A processing kit and a development stand were made specifically for the camera.
It seems that a Japanese copy was made during World War II, see Japanese matchbox camera.
- Pritchard, p.140.
- An Eastman M.B. was sold as lot no.251 of the October 20, 1994 sale by Christies with a box marked Auxilliary Supply Kit for Camera 'X' on the lid.
- Number of exposures, film stock: Pritchard, p.140. Exposure size: McKeown, p.509.
- Touch marks are visible in the pictures at the bottom of this page at Submin.com.
- Compare the cameras sold by Christies linked at the bottom.
- This page at Submin.com.
- This page at the George Eastman House (archived).
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). P.509.
- Pritchard, Michael and St. Denny, Douglas. Spy Cameras — A century of detective and subminiature cameras. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1993. ISBN 1-874485-00-3. P.140.
- Eastman M.B. at the George Eastman House (archived)
- Eastman M.B. at Submin.com
- Past sales at Christies:
- Past sales at Westlicht Photographica Auction (now Leitz Photographica Auction):
- Eastman M.B. (text only) among 16mm cameras at Subclub.org