Japanese matchbox camera

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The Japanese matchbox camera is only known from a picture and a description in the book Spy Camera by Pritchard.[1] Little is known of this camera, which is not surprising given the secret nature of the device.


The camera's internals slide into an outer casing shaped as a matchbox, with a hole on the side for the lens. The camera is loaded with a film cassette. The film is advanced by turning a wheel, which slightly protrudes on the camera's smaller side. 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.


In Pritchard's book, the camera is described as a "Japanese matchbox camera", and various unspecified details are said to hint at a Japanese origin.[2] The camera's internals look rather similar to the Eastman M.B. matchbox camera by Kodak, made at the end of World War II. The Japanese might have copied the camera after they captured an original example, or less likely after they stole some drawings.

Some authors have identified the camera with the Kaitenkei spy camera made from 1937 by Tōkyō Kōgaku.[3] The Kaitenkei is apparently earlier than the Eastman M.B.. It is known from textual descriptions only, and no surviving example has been identified. The Kaitenkei is said to take 8mm film, whereas the Kodak takes 16mm film. Unfortunately, the actual film size used by the surviving Japanese matchbox camera is not known.


  1. Pritchard, p.140. The camera was not part of the December 9, 1991 sale by Christies where most other cameras presented in the book were sold.
  2. Pritchard, p.140.
  3. Antonetto and Russo, p.195.


  • Antonetto, M. and Russo, C. Topcon Story. Lugano: Nassa Watch Gallery, 1997. ISBN 88-87161-00-3. P.195.
  • 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.