MONTAUK DETECTIVE CAMERA
G. Gennert, 54 E. 10th Street, New York 1889 - 1895
From the Ronald F. Giovannelli Collection
Manufactured by G. Gennert, the Montauk Detective Camera is believed to have been introduced in 1889. Mention was made of Gennert's "4x5 Detective Camera at $25" on display at the Boston Convention and Exhibition in Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Volume XXVI, September 11, 1889. As described, the camera was 10" long and 6" square, with three holders, focusing appliances located on the top and equipped with a Gray W.A. Rapid lens. Other than some slight differences in dimensions with the camera featured here, this seems to describe rather accurately the Montauk Detective Camera. Additionally, the Montauk Detective is the only detective-style camera known to have been manufactured by Gennert during this period.
The Montauk Detective also appears in 1890 in the American Amateur Photographer, along with reviews for various other hand cameras. The publication describes it as being covered in black Turkish morocco leather, although Gennert's advertisement later that year lists it as having genuine black seal leather. Another 1892 advertisement called them "the best Detective Cameras", and the name Montauk Detective is how it's generally known today.
The Montauk Detective's most distinctive feature is its focusing scale located at the top. This scale was similar to those found on Anthony's Climax and P.D.Q. Detective cameras. The Montauk's shutter was cycled by winding the knob on the face to cock it, then selecting one of two tabs on the front top for either a Time or Instantaneous exposure. Another unique feature, not found on any other detective camera to my knowledge, is a variable speed shutter control. Once the shutter is cocked, the operator can then apply pressure to a wire spring lever protruding at the bottom front. As greater pressure is applied, the tension on the shutter's spring increases, resulting in a faster speed when the shutter is released. The Montauk name doesn't appear on the camera, but "G. Gennert, Manufacturer, New York" is found, stamped on the side door's interior along with the serial number.
Available in 4x5 and 5x7, the camera measures 10-1/2" x 7-1/8" x 6-1/8" and could be used with a roll holder. The camera came standard with a rotary shutter, a Montauk Rapid Rectilinear Double Lens and three "XTRALITE" holders for $25. Compared to Blair's Hawk-Eye Detective of the time, it shared many of the same features, but weighed slightly less at two pounds. The Hawk-Eye Detective in its base uncovered form, was actually cheaper than the Montauk. But by the time you added leather and an upgraded Rapid Detective Lens, the Hawk-Eye's price rose to $30.
The Montauk Camera, as it was by then being called, seems to make its last appearance in G. Gennert's January 1, 1895 catalogue. Production lasted maybe six or seven years, as no advertisements have been found beyond 1895. It's estimated that only a handful survive....maybe one in the back corner of some museum, a few that have come up for auction that we didn't know of, or possibly a few in private collections. This example was acquired in the early 1980's, and we haven't seen another one since.
Bottom of camera showing shutter speed tensioning lever
From Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1892