Go to the main index Smithsonian Oct 1987 - Eyes for Spies by Doug Stewart

Magazine : Ebay 2008/03/10 31USD

Gerald McMullon : "I had come across the name Thurman F.Naylor as contributing photographs of subminiature cameras in numerous books, including William white "Subminiature Photography". Particularly noted as every camera that I am still looking for he has his name next to a photograph of one.

Beneath his home in Boston is a museum of 4000 square feet of display space.

The article was published in October 1987, shortly after he retired. He built up a business with a partner when he bought a struggling automotive and aircraft parts company in 1960 and expanded it to having plants in 12 different countries. The perfect excuses to go camera hunting, particularly with 33 trips to Japan. Yet his best find was 3 miles from home when a woman was selling off her great grand father's collection who as a professional photographer between 1848 and 1862. Piled up in parts were nine complete daguerreotype camera and one called the Mammoth Plate, the largest Daguerrean in existence.

The article claims the prize of his collection is a John Player special. It was originally claimed that these where used by the KGB in England as spy cameras. Although the use of the Kiev Vega certain would fit the bill in the cold war period there is no evidence that any where used for this purpose. So no surprise that no one in the West knew about these until he enquired in a pawnshop in the Soviet Union in 1985 looking for camera. This first JPS was traded for $2000 in early 1986. This was assumed to be a risky business! Possible this was true as where had the pawn shop owner "obtained enough Vega 1 cameras to make the stock of JPS that drifted over the borders over the next few years? This first version with the space for two real cigarettes has eluded me for three years, and I am not paying the auction house in Wein 400EURO for one. The more common types sell for under $100, thanks to large numbers being imported to California."

Jerry Laderberg "Jack's collection shown in the 1987 article was sold to Japanese interests in Yokohama who built a museum to house it. Since then, he has built up another amazing collection in his underground " facility" and, as far I can tell, it is at least the equal of the earlier one. Two years ago he opened it up to the dealers at one of the PHSNE twice-yearly shows and I was able to view it. Terrific! He even has a curator."

Wayne Cogan : "My first contact with Jack and his museum was around 1978. He had just moved to Brookline, MA and I was invited by Jack to visit his new museum. As I walked into his home for the first time to my immediate left was an original Monet (gulp)...as I walked into the large foyer (9,000 sq.ft. home). I noticed amazing art everywhere including a trip-tic painting of his wife. They commissioned Andy Warhol (similar style to the famous Marilyn Monroe portrait grouping). Around the north side of the house Jack showed me maybe 30 cameras and accessories.....the most amazing cameras ever witnessed by me...remember it was 1978. (Scovill Book camera; Ladies Lancaster Detective; Original Kodak #0006; Simon Wing used by Wing; the Grapflex camera that shot the famous Hindenburg given to Jack by the photographer's son, etc ) I sat down, had a drink and noticed a stream of people wondering through Jack's kitchen. I asked, "where is everyone going?" "To the museum down in the basement." I thought I had been in the museum.

Well, in minutes I was standing at the front of the museum. It it a maze and Shocking to see over 32,000 items on display, most, accessible to hold if you dare. I first focused on the famous book 'A Pencil of Nature', of course, #1 marked. As I held tightly on my 2nd glass of wine, I spotted dozens, literally dozens of Daguerreian cameras and accessories (my interest is wood). I stepped on Michele Auer's toe as he sat with Eaton Lothrop and Brad Washburn and Mike Kessler and Fred Spira and Allen Cotter (Allen just moved East from Santa Barbara, CA to New York State)....My g-d, the museum was a Portal that attracted every major photography author, collector, and rookie like myself back in those days.

Seven years late I became PHSNE's president 1985-87 under the strong guidance of Jack (Thurman) Naylor. I have hundred of stories. Logged in 1000s of hours at Jack's home. Eastman's note.....it's there....I read it."

Douglas St Denny: "I visited "Jack" in the late 80's and he had 5 Red Flag Leica copies, complete with wide angle and tele lenses mind you, locked in his safe so he said. They were worth "only a couple hundred dollars each, and no one wants to buy them." I pulled out my wallet and told him to not bother wrapping them, I'd just wear them. He back peddled faster than the eye could see.

I sold a set to his friend Sergio Franki (The singer, now dead from cancer) shortly afterwards. US$5000 for the set. I was surprised that he didn't get a set from "Jack" for much less.

He does/did have an overwhelming collection. Many many items were one of a kind, museum quality make your eyes pop out of your head things. Interspersed were what I consider "questionable" items, which, of course few people questioned, because of the clout and prestige carried by Thurmon F. "Jack" Naylor. One does not go into a multi million dollar house, with a multi million dollar camera collection in the basement, and start pointing out the wet plate camera which is mismarked as a Dageurrean camera. If "Jack" said it was a Dag camera, well, shucks, it must be so. Even if the same camera had been offered for sale as a Dageurrean camera to other buyers, who refused because they thought it was a wet plate camera, and had never been used as a Dag camera.

Elizabeth Brayer, author of "George Eastman: A Biography" says (quoted in 2000 in a Rochester newspaper) Eastman's suicide note was preserved and was at that time at the Eastman House and on display.

Here's the Newspaper reference. Look 4/5ths of the way down. http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050220/NEWS01/502200338/

How do you account for the reference to the note being at Eastman house? Did Naylor donate it to them? I can't imagine them buying it, given their financial state, especially back into the 1980's. Is Brayer mistaken? 

As for "Jack's" stories, I've heard/read lots of them. Many are probably true. Some would be quite hard to disprove, but a few would make Hans Christian Anderson blush."

Steve Shohet:"It's true he is too rich by half, and it's also true that that he intimidates many of us at auctions by simply keeping his hand up until he gets what he wants. Finally, it's true he sometimes makes rare, but egregious, mistakes in identifications.

However, he has been extremely generous with his collections and library, his time, and his support of organizations. He almost single-handedly kept PHSNE afloat for too many years, as Wayne knows. He helped the New York Society when it was in deep trouble, and he laboriously edited the New England Journal alone, when almost no one else was willing to step to the plate. (I recognize that there was much too much of Naylor in that, but no one else gave him copy, and it remains a very useful resource.) He never refuses to try to answer a question from a collector, and usually gives a credible response, chasing down a proper answer in his own superb library, or citing an appropriate reference.

I know we all would like to have Monets and Mammoth-plate Dags, but the fact that we can't, doesn't mean we should pillory a basically good man who has a big ego, and the same acquisitiveness virus that, unrequited, afflicts most of us.

For proper perspective, I admit to being not wholly disinterested here. Jack was very kind to me when I first started 15 years ago, and I tried to write a book on his first collection with him several years ago. "

Other Articles:-

The Sale of the second collection is detailed in naylor.pdf. With his family not interested in his passion for cameras he wished to sell the collection complete for $20 million; over 30,000 items.

PH94–7671    The Naylor Museum
Photographica World, June 1993, (65), 32–3
PH94–7672    America’s Foremost [Naylor] Collection to Japan

PH94–7653    The Ultimate Hidden Camera: Equipment for a Master Spy
New England Journal of Photographic History, 1994, (142/3), 4–7
The equipment used by Russian KGB spy, Victor Novakov, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the camera being an F21 made by the Krasnogorsk factory in Moscow. ‘The camera design is brilliant...easy to hide behind a coat button.’

Photographica (American Photographic Historical Society), October1994, 23 (4), 16
The Naylor Collection began in the 1950s. The private museum built under Thurman ‘Jack’ Naylor’s home received more than 1000 visitors annually.  The collection contained 31000 catalogued items, including 6500 cameras, 15,000 images, 3000 books, from thirty countries. Now purchased by the Japanese government for a new museum to be built in Yokohama
PH94–7673    Japan Buys Foremost Private [Naylor] American Collection
PERSKY, Robert S.,
New England Journal of Photographic History, 1994, (142/3), 10
In the same issue of The Journal (pp. 25–8), Matthew Isenburg gives an illustrated account of the going–away party (almost 400 guests) of the collection held at Jack Naylor’s house and museum on 23 June 1994 shortly before the displays were removed

Go to the main index Last updated 8th December 2005