Hundreds of Soviet spy devices up for auction in California

Hundreds of Soviet spy devices up for auction in California

February 9, 2021

A View to a Kill from the KGB: Cyanide-filled fake teeth and cigarette packs containing mini cameras are among the astonishing list of James Bond-style KGB gadgets up for auction

  • Hundreds of Cold War-era spy gadgets and memorabilia, including listening devices and hidden cameras, are going up for auction in Beverly Hills
  • Most of the items in Saturday’s auction at Julien’s come from New York’s KGB Espionage Museum, which closed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic
  • The museum’s curator had spent decades amassing the Soviet relics and even served as a consultant on the hit TV show Chernobyl

Cyanide-filled fake teeth and cigarette packs concealing cameras are among the hundreds of Soviet spy gadgets going under the hammer at a Beverly Hills auction this week.

Many retro espionage devices in the sale by US-based Julien’s Auctions – known for Hollywood and pop culture memorabilia – would not be out of place in a classic James Bond movie, including microphones hidden within pens, ashtrays and porcelain plates.

‘The people that actually created these things were the pioneers of miniaturization,’ said director of gallery operations Kody Frederick.

‘Everybody now carries a camera, everybody now has a microphone,’ but many of the auction’s spy gadgets hail from an era when cell phones were ‘as big as six bricks,’ Frederick told AFP news agency.

Cyanide-filled fake teeth (pictured) and cigarette packs concealing cameras are among the hundreds of Soviet spy gadgets going under the hammer at a Beverly Hills auction this week

Many retro espionage devices in Saturday’s sale by US-based Julien’s Auctions – known for Hollywood and pop culture memorabilia – would not be out of place in a classic James Bond movie, including microphones hidden within pens, ashtrays and porcelain plates. Pictured: A cigarette pack containing a hidden camera

Miniature cameras fitted inside women’s handbags, belt buckles, shoe brushes, bird boxes, signet rings and ties – and used by real secret agents – are all going on the block. Pictured: A ‘rectal concealment capsule’

Miniature cameras fitted inside women’s handbags, belt buckles, shoe brushes, bird boxes, signet rings and ties – and used by real secret agents – are all going on the block.

‘People are looking to get their hands on really unique, different pieces from a time when digital didn’t exist and analog was the way of life,’ Frederick added.

Other items include a hotel room ‘bug’ listening device hidden in an ashtray and a Soviet version of the Enigma code cipher machine known as the Fialka.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, many of the items were discarded in Eastern Europe. 

Historian and collector Julius Urbaitis, 57, who worked as a consultant on the HBO series Chernobyl, amassed the remarkable group of gadgets over a 30-year period, procuring almost 400 items in that time. 

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, many of the items were discarded in Eastern Europe. Pictured: An ashtray containing a hidden ‘bug’ listening device 

Historian and collector Julius Urbaitis, 57, amassed the remarkable group of gadgets over a 30-year period, procuring almost 400 items in that time. Pictured: A Soviet version of the Enigma code cipher machine known as the Fialka

Hidden cameras: This necktie is just one of a host of Soviet gadgets being sold at auction which, at one time, concealed cameras and microphones

Subminiature Minox Riga cameras (pictured) used by Adolf Hitler’s army intelligence services are on also going under the hammer

The items were put on display at the short-lived KGB Espionage Museum in New York, where Urbaitis was curator. The museum opened in 2019 but closed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Among those for sale this Saturday, both on-site in California and online, are a fake tooth containing deadly cyanide expected to fetch up to $1,200.

‘The tooth was designed to shatter when bitten a certain way so that captured agents could end their own lives when necessary to avoid torture or the release of compromising information,’ explains the auction catalog. 

The collection includes a replica of the ‘Bulgarian umbrella’ used in 1978 in London to fatally poison Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in one particularly infamous Cold War episode.

It is estimated at between $3,000 and $5,000.

The collection includes a replica of the ‘Bulgarian umbrella’ used in 1978 in London to fatally poison Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in one particularly infamous Cold War episode 

But other initially announced items including a lipstick tube and a pen designed to fire bullets had to be withdrawn due to California’s gun laws.

Spy enthusiasts will have to content themselves with clandestine devices used to store sensitive microfilm or other documents, including cufflinks, high-heeled shoes, hollowed-out coins… and even a ‘rectal concealment capsule.’  

During the Cold War, tensions flared between the United States and the Soviet Union resulting in a rivalry that lasted for decades, drew in several other countries and brought the two super powers to the brink of nuclear war.

The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was one such flashpoint and some items from before and after Cuba’s Communist revolution are also going under the hammer including Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s 1942 school report card, and letters signed by him and fellow Communist revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

One Castro missive contains plans to infiltrate Havana, and is predicted to draw bids up to $1,500.

Further objects relate to the US-Soviet space race, such as NASA spaceship designs, vintage astronaut equipment and archive film stock including footage of the low-gravity testing of ‘various fecal and urine collection devices.’ 

Several items from the Cuban revolution are also included in the auction. Pictured: Photos of revolutionary leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

A signed second edition of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s early political manifesto History Will Absolve Me is also going under the hammer


Other initially announced items including a lipstick tube (pictured) and a pen designed to fire bullets had to be withdrawn due to California’s gun laws

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