This Cigarette Pack Spy Camera Was Developed for the U.S. Army

Bonhams / Bonhams

James Bond made spy tech popular on the big screen, but cool gadgets aren't just the stuff of fiction. Hidden devices have long been used to covertly collect information in real life, and such devices are now readily available to any amateur sleuth in the form of common objects. For the burgeoning spy looking for something a bit more rarefied, a set of vintage spy objects are being sold in the Important Cameras auction at Bonhams this week.

Two of the more interesting objects available are products commissioned by the United States government: a camera disguised as a Lucky Strike cigarette pack and a light meter disguised as a box of matches, both developed for the U.S. Signal Corps around 1949. The Lucky Strike camera features a 16mm metal body that fits into an actual cigarette pack, with a four-speed shutter, four-position aperture, and film advance. With the 16mm film, a spy could take up to 18 photos during his/her faux smoke breaks. Bonhams notes that there were only two such cigarette pack cameras made, and that neither was actually used by the U.S. Army.

The light meter and camera, which are being sold together, are expected to sell at the December 3 auction for between $41,000 and $65,000. Other objects in the auction include hidden cameras shaped like guns, a camera embedded in a watch, and another camera that collapses into a pocketwatch.

Spy cameras have been around since at least the 1930s, when inventor Walter Zapp created the Minox subminiature. The compact model was used by governments around the world for decades, and was also featured in the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Minox even developed a range of accessories for the camera, including flashes, mirrors, and binoculars, and agencies developed special cases meant to conceal it—proving, along with the Lucky Strike design, just how far some will go in the name of stealth.