Bonhams auctions rare spy camera
A piece of Cold War memorabilia is going on sale in Hong Kong as Bonhams auctions a rare spy camera disguised as a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes. The high precision 16 mm stills camera was made by the Mast Development Corp in 1949 or 1950 for the US Signal Corps and is believed to be one of only two in existence. The first is going on sale at Bonhams in Hong Kong on December 3 as part of an auction of collectible cameras, while the other is at the US Signal Corps Museum.
Hidden cameras are de rigeur for secret agents and over the years some spies carried the famous Minox, which can be concealed in a glove finger, while others hid their photographic equipment in briefcases, neckties, watches, rings, umbrellas, and books. Smoking gear was a particularly popular option because things like pipes, matches, and lighters are natural things to handle in public. Cigarette packets were particularly popular with agents on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The camera being made available for auction has a matte-black metal body with a chrome top plate that was concealed within a regular Lucky Strike paper cigarette packet. According to Bonhams, it was originally developed by DeMornay-Budd Co between 1946 and 1949, but because the company couldn't meet specifications, the job was handed over to Mast Development, but only two models were constructed.
It can carry 18 film exposures and has a five-element F2.7 17.5mm Sonnar-type lens, a four-speed focal plane shutter, a four-position aperture, and film advance.
The selenium light meter was built by the Quavas Corporation and also has a metal body, but this is disguised as an Ohio Safety match box. The US Army passed on both camera and meter, so the prototypes are all that exist.
The camera and meter are expected to fetch between HK$320,000 and HK$500,000 (US$41,000 to US$65,000).