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11 Old Spy Gadgets and Vintage Spy Equipment

Published by in PI Gear Tools and Equipment · 16 June 2019
Spying or espionage has been documented throughout history and its main purpose is to obtain information - without permission of course - that is considered confidential or secret. Spying was done by an individual or spy-ring (a group of spies), and usually carried out "officially" for a government.

Part of being in the spy-game; spies - old and new - would get to use some of the most sophisticated spy gadgetry available. Spy tools have been in use long before any real technology existed. The old spy gadgets used by the old spies were not as glamorous as the real spy gear today, but nevertheless were very effective for their time.

We have a compiled a list of some the best vintage spy tools but this is just a small fraction of the many thousands of historic spy gadgets and tools that have been used in the past. Old spy agencies such as the American CIA, British MI6, Russian KGB, would use these old "sophisticated" spying devices against each other - in a game of cat and mouse. Check out these old spy gadgets:

#1. An Old Letter Removal Spy Device

Old Spy Equipment Letter Removal Device
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

During World War 2 this letter removal real spy device was used to extract the letter from inside, without destroying the envelope seal. The pincer-device was inserted into the small unsealed gap at the top of the envelope. Taking grasp of the letter inside the device was turned, winding the letter around it, and then simply extracted through the gap at the top.

#2. An Old Spy Tobacco Pouch Camera

Old Spy Gadget Tobacco Pouch Camera
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Hidden in this modified tobacco pouch was a 35mm spy camera with spring-winding mechanism that advanced the film between exposures.

#3. Modified Lady’s Spy Makeup Compact

Old Spy Equipment Ladies Compact Makeup
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Here, a secret code is concealed inside the mirror of a lady's makeup compact. By tilting the mirror at the correct angle, the spy code is revealed.

#4. A Vintage Spy “Dead” Drop Spike

Old Spy Gadget Dead Drop Spike
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Communication between spies and their handlers would always be a risk. The “Dead” Drop Spike would allow for secure communications through one person leaving material at a prearranged location and the other person picking up later on. This would eliminate the need for direct contact. This real spy device is a spike that could be pushed into the ground. The device is hollow and would contain messages, documents, or spy film.

#5. A Concealed Old Spy Compass

Old Spy Gear Concealed Compass
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Spies going into harm’s way had a variety of clever places to hide miniature compasses for escape and evasion in case they were compromised - in razors or combs, uniform buttons or, as seen here, in cufflinks.

#6. An Old Cold War Camera Concealed in Cigarette Pack

Old Spy Gear Cigarette Pack Camera
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

This old cold war spy camera was built small enough to easily fit inside a modified pack of cigarettes. The 35mm spring-wound miniature camera had a smooth, quiet operation, allowing the intelligence offices using it to remain clandestine.

#7. Silver Dollar Hollow Spy Coin
Old Spy Gadget Silver Dollar Hollow Container
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

More than just a coin, this Eisenhower silver dollar was actually an old spy concealment device used during the Cold War to hide secret messages or small pieces of film.

#8. Vintage Body Worn Spy Clothing
Old Spy Gear Body Worn Surveillance Clothing
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

To collect intelligence while mingling with Cold War enemies, agents needed spy accessories that worked as well as they did. In some instances, spies were issued clothing and jewlry fitted with tiny cameras or microphones. Embedded in brooch pins or buttons, agents could mingle while recording the action.

#9. Seismic Intruder Detection Devices
Old Spy Gadgets Seismic Intruder Detection Devices
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

These old spy intrusion detection devices would be used by agents around sensitive locations to monitor movement. Camouflaged as rocks or sticks, these Cold War devices were used to sense the movement of people, vehicles or animals up to a distance of 300 meters away. These old spy gadgets - running on tiny power cells - had built-in radio transmitters that relayed data via coded impulses.

#10. An Old Concealed Radio Receiver Spy Pipe
Old Spy Gear Concealed Pipe Radio Receiver
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

This vintage spying pipe is fitted with a micro radio receiver that allowed the undercover agent to hear radio transmitted sound via bone conduction - from the jaw to the ear canal.

#11. Vintage Cold War CIA Spy Anal Toolkit

Vintage Cold War CIA Spy Anal Toolkit
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

This old spying toolkit was used by the CIA during the Cold War era. It was designed to be easily inserted into a spy's anus shortly before being captured by the enemy. As humorous as it may seem, this would be a life-saver for the CIA operative who could later pop the tool-kit out and use it to attempt an escape.

Old Spy Gadgets vs New

Old spy equipment used to be esoteric, accessible only to government agents, but that has changed significantly. Today the market is flooded with spy equipment and their use has soared. No longer are these tools reserved for intelligence agencies. If you were to hire a private investigator you can be assured they will have their own PI gear to help in the advancement of their own cases.

The old vintage spy gadgets were more mechanical in nature but with the development of electronics over the years, spying has become very advanced - electronically. Aside from government spy agencies; advanced spy gear is being used by businesses, investigators, law enforcement, and private individuals for a variety of purposes. In the right hands and used correctly and ethically; a spy gadget can be very useful.


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