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Soviet spy camera disguised as a packet of cigarettes sold for a house-record £29,000 at Aston's auction on July 12.

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The packet in question was on offer at Dudley saleroom Aston’s Auctioneers, and that eye-watering price tag (with 24% including VAT buyer’s premium on top) is explained by the fact that the John Player Special ’20 filter’ box conceals a Soviet hidden spy camera.

Its metal 'packet' is fitted with a KIEV-30 sub-miniature camera, to be precise.

Estimated at £80-100, this device that Q of James Bond fame would have been delighted to create is now the proud holder of the house record at Aston’s, beating a Rolex Explorer II c.1975-76 (the type worn by Steve McQueen) which sold for a hammer price of £18,200 on February 22.

The fag-packet camera produced the ideal auction scenario of two determined bidders, both from the UK and on the internet, competing against each other, both desperately wanting to succeed. It sold on thesaleroom.com.

The same two bidders competed on many of the ‘classic’ hidden spy cameras, with 5-6 bidders overall showing very keen interest in these lots.

Other intriguing hidden camera set-ups on offer in this auction included one disguised as an umbrella (sold for £2700), another behind the button of a man’s jacket (£1000) and even a hidden camera disguised… as a camera (£3300).

Superb collection

About 25-30 spy cameras were being sold on July 12 as part of an impressive single-owner group of Soviet cameras. The collection was being offered in two parts this year, during the overall photography auctions the Dudley firm launched in 2016, when photography specialist Tim Goldsmith became involved.

Goldsmith says the vendor, a collector, had “what is absolutely the best collection of Soviet cameras in the UK and one of probably the top five in the world”.

Aston’s Auctioneers managing director Chris Aston said the £29,000 record was “completely unexpected”, unlike the Rolex record and another before that for a War of the Worlds film poster, both of which he had a good idea would go high.

Prototype not production

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Ensign Multex Mk II CRF Camera by Houghton Butcher c.1936-8, sold for £16,500 at Aston's auction on July 12.

Another unexpected five-figure sum in this sale came for an Ensign Multex Mk II CRF Camera by Houghton Butcher c.1936-8. Despite the unsexy title, and a modest estimate of just £250-350, it sold for £16,500. The key to that, added Aston, was the detail that it seemed to be a prototype model and not a production model.