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Cold War Relics and Spy Tools to Go Up for Auction

Hundreds of Soviet spy tools and assorted Cold War-era relics will be sold at auction next year.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Hundreds of Soviet spy tools and assorted Cold War-era relics will be sold at auction next year. 

The American auction house Julien's announced that it will sell a collection comprised of roughly 400 lots of Cold War-era artifacts, including Che Guevara's high school report card, a gun designed to look like a tube of lipstick, a purse with a hidden camera, and a hotel room-listening device used by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency and secret police. 

Among the hundreds of items going under the hammer early next year is a signed 1958 letter from Fidel Castro discussing his plans to infiltrate Cuba’s capital city of Havana. 

The auction house says the collection, titled "The Cold War Relics Auction Featuring The KGB Espionage Museum Collection,” will be the “world's first and most comprehensive auction event offering some of the rarest and most important artifacts from the U.S, Soviet Union, and Cuba during the Cold War era ever to be assembled and offered at auction.” 

Highlights of the collection also include a rare Soviet version of the Enigma code cipher machine known as the Fialka, a replica of the deadly syringe umbrella believed to have been used to carry out the assassination of Bulgarian author Georgi Markov in 1978, a vintage half-ton carved stone sculpture of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin that stood in the KGB’s headquarters of the Kaliningrad, a machine used by border guards to detect people hiding in vehicles, and a German phone tap device used during World War II. 

Julien's CFO Martin Nolan estimates the Fialka cipher machine will sell for around $12,000. 

The collection will be sold online and then offered in-person from mid-January to Feb. 13, 2021.  

Joshua Goode, associate professor of history and cultural studies chair at Claremont Graduate University, said the wide breadth of items in the collection could foster a nuanced “acknowledgement of this more complex and textured world” that lies deeper than the popular “Bond-like romance and fascination that has been built up around the life of spies” in movies and the spy genre of novels since the Cold War. 

“The materials that feature the space race, the personal effects of the lives of important figures in the Cold War, like Che’s report card, or Castro’s plans for taking Havana, might allow for furthering of this more complex story about the Cold War as read through the people who lived in it, managed it and tried to figure out the ‘other side’ through it,” Goode said Monday. 

“So while the collection is still mostly the kind of ‘cool stuff’ from the world of espionage and the space race, it seems like there might be some content that will fill out a more complex view of the actual human lives of people engaged in Cold War intrigue, plotting and planning,” he added. 

Chloe Ginnegar, communications and marketing manager at the Wende Museum in Culver City, California, said Monday that the public is best served when a large collection of Cold War-related material such as this remains in the stewardship of well-established museums. 

“While the Cold War has ended, its legacy remains increasingly relevant on a domestic and global scale. Then, as now, entrenched social, cultural, and political systems were subverted from below and within, and surveillance — in all forms — is now part of everyday life,” she said in an email. “With the upcoming Julien’s auction of items from the KGB Espionage Museum Collection, it is abundantly clear that materials as relevant as this should remain together and accessible. It is a shame that the museum has closed due to the coronavirus — especially since it was the only public museum in the world that focused entirely on the espionage operations carried out by the KGB.” 

The artifacts of the collection were recently on display at the KGB Espionage Museum on West 14th Street in New York City, which has been closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The private museum was launched in January 2019 by the father-daughter team Julius Urbaitis and Agne Urbaityte. 

Ubraitis, a Lithuanian historian, previously opened another similar museum called KGB Bunker in Kaunas, Lithuania. 

The interactive museum in Manhattan allowed visitors to lay in a Soviet gulag’s prison bed and sit on an interrogation chair used by the KGB while torturing suspects or enemies for information. 

While New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has allowed the city's museums to open back up at 25% capacity since Aug. 24, the KGB Espionage Museum has remained closed. 

Julien’s print catalog for the auction is available to pre-order.

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