I still vividly remember the first time I opened the door to the basement, peered down the steep wooden steps, and tenuously took my first steps toward what would become a quite lucrative business – and a lifelong obsession for me. Ok, lifelong is a bit of an overstatement when you consider that I am not even old enough to vote yet, but thinking about those first trips down into my Grandfather’s basement where I discovered a collection of classic tin toys still makes me smile. It was in that cold, dark basement that I found old tin toys – many of them crafted in vintage factories, using equipment that sometimes dated back to the turn of the century. One toy stood out, though. I found a pair of classic rearview spy glasses – the type of toy that a kid from the 1950s must have thought was ideal for evading rogue KGB agents or members of the Mob. For me, though, they opened up a world of intrigue.
I wonder what kind of games my grandfather must have played as a kid in the 1950s. How did he use these glasses? This was during the height of the espionage era, when MI5, the CIA, and the KGB played cat and mouse games around the world. Would these glasses actually come in handy during a covert mission, or could they help get an agent of a precarious situation? The answer is unknown, but these glasses were simply too cool to leave sitting alone in the basement, so they became one of my go-to toys when I played spies with my friends.
I remember one time we decided to play a game called “Mission Impossible.” As you can tell from the name of the game I am a big fan of the Mission Impossible movie series, and I thought it would be cool to play the Ethan Hunt character. After all, the original TV show aired in the 1960s and my rearview spy glasses would certainly come in handy in the types of missions that those spies faced. I played the Ethan Hunt character, and two of my friends played other agents on my team. Two other kids played the bad guys, and we had to complete the mission – at all costs!
Our goal was to find and capture an important document that contained national secrets. At the halfway point in the game I was unfortunately “captured” by the enemy and forced to sit in a chair (yes, I could have run away… but we’re using our imagination here!). It wasn’t until I used my rearview glasses that I was able to see one of the enemy agents behind me stash the secret documents under a couch pillow (it was a steel safe in our minds), and I was then able to escape and retrieve the document. Mission: accomplished!
Being a spy has always been cool
I’m not sure how many real agents would use rearview glasses today, but I did some research and found out that glasses with rear view capability were truly used by spies during the mid-20th century – how cool is that!? In real life, though, they sure made our secret agent games a whole lot more fun. At Tin Toy Arcade, we find the coolest vintage toys and games – many of them still being produced on the original machines that date back 50 to 100 years! I have a special connection to these toys, and I hope that you will create lasting memories with your own collection of vintage toys and games, too!
This article was written by Aaron Brown, owner of Tin Toy Arcade, retailer of some of the most classic and iconic toys ever made, including the Rearview Spy Glasses. Aaron started Tin Toy Arcade, while still a student, as a way to share toys with his friends on the internet, so they could see the toys and art any time. Read Aaron’s story.