This 1959 'Anti-Bandit Bag' Promised to Scare Off Thieves—With Smoke - Atlas Obscura
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This 1959 ‘Anti-Bandit Bag’ Promised to Scare Off Thieves—With Smoke

The design was not subtle.

In the late 1950s, in response to a growing spate of thefts, a new, cure-all invention made the rounds in the British media: the anti-bandit bag.

In 1959, British Pathé reported that banks and financial firms regularly transporting large quantities of cash were considering adopting one such example—one that promised to smoke out thieves.

The design was simple. When bank couriers needed to transport cash, they placed a container of chemical vapor into their bags. Before walking into public, the couriers attached a thick cord connected to the container to their wrists. The cord automatically responded to strain; if someone grabbed the bag from the courier, an electric current was switched on, unleashing the chemical vapor.

Not only did the bag promise to make a scene that would frighten away thieves, but because the vapor was dyed red, it could also stain their clothes as well as any money they managed to run away with—making the thieves’ capture all the more likely. In the demonstration video, as soon as the vapor was released, the bandits immediately dropped the bag and sprinted away.

Subtlety, however, was not the aim of the 1959 anti-bandit bag: the cord that the couriers wore was comically obvious. Perhaps for this reason, the invention was never purchased.

Yet this was not the only anti-bandit bag to receive media hype, then disappear. In 1963, The Manager and other publications described a spinoff—the Pug anti-bandit bag—that, rather than smoke, ejected the contents of a bag once a thief grabbed it.

Invented by John H. T. Rinfret, who was purportedly a frequent target of robberies, the Pug anti-bandit bag featured a spring attached to the handle. If a thief tried to steal the bag, the courier needed only to crook their thumb, and the bag flew open, its contents spewing everywhere. Presumably, this would frighten away the robber, and the day would be saved.

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