Upcoming Melbourne Pen Show

A quick shout-out to any of my readers from Melbourne or Victoria, in Australia.

I know you’re hiding behind your chairs, I can see you through the arm-rests.

The annual Melbourne Pen Show is being held on Saturday, the First of November, at the Malvern Town Hall (Cnr Glenferrie Road & High Street, Malvern), from 9:00am – 4:00pm. 

Come along if you want a chance to pick up some beautiful pens, paper, inks, diaries, leather goods, desk and writing accessories, or purchase an array of vintage and antique writing instruments and accessories. To say nothing of the range of collections put on display by local collectors’ groups, clubs and individuals.



“High Class Hand Safe” – Vintage steel-construction strongbox (Ca. 1930)

Here’s something you don’t see every day.

“High Class Hand Safe”

This beast is the “High Class Hand Safe”, although it don’t look that high class, and it sure as hell ain’t a safe!

I bought this at the local flea-market after managing to knock down the price from the seller who didn’t want to have to lug it all the way home again. This charming object is a solid steel, Japanese-made cashbox. Prewar, ca 1920-1930. It’s extremely solid and very strong. To unlock it, you need the key and the combination. It comes with space for banknotes, cheques, papers and cash. And two keys. One to unlock the box, and one to wind up the alarm-bells inside!

The box is extremely rugged and dare I say it, bomb-proof. The clockwork bell-alarm inside the box comes with two settings:

Setting #1: The bell rings whenever the box is unlocked. And that’s all it does.
Setting #2: The bell rings whenever the box is unlocked. Or, whenever the box is moved! So if you try and pick it up and run away with it, the alarm goes off, and it is LOUD! Kinda handy feature if I ever take this to an antiques fair and someone tries to steal the money I made from selling my bric-a-brac! Hahahaha!!

It’s an absolute charmer and certainly very cute. I’ve seen a similar one which belonged to a family friend, but they’re not as uncommon as the seller would have one believe. Although I have seen them in better, and in much worse condition than this, online.

Dad’s always wanted a safe – one of those huge old antique things which you could hide a dead body inside. Well it ain’t a safe, but it sure as hell is a strongbox. Without a key or some way to pick the lock, you couldn’t open this thing. And even then, you still need the combination (which thankfully, I do have!)

Maybe this’ll do until someone dies and leaves us a safe to inherit.

Curiouser and curiouser…here’s an identical strongbox owned by a family friend. I photographed this back in May, when I was visiting Penang, Malaysia:

Family Treasures – An Antique Silver Peranakan Belt

I am descendant from the Peranakan. And until fairly recently, this was something which generated neither pride, nor interest. I did not know, nor was I interested in, neither did I understand the significance, or even the possibility of significance, of this connection, or its existence in our family.

Until a recent trip back to the “Old Country” for a family wedding, this ancestral knowledge and suchlike was known, but neither appreciated, understood or given any significant thought.

What is “Peranakan“? 

Peranakan is a Malay and Indonesian word meaning “Descendant”. Or more specifically: “Descendant of Intermarriage Between Immigrants and Natives”.

In the context which most people understand the term, ‘Peranakan’ means the descendants of Chinese migrants who left China between the 15th and 19th centuries, and who intermarried with local Malay and Indonesian peoples in the South Pacific, mostly around the Malay Peninsula and the East Indies islands. Living mostly on the Malayan Peninsula, they were also called “Straits Chinese”. This comes from the two straits which run around the Malayan Peninsula – The Strait of Malacca, and the Strait of Johor.

In time, the Straits Chinese, the Peranakan, the descendants of these intermarriages, settled in Southeast Asia permanently. They became part of the culture of Southeast Asia. They brought ancient Chinese culture, styles, craftsmanship, cuisine and customs from Southern China to Southeast Asia and the Straits Chinese developed a strong and rich breakaway Chinese culture of their own.

The Peranakan in the Straits

The Peranakan were also called the Straits Chinese, for reasons I already explained. As the generations passed, the Peranakan identified less and less with their Chinese ancestry and homeland. Fewer and fewer Peranakan ventured back to China, and more and more stayed in the Malayan Peninsula and surrounding countries, such as Singapore.

When the Dutch, Portugese and British set up their colonial outposts in the South Pacific, the Peranakan slowly assimilated into this colonial lifestyle. In time, they saw themselves as being British subjects, living in British colonies. Under the protection of British law, justice, and the Crown. So long as they played their cards right and didn’t rock the boat, life would continue as normal. The British didn’t always see the Straits Chinese as equals, but they accepted that they were part of life in the Straits Settlements Colonies, and that they weren’t about to go away anytime soon – they were here first, after all – and the British would learn to live with them, and even learn to like them.

Peranakan Clothing, Cuisine and Jewellery

The Peranakan were…vibrant…to say the least. All their clothes, their household possessions, furnishings, jewellery…even their FOOD…was intricate, detailed, meticulously crafted and time-consuming to produce. Having made certain Peranakan desserts myself since I was a child, I can attest to the fact that it can take the better part of a whole day just to produce a quantity of sweet, patterned mung-bean paste cakes (Ang Ku Kueh, they’re called). The entire process is done by hand and it’s extremely time-consuming and fiddly.

Here are some photographs I took of traditional Peranakan attire and everyday objects:

Traditional Peranakan attire – Sarong (wraparound skirt) and Kebaya (long-sleeved blouse/jacket on top).

Traditional Peranakan slippers.


Brightly-painted multi-tier enameled tiffin-carriers were to be found in almost all Peranakan kitchens. I have two of my own, but they’re not as beautiful as these. What a thing to eat your lunch out of!!

 Peranakan Belts

I wish I could say my grandmother died and left me a beautiful gold-link metal belt.

She didn’t.

She died and left me a beautiful silver-link metal belt.

Peranakan belts were exquisite works of art produced in precious metals. Grandmother never had much in the way of personal jewellery. I doubt she had more than half a dozen pieces in her whole life. Her jade and diamond gold ring, her wedding ring, one set of diamond earrings and a necklace…and this belt.

God knows where the other pieces are, but I hold onto the jade ring. And now, I also hold onto her silver belt. Dad has no idea how old it is. But I firmly believe it’s at least early 20th century (1920s or 30s at least, and quite possibly much older). Anyway, here it is. One of our few family heirlooms, one of my grandmother’s few truly prized possessions. Her silver Peranakan belt:

The belt all folded up.

The belt extended outwards. Full length including the buckle is 35 inches.

The buckle is removable.

The other side of the buckle. The belt hooks onto the clip on the right, wraps around, and then slides under the bar on the left. The inward-facing clasp hooks into the holes between the links to secure it.

A closeup of the buckle

A closeup of the links.

If anyone on my dad’s side of the family is reading this, and recognises the belt, get in contact with me! Or if you have one, hold onto it!!

Two Pairs of Antique Theater Glasses

My eyesight sucks. 

I have Retinopathy of Prematurity. I have astigmatism. I have myopia. I have legal blindness. 


When I started going out to the theater more often, I decided that I had to get a better view of what was happening up on the stage. Short of sitting up in a box, I decided to do the next best thing. And I bought theater glasses. Also called opera glasses or theater binoculars. And I thought I’d share them with you. 

My two sets of theater glasses. Blue cloisonne, and both with Mother of Pearl. Date: 1880s.

First, the one at the back…

Blue cloisonne theater glasses with Mother of Pearl around the edges of the viewing lenses. Engraved on the MoP: 

“T. Gaunt. Optician. Melbourne & Sydney”

I date these to about 1880. ‘T Gaunt’ was Thomas Gaunt, a watchmaker and optician operating out of Bourke St., Melbourne, from the 1850s until 1890. 

And here’s my other set: 

This set has absolutely NO markings on it at all. I assume they’re from roughly the same period given how similar they lok. 1870s-1890s. Fully clad in Mother of Pearl. 

Both sets work flawlessly. They extend and focus smoothly, and pack up smoothly. Their finishes are almost flawless  and they’re not broken or damaged in any way. 





Antique Brass Counter-Top Bell (1880-1900)

About a week ago I was out on the town, running errands and attending to a couple of meetings and trying to get to the bottom of a couple of issues which had been bugging me for a while. After sorting all those things out, I decided to do a bit of antiquing on the way home. I stopped by a tiny little hole-in-the-wall antiques shop that I know of, on a tram-route home from the center of town. I stopped in, poked around, and found something sitting on a shelf…quite dark, dull, ugly, and frankly…unloved.

After some haggling with the shopkeeper he agreed to knock the price down to almost half. And I purchased this rather ugly-looking object, for what can only be described as a pittance – since I’ve seen these things selling for about $150-200 online (and up to $300 in other antiques shops I’ve visited!). Here it is:

My God it’s ugly! What the hell is it, and what swamp did you dig this up from?

What you’re looking at here is a Victorian (or possibly, Edwardian)-era counter bell. To say this was a diamond in the rough is putting it mildly. It was in horrific condition! It was ugly, brown, tarnished and looked like it had been sitting in a sewer for 100 years. But I had to have it.

Back in the days when ringing a bell like this actually provided you with customer-service, a bell like this would be found on every front-desk, lobby, shop-counter and foyer in the world. This particular bell is admittedly, quite plain – there are ones which are extremely elaborate and unique, and which come in all shapes and sizes.

The bell is of a more familiar push-button design, and something which we’d recognise more readily as a service-bell, than say, my other one, which is probably from the 1860s or 70s, and is of a more antiquated, side-striking spring-toggle design:

1860s/70s side-toggle service-bell

But it differs in one main respect. Like the 1870s one above, that ugly duckling in the first picture is a pedestal bell, a style which lasted well into the 1900s, not finally dying out, to be replaced by the more squat, low-based bells which we have today, until probably the 1910s or after the First World War.

Anyway. Back to the bell.

I’d figured out roughly how old it was, and also, how the gong at the top was correctly oriented…Yeah there is actually a way that it fits onto the stand! I didn’t notice it either at first! But if you look at the picture at the top, you’ll notice that the hole drilled through the gong for the stand is NOT drilled dead-center. It’s actually off-center, on an angle.

That is done deliberately – it’s not a manufacturing-fault.

Drilling the hole like that forces the bell-top to sit lopsidedly on the stand. This means that one side of the bell-rim is higher than the other. If you look close, you’ll see that there’s a slight angle, with the left side of the edge higher than the right. It’s made like this so that when the button at the top is pushed, and the clapper underneath swings up (and to the left) to strike the bell, even with your hand or finger still on the button above, the clapper won’t touch the rim of the bell, and therefore, mute the sound – it allows the ring to sound freely and resonate – something that it couldn’t do if the gong was oriented the wrong way around, with the low side of the rim to the left. This would cause the clapper to rub against the underside of the bell, dulling the sound and not producing as loud or clear a ring.

Once I’d screwed the gong onto the bell correctly so that the clapper would strike it properly to produce the best ring, I wondered what I should do next. It is brass…maybe I should polish it?

A bell like this would originally have taken pride-of-place on some shop-counter or hotel desk, its golden yellow brass sparkling in the light from oil-lamps, candles, or the flame of a gas-mantle or an early form of electric-lighting. And I wanted to restore that shine, sheen and sparkle to the brass.

So. Out with the Brasso. Invented in 1905 and still shining to this day, Brasso is probably one of the best metal-polishes in the world. It stinks like hell and it’ll leave your hands as black as coal, but it does the job! It took me AGES of scrubbing and rubbing, wiping, buffing, over and over and over again to remove decades of tarnish, which had built up in caked-on layers of oxidation. But I finally got it all off. And I’d restored a golden shine!

Here is Before:

Dull, dark, tarnished, crusty, rusty, eugh…

…And here’s After:

Golden, polished, shiny brass, scrubbed and buffed to a mirror-finish!

The problem with brass is that…it tarnishes. Left to its own devices, it will eventually turn back to that dull, unsightly brown, tarnished, oxidised appearance all over again. What to do??

Brass has been used for centuries. Its colour, shine, sound and the fact that it’s impervious to rusting has made it an extremely popular metal. And that means that there’s LOADS of ways to clean brass. Everything from ketchup to toothpaste to lemon-juice and baking-soda, crushed salt and Worcestershire Sauce! But the problem is that most of these POLISH the brass…but don’t do much else. Once it’s polished, it’s polished and it’s done.

Of course the way to give the brass any sort of long-term tarnish-protection is to spray-coat it with clear lacquer. I don’t have any, and I’m not about to go out and buy any. That’s when I realised you could use something else at home to produce a similar effect. Not only does it polish the brass, it also gives it a protective coating. It’s not as effective or long-lasting as lacquer, but it does the job if you take care of it.

Olive oil.

A small bowl of oil, a paper-towel, and some elbow-grease not only cleans the brass, but after a bit of rubbing, it gives it a nice, protective layer a bit like lacquer. Obviously since it’s a natural product it won’t last as long, but it does what lacquer does, which is what you want it to do – which is slow down the tarnishing process, which is what brass will do, if you leave it alone. You’ll know that you’ve polished it enough with the oil when the cloth comes away clean from the brass. The layers of oil should keep the brass shiny for a nice long time :)

Stop Thief! The History of the General Service Metropolitan Police Whistle

What’s the most important piece of equipment an officer might carry? Truncheon? Handcuffs? Sidearm? Pepper-spray? Taser? Notepad and pencil?

In older times, the answer might surprise you. From the 1880s until the 1970s, almost all over the world, policemen, and later, policewomen, had one piece of equipment which was arguably just as important as all of those things, and yet which was tiny, and seemingly, insignificant – the police whistle!

Why Are You Looking At This?

Why not?

Oh okay seriously…why?

The Police whistle was one of the first pieces of equipment specifically made for the police to try and make communications easier between officers. Despite the fact that they haven’t been used operationally in at least 40 years, the police whistle has remained one of the most powerful symbols of law and order to this day. Even now, we still have the term ‘Whistleblower‘, meaning to expose some sort of injustice or corruption which was previously hidden from the public.

Before the Police Whistle

The earliest forms of policing were local watchmen, constables and nightmen who patrolled the streets of cities and towns at night. (think “Ten o’clock and All’s Well!“) Their only form of protection or defense was a wooden staff, or truncheon, or a dagger or sword of some description. To raise the alarm, they had to rely on their lungs, or on heavy wooden rattles. These heavy, bulky rattles were swung around on a central handle. Centrifugal force caused the whole thing to swing around, and the rattle blades struck against the ribbed surface in the middle of the rattle, producing a loud clattering sound.

From as far back as the 1600s, right up to the 19th century, this was all they had to raise the alarm.

And it was hardly ideal, for reasons I’ll explain later.

The Rise of the Police

In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution in Britain was forcing towns and cities to grow. Major population-centers like Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London were bursting at the seams. Impoverished rural workers flooded into cities to find work. And when there wasn’t any work, they turned to crime.

In the 1700s, this was already a major issue, and by the early 1800s, it had become so ultra-extreme that even old standbys like transportation and execution were ineffective as deterrents.

In the early 1800s, the first police-forces as we’d recognise them today, were established in Glasgow, in Scotland, and London, in England. These forces were unlike anything seen before. They were designed to be civilian forces keeping the peace, preventing or deterring crimes, and arresting criminals when crime took place. But the equipment issued to policemen had hardly changed since Stuart times.

A typical officer, in his dark blue uniform (dark blue instead of red, which was used by the Army – the famous British Redcoats), strengthened top hat, and boots, was equipped with handcuffs or manacles, a cutlass, a baton or truncheon, and a rattle for raising the alarm. And for nearly 100 years…that was all they had.

The Introduction of the Police Whistle

Truncheons were used by early police officers because they were easily held in one hand, unlike rifles or muskets, which required both hands to operate. And rattles were used to sound the alarm if backup was required. But the problems with rattles were significant.

As early as the 1860s and 70s, police in Britain were looking for replacements for rattles. And in some smaller police-forces, whistles had been suggested, and were being trialed. It was not until the 1880s, however, that whistles actually became standard-issue.

The General Service Whistle, as it was called, had a number of benefits over the old-fashioned rattle. In its hundreds of years of use, the rattle had shown that it had a number of shortcomings:

1). The rattle was bulky and heavy. It took up space in the uniform. It slowed the officer down. Its odd shape caught on clothing and snagged.

2). The rattle was made of wood. This could crack, warp, chip or break if the rattle was used too rigorously, or if it was dropped and broken.

3). The rattle’s size and weight meant that if it was taken from an officer, it could be used as a bludgeon! A desperate criminal could smash it into an officer’s face or head and knock him out. It was therefore, a safety-hazard.

4). The rattle was not loud enough to be an effective means of communication. And on top of that, the rattling sound it produced would be drowned out or mistaken for something else in the din of traffic – the rumbling of barrels. The clatter of horse-hooves. The grinding of carriage-wheels…Useless!

The whistle on the other hand, was far superior in a number of ways:

1). It’s extremely small. The General Service Whistle is about three inches long. You can put into a pocket and forget it’s there. Less space taken up on a uniform.

2). It’s tough. They’re made of brass. If you drop it, it won’t break.

3). It cannot be used as a weapon against the officer.

4). It’s distinct sound meant that it was impossible for it to be mistaken for anything else.

5). Its loud noise and long range meant that it could be heard better, and further, than rattles, making it effective when calling for backup.

A General Service “Metropolitan”-style police whistle. This one was stamped for the Birmingham City Police

Although some forces did use different whistles in the 1870s, if the police whistle was going to be used throughout Britain and the world, it had to be ONE type of whistle, with ONE distinct sound which EVERYONE would recognise. For this to work, they had to find, or design and make ONE whistle which would be better, louder, and more distinct than any other!

The classic, tubular “General Service Whistle” came about in 1883. The London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) put out advertisements in newspapers around Britain, to find a suitable whistle, and a suitable replacement for the heavy wooden rattles which officers were STILL using in the early 1880s!

Up came Mr. Joseph Hudson, toolmaker and whistle-manufacturer, from Birmingham.

Popular folklore will tell you that Mr. Hudson was an amateur violinist. One evening while fiddling with his fiddle, he walked around, musing over the problem which the police had put to the public. Perhaps distracted by this, he put down his violin and accidentally knocked it off the table. It fell to the floor and shattered at his feet! As the strings snapped in front of him, he heard the twanging, humming sound echoing around the room. He realised if he could recreate that trill, discordant sound, it would be unique, loud and far-carrying! He hurried to his workshop to try and make this a reality.

The result was the “The Metropolitan” police whistle.

The Classic Police Whistle

My two police whistles. The one on the right is a modern ceremonial Metropolitan police whistle; this style has been produced since 1972, and continues to be made to this day. It’s barrel-stamping is: “THE Metropolitan” – “Made in England”. The whistle on the left is an early 20th-century antique (with almost all the nickel-plating gone). Its barrel-stamping is: “THE CITY WHISTLE – PATENT”

Tubular, easy to hold, small, loud and unique, it was ideal for the Metropolitan Police, and could be heard over a MILE away on a good day. More then sufficient for the needs of the police!

The tubular ‘General Service Whistle‘ was not just manufactured for the police. It was used by everyone. Hence the name ‘General Service’. Although originally manufactured for the police, its loud, authoritative shriek became the classic sound of alarm. It was therefore ideal for services where such a whistle might be required. More about that later…

The whistle was used all over the world. From New York City to London, to Toronto, to Melbourne and Bombay. If you had a police-force in the early 20th century, it almost certainly carried this whistle, or at least, had it as an option from a selection of whistles.

The whistle officially replaced the heavy, bulky wooden rattles in February of 1884, when the Metropolitan Police Service’s initial order of 21,000 whistles was finally completed! Police regulations stated that all London police constables on duty had to carry one, and have it easily accessible in case trouble should arise.

The General Service ‘Metropolitan’ police whistle was worn with a pocket-chain and hook-clasp. Uniform guidelines for British police stated that the whistle-chain should be affixed to the second button from the top of the tunic-jacket, and that the chain be draped down the front and the whistle tucked inside the jacket, between buttons. As this was not always comfortable, an alternative method of carrying the whistle was to attach the chain to the second button of your uniform tunic-jacket, and place the whistle in the left-hand breast-pocket, with a couple of inches of excess chain hanging free. In an emergency, an officer could easily grasp the chain, pull out the whistle and blow it!

But what were the guidelines for using the whistle? How did it fit into the policeman’s duties? And what happened when it was sounded?

The Whistle in Action

The heyday of the classic police whistle was from the 1880s-1970s. A period of almost 100 years. The whistles were originally introduced in 1883, and from then until about 1970, remained part of police-uniforms around the world.

To patrol streets, keep the peace, deter or detect crime and uphold the law, police-officers used to patrol in ‘beats’, some forces still do, although these days it’s not as common as it once was.

A ‘beat’ was the area of an officer’s patrol. Typically he circled a set location (typically one or two blocks) for a set period of time (say, one hour). At the end of his beat, and during his beat, a police constable or patrolman would meet with his sergeant, who would note down that he had seen the officer, and therefore, that he was ‘pounding his beat’ and patrolling his area of their jurisdiction properly.

General Service Metropolitan whistles were used to call for backup in emergencies, to alert the public of danger and get their attention, or to direct and control people and traffic.

If a policeman on the beat spotted a crime in progress, he would intervene, as was his duty. If the situation went outside of his control, such as a thief fleeing the scene of a robbery, the officer would give chase. To sound the alarm and give the robber fewer places to run to, the constable blew on his whistle. The far-carrying sound would alert all officers on similar beats within hearing-distance. The policeman in-pursuit would continue blowing his whistle so that other officers could get a fix on his location, and so that they could tell which direction the pursuit was headed.

The whistle was used in any situation where an ordinary shout was insufficient. Directing traffic, gaining attention, raising the alarm, calling for help, or simply telling someone without words, that the game was up!

The whistle lasted a surprisingly long time. It wasn’t until the advent of handheld radios in the 1970s that it was finally replaced. Today, the Metropolitan whistle is still issued to ‘Bobbies’, but its role today is largely ceremonial. It’s worn with dress-uniforms, it’s purchased from shops as a souvenir, or it’s used to direct traffic. Some whistles are presented to senior officers upon retirement. Officers are still issued with these whistles today, although it’s mostly for the sake of tradition.

The whistles manufactured today by the Joseph Hudson ACME Whistle Co. are a lot less ornate than the whistles they used to make. Actual police-whistles which saw service were elaborately marked and stamped. The whistle-barrels were marked with words like “J. Hudson & Co”, the company’s address in Birmingham, “The Metropolitan”, “The City”, and the name of the police-force for whom the whistles had been commissioned. Each city and town had its own whistles with their own city marked on them.

Mr. Joseph Hudson and His Whimsical Whistles

Prior to the 1880s, Mr. Hudson was a struggling Birmingham tool-manufacturer and tinkerer, who liked creating all kinds of things. Whistles were one of his passions, but he built and fiddled with all kinds of things to do anything to get a few extra shillings in his pockets.

After his Eureka Moment in 1883, Mr. Hudson’s life changed forever. As by far the largest provider of whistles to the various British police-forces, Hudson stood to make a fortune! Every officer in every police-force in the British Isles, as well as colonial forces overseas, needed HIS whistle. He would have to produce millions of them to meet demand! The whistles became cheap, and he became rich! By the time he died in 1930, Joseph Hudson’s whistle company was producing whistles for all kinds of things!

Need to train your dog? Hudson made dog-whistles. Need to referee a sporting-match? He made sporting whistles, too! How about calling a taxi-cab in a crowded London street? No need to shout! Just buy the Joseph Hudson taxi-call. A couple of sharp toots and the nearest cab would come chugging up to take you away. What if you’re a ship’s officer at sea? Joseph Hudson’s company also produced the whistles carried by sailors and naval-officers – he even produced the whistles used on the R.M.S. Titanic!

How It’s Made: General Service Metropolitan Police Whistles

The company became so successful that it remained in the Hudson family until after WWII, that’s three generations! The company’s main factory in Birmingham was flattened during the War thanks to German air-raids, but it continues to produce whistles in Birmingham today. Its most popular models are the Thunderer, the Mate’s Whistle, and of course, the General Service Metropolitan.

The Whistle in General Service

Although it’s called a Bobby’s Whistle, Metropolitan Police Whistle and dozens of other variations along those lines, this classic whistle is actually called the ‘General Service Whistle’. The key word being ‘general’.

The whistle was used everywhere. The United States, Canada, Britain, India, Europe, Australia, Africa and all corners of the British Empire. Almost every country in the world would’ve heard its familiar shrill shriek at one point or another. And it was used by a lot more than just the police. Firemen carried them to pass orders or get attention in an emergency, because the shrill blast of the whistle could be heard over the crackling of flames or the crashing of collapsing masonry.

In the two world wars, British officers carried these whistles to pass commands and orders. Specially-marked ‘Trench Whistles’ were manufactured by the ACME Co. and distributed to field officers. They would blow their whistles before going ‘over the top’ during the First World War, to indicate that it was time to attack!

The whistles were also used on the home front. General Service Whistles were also manufactured for Air Raid Precautions, and you can find whistles marked “ARP”. These would’ve been used to direct and control crowds of panicked Londoners during the Blitz in the Second World War. They were more effective than shouting over the explosions of thousands of bombs and the constant wail of the air-raid sirens.

Apart from these more expected roles, the General Service Whistle was also used in hospitals, psychiatric wards and mental asylums, where they were carried by orderlies and hospital attendants. Just imagining the kind of events for which these whistles would’ve been used for in such places is unnerving!

The Whistle in Film and Television

The Metropolitan Whistle was used a lot in film and television, its sound was distinctive and unique. In “Casablanca” (1942), it’s heard in the opening scenes, and later on when Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe. In “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939), Basil Rathbone blows the whistle at the end of the film, to alert the village constabulary of Stapleton’s escape. In crime TV series taking place during Victorian times or the early 20th century, the whistle is heard everywhere. “Ripper Street“, “Murdoch Mysteries“, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” have all used it at least once.

The General Service Metropolitan Whistle Today

The whistle as a practical piece of police-kit ended in the 1970s. In the postwar era, the rise in motorcar ownership meant that louder traffic reduced the audible range of the whistle. It was no-longer effective as a means of communication, and the Victorian answer to a centuries old problem died with the birth of handheld radios.

These whistles are still manufactured, and still by the same original company – Joseph Hudson’s ACME Company, but their use today is almost entirely limited to souvenirs, ceremony, tradition, or novelty. Some are still used for their original purpose, but this is rare. Most people who own them today do so for the historical connection, whistle-collecting, or because they require a whistle on a regular basis and have selected it because of its unique sound and long range.

Want to Hear More About Whistles?

The Whistle Shop – Lots of information about old police whistles and general service whistles here.

The Whistle Gallery – HUGE collection of whistles and information!

There’s also a website called the Whistle Museum, but I think it’s currently offline (or it was at the time of this posting).

Return of the Winder – Some Things Just Die Hard

A while back, I made this post about trying to fix the malfunctioning bobbin-winder on my antique Singer sewing machine.

Despite my most determined efforts, and my initial success, it still failed to work flawlessly all the time. It kept jamming or loosening, and none of my adjustments worked well enough for it to be a lasting repair.

 In the end, I completely disassembled the winder to see how it was put together, and what were its component parts.

It assembles in this way:

Nut – Bolt -*WINDER-ARM* – Bolt – Washer – Toothed Wheel – Heart-Cam – Bolthead/screw-head.

My attempts to fix the jamming and loosening by adjusting the nut at the end of this assembly were unsuccessful. On a whim, I added a second, small, flat, round brass washer into the mix, between the bolt and the main wheel, but still kept the original washer (a flat, thin, slightly concave piece of metal) in-place. My guess was that the original washer was probably damaged or worn out from 70-odd years of use.

I reassembled the ‘new, and improved’ bobbin-winder, with the additional brass washer in place, and screwed everything in tight and firm.

And that has made all the difference, so it seems.

The addition of one small piece of metal has had the most remarkable, and pleasing result, in that the bobbin-winder now works 100% flawlessly! I’m very pleased with the results! Yay!!


My, What Big Teeth You Have!

Out of boredom, I decided to remove the dust-cover on my sewing-machine’s crank-assembly to see what it looked like underneath, and maybe clean it up a bit. This was what I found:

The crank-cover is held on by two screws. You can see them lying on the lid of the attachments-compartment under the balance-wheel. The screws are loosened and then the ring-shaped cover is simply slipped off and over the hand-crank to reveal the teeth of the gear-wheel behind it.

This was filled with old gunk and dried oil or grease. So I cleaned it out with some cotton-buds. Then, I put the cover back.

It’s nice to see the workmanship on something as simple as a pair of gear-wheels. The teeth are good and long, so they lock together really well. No chance of the gears slipping and failing to mesh together.

The Gang’s All Here: A Full and Complete Puzzle-Box!

It has taken six months of searching, but I finally have a full set of FIVE BOBBINS for my Singer 128k puzzle-box! Huzzah! Here they are:

Five bobbins in their holder, all in a neat little row!

This is the full and complete puzzle-box!

From Left to Right:

– Tucker-Foot
– Original green paper SINGER needle-packet. Filled with foil-paper, and complement of 12 needles in their little paper sleeves. (wrapped in tape to preserve it and prevent further deterioration. Needles are still accessible and usable, though).
– Clip with the original complement of five bobbins.

– Braider-Foot.
– Hemmer-clamp Foot.
– Ruffler-foot.
– Quilting Foot (not part of the original box. But chucked it in anyway)

– Rack of five hemmer-feet, ranging from 1/8th inch, to 1in.
– Binder-foot.

– Shirring plate
– Underbraider
– Hole-puncher (extreme right)
– Screwdriver (next-right)
– Needle-threader
– Seam-guide + screw.
– Bias Gauge

This is more-or-less how the box would’ve appeared (there were variations on this throughout the roughly 30 years that these boxes were produced) when it was purchased, brand-new, ca. 1900. There were a total of fourteen different variations on Singer puzzle-boxes, and they were produced for Singer vibrating-shuttle machines (Singer VS2, 27-28 series) and for Singer 15 series machines. When and why they ceased production seems to be unknown.

Here’s the machine and all its other bits and pieces, along with the unfolded puzzle-box:

Other attachments include the buttonholer (big box in front of the case-lid), the blind-stitcher (left), zig-zagger (right, next to the machine-bed), and the unfolded puzzle-box! Now full and complete. And a traditional green “SINGER” attachments box stored inside the machine’s compartment under the crank-handle.

An Alarming Time with an Antique Air-Raid Siren!

Anyone who has been wondering why this blog has not been updated In a whole month will be glad to know that I have not just simply vanished off the face of the earth. For the last three weeks, I have been on holiday in the Peoples’ Republic of China. I visited three cities, Peking, Xi’an, and Shanghai. More of that in a future posting. This posting is to share the prize souvenir which I brought back home with me to Australia from my trip to the heart of the Orient!

A hand-cranked, handheld air-raid siren! Most likely dating back to the time of the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), this is the first military antique (or piece of ‘militaria’) that I have ever purchased, and at a fair bargain, too!

It was purchased at the Panjiayuan (‘Pan Ji’ya Yuan’) antiques and flea market in Peking. Anyone wanting to buy antiques in Peking is strongly advised to go here! I did, and I had a wonderful time – just remember to wear your poker face and haggle hard!

Is this siren rare? Not particularly. In all likelihood, hundreds, if not thousands of these things were produced by all sides during the Second World War. And it may well be a reproduction. But is it cool? You bet! Fold down the handles, lock in the crank, open the slide and let ‘er rip! Soon, that classic siren wail will be filling the air, sending people diving for cover! It is completely mechanical and is totally capable of sounding the alarm now, as it was nearly eighty years ago!

The siren comes complete with its original military green canvas carry-pouch, which, like the siren itself, certainly shows it’s age.

The History of the Air-Raid and it’s Siren

The first air-raids ever took place on London during the First World War. Carried out by the German Air Force, these first aerial attacks on a civilian population were done using zeppelin airships, the only craft large enough at the time to carry out practical, cross-channel raids.

British preparations for air-raids in the first war were nonexistent, and the strategies for coping with this new kind of attack were hastily thrown together in response to the threat hovering in the skies over London and other British towns and cities. A typical air-raid warning consisted of little more than London’s Special Constabulary (a volunteer force of citizen-policemen) walking or cycling around London, the familiar, discordant shriek of their ‘Metroplitan’-style police whistles providing the only form of rudimentary alarm. Considering that the screech of a police whistle was as common then as a police siren is today, not everyone paid attention, and probably paid with their lives.

Air-Raid Precautions (1924)

Fearing that thousands of Londoners might be killed in future European wars, an organization called Air-Raid Precautions was created in 1924, he aim of which was to develop strategies for the protection of London, other British cities, and their civilian populations, in the event of future air-attacks.

ARP was responsible for protecting and calming the civilian population of Great Britain during air-attacks, by providing warnings of raids and supervising safe evacuations, and by helping to maintain a citywide blackout that would confuse enemy aircraft flying overhead. Wardens were appointed whose job it was to enforce the blackout, and to assist the population during a raid, guiding them to air-raid shelters before the bombs started to fall.

The Wartime Air-Raid Siren

Air-raid sirens were developed in the late 1930s to warn people of the danger of upcoming aerial attacks or ‘air raids’ during the Second World War. A typical air-raid siren is comprised of a pair of cylinders or wheels, one spinning inside the other. The sound of the airflow constantly being interrupted is what gives the siren it’s distinctive droning wail. The faster a siren’s wheel spins, the louder the sound, and the higher the pitch, due to the more frequent interruption of airflow.

These sirens typically came in three general sizes:

Handheld, crank-operated ones, which could be operated by one man standing up (such as the one featured in this article)…

…medium-sized, manually operated sirens that were placed on portable stands…

…and finally, large, electrically powered sirens, typically mounted to large poles, or to the tops of large buildings.

Sirens normally produced two different types of alarms:

Red Alert”, or “Red Warning” – a continuous, up-down rolling wail – this is the classic wartime siren sound that we all know from movies, TV shows, and computer games. Hearing this meant that an attack was imminent and ongoing. Civilians were to make their ways to air-raid shelters immediately. Such alerts came in two forms: one was a general alarm. The other was the signal to seek immediate shelter.

In England during the Second World War, factories engaged in wartime manufacturing were expected to keep running after the first siren had gone, and to instruct their staff to seek shelter only upon hearing the second siren which signaled an imminent attack. If the first siren was a false alarm (and they did happen), then the factory would have stopped work for no reason, and precious time would have been lost.

“White Alert”, or “All Clear” – a long, continuous, rising note that sounded for a preset period of time, indicating that an attack was over. It would now be safe to come out of shelters, and continue with ones lives.

Air-Raid Sirens After the War

The drone of an air-raid siren is most commonly associated with the Second World War and the conflicts of the 1930s and ’40s. However, they continued to be used well after the end of the Second World War.

The onset of the Cold War in the late 1940s meant that these sirens, now also called ‘civil defense sirens’, were redeployed to warn of impending nuclear attacks. The two old wartime signals of ‘Red Alert’ and ‘White Alert’ were still used, but we’re now supplemented with other warnings which indicated the likelihood of an attack, to give civilians more time to evacuate to their fallout shelters. The new medium of television was also used, along with the old standby of radio.

With the ending of the Cold War in the late 1980s, these venerable sirens were given yet another lease of life. They are still used in the United States to warn of impending natural disasters, such as tornadoes, giving people an audible signal of the approach of danger, allowing them to escape to their storm-cellars and bunkers before the big one hits.

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