A Singer Model 27/28 Puzzle-Box!


A box without hinges, key, or lid, 
A golden treasure, inside, is hid. 
What is it? 

A Singer “Puzzle Box”!!:

The top reads: “PATENTED FEBRUARY 19, 1889″

My father and I went out antiquing today. Today being Australia Day, we did what all red-blooded Aussie blokes do!

We went to the annual Fryerstown Antiques Fair.

Nine hours of father-son bonding. And in the 30′c heat, we almost bonded permanently! Phoof! It was hot!

The Finding of the Box of Power

I’ve been mesmerised by these things ever since I saw pictures of them on the International Sewing-Machine Collector’s Society (ISMACS) website. And I figured I’d like one for my own long-bobbin Singer 128 sewing machine. I remembered seeing such a box at the previous year’s antiques fair, and went off today in hopes of finding one.

I knew that my chances were slim. Such things are rare in Australia. We never made this stuff, we only ever imported it. Whatever exists today is whatever hasn’t been thrown out, smashed, trashed, lost in floods, fires or tornadoes, and which has been lovingly stored in someone’s attic or basement.

We perused the market and saw many interesting things, took pictures and bought a couple of trinkets. But nothing was there that made us go “oooh…”. Or at least, not for the prices they were asking! I don’t go ‘ooh’ unless I get a good return on my investment!

Chugging home, we passed through a small-town antiques shop. We stopped and went inside. And, laid out on the table like some ancient tapestry was the puzzle-box…

The box completely unfolded, showing everything inside. I’ve examined pictures from old manuals, and I think mine is about 95-98% complete. There are one or two small pieces missing. Hell, it’s 100+ years old. You can’t expect everything…

I was enthralled and I almost did a wild little skip of joy. But then I saw the price and the skip of joy might’ve led to me twisting my ankle as I came crashing back down to earth again. But, I was lucky enough that the owner let me knock off a third of the price. So, I rolled it up and trotted it back home.

What is a Singer ‘Puzzle Box’?

Collectors call these whimsical little containers ‘Puzzle Boxes’. Probably because the only way the box folds up properly is when EVERYTHING is in its correct position (otherwise the lid won’t close). But, when these were introduced in 1889, they caused a sensation. The design was so ingenious that the designer, John M. Griest, a Singer Manufacturing Co. employee, was granted a patent for it.

The Puzzle-Box all folded up

They were originally called “Style Boxes”. And they were designed to hold a complement of attachments and other accessories (bobbins, screwdrivers, needles, thimbles etc), which would be used with the new, improved Singer vibrating-shuttle line of sewing machines. In all, 14 variations of the ‘Style Box’ was created. And they were accordingly named sequentially. There are no markings on my box to tell me which of these fourteen variations mine is. If anyone can work it out based on the photographs, please let me know! 

The box with one side dropped open

The puzzle-boxes came with all kinds of attachments and bits and pieces. Bobbins, screwdrivers, hemmers, binders of varying sizes, seam-guides (an essential attachment if you can’t hold your fabric straight to save your life), and all other manner of nick-nacks. They are without a doubt, one of the greatest things ever invented for a sewing machine after the point-eye needle.

My four long bobbins for my 128 now have a home of their own! Don’t they look cute all tucked up in bed?

Puzzle boxes were manufactured for both Singer round-bobbin No. 15 domestic machines, and for Singer, long-bobbin No. 27 & 28-class domestic machines. The puzzle-boxes catering to each style of machine varied slightly, due to the size and style of the bobbins used in each respective machine.

I love the ingenuity of design with this box. But one thing I love even more is just how solidly its built. Steel parts, purple felt, and solid wood sides. These days, we’d get something like this made of plastic parts in a plastic box that cracks and warps and melts. This has held its shape and integrity for at least 100 years.

We Interrupt this Program to Bring you some Breaking News…

Here are some of the antique sewing machines which I saw for sale, while I was out antiquing today:

A Singer 27 “Coffin-top”, probably from the turn of the century

Then I saw this, next to it…

Singer 27 with an early-style bentwood case, which would eventually become a trademark of Singer

And then I saw this cute little number…

Jah, das ist ein Frister und Rossmann transverse shuttle nahmaschine, mein herr. Gemacht im Deutschland!

This was a cute little thing I saw in an antique shop on the way home…

An antique “NATIONAL” machine. Cute, huh?

 

 

Singer 128 – Fixing a Malfunctioning Bobbin-Winder


For fifteen quid, you don’t expect much and don’t generally get much in return. Such was the case when I purchased a “display-purposes only” interwar-era Singer 128 vibrating-shuttle machine in London.

Over the last year or so I’ve been steadily sorting it out, bit by bit. Finding slide-plates, keys, extra bobbins, even a case-lid and attachments. But for all my progress, one problem eluded all my attempts to fix it.

The bobbin-winder.

The offending bobbin-winder!

I had tried cleaning, oiling, tightening, loosening, disassembly, reassembly…I’d just about given up hope of ever getting it working. But the problem is, it’s a huge pain in the ass winding a bobbin on these antique long-bobbin machines, without the bobbin-winder.

The Problem

The issue was that every time the winder was engaged and was operating, the large, central screw (in the middle of the heart-cam) would rotate and shift, and either become too loose, or too tight against the winder. This creates a lot of friction, jamming or disengaging the winding-mechanism as a result. The only way for the mechanism to work was to hold the screw in-place, with a screwdriver, while you operated the crank. Hardly an ideal situation.

The Solution

If the screw holding the bobbin-winder could be placed in its optimum position, and be induced to STAY there, then the jamming and friction would cease to be an issue. All previous attempts to address this issue had failed. Until today.

Taking a closer look at the mechanism, I determined that this big central screw is held in-place on the machine via a nut at the back, which holds it onto the winder-body. If I could adjust the nut (which is fiddly, because it’s right at the back, where you can’t see it. You can only feel it with your fingers), then the screw at the front would cease to move. Problem solved!

So, I positioned the screw in its ideal position. I held it in-place with a screwdriver while I tightened and loosened the nut behind it, with a pair of pliers. I was doing this entirely by trial and error, trying to get the right tension on the screw and nut. It has to be loose enough that the wheel and heart-cam spin smoothly, but not so loose that the wheel doesn’t engage the winding-thread connected to the bobbin-wheel.

The Result

It took a while, but I finally got it! Now, I can run the bobbin-winder without it jamming. The winder-arm now runs smoothly from the right…

…to the left…

…and back again, over and over and over, without the screw coming loose, turning around, and jamming up the works anymore! The addition of a bobbin and a spool of thread to the equation causes no problems at all!

Winding a Bobbin on a V.S. Machine

Winding a bobbin on a vibrating-shuttle machine is a minor adventure.

Unlike later round-bobbin machines (Singer 99, 66, 201, 15, etc), which have automatic-stop toggles built into the winders, V.S. machines (27, 28 & variants) simply wind the bobbin. They don’t do anything else.

Round-bobbin machines have toggles or catches built into the winder. As the bobbin fills with thread, it presses against the toggle. When the bobbin is full, the thread forces the toggle back, disengaging the winder automatically.

Some GERMAN vibrating-shuttle machines came with mechanisms such as this, and I believe, so did some American ones. But as a rule, Singer vibrating-shuttle machines did not. So when you wind a bobbin on one of these machines, you have to be careful not to over-wind it. Otherwise the bobbin will be so full of thread, you won’t fit it into the shuttle!

Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine – What You Need To Know


I’ve done one for TYPEWRITERS. I’m not sure why I haven’t yet done one for sewing machines. Anyway, here goes.

Modern sewing machines have all kinds of advantages and features which make them desirable. But they also have numerous disadvantages which make them undesirable. You can perform a wider variety of stitches and functions, at the expense of poorer quality workmanship, disposable parts, and lack of portability. Unless you can physically carry it ANYWHERE and sew with it, without being tied to a power-outlet, it ain’t truly portable.

People are attracted to antique and vintage sewing machines for a number of reasons. Strength, power, durability, classic designs, and a quality of workmanship and construction which literally cannot be found today in modern machines. So, why might you want to buy a vintage or antique sewing machine?

Reasons for Buying a Vintage or Antique Sewing Machine

It Looks Nice.

First-Impressions are everything. Would you rather use a glossy black and gold, wood-cased classic, or a cheap, flimsy, cloud-white modern machine? Even when your classic Singer, Jones, Wheeler-&-Wilson, Domestic, Butterfly, Stowa, or Frister & Rossman isn’t being used, you can put it on a shelf, or on a side-table, and it can sit there as a beautiful piece of industrial art.

Can your modern sewing machine do that? I don’t think so. The problem with more modern machines is that they’re more about function and feature, rather than style and longevity. They’re meant to do something, and once it’s done, you chuck it away into the cupboard.

Antique sewing machines were designed to appeal to people’s sense of style – Don’t forget that buying a sewing machine was a HUGE investment in the second half of the 1800s – they were so expensive, Singer had to come up with a whole new way of paying for them, just so that folks could own one! Few folks could just PAY for one. So Singer allowed for trade-ins in return for discounts, or organised installment-plans and lay-by for customers.

Considering that the machines cost so much, folks weren’t willing to spend the money on something unless what they received in return was ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR. And that is just one reason why vintage and antique machines look so much damn nicer than modern ones.

It Has Better Construction.

In my mind, this is not even debatable. Sorry. No. It isn’t.

Vintage and antique machines have better construction, better quality of parts and materials, full-stop. Everything on them is steel or cast iron. Nothing is going to break, snap, wear out, warp in the heat, crack in the cold, melt under desert sun or split in arctic winter.

Old sewing machines are workhorses which will run forever, provided they are maintained properly. Your latest machine, which you paid hundreds of dollars for, is history the moment the electronics crap-out. Now, you have a white, plastic doorstop.

Vintage and antique machines were designed to last until doomsday. Breaking down was not an option, and throwing the machine away and buying another one was UNTHINKABLE! As a result, they had to be made of the very best materials, and made to work forever!

It’s Fun!

I don’t do that much sewing. I repair clothes, I make bags, pouches, the occasional cover or slip for a pillow or cushion, the odd alteration to a pair of trousers, but I enjoy it because it’s fun.

It is. It’s fun to make stuff. But it’s more fun to use something that’s been around for ages, and which will continue to be around for ages. It’s fun to turn that crank, pump the treadle or force the lever, to get those old machines going. The mechanical beauty, the synchronisation of parts, is what makes it fun.

They Work Better

Vintage and antique sewing machines may only do a single, straight lockstitch. But they do it incredibly well. Everything about these machines was designed to work, and to be as durable as possible. Everything was made of steel or iron. And compromising on quality was never even considered. Unlike today.

Why?

Like I mentioned before, it’s because they were so damn expensive. If the machines even DARED to suggest that they weren’t absolutely the BEST that you could buy, then nobody would buy them, because nobody was prepared to spend their hard-earned dollars and pounds on junk!

On top of that, vintage sewing machines had to do a lot more than just repair a torn sleeve. In an age when most people made their own clothes, even domestic sewing machines had to be incredibly tough and rugged. They had to chew through everything from silk, to denim, to cowhide leather. And they were expected to do it without complaint or fault. And they did!

Most people only owned a few sets of clothes, and keeping them repaired and neat meant that a sewing machine had to be able to cope with absolutely anything that was passed under the presser-foot. As a result, they were made to last! Singer even used to do a gimmick where they would sew together two sheets of aluminium metal together, to prove that their machines were powerful enough to punch through solid metal, too!

How to Buy a Vintage Sewing Machine?

So. After reading that whole marketing spiel, you’ve decided that you might like a nice vintage sewing machine. Perhaps you like making your own patchwork quilts. Perhaps you like making clothes? Or maybe like me, you like making pouches and bags and covers, with the odd bit of repair-work thrown in? What do you need to know about buying a vintage sewing machine?

Makes and Models

You need to know what make or model you want to buy. The most popular brand in the world is Singer, of course. But there are others. Wheeler and Wilson, Jones, New Home, White Rotary, and a whole heap of others were American machines. However, Germany was another sewing-machine mecca – brands like Sidel & Naumann, Pfaff, Frister & Rossman, Stowa, Wertheim, and Vesta (among countless others) dominated the European market.

What type of machine you can get your hands on will depend on where you live in the world. If you live in America, Canada, or a country that was part of the former British Empire, chances are, Singer will be the machine of choice. If you live in Europe, then a German machine will be the most common. If you live in Asia, Butterfly (a Singer knockoff-brand based in Shanghai), or one of the numerous Japanese knockoff-brands, will be most prevalent.

Age Before Beauty

When buying a vintage sewing machine, no matter where it was made, or by what company, keep in mind the old adage of Age before Beauty. By that, I mean, pay more attention, first-off, to how OLD a machine is, before anything else.

Why? A number of reasons.

While older machines are certainly very beautiful, and many will still create an excellent stitch, they come with drawbacks. Chief among these are:

Needles

What I shall term ’1st Generation’ (transverse-shuttle) sewing machines used Singer 12-type needles. These needles are perfectly cylindrical and are unlike any other needle in the world.

Which makes them extremely rare. They’re not manufactured anywhere, anymore. Not even in a reproduction manner. Transverse-shuttle machines are therefore almost useless for sewing with in the 21st century. Unless you have a huge stockpile of these old-fashioned needles lying around – you simply can’t use these anymore.

A German transverse-shuttle sewing machine. Transverse-shuttle machines are easily distinguished by their cross-shaped needle-and-slide-plates underneath the machine-head

Sticking with needles for the time-being (ouch!), keep in mind the following: Some sewing-machine manufacturers actually produced machines which would ONLY take the needles made BY that company FOR their machines. This was prevalent in the United States. This means that, once the company stopped, so did the needles. And while sewing machines will live forever, needles don’t. And once they break or blunt or bend out of alignment, you’ll have to get another one. And if you can’t get another one, your machine is useless.

Bobbins and Shuttles

Another BIG issue is bobbins and shuttles. Early sewing machines, from the 1850s up until the turn of the 20th century, used what are called ‘long bobbins’, and operated on a flying-shuttle stitch-mechanism. 1st gen. sewing machines used transverse-shuttle (‘T.S.’) mechanisms (see above), where the shuttle (with the bobbin inside) sat in a carriage, and ran back and forth across the machine, catching the top thread on every forward pass, to form one lockstitch with every backwards pass.

Then, came the vibrating-shuttle (‘V.S.’) mechanism. This used a shuttle, mounted in a side-swinging carriage that pivoted back and forth under the machine, to form stitches with every forward swing.

Both these stitch-forming mechanisms are extremely old. REALLY old. They date back to at least a decade before the American Civil War. The result is that transverse and vibrating shuttles (and the bobbins stored within them) are no-longer manufactured. This can make them tricky to use. I’ll talk about this more, soon.

Where To Find Them?

Search online. Ebay or Gumtree, or sewing forums. Or try flea-markets, antiques shops or charity shops. I’ve seen plenty of antique sewing machines work their way through charity thrift-shops. Flea-markets, antiques shops and sewing-forums are also great ways to get your hands on things like original attachments and add-ons, missing parts and other accessories for your vintage machine. Stuff like shears, measuring tapes, extra feet, bobbins, oil-cans, original instruction-manuals and spare parts.

My grandmother’s Singer 99k. Complete with extra bobbins, motor-grease, sewing-oil, accessories box, attachments, original manuals, knee-lever, and bed-extension-table. Not shown are the buttonholer, the zigzagger, all the other bobbins, spare winder-tires, case-lid and key, and extra needles in original packaging.

Finding missing parts for your machine is a real adventure, and a great exercise in patience. In a pinch, you can sometimes find substitutes. The replacement slide-plate for my Singer 128 isn’t for a Singer machine. It actually belongs to a German-made Frister & Rossmann machine, but I found it in a box of old bits and pieces, sans machine.

What Price to Pay?

Sewing machine prices vary WILDLY depending on where you live. But keep in mind that antique machines are extremely tough. They can be over a century old, and still work PERFECTLY. These things were NOT designed to break down, and they were NOT designed to be thrown out. They were designed to last for centuries. And they do!

That being the case, they are not as rare as you might think. And since they’re not that rare, they are also not that valuable, and should not be very expensive. A vintage sewing machine in working, functional condition can be purchased for $100 or less in many, many cases. In some instances, even less than $50, or $25, depending on how lucky you are. You may even get one for free! You might even have inherited one! The key is not to spend more than is necessary.

Sewing machines were VERY common. There was a time when EVERY HOUSEHOLD HAD to have one! I don’t mean because it was some sort of fashion-accessory, I mean that they HAD to have one, or else, the whole family would be ass-naked. There was simply no other way to get clothing! The result is that there are still billions of them out there. Don’t be bought in by all that crap about “It’s old”, “it’s antique”, “It’s rare”.

It’s NOT. Old it may be. Rare? No. Expensive? Certainly not. Valuable? I wish. The vast majority of old sewing machines can be bought for a pittance. You needn’t spend the earth.

What to Buy?

As with anything, the older it is, the harder it is to find replacement parts. Keep that firmly in mind when buying any old sewing machine. As much as possible, stick to big, well-known brands. Market-leaders. And buy wisely.

These are all things that you must keep in mind when you go shopping for an old sewing machine. Now, let’s move onto actually buying a sewing machine. I won’t cover transverse shuttle machines in this posting, due to the needle-issue I mentioned earlier. Let’s start with the second-generation ‘vibrating shuttle’ machine.

Buying Your Machine – V.S. Machines

Vibrating-Shuttle machines are very popular. They’re whimsical, cute, they work very well…and they’re extremely old. The vibrating-shuttle mechanism was invented before the American Civil War! So, how do you buy one?

Let’s use my V.S. machine as an example:

My hand-cranked Singer 128k V.S. sewing machine. Manufactured in 1936

I purchased this at the Camden Lock Market in London about a year ago, for fifteen pounds. When I bought it, it didn’t have a base-lid, it didn’t have a key, and it didn’t have a front slide-plate (all of which it now DOES have!). But what do you need to keep in mind?

Vibrating-shuttle machines are the oldest machines which you can still use today. The reason for this is because the vast majority of them will use modern machine-needles, despite the fact that some of them can be over a century old! The style of needle used in most domestic sewing-machines has not changed greatly since the 1880s. As a result, the machine-needles that you buy today will, in most cases, still fit into an antique vibrating-shuttle machine. But there are still a couple of shortfalls.

Further up, I said I’d come back to the issue of vibrating-shuttle bobbins and shuttles. Well, here’s when that happens.

Vibrating shuttles are no-longer manufactured. They haven’t been manufactured since at least the 1960s. But the bobbins which they contain are manufactured as reproductions, on a small scale. And you can buy these online. Try eBay. They follow the generic, Singer-style long bobbin, so they should work with Singer vibrating-shuttle machines like the 27 and 28 series.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out with vibrating-shuttle machines, if you wish to buy one.

Check for Bobbins and Shuttles

Make sure that the machine has at least one shuttle, and at least two bobbins, before you buy it, and that these shuttles and bobbins MATCH THE MACHINE! Shuttles and bobbins are NOT generic, and they are NOT interchangeable!

A Jones shuttle will NOT fit a Singer machine, a Singer bobbin will not fit into a Wheeler & Wilson shuttle. Do not buy a machine with mismatched shuttles and bobbins, hoping that you can just marry them off and everything will work fine – it WILL NOT work fine. Shuttles will jam inside the machine, or bobbins will fall out and tangle up. And you’ll be in all kinds of strife, using language your grandmother would whip you for!

Check the Needle

Most antique vibrating-shuttle machines use modern-style needles, but just to be safe, always check the needle. A modern needle has a thicker shank than it has a tip, and one side of the shank is flattened, so that it looks like a ‘D’. In most cases, you won’t have any problems, but it’s best to be sure.

Check the bobbin-race

The thread’s in the bobbin, in the shuttle, in the carrier, in the race, in the bed of the sewing-machine…in the bed, in the bed, in the bed of the sewing-machine. All together, now…

The race is the little channel underneath the sewing-machine base where the shuttle lives. Open the slide-plates and rotate the balance-wheel until the little steel carriage appears. Press down on the shuttle-tip, and the shuttle should just pop out. Check inside to make sure that the shuttle has a bobbin in it. The machine is useless without these components. You do not need extra shuttles, but it pays to have at least two bobbins, so that you can have at least one choice of thread. Most old vibrating-shuttle machines came with sets of between four, five and six bobbins. Singer 27s came with a standard set of five.

Buying Your Machine – Treadle-Power!

Treadle machines, the old, foot-operated ones which sit on those cute, wooden tables with the wrought-iron frames, are great. But they come with their own issues. Chief among these is weight.

Treadle-operated machines are extremely heavy. If you buy one, you must keep in mind how you’re going to cart the machine and the treadle-table back home. On top of that, treadle-machines require more maintenance – the treadle mechanism must be oiled regularly to prevent jamming. And the drive-belt has to be in good condition, with no knots or frays. And operating a treadle-machine requires quite a bit of hand-foot-eye coordination! To prevent snapping threads, the balance-wheel (and by extension, the drive-wheel on the treadle) must be running anti-clockwise (so that the wheel spins up, over and forwards, TOWARDS you). If it spins the other way, the sewing-mechanism fouls up and the thread snaps.

Buying Your Machine – Hand-Cranked Wonders

Most antique machines are crank-operated. Like my 1936 Singer:

Round and around and around it shall go. Where does it stop? Nobody knows…

Crank-operated machines are extremely handy if you intend to take your sewing machine to places where electricity isn’t available, or where it’s too cumbersome to take your treadle-machine (not that treadle-machines are designed to be moved from place to place!). These are the ultimate in portable sewing-machines.

Crank-operated machines are prized because of their extreme portability. They don’t have any cables or motors or levers or foot-pedals to lug around, they aren’t bolted to a huge, wooden table. They’re just what they are, and that’s what they do. And people love them, because of it!

Crank-operated machines come with advantages of reduced weight, extreme portability, but they deprive you of one hand in the process, to operate the machine. If you’re willing to put up with that, a cranked machine could be for you!

One of the beauties about hand-cranked machines is that they’re surprisingly easy to convert, should you wish to do so. This is yet another reason why they’re extremely popular.

Let’s say you have a vintage electric sewing machine with a dead motor. It doesn’t work, it’s not gonna work, and it’s a waste of time to try and get it working.

But you really like the machine.

Easy. Get out a big screwdriver, unscrew the sewing-motor from the machine (save the bolt that comes off the machine), and chuck it out, along with all the cables and leads and lights and other crap that comes along with it.

Now, get your crank-assembly (either an original antique one, or a modern reproduction, either are available on eBay), and bolt it onto the machine, using the same bolt that held your machine-motor in place. Screw it in tightly with the screwdriver, and then run the crank-arm through the spokes of your sewing-machine’s balance-wheel.

Keep in mind that, although extremely easy a conversion to do, this only works with older sewing-machines with spoked balance-wheels, such as my Singer 128. It will work with solid, non-spoked balance-wheels as well, but it will require you to mutilate your machine by cutting a notch in the wheel, for the crank-arm. You may, or may not wish to do that, depending on how much you love the machine. Alternatively, you can remove the solid balance-wheel, and fit on a spoked wheel, instead.

Buying Your Machine – The Marvel of Electricity

Vintage and antique sewing-machines worked very simply. As a result, it’s surprisingly easy to convert them so that they run off electricity. And a number of machines underwent this conversion in the early 20th century.

Having an electrically-powered machine has many advantages – it’s extremely fast, you have both hands free, you have a sewing-machine lamp to see what you’re doing, and it’s very powerful. The downside is always having to plug the machine in, and having to check the cables. Another potential downside is having to ensure that the electronics on your machine (which can be up to 90 years old, in the case of Singer’s earliest electric machines) are functioning properly. This can be assessed by a sewing-machine repairman, or by you, if you have the necessary skills.

Buying Your Machine - Tips, Tricks, Hints. Dos, Don’ts, Etc. 

Here are some things to consider when you buy your machine, whether it’s cranked, treadled, or electrically powered. Keep the following details in mind when you’re out machine-hunting, and consider them, before you actually pay for any machine that you might be interested in:

- Ensure that it takes modern-style needles. This is especially important if it’s an antique vibrating-shuttle machine. In most cases you won’t have to worry, but there are the odd ones out there, where you do.

- Ensure that the machine comes with at least two bobbins. You can usually buy more at sewing-shops, or online, but if it’s an older, V.S. machine, it’s not always so easy. Ensure that the bobbins that DO come with the machine fit the machine and work properly!

- Ensure that the bobbin-winder mechanism works! Fewer things are more frustrating than trying to wind a bobbin by hand!

- Ensure that the clutch-wheel (the smaller knob inside the balance-wheel) engages and disengages smoothly. This switches the machine between sewing-mode, and bobbin-winding mode!

- Ensure that the machine-body is affixed FIRMLY to the machine-base/case/treadle-table, and that the case-handle is affixed FIRMLY to the lid! Old wooden cases can rot and crack, and bolts and screws can work themselves loose. If possible, tighten them before you buy the machine! Or tighten them the moment you get it home! The average antique sewing-machine can weigh up to, and over, 30lbs! You do NOT want that falling on the ground, or even worse, landing on your feet! Damage to the machine or case will likely be irreparable!

- Ensure that all electronics function properly. Lights turn on. Pedals and leads work. They’re not frayed, bent or cut, melted or cracked! You don’t want to zap yourself when you get home!

- DO buy your machine from a market-leader! Replacement-parts for machines (reproduction or otherwise) are usually only made to fit antique machines which are extremely common. If you are buying a machine with a view to getting these missing pieces later on, buy a machine that was POPULAR!

There ARE people out there who manufacture replacement slide-plates, replacement keys, replacement bobbins. But these are usually for Singer machines! Unless you’re very lucky, chances are, they will not work on your obscure little American machine that you found at a country junk-sale. The older, or more obscure your machine is, the harder it is to fix, and the harder it is to find missing parts!

- DO check bobbin-winder tires. These things can wear out or dry up and crack. In some cases, they can even MELT into puddles of ugly black goo! Replacements are manufactured, and you can buy them online. If you’re unwilling to do that, existing bobbin-winder tires can be resurrected or have their working lives prolonged by wrapping them around tightly with adhesive tape, to protect the rubber from further deterioration.

- DO, if possible, sew with the machine before you buy it. You don’t want to find out when you get it home, that it’s defective and keeps dropping stitches!

- DO fiddle around with the machine before you buy it. Turn the crank at high speed, get the wheel spinning and pump the treadle. You want to be sure that there’s nothing that jams up, or breaks or rattles around.

- DO open the machine-bed, and have a peek inside. You never know what might be hiding in the basement.

Underneath my Singer 99k.

- DON’T worry if the vintage machine you’ve bought (or want to buy) is stiff and doesn’t move! This is an EXTREMELY common problem. And the way to fix it is extremely easy!…and fun! These old machines drink oil. If you don’t lubricate them at least every now and then, the oil dries up and they will eventually jam. And I mean REALLY jam – my grandmother’s 60-year-old Singer 99 was so stiff you couldn’t get it going even if you smashed it with a sledgehammer! If you DO have a machine that’s jammed up, follow my restoration-guide, to get it running again!

- DON’T panic if you’ve bought a Singer sewing machine in a bentwood case, and it’s locked…and you can’t get the damn thing open! Yeek!

A 3mm flat-head screwdriver (and maybe, a couple of squirts of oil into the lock) will easily open the case for you. Simply push the screwdriver into the key-slot, and turn it clockwise. This releases the lock. Now, lift up the left side of the case, slide the case to the left (to disengage the lock on the right side), and then lift up, and away! Then, say hello to your machine.

- DO make sure that your machine-lid is placed correctly onto the base, and is LOCKED before lifting the machine up by the lid-handle to take it anywhere! You don’t want the machine parting company with the lid and smashing on the ground!

- DO oil your machine every now and then, if you use it regularly (regularly means at least once every month). Although very robust, a lack of oil will cause the moving parts to seize up and jam. And then you’ll have a bugger of a time unjamming them again with even more oil.

- DO check to see if your machine comes with any attachments! Most machines came with a wide variety of attachments and add-ons. Buttonholers, zigzaggers, seam-guides, hemmers, tuckers, and all other bits and pieces. They’re usually stored somewhere inside the machine-bed, or inside the case-lid.

In most electric machines, boxes of attachments are stored inside the machine-lid (the green cardboard-box on the left).

On most handcranked machines, attachments are stored in compartments underneath the balance-wheel and crank-assembly (green box, on the right). The black steel panel on the left is the cover that goes over the top of the storage-compartment.

- DON’T be misled by people who try to sell old sewing machines as “semi-industrial” or “industrial”, and ask an inflated price, just because they can sew through multiple layers of leather or denim. There is a HUGE difference between a domestic sewing machine, and an industrial sewing machine.

This is a domestic sewing-machine

This is an industrial sewing-machine!

Sewing Machines – Care & Feeding

You bought a beautiful antique or vintage sewing machine. Or maybe you inherited one. I inherited my grandmother’s Singer. That’s what got me interested in these things. However you got it, here’s a few things to keep in mind…

Before using your machine, clean it thoroughly and oil it liberally. You don’t want the machine operating with any unnecessary stress or friction. Consult my restoration-guide (see link, further up) about how to do this in detail. Use high-grade machine-oil to lubricate the sewing machine.

Make sure that you put your machine on a sturdy surface! Antique and vintage machines had cases made of wood, and machines made of cast iron and steel. This makes them MUCH heavier than most modern machines made of plastic – it’s a tradeoff that you get with better quality.

That being the case, you do not want to put your sewing machine on a table or bench-top that is going to shake and vibrate when you operate the machine. Not only is it extremely annoying, it could be dangerous!

When not in use, keep your machine covered and locked. This will prevent sun-damage, and will stop things from getting dusty or from components getting lost. But also keep the machine (case and all) out of direct sunlight when not in use. Otherwise, the sun’s rays will damage the finish on the case. Best to keep the machine in a cupboard when it’s not being used.

Sewing-machines are not toys. And antique ones can be surprisingly powerful. Keep them away from kids! If you want to let them fiddle around with it, then at least remove the needle, first! Don’t worry, they’re unlikely to actually break the machine – these things were extremely tough – but they do stand a chance of stabbing themselves with the needle!

Although, you might want to buy a Singer Model 20, if your son or daughter wants a machine all for themselves:

A Singer Model 20. Cute, huh?

These are REAL machines, in the sense that they will sew. They do a simple chainstitch, but the needle never rises up high enough for a child to get his or her finger stuck underneath it. For size-comparison, here’s the Singer 20 with my Singer 128:

Singer 128 (behind), and Singer 20 (front). All Singer 20 machines came with a little clamp, to bolt the machine securely to a table during use.

Conclusion

This concludes my guide in what to look for and how to buy a good vintage or antique sewing machine. Questions or comments are welcome, and feel free to leave them below.

New Bobbins! Yay!


About a year or so ago, I got my hands on a very nice interwar Singer V.S. 128 sewing machine…

The machine had a number of issues. To begin with, it did not have both slide-plates. Fortunately, I managed to pick up a slide-plate at my local flea-market, along with a box of loads of other things and bits and pieces.

The machine also lacked the classic bentwood base-lid…and the key that went with it. I managed to pick those up at an antiques wholesaler outside of town.

But the biggest problem with these antique vibrating-shuttle sewing-machines is finding bobbins. These machines are not like Singer 15s, 99s or 66s. They do not use conventional flat, spool-shaped bobbins, which you can still buy today. They use what are called “long bobbins” or “Shuttle bobbins”, which look like free-weights for mice.

This machine did come with its original shuttle, and two bobbins, but that was it. I also had to source an attachments box…and attachments to fill it!

The machine could now be used, carried, locked and stored without any issues, but it still had only two bobbins. And with machines this old, extra bobbins are hard to find.

That’s why I got so excited when I found more bobbins yesterday afternoon, at a local thrift-shop. Granted, there were only two, but two is better than nothing!

The two bobbins on the bottom are the originals which came with the machine. The two lying across the top are the new ones I managed to find. It’s a small triumph, but it’s a triumph nonetheless. And even better – they were free!

And it beats having to pay for them on eBay. You can buy reproduction long-bobbins on eBay, for your V.S. machines, but it’s better, and safer, to try and find the originals – those, you know for certain, will fit into the shuttle properly, and will work correctly when you run them through the machine.

Flaming Hell! A History of Fireplaces and Fire


Ooooh, burny…

My fireplace in winter.
It’s nice to sit and tapper away on the Underwood
in front of a big blazing inferno

Fire: Primal. Essential. The key to human survival. Used to describe everything from boiling passion and flaming love, to burning hatred and searing vengeance. What is the history of fire? How has it shaped the world? And how has the world shaped fire? Let’s find out together.

The Essence of Fire

There are innumerable milestones in the history of mankind, from walking upright, to using tools, to hunting, gathering, farming and the waging of war. But few inventions in history are as important as the creation, understanding, and use of fire. For thousands of years, fire was an essential to life. It heated homes, it gave us light, it cooked our meals, and gave us warmth and protection. Without fire, human migration and settlement would’ve been next to impossible. And human progress and creativity would’ve been greatly hindered. This posting will look at man’s use of fire, as well as the advancements of fire technologies and tools.

The Three Elements

A fire requires three things to burn:

Air. A fire cannot burn without sufficient oxygen.

Fuel. A fire cannot last without additional fuel to keep it going as it consumes its current supply and turns it to ash.

Heat. A fire does not burn and does not last without heat to get it going, and to keep it going.

It was early man’s understanding of these three components of fire that allowed him to use and control fire. Control it for heat, light and cooking. And control is vitally important – improperly used, fire can destroy as much as it can delight. But how do you get a fire?

To start a fire, you first need fuel. Small fuel at first – Tinder. Tinder is anything small, dry and extremely combustible. Cotton-wool, old thread, shredded cloth, dry straw, moss, grass and finely torn paper will all suffice for tinder.

On top of tinder, you require kindling, which is small pieces of wood to encourage the fire to burn and grow. Kindling wood needs to be small and dry – branches, off-cuts of planks, scrapwood, bark, etc, will all suffice.

On top of kindling, you require fuel-wood. Fuel-wood or firewood, are the larger logs, or segments of logs, which you load on top of the kindling once it’s burning sufficiently. As with the others, it needs to be dry. Start with small pieces of fuel-wood first (like thick branches) and then work your way up to larger logs or branches.

There are a million and one methods of building fires – Upside down fires, Teepee fires, log-cabin fires…the methods are endless – and so are the arguments for each one and why A is better than B. So I won’t cover that. Everyone has their own method that works for them.

But how do you LIGHT a fire? This, for centuries, was one of the hardest things to do…

Lighting a Fire

You have your kindling, tinder and firewood. Now you just need it to burn. A fire won’t burn without heat to get it going. To get heat, you need a concentration of energy. Before the advent of matches in the 1800s, fire-lighting was a laborious and at times fiddly task, and was achieved in one of two ways: Concentration of light-energy, and concentration of friction-energy.

Ever stolen grandpa’s magnifying glass and used it to burn ants? That’s starting a fire through concentrating light-energy. Specifically, concentrating the rays of the sun until they are focused on one spot for long enough that the intense heat generated causes your tinder to catch fire through solar energy!

The other method of creating fire, if the sun was not available, was to use friction. This is much more unpredictable and requires quite a bit of skill and patience, but it does work.

One of the most common ways of lighting a fire through friction was through the use of the bow-drill:

A piece of wood with a hole in it is placed on the ground over a piece of kindling-wood (the top piece of wood is used to provide stability). In the hole, a piece of tinder is placed. A wooden stake (the ‘drill’) is placed over  the tinder. The bowstring is then looped around the drill, and the bow is drawn rapidly back and forth and up and down the drill.

Driving the drill back and forth at high speed over the tinder creates friction, which creates heat. At 300 degrees Fahrenheit a spark is generated from the friction, which catches the tinder. Once the tinder is lit, the bow, the drill, and the top piece of wood are removed, and the tinder is fed with kindling to start a fire.

Placing the Fire

Gathering tinder, kindling and fuel-wood for a fire and drying it out was relatively easy. So was starting a fire, given the right tools and sufficient practice. The next thing for early man to conquer was the placement of a fire.

Fires had to be built and lit with careful consideration. Failure to light a fire in a safe place could result in catastrophic, uncontrollable infernos that could destroy grasslands, forests and settlements.

Controlling Fire

The first fires were simply built and lit inside ‘firepits’. A fire-pit was an area of land cleared of grass and wood, where a hole was dug. The hole had stones placed around it to create a fire-ring and hearth, and then the fire was simply built inside the ring and let to burn. And for centuries, this was the main method of fire-control and placement.

Having an open fire in the middle of your house or room or hut or cottage or cave had its advantages and disadvantages. First – the heat was all over the place – Lovely!

The problem was…so was the smoke! Although fireplace smoke can smell beautiful and tangy (which is why we love smoked foods and wood-fired pizzas so much), uncontrolled smoke could be deadly to the people around the fireplace.

To control the smoke, or to clear it out of the building, A simple solution was just to cut a hole in the roof of the building and let the smoke shoot up there. This worked…kinda. The smoke would leave the house through the hole in the roof…eventually. It would waft up there, not flow up there. So it took a while. And if the wind was against you, then you had real strife!

The chimney, followed by its companion, the fireplace, was invented in the 12th Century (1100s), although for a long time, they were considered features found only in wealthy homes and castles. Care had to be taken in their construction of stone, or brick, and this made them expensive. But by the 1500s and 1600s, fireplaces were slowly becoming more and more commonly found in the homes of regular people.

The Fireplace

Starting in the Medieval Period, houses of varying levels of grandeur were constructed with chimneys and fireplaces. Fireplaces were built out of stone or brick, and a typical fireplace setup involved…

The Chimney or Flue

The long stone, or brick pipe or vent which channeled the smoke up and out of the building.

The Smoke-box

The chamber at the bottom of the chimney-pipe, which acted as a buffer against downdrafts.

The Fire-Box/Fireplace

This is directly under the smoke-box, and it’s where the fire itself would be located.

The Hearth

The stone or brick platform on which the firebox and chimney is built. Sometimes extends outside of the fire-box into the room, to provide extra protection against rolling logs.

The Advantages of the Fireplace

The fireplace had numerous advantages over the everyday hole-in-the-ground fire-pit. The fire was now safely contained in its own little box, with a stone chute to carry away the smoke. A sliding or hinged shutter above the firebox, the damper, allowed you to close off the fireplace chimney in inclement weather, to prevent cold drafts and rain from coming down the chimney and into the room below. A big improvement on the hole in the roof which was a permanent opening to the weather outside!

In smaller dwellings, a fireplace was used as both a heater, and as a cooker. The fire kept the room and house warm, but also provided heat for cooking. Pots hung on hooks, or placed on trivets or stands over the coals and ashes of the fire, could hold food (usually soup or stew or some variety of pottage) which could be cooked, or kept warm over the coals and flames.

In and Around the Fireplace

As the fireplace started becoming more and more accepted and more a part of people’s homes and lives, a whole industry sprung up supplying equipment and accessories that the discerning homemaker could purchase for the fireplaces that were likely to have dotted the average home during the period from the 1600s up to the majority of the 20th century.

Andirons

Also called ‘fire-dogs’, andirons (sold in pairs) are iron (or in more expensive models, brass) stands used to support burning logs above the hearth of the fireplace, to encourage air-flow and improve a fire’s chances of burning more completely.

Brass andirons in a fireplace

Andirons could be simple iron bars or frames, or they could be elaborate, decorative stands made of brass. Some andirons had additional bars and hooks which could be attached or removed as required, so that buckets, pans and pots could be hung over or near the fire, to allow water to boil, or to cook a simple meal.

Andirons at work, supporting a stack of burning firewood

Fireplace Grate

The grate in my fireplace

Invented in the 1600s, fireplace grates were a big advancement on andirons. While andirons could hold large logs and chunks of firewood, a fireplace grate could contain the entire fire, kindling, charcoal, fuel-wood and all, and keep it off the floor of the fireplace, improving airflow. Made of wrought iron which was forge-welded together,  grates varied in size, from smaller, coal-burning grates, to much larger wood-burning grates, which could be several feet wide and several inches deep.

Fenders

Typically made of brass or iron, a fender is a wrap-around fire-guard placed on the hearth in front of the fire. It’s designed to prevent ash, coals or rolling logs from entering the room and creating a mess, or starting any unintentional fires.

A brass fireplace fender. Fenders are freestanding, and they can be moved to more easily clean the fireplace between uses

Fire-Irons

Fires were originally tended to using whatever utensils were close to hand, usually improvised. Old swords, iron bars, tree-branches and such. Eventually, pokers were created to give a person a permanent fire-tending tool. Ash-shovels, brooms and fire-tongs soon followed, and it’s these four items that typically make up the average set of fire-irons, usually stored on their own little iron or steel stand. Fire-irons are made of iron, or in more expensive sets, brass.

 

Fire-irons, stored on their own racks, became staples of homes around the world, and every household was likely to have at least one set. Smaller and shorter ones for coal-burning fireplaces and stoves, and larger, longer ones for wood-burning fireplaces.

Log-Cradle

Placed next to the fireplace, or directly outside the front/back door, a log-cradle (and it’s relation, the log-bin) became a necessity during very harsh winters.

When it became impossible to make the trek out to the wood-shed in the middle of the night, or when snow or rain proved too heavy, wood had to be stored near to the house. Log-cradles were designed to hold enough wood for anywhere between one night’s burning, or up to a week or more. These cradles are always held above the ground on legs, to stop moisture from gathering and allowing the wood to dry more effectively.

Dustbin

These days, a ‘dustbin’ is just another word for a rubbish bin or a garbage-bin. But in the days when wood and coal fires were a part of everyday life, a ‘dustbin’ was a separate and distinct entity. Specially made of metal with tight-fitting lids, carry-handles, and with raised bottoms, dustbins were constructed specifically for the task of holding household dust and fireplace ash and soot.

Storing ash from the fireplace in the dustbin was done usually only temporarily. When the bin was full, the ash would be dumped into the garden compost-heap. In large cities where this wasn’t possible, the dustbin was collected by the dustman in his dust-cart on a regular basis. The ash and dust in the bin was used for fertiliser out in the countryside.

Bellows

Fire was an important part of life for centuries, especially in places like the kitchen. Where-ever possible, man created instruments which improved and sped up the creation and maintenance of fire. You could continually blow on a fire, or fan it, to give it more airflow and oxygen, but blowing is exhausting, and fanning is imprecise.

Bellows are much more precise, regulated and forceful, which is why they’re preferred over other methods of giving a fire oxygen.  Giving a fire oxygen like this causes faster combustion and therefore, greater heat output.

Fireplace Reflector/Fireback

It may surprise some people, but fireplaces are not especially efficient. Crackling flames and wafting plumes of smoke give the impression of great energy and heat, but actually, only a small amount of that heat and light is projected into a given room. A fireplace is only open on one side, so only a quarter of the fire’s energy is projected into the room. The rest of the heat which the fire generated is absorbed by the iron grate, the floor, the three walls of the fireplace, or else goes up the chimney.

To improve fireplace heat-efficiency, a fireback is generally recommended. A fireback is a metallic panel placed behind the grate, between the fire and the back wall of the fireplace.

Firebacks come in one of two styles: Solid cast iron panels, or reflective steel, copper or aluminium panels (this latter called fire-reflectors). They both do the same thing, but in different ways.

An iron fireback absorbs the heat from the fire, and radiates this captured heat outwards. This increases the amount of heat that the fire produces, which would otherwise be wasted by being absorbed by the brickwork on the back wall.

Antique cast iron fireback

A reflective fireback or fireplace reflector works by reflecting the heat and light of the fire out into the room. This not only increases the heat output substantially, but also reflects a lot more light into the room, creating a brighter fire.

The reflector placed behind the grate in our fireplace. A homemade affair easily fashioned out of sheet-metal, a few screws and some metal bars

Fire Screens

The Great Fire of London Screen!

Along with fenders, fireplace screens started being used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally just a way to cover up the fireplace when it was not being used (to hide the unsightly vision of burnt charcoal and ashes), modern fireplace screens (made of copper or brass) serve a double-purpose of also protecting the room from sparks, flying embers or rolling logs.

Chimney-Sweeping

Chim-chimney-chim-chimney-chim-chim-cheree,
a sweep is as lucky as lucky could be…

Apart from giving us possibly the worst Cockney accent ever in movie history, the otherwise wonderful Dick Van Dyke furnished those living in the 21st century with another falsehood about the history of the fire – that chimney-sweeping was a jolly old lark full of fun and games!

If only t’were true.

A fireplace that is used for the majority of the year, every year, or one which is used every day for years on end, needs to be swept regularly. The rosy-cheeked fellow who does this is the humble chimney-sweep.

Every time you light a fire in your fireplace, soot and ash is drawn up the chimney by the updraft of smoke. Over the course of years, this soot and ash builds up inside the chimney, forming black, crumbly deposits called creosote. Just like how grease in your kitchen drain prevents water from going down the pipes effectively, buildups of ash in the chimney prevents smoke from going UP the pipes effectively – in this case, your chimney-pipe, or flue.

For this reason, it’s necessary every now and then to get your chimney swept. By a sweep. With a broom and a brush.

Men of the Stepped Gables

If you’ve ever been to Europe, you may have seen buildings with rather odd-shaped rooves, such as this:

At the peak of the roof, you can see the chimney-stack with the pots on top. Sloping away on either side is the roof. See how it’s staggered down like a staircase?

Called crow-step gables, this roofing-style was popular from the Middle Ages up to the 1700s. Although it looks very pretty and geometric, it actually serves a practical purpose: It’s a built-in chimney-sweep staircase!

In an age when ladders rarely went right up to the roof, buildings were constructed with crow-stepped gables to give the poor chimney sweep somewhere to stand and climb in relative safety, as he made his way to the chimney-top to sweep down the ashes. And it was just as well, because chimney-sweeping was rife with dangers! Rather ironic then, that chimney-sweeps are supposed to be symbols of good luck!

Up until the late 19th century, chimney-sweeping was an extremely dangerous and even lethal profession. But not always for the reasons you might suspect. Laws in the United Kingdom and the United States had to be passed, and then strengthened, before the practice of shoving boys up chimneys was finally abolished in the 1870s.

Child Chimney Sweeps

“It’s a nasty trade!”

“Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now”

“That’s a’cause they damped down the straw afore they lit it in the chimbly to make ‘em come down agin! That’s all smoke, and no blaze; whereas smoke ain’t o’ no use at all in making a boy come down, for it only sends him to sleep, and that’s wot he likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy, gen’lemen, and there’s nothink like a good hot blaze to make ‘em come down with a run…It’s humane, too!” 

- “Oliver Twist”, 1837

No write-up about chimneys and chimney-sweeping could possibly be complete without a part dedicated solely to the trials and tribulations of unfortunate apprentice-sweeps. Since the earliest days of chimney-sweeping, up until the last quarter of the 1800s, children were used to sweep chimneys. It was indeed a nasty trade, to say nothing of being extremely dangerous and lethal. But what made it so?

In England especially, but also in the United States, children, usually young boys between the ages of four and ten, were sent up chimneys with small brushes to sweep down the ashes inside the chimney-flues. It sounds harmless enough, but was actually phenomenally dangerous.

Imagine the following…

It’s 1830. You’re an orphan-boy, maybe six years old. You’re apprenticed to a Master Sweep. A typical assignment had you following your master to a well-to-do house somewhere in London, to sweep the chimney.

Now understand please, that it was NOT in most cases, the master sweep who did the sweeping – It was usually the job of his apprentice-boy to do that. The youth would be given a brush, and then he would literally have to crawl into the fireplace, and then climb up the chimney from the inside! In this dark, extremely cramped environment (usually less than 1ft square), the boy had to crawl up the chimney and stop every few inches to brush down the ash inside the flue, while the master sweep down below had the cushy job of sweeping the fallen ash into sacks to be removed from the building. In the most extreme of cases, boys were forced up chimney-flues which measured just NINE INCHES BY NINE INCHES! Measure that out with your ruler and see if you could get your son, or your nephew, or grandson, to squirm through a hole that size.

Now imagine a chimney-shaft 15 feet long, and getting him to crawl up that all the way to the top, and then crawl all the way back down again. Then imagine crawling up the chimney…and losing your footing…and falling two storeys down in the dark, and breaking your ankle on the hearth below. Or even worse, imagine getting your knees jammed up against your chest inside the pitch-black chimney, and being completely and utterly wedged into the chimney-pipe. You would choke on the ash, or die of asphyxiation from the smoke or from compression-injuries from the tight squeeze.

This did happen. And frequently. The ways to get boys out was either to drag them down with a rope, or to smash the chimney-flue open with a sledgehammer to break him out – before he either suffocated due to his cramped position, or choked to death on the falling ash.

Most chimneys were not large. Usually, one chimney was shared by two or three fireplaces, all stacked up on top of each other. So the bends, crooks and corners could very easily trap a child if he lost concentration, or panicked, and got himself wedged into the brickwork.

Young Master Oliver Twist was fortunate not become a “climbing boy” as chimney-sweep apprentices were called, and the British Government was genuinely concerned about the plight, and deaths of climbing-boys, but very little was ever done. The first act of parliament to try and regulate the chimney-sweeping trade was in 1788, but had little effect.

As early as the 1790s, longer, mechanical chimney-sweeping brushes had been invented, to try and replace climbing-boys, but due to the vast array of flue-types, the brushes were not always practical. Another act regulating chimney-sweeping came out in 1834, and another in 1840! But still the practice of sending boys up chimneys continued.

In the 1800s, the modern chimney-brush (still used by sweeps today, with big bushy brush-heads and segmented, screw-on handles) was invented. But its introduction was met with ignorance by chimney-sweeps. The new brushes were expensive and burdensome to carry around. It was much easier to pay a poor, starving peasant family, or a pauper family living in the East End of London ten shillings, or five shillings, to take their children away and make them climbing-boys.

Armed with scrapers and brushes, and usually stripped naked, these children were shoved up chimneys to clean them from the inside out. And not just for cleaning chimneys, but also to put out chimney-fires! Imagine being a 10-year-old waif, crawling up a chimney with a flaming hot blaze inside it, with a wet towel to extinguish it!

Although presented in a comical fashion, mocking the chimney sweep’s accent in his book, Dickens’ description of the working-conditions of climbing-boys was incredibly accurate, and some master sweeps really did light fires in fireplaces with the climbing-boys still up the flues! Unsurprisingly, some kids were literally roasted alive.

It was not until 1875, and the disaster attending a boy named George Brewster (aged 12) that sending boys up chimneys was finally outlawed in England! Poor George crawled up a chimney at the Fulbourn Hospital in Cambridgeshire, England.

Like so many hapless boys before him, he got hopelessly jammed in the flue. Sledgehammers and picks had to be brought out to smash the entire chimney down to get him out. He was dragged out alive, but died shortly after. The hospital staff were so appalled that they brought the incident to the attention of the police. George’s master sweep was given a sentence of six months’ hard labour on a charge of Manslaughter as a result.

George’s death in 1875 resulted in the passing of the Chimney Sweeper’s Act of 1875, which finally ended the practice of sending boys up chimneys.

Modern Chimney-Sweeping

After the 1875 abolition of child chimney-sweeps, sweeps had to rely on brushes to do their job for them. Or at least, in the United Kingdom. The practice of climbing boys continued in the United States, even after it had been abolished in England.

The standard chimney-sweeping brush has a round or square head, with stiff-bristles made out of wire for added abrasive action. The brush is fed up (or down) the chimney, and additional extension-rods are added to the brush to push it further up or down the chimney to scrape down the ash and soot.

These days, chimney-sweeps also use vacuum-cleaners and video-cameras to clean and inspect chimneys, but it remains a dirty, dusty job even today.

Like a Tinderbox

For centuries, the only way to light a fire was to do it the old-fashioned way – either through friction or concentrated sunlight. Eventually, mankind discovered that by striking certain materials together, sparks could be generated easily, and a fire could be started much more quickly.

To do this required three things: Flint, steel, and tinder.

Flint is a rock which can be easily chipped and fractured. When chipped to an angle, and struck or scraped down a piece of steel (such as a disc or a rod), sparks are generated by the friction, or the impact of stone and steel. These sparks, (shavings of steel, in fact), landing on a piece of tinder, would start a fire. Usually, flint and steel were kept together, along with a small, tightly-sealed container which held the tinder. This became known as a ‘tinderbox’. Tinderboxes had to be tightly sealed to keep the tinder as dry as possible so that it would catch fire instantly when sparks were showered upon it after flint and steel had been struck.

Even today, we have an expression about how something catches fire “like a tinderbox”, or how a potentially volatile situation is “like a tinderbox”, echoing the extremely combustible contents of these little metal boxes.

Striking a Light

For centuries, starting a fire was a fiddly, imprecise business. It was something which took skill and practice. Things improved when people realised that they could use steel and flint, but the absolutely best, idiot-proof way to light a fire came with striking matches.

Matches have a long history, and it goes all the way back to Ancient China. But modern striking matches, of the kind we purchase and use today, were invented in the 1800s. The first of this kind came out in 1816, and was invented by Frenchman Francois Derosne. Early matches were tipped with sulphur and white phosphorus.

These early French matches were fiddly to use and unpredictable. An improved version by Englishman John Walker, a chemist, was invented ten years later, in 1826, and is the basis of all matches we have today.

Walker’s early friction-matches were improved in 1829 by Scottish inventor Sir Isaac Holden (1807-1897), and were sold under the brand-name of ‘Lucifers’. Although they were an improvement, ‘Lucifer’ matches didn’t last, but the brand-name became a common nickname for matches during the 1800s and early 1900s, and matches were commonly referred to as ‘Lucifers’. The war song ‘Pack up your Troubles’ immortalised them with the line:

“So long as you’ve a Lucifer to light your fag, smile boys, that’s the style”

By the 1830s, more reliable friction-matches had been invented, these matches were stored in smart, silver or gold cases called vestas, which were commonly worn on pocketwatch chains and carried around with a gentleman, since one never knew when one might need a light. These vesta-cases often had corrugated striking-plates on the sides or bottom, so that a match could be retrieved and lit from the same container.

An antique silver vesta case. Note the striking-ridges on the bottom

Matches continued to be phosphorus-tipped, strike-anywhere friction matches until the last decades of the 1800s. Although convenient in the fact that these matches could catch fire after being struck against any sufficiently rough surface (even the sole of your shoe!), their convenience came at the price of being a fire-hazard in that they could be too-easily ignited.

On top of that, white phosphorus matches were extremely poisonous. The unfortunate ‘match-girls’ who made these things, by dipping the matchsticks into phosphorus solution developed a crippling infection called ‘Phossy Jaw’. In essence, the phosphorus fumes seeped into the body and rotted out your jaw-bone, resulting in bone-infections, gum-infections, losing your teeth…eugh.

This was stopped in the later 1800s when white phosphorus was replaced with safer red phosphorus, which is still used today.

Starting in the mid-1800s, poisonous, dangerous, white-phosphorus friction-matches were gradually replaced by safer red phosphorus matches. These were less poisonous, and also much safer because instead of having the phosphorus and sulphur on the match-head at the same time, these matches only contained phosphorus, and the sulphur striking-compound was painted onto the sides of new cardboard matchboxes. Behold the modern safety-match!

The safety-match which we know today works because when you strike a match against a box, the sulphur and phosphorus combine, while at the same time creating friction, which is what causes the match-head to ignite. With the two components of a burning match now separated from each other, it is impossible for a friction match to be lit purely by being struck against an abrasive surface. This made them safer to handle and store than traditional strike-anywhere matches.

Mankind Roasting on an Open Fire

For centuries, heating, lighting and cooking was done with an open flame and fire, using candles, lamps and fireplaces. The Industrial Revolution of the 1700s saw the first practical iron stoves being built in Europe. Made of cast iron, these stoves were able for the first time to allow people to do more of their cooking at home.

Previously, cooking on an open fire was fiddly and tricky – You were limited by what you could hang over the flames or sit on the hearth. The first stoves allowed mankind to fry, bake, steam, boil and roast a much greater variety of foods than a simple open fire would have permitted. This greater control of fire vastly improved home comfort.

Prior to the invention of the cast iron range stove, baking was a specialty art. The only people who could bake were the people who had ovens. And ovens were huge brick and stone structures which were expensive to build and took up a lot of precious space. Not everyone had them, and most people didn’t. To bake your pies, cakes and loaves, you had to take them to the village bake-house to be baked.

With the stove, it was now possible to bake at home! And with a much better fuel, too.

It was at this time that people started switching from wood as a fuel-source to coal, instead. Coal had advantages, but also disadvantages. Coal burns hotter than wood, and so produces much more heat for the same amount of fuel. The problem is that coal burns and produces nasty black smoke! Eugh!

Wood-smoke is lovely. Everyone loves wood-smoke. It smells wonderful. People have smoked meat, cheese, fish and all other sorts of things in wood-smoke for centuries. It preserves the food and gives it a lovely flavour! Yum! But mixing coal-smoke with your food was apt to put you off your appetite, and to prevent this, coal-burning stoves and fireplaces did everything to channel the smoke away from the rest of the house.

Fires in the 21st Century

In the Developed World, the wood or coal-fueled fire is no-longer the primary source of heat or light anymore. Most of us cook on gas or electric stoves and heat our homes with heaters or central heating or split-system air-conditioners. But in other places around the world, fires continue to burn bright. But what should you do if you want to get a fire going?

Using your Fireplace

Perhaps you live in an older house with a fireplace and you would like to start using it to warm the house in winter? What to do, what to do, what to do??

The first thing to do is to ensure that your fireplace is a working fireplace. By this, I mean that all the fittings are functional and undamaged. The chimney should be clear and undamaged, and the damper should open and close smoothly. If you are unsure about the condition of your chimney, then you should have it checked by a professional chimney-sweep. Or you can do it yourself – All you need is a ladder, a flue-brush (and extension-rods) a few drop-sheets and a vacuum cleaner (or a shovel and bucket).

Whenever a chimney is swept, you’re scraping out all the soot and ash which has caked onto the inside of the chimney. It’s called creosote. Here’s a picture:

Scraping this crap out of your chimney-pipe ensures that the air moves smoothly up the flue and that the smoke has an unimpeded passage to the outside world.

To prepare the fireplace, you need to ensure that you have all the right bits and pieces. The necessary bits and pieces are listed and illustrated earlier on in this posting.

Lighting a Fire…

There are a dozen methods for building and lighting a fire. Here are just two methods, and the bare essentials.

To light a fire, you will need a source of ignition – matches, a cigarette lighter, or flint and steel if you want to do it the old-school way.

You will also need tinder. Tinder is anything small, dry and shriveled. Grass. Straw. Shredded, scrunched or twisted paper. Old cloth. Tinder goes first, at the bottom of the fireplace grate.

On top of the tinder, you set up your kindling. Kindling is any small dry pieces of wood. Usually old branches or larger pieces of wood split into smaller pieces. Kindling should be small enough that you can grab a whole bundle of it in one hand. If you can’t, it’s probably too big.

Light the tinder and wait until the kindling is going. Once it is, you can lay on your pieces of fuel-wood. Start with smaller pieces and work your way up to progressively larger pieces.

Waiting for the kindling to light before going further is important. It allows the fire to get a foothold. But it also allows your chimney a chance to warm up. You can’t light a fire in a cold fireplace (trust me, I’ve tried. It doesn’t work). Letting the kindling burn for a bit sends hot air up the chimney. This drives out or warms up any cold air in the chimney, and establishes an updraft – a current of air that draws more air into the fireplace below, which stimulates the fire and encourages it to burn more intensely.

With this going, add on your fuel-wood in increasingly larger segments and logs. You have a fire!

As always, keep an eye on your fire. And if you’re not going to, then make sure that the safety-screen is across the fireplace to prevent accidents – Rolling logs do happen, and you don’t want to come back to your living-room to find one burning a hole in your carpet. You might want to keep a small bucket of water or a fire-extinguisher nearby, in case the unforeseen should occur.

Fire-Building Methods

The two most common fire-building methods are the Upside Down Fire, and the Tepee Fire.

The Tepee Fire works on the age old rule that fire always burns UPWARDS. So any extra fuel should be placed above and outwards, from the fire’s point of origin. You put your tinder in a little pile in the middle of the fireplace, then lean kindling sticks against it, like an American Indian tent, or ‘tepee’. Then lay fuelwood around it in the same manner with a little door open at one side, to stick a match into it to light the kindling.

The other fire-building method which has gained a lot of popularity is the Upside Down Fire.

While the Tepee fire works best with almost any size of wood, the Upside Down Fire works best with smaller, thinner pieces of wood. It’s built in the following method:

Get your fuel-logs and stack them in a criss-cross pattern, building up a tower of wood. At the top, build your fire-tepee with tinder and kindling, and a small amount of fuelwood. Then light the fire at the top.

The reason it’s called an UPSIDE DOWN fire should now be apparent – It goes AGAINST the rule that fire burns from the bottom up. The Upside Down Fire works in that the flaming materials burn DOWNWARDS through the tower of fuel-wood. As it does so, any unburned portions of the tower collapse inwards, further fueling the fire, until it reaches the very bottom, and burns out. Upside Down fires are meant to be maintenance free – Build it, light it, forget about it. Ideal for camping. Or lazy people.

Both methods work. It’s just a matter of which one is best for you in your situation.

The Idiot and The Odyssey: The Complete Restoration of my Grandmother’s Singer Sewing Machine


In looking back over my blog, I realise that it’s been over a year since I started the seemingly ludicrous mission of restoring my grandmother’s 1950 Singer 99k sewing-machine. I am proud to say that as of the date of this posting, the restoration is complete!

Gran was born on the 7th of May, 1914 in Singapore. She died on the 28th of November, 2011, in Melbourne, Australia. Weet-Bix are suspected to have played a role in her demise. She was 97.

Granny was a dressmaker, and from the early 1950s until the early 1980s, was in this trade professionally. When she retired, she moved to Australia, and her Singer sewing machine came with her. A battered, but trusty Singer 99k knee-lever electric sewing machine. This machine was gran’s life and she used it in place of any other machine that might ever have been, or might have become available for her to use.

When gran moved to the nursing-home, in the early 2000s after worsening Alzheimer’s Disease, her most treasured possession, her Singer, was placed in the basement, where for the next eight or-so years, it sat in a corner at the bottom of a bookcase, gathering dust.

When gran died, I hauled the machine out of the basement and began a steady restoration process. I don’t know what possessed me to do this, other than the fact that this machine was gran’s livelihood for most of her adult life.

The majority of what happened next is covered in my earlier article. This posting is more of an addendum to what I’ve already written.

The Frankenstein Moment

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

*Thunderclap!!*
*Flashlightning!*

…Ahem.

Actually getting the machine running and sewing for the first time really was an exhilarating experience. Second only to getting the machine-case off the base! It took a lot of oil and fiddling with a screwdriver, but I got it off eventually, and was very happy.

Getting the machine running was a considerable task. It was literally frozen solid when I got the lid off the machine-base, and not a single thing apart from the presser-foot lever and the bobbin-winder worked. Everything else was jammed solid from a complete and total absence of lubrication. And it’s no exaggeration to say that it took me nearly a week to lubricate the entire machine to a level where it would run as well as it did when it was brand-new.

I must admit, it was rather fun. There is the incredible thrill of a challenge, combined with the later sense of accomplishment, when it came to getting that machine running again.

I had almost given up at one point, but perseverance was the key. It was a real joy to see it running at full speed again, for the first time in probably ten years (or whenever the last time it was used, happened to be. At least ten years ago, though).

Duhr…Now What?

It’s working! Oh my god it’s working! It runs, it stitches, it sews, it runs at every speed,  the light turns on, gets hot enough to fry breakfast on, and then turns off. Everything is excellent! But what do we do now, huh?

I really wasn’t sure. Like I said, I didn’t have any real reasons for wanting to bring this thing out of the basement other than to tinker around with it. But once I’d got it running, I started thinking about these other things that I could do. And that’s when the thought entered my head that I could bring the machine back to its former glory, by tracking down and purchasing all the necessary bits and pieces for it. I had no idea where on earth I would begin. But as luck would have it, I live very close to a large and very well-stocked flea-market. And it was from that market that I purchased nearly everything for this machine.

The Scavenger Hunt

I started with simple things, like needles and bobbins. These were pretty easy to find. And all the while, I was busy cleaning and fixing the machine. It was like a gunk-generator. Every time I thought it was clean, I’d find some other part of the machine that required my attention. Like under the bed. Or behind the balance-wheel, or inside the electric motor, or underneath the bobbin-case. On top of everything, the machine required constant lubrication! It drinks oil like Barney Gumble drinks Duff Beer.

The harder things which I had to track down were the sewing-machine accessories boxes, the attachments that went inside them, the accessories that went with them, and the green oil-can that went inside the machine-case. I had no idea what these things looked like, and it took a long time to track them down. I actually ended up buying multiple boxes of attachments and pouring them all out, and scrambling them around until I had assembled one FULL box of attachments from the dribs and drabs found in other boxes. Those dribs and drabs would be useful for spares later on.

One big problem with this machine was finding the original square steel bobbin-plate or ‘slide-plate’. The slide-plate was a protective metal plate that shielded the spinning bobbin-mechanism from dust and tangling threads. There wasn’t anywhere local that I could buy one, and waiting for one to show up at the flea-market would take years.

The only way I could get one was to buy a replacement online. You can buy ORIGINAL Singer plates online (and there are people who sell these), but obviously, stock is limited, and as a result, prices are much higher. I had serious doubts about this. So instead, I went the reproduction route. With the help of a cousin, we bought the replacement plate from an eBay store based in the U.S.A., and had it shipped halfway around the world to…here.

Boy that took so long. I think it was something like a month or more, of waiting.

Finding the oil-can for the sewing-machine was rather challenging. There are all kinds of Singer oil-cans and bottles. And I had no idea which one I would need to fit the slot inside the case-lid. All I knew from what I saw, was that it had to have a flange at the bottom, and it had to have a curved base. Out of sheer luck, I found the can which I needed at the flea-market, hidden in the pre-dawn mists, amongst a bookcase full of all kinds of other cans which were for sale. I paid $5 for it and walked off.

Sentimental Attachments

Finding all the attachments for the sewing-machine was another big challenge. No one box of parts which I bought ever had the full set. So I was forced to buy four or five boxes of parts, and slowly piece them together, to form one big box of attachments. In the end, I had enough bits and pieces around to create two complete boxes!

On top of all the usual steel attachments, was the challenge of finding the zigzagger and buttonholer attachments. These old Singer sewing machines performed a very basic straight lockstitch. To allow these machines to make more complicated things like zigzags and buttonholes like modern machines can, the manufacturers came up with all kinds of fascinating gizmoes which you could bolt onto your machine.

Quality of Manufacture

One thing that I love about all these items is the quality of manufacture. The bobbins, the attachments, screws, plates…everything is made of solid steel, without exception. Nothing like that exists today. Today, bobbins are made of plastic, feet and other attachments are made of plastic. Even the screws are made of plastic. One crack or warping renders them useless. The older steel parts are nigh indestructable.

It’s stiff? Oil it. It’s rusty? Sand it. It’s dull? Polish it.

With plastic parts…it’s cracked?…Uh…I dunno. Throw it out and buy another one?

Money wasted and thrown down the toilet.

These steel pieces will literally last forever. And their simple, no-nonsense construction means that they will always do the job that they were made for, without any compromising on quality. Back in the good old days, this was standard. These days, we have to pay extra for quality that should come with the original product. Which doesn’t. They literally don’t make ‘em like they used to.

The Last Piece

By the start of 2013, I had finally gathered all of the main components of the sewing-machine. I had the needles, oil, feet-attachments, the two main mechanical attachments, instruction manuals and other dribs and drabs. However, one piece remained elusive. The bed-extension table.

The bed-extension table came with most Singer sewing machines and it was used to extend the bed of the machine, to give you a larger work-area. This had the advantage of stopping your sewing-piece from sliding off the end of the machine-bed, and pulling your carefully-pinned cloth out of alignment with the needle and presser-foot.

Sadly, they’re not easy to find. The bed-extension table is of very simple construction, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to be thrown out or lost due to their rather bland and simple appearance. Unless you knew what you were looking at, the extension-table looks like just another plank of wood.

I discovered one recently at an antiques shop, along with a box of other bits and pieces, and snapped it up then and there. The standard Singer bed-extension table measures 8.5 inches wide (the width of the machine-bed), and about eight inches long.

Finding that final, missing piece means that the machine is finally back in its original and complete condition, having been reunited with all the items that would’ve come with it when it was purchased brand-new from the shop.

Like New!

The pictures below show the machine looking as it would’ve done back in the 1950s, complete with the parts that would’ve come with it when purchased brand-new:

Bits and pieces such as zigzaggers, buttonholers and other bits and pieces were purchased separately on a required basis. But those photos illustrate what came with the machine when it was brought home for the first time.

This model, the Singer 99 series, was manufactured from the mid-1920s up until the late 1950s, and came as a handcrank machine, or as a knee-lever machine. Knee-lever machines started coming out in the 1930s, and both hand-crank and knee-lever models were produced side by side until the model ceased production ca. 1958.

The body of the Model 99 changed significantly in the later years of its production, but the machine as it appears here would’ve been identical to one from the 1920s, minus the motor and the knee-lever, and with a spoked, instead of solid balance-wheel, with a crank-handle bolted to the side.

Built like a watch? More like a tank. The Model 66, the 99′s immediate predecessor, was highly popular, but extremely heavy and cumbersome.

The Singer 99 model was designed to be a 3/4 size “portable” machine, a step down from the full-size Singer 66 model, which came out in 1905. The 99 was designed to overcome the 66′s problems with regards to size and weight.

This advertisement from 1928 emphasizes the new machine’s portability! And with portability comes choice! You can now sew anywhere you want! Bedroom, living-room, parlour, guestroom, even outside if you wanted to. The one thing this advertisement does NOT publicise is the fact that this machine is DAMN HEAVY.

Keep in mind that the 99 was supposed to be a “portable” machine, a step down from the larger and highly popular 66 model. But despite the downsizing, the 99, complete with all its bits and pieces, still weighs in at 33.25lbs, or just over 15kg! I know this because I weighed it myself. Not so portable now, is it?

Nevertheless, it’s a practical, popular, stylish and robust machine, well worth restoring and using.

Singer Sewing Machine – Bed-Extension Table


It’s taken years and months, but my grandmother’s Singer 99k vintage sewing-machine is finally, and at last, complete! It has reached this level of completion thanks to the procurement of the last, and most hard-to-find Singer sewing-machine accessory…the bed-extension table. The extension-table may be seen here, hooked onto the end of the needle-bar side of the sewing-machine:

It’s the thing with the three spare vintage lightbulbs on top. The lightbulbs are spares for the one which goes into the light-socket at the back of the sewing-machine. They came as part of the package.

The extension-table came as standard with some models of vintage Singer sewing machines, such as the Singer Model 99 and it’s variants. However, not all of Singer’s sewing-machines were sold with this very handy feature included, which I think is a pity. The table measures roughly eight inches by eight inches, and the steel hook at the end simply slots into the lock-plate of the machine-bed. It extends the sewing-machine bed. That’s why it’s called a bed-extension table. Duh!

Sadly, these handy little extension-tables are not easy to find these days, and I had almost given up hope of ever getting one. I had even considered fabricating a homemade one! But fortunately, I found this, instead.

Their handiness lies in the fact that they give you a larger work-area when sewing, to stop your pieces of fabric from flopping off the end of the sewing-machine (and possibly pulling out of alignment). They also give you somewhere to rest your left hand and arm as you feed the fabric through the machine.

This is what the extension-table looks like, when it’s housed inside the case:

You can see it in this picture from a 1930s Singer 99k user-manual. It’s on the bottom of the picture (labeled ‘D’ in this picture).

It’s rather amazing how much those innovative Singer chaps could cram into such a restricted space as the lid of a sewing-machine! This is what the same arrangement looks like in real life; again, using my grandmother’s 99k as the example:

In all the same positions, you can see the green SINGER accessories box (on the left), the ‘?’-shaped knee-lever at the back, the oval-based green SINGER oil-can on the right, and at the bottom, the extension-table. Amazingly, even with all this stuff in-place, you can still put the lid comfortably over the top of the sewing-machine and lock it down tight!

Bed-extension tables. If you have a vintage Singer sewing machine and you don’t have one of these…start looking for one. They’re getting harder and harder to find, so don’t waste time!

How to Buy Straight Razors and their Gear Secondhand


In glancing over my blog, I noticed that my posting on straight razors seems to be one of the most popular ones that I’ve written so far. If you want to read it, it may be found here. 

I’m writing this as a sort of follow-up, or companion-post to my previous one. This won’t go into all the nitty gritty details of every little bit of everything, but it will cover in-depth, how to buy a straight-razor (and associated gear) for far below retail price.

The Appeal of Straight Razor Shaving

In our money-conscious, green-guilt world that we live in today, where everything must be eco-friendly and reusable and everything else, more and more men are turning to the way their fathers and grandfathers shaved, and are moving back to using a straight-razor to shave with. Some like the challenge, the skill and the patience that it takes. Some reckon that every whisker shaved off their chin grows three on their chest. Others like the nostalgia of it. Some people do it because they reckon they can save money.

On that last score, however, some would begin to wonder. A brand-new strop, razor, mug, brush and soap can cost over $200-$300!

Suddenly it’s not looking so cheap and money-saving. And this is when most men, turned on by the idea of a good, old-fashioned shave, turn away, and go back to using their vibrating Mach 5.

This is a little guide about how to get all the things you need, on the cheap.

Buying a Second-Hand Straight Razor

Straight-razors come in a dizzying array of styles and types, and it can be tricky to know exactly what kind of razor you should buy. Keep the following things in mind when looking for a second-hand straight-razor:

- Always pick quality. Buy a razor that was made by a reputable company, or from a reputable country or city. In England, the best straight-razors all came from Sheffield, and for centuries, Sheffield was the center of the English cutlery trade. Anything that cut anything, came from Sheffield. Kitchen-knives, tailors’ shears, the finest silverware, and the best, barber-quality straight-razors were all made here.

While any razor from Sheffield is almost certainly a winner, keep an eye out for the name Joseph Rodgers & Sons. For well over two hundred years, J. Rodgers & Sons has produced quality cutlery, since it was founded in 1764! Everything from paper-knives to silverware and straight-razors. You can date a J. Rodgers knife by examining what is engraved on the shank of the blade.

A Victorian-era Rodgers blade will have “Cutlers to Her Majesty” (Queen Victoria). A razor made after 1901, will have “Cutlers to Their Majesties”, (King Edward & Queen Alexandra, George V).

Other respected Sheffield razor-manufacturers were Bengall, and Wade & Butcher. Keep an eye out for them, as well. But in general, any Sheffield-made razor will be of assured quality.

Any razor marked “Thiers“, will have been made in the French town of Thiers, and is another sign of quality. The company of Thiers-Issard still makes straight-razors to this day.

One of the most recognised names in cutlery is that of “Solingen“. A town in Germany, Solingen is arguably the cutlery capital of the Western world. Everything from razors to kitchen-knives and scissors of all kinds are produced in Solingen. Even surgical blades are made there. Almost without exception, any razor made in Solingen will be a winner. The German company of Dovo still makes razors there to this day.

- Check for Defects in the Razor. This goes without saying, but bears mentioning. Keep an eye out for such things as cracks, chips, uneven wear (from improper or overenthusiastic sharpening), water-spots, pitting and rusting. Light rust may be removed with fine-grit sandpaper and light steel wool. The razor will then be serviceable again after sharpening and stropping. Heavy rusting, cracks, chips and uneven metal-wear are all irreversible damage to a razor, and cannot be fixed. Discard any finds in such a condition.

Some razors have cracked or damaged scales (the handle part which the blade folds into). There are repairmen out there who craft and replace broken scales with new ones. So all is not lost on this front. You could even do it yourself. All you need are the pins (the little rivets), and the right materials and skills. Razor-pin sets may be purchased online. Try eBay.

Tarnishing, water-spotting and pitting are generally cosmetic issues, and should not affect a razor’s ability to function. Light rusting, once removed, will not affect a razor’s overall quality of function. As mentioned previously, heavy rusting cannot be safely removed, and it can seriously weaken a razor. Do not attempt to resurrect a razor with extensive rust-damage. It’s not worth your while.

- Features of a Razor. Not all razors have all of these features. Some might have all. Some might have some. Some might have none at all. It’s all up to you, to decide what you want in the razor that you buy.

Some razors will have ‘jimps’. Jimps are the corrugations ground into the shank of the razor-blade (the part of the blade you’ll hold in your fingers). They are there to provide you with extra grip during shaving. Some razors don’t have them at all. Some have single jimps (corrugations on the bottom side of the shank), and some have double jimps (corrugations on the upper and lower sides of the shank).

Some razors have ‘transverse stablisers’. These are found at the end of the razor-blade (opposite to the point), next to the shank. They’re sets of slots or grooves, which were punched into the razor-blade when it was being formed. They serve to provide strength to the blade, and prevent cracking from blade-warp and metal-fatigue. Like jimps, not all razors have them. Some razors only have one pair of stablisers. Others might have two.

Most razors will have a ‘shoulder‘. The ‘shoulder’ is the definitive ‘break-off’ point between the end of the blade, and the shank, which you hold in your fingers. It serves as a barrier to stop your wet fingers sliding onto the blade (and getting cut!). The shoulder meets the shank at right-angles, to provide a safe ‘slot’ to place your fingers in, to stop them getting in contact with the blade. This is also where you’ll find the stabilisers.

- Make a note of what the Scales are made of. The vast majority of vintage razors will have scales made of some variety of plastic; usually celluloid. Be warned that celluloid can degrade over time. This is rare, but it can happen. So keep an eye out for any razors with warped, cracked or otherwise damaged scales. You can buy the razor for the blade, and have it re-scaled, or you can disregard it altogether.

Straight-razors with pretty ivory scales are iconic. But also rare and expensive. Most white/cream-scaled razors will be made out of “French Ivory”…a fancy term for celluloid plastic which is coloured to look like ivory. Don’t be fooled. An easy way to tell the difference is to just feel the scales with your fingers. Ivory, especially old ivory, is never perfectly smooth, and should have a grainy touch. It’s a natural product, after all. Plastic will almost always be perfectly smooth.

- How Much do I Pay for a Straight Razor? Most vintage straight-razors can be bought for peanuts. In most cases, below $25.00, in good condition. Some razors which are a bit more interesting/rare etc, might cost more. But a good, serviceable, second-hand razor, which will work wonderfully after a light refurbishment, should not cost the earth. One of my razors was just five bucks, made in Germany. Never fails to give an excellent shave. The more expensive razors are typically the ones with fancy scales, the ones made of ivory, tortoise-shell, bone, etc.

- Care & Maintenance of your Vintage Razor. So. You’ve bought a nice, vintage razor. It’s nothing fancy, but it was cheap, good quality, and will get the job done. Now what?

Apart from the obvious – keep the razor sharp and the edge smooth – especially with vintage razors, it’s important to keep the blade DRY BETWEEN USES. After each shave, dry the blade COMPLETELY with a towel, and make sure that there’s no water trapped inside the scales. Vintage razors were made of carbon steel. There’s nothing wrong with that, apart from the fact that carbon steel rusts. Very easily. A few drops of water left on a razor overnight, is enough to start rust going. Also, it can lead to water-spots, unsightly corrosion left by water-droplets on the blade. So to prevent that, dry the razor thoroughly after each use.

Buying Secondhand Accessories

Now that you have your razor, from the local flea-market, antiques shop or off of eBay, let’s have a look at buying other things second-hand.

The Strop

- Every good razor needs a good strop. And a good strop need not cost the earth. I bought a top-quality strop for about $25.00 at the flea-market. So, what should you look for?

There are a whole heap of shortcuts around this. You can make a strop out of an old belt, out of a pair of jeans. Even out of newspaper. And they’ll all work. So if you’re trying to save a lot of money, you could try that. An old belt will have to be smooth and without patterns or embossing. A strop made out of the legs of an old pair of jeans will have to be free of seams and stitching; this would interrupt the draw of the blade, and damage the edge of the razor. A strop made of newspaper (I’m not kidding. Yes, newspaper), will need to be thick, and strong, to stop it from ripping when you pull on it, in preparation for stropping.

Every time you strop, you remove a small amount of leather from the strop. So if you’re using a belt, make sure it’s not a belt that you’re going to wear anytime soon…or at all.

In buying an actual second-hand strop, you should keep an eye out for the following:

- The Condition of the Leather. Every good strop is made of leather. Sometimes, you’ll have double-sided strops, which are both leather and canvas. But sticking to leather for the time-being, ensure that it is smooth, and free of cuts, scratches and cracking (from being overly dry). Some leather can be softened using additives which you can buy at your local hardware shop. That’s fine, and should not damage the strop or the leather (it better not!). But steer clear of any strop which has serious cracks and/or cuts in the main part of the strop. These will do no good for your razor when you run it along there.

- The Condition of the Connections. A typical hanging-strop has two ends (I think…). The handle, and the hook. The hook can be a simple…hook…a ring, claw-fastener, or a clip. This is used to affix the strop to the wall of your bathroom (on a towel-hook/ring, or towel-rail). At the other end, is the handle which you pull tight while stropping. Make sure that any stitching or rivets which hold these connections to the strop, are in good condition. The last thing you want is for the stitching to rip, or for the rivets to break during stropping. You’ve got three inches of lethally sharp steel in your hand and you don’t want to chance cutting yourself in an accident if the strop breaks.

- The Size of the Strop. You want a strop of a decent size. At least three inches wide, and at least a foot long, if not more. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to strop the entire length of the razor-blade when it comes to using the strop.

The Brush

To use a straight-razor, you need to wet-shave. And to wet-shave, you need a brush. A badger-hair brush is best. It holds water and retains heat. And that’s what you want.

You can buy brushes second-hand, although if you do, any purchase should be THOROUGHLY cleaned first, with hot water and soap. Or you could buy a modern brush instead, if you’re a little worried about contamination. A quality badger-hair brush, purchased brand-new, might cost a bit more, but properly maintained, it will last a lifetime.

N.B.: A brand-new badger-hair brush *may* smell a bit wonky when you first open it. That’s because well…it is animal hair. You can clean it up a bit using shampoo, to remove the smell. Or you could leave it as it is…regular use and contact with shaving soap/cream will remove the smell in time.

The Stone

Every straight-razor user needs to have a decent sharpening-stone. There are people who go crazy with this stuff, and buy pastes and solutions and three, four, five or six different stones, to get their razors sharp enough to cut glass. But enough of that. This posting is about how to get started in straight-razors on a budget. So, what you want is one good razor stone which you can use easily, and which gives reliable, consistent results.

If you want to really cheap it out, you can just use a regular, rectangular knife-stone, such as what you might sharpen your kitchen-knives on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are specific stones which are made just for straight-razors. Most of them are vintage/antique stones, since not many people use straight-razors anymore. You can find them at flea-markets and antiques shops and, provided they’re not cracked really badly, or worn out, they should work just fine. Razor-stones are generally a lot smaller than a regular knife-stone, for the simple fact that…razors are smaller! Always remember to keep the stone wet with water while sharpening, to reduce friction and heat, and to keep the sharpening process smooth.

Mugs, etc 

The cheapest solution for something like this is to just take a cereal-bowl, or an old coffee-mug that you don’t want to use anymore, and use it as a lathering-bowl or cup for when you want to whip up lather for your shave, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But some people find it tricky to use a bowl with no handle on it (which can be important when your hands are wet with soap and hot water), and shavers who own big bushy shaving-brushes can’t always fit them inside a regular coffee-mug.

To get you out of this mess, you might want to invest in a shaving-mug or bowl, or a shaving-scuttle. Scuttles (little jug-shaped affairs with a soap-dish on top) can be found in almost any decent flea-market or antiques shop. Unless it’s something really fancy, though, I wouldn’t pay any more than about $20-$30.00 for one.

When you buy a mug or a scuttle, make sure that the base of it is smooth and level. This is so that it won’t shake, slide or rattle on your bathroom counter while you mix up your lather. Not only is it really annoying, but it can throw off your mixing arm, because the mug, bowl or scuttle is always sliding around everywhere.

Tips, Tricks, etc. 

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when buying or using second-hand shaving equipment. A few parting words:

- The majority of vintage razors, even the ones from quality companies, are rarely worth a great deal of money. Most of their value comes either from their uniqueness, rarity and/or scale-materials. Unless there’s something that really draws you towards a razor (it’s a cased pair, or it’s a seven-day set, it’s really pretty, it’s really old, or any other reasons), don’t pay more than about $20.00. It’s not worth more than that.

- Assume that any second-hand razor will require thorough cleaning before use. You don’t know where it’s been or what it’s been used for, or what it’s had on its blade. They weren’t nicknamed ‘cut-throats‘ for nothing. Same goes for any brushes that you should purchase second-hand.

- This bears repeating…again: After each use, dry your razor-blade thoroughly. Especially with older razors, rust can start on a wet blade literally overnight. And if it gets really bad, you’ll have no choice but to throw the razor out.

- Light rusting can be removed with fine-grit sandpaper, and this will not affect the operation of the blade. Heavy rusting compromises the structural integrity of the blade. So throw it out. You don’t want a razor-blade cracking or breaking in half (and yes, that can happen in extreme circumstances) during stropping or shaving. Especially with extra-hollow-ground blades, which are very thin and bendy.

- Until you’ve learnt from experience how much is enough, always sharpen and strop your razor more than you think is necessary, just in case. In general, fifty strokes on the hone, and fifty on the strop, should be enough. It may sound like a lot, but once you’re up to speed, you’ll have it done in about five minutes.

One of the chief causes of razor-burn and cuts is shaving with a dull, unsharpened/unstropped razor. A properly sharpened and stropped razor, used correctly, will not cut you or cause razor-burn.

The “Idiot Box” and the History of Television


The television, the T.V., the idiot-box, the electronic babysitter. That magical screen in our living-rooms which has brought us news, sports, weather, education, entertainment, excitement, bemusement and rage, has come a long way since its inception nearly 100 years ago.

This posting will have a look at the history of television, from its beginnings to the commencement of regular programming.

The Television and Us

For most of us in the 21st century, life without television is inconceivable. There are those of course, who were born without it, but with it or without it, chances are, if you watch it regularly today, you would be hard-pressed to imagine your current and future existence without this magical device in your living-room. How many incredible events have been brought to us through the television? How many amazing films have we seen? Famous and memorable TV serials, and even advertisements. Everything from “Happy Days” to “Brylcreem” (just remember, only use a LITTLE dab), to “Are You Being Served?”

Mankind’s love-affair with the TV is inseparable, unstoppable and unthinkable that it should ever go away. But where does TV come from?

A World Before Television

In a dark and soul-less time, before computers and fax-machines and mobile telephones, when eggs were 5c a dozen and penny-candy was really a penny, mankind tuned into the radio.

From the early 1920s, until the late 1950s, we enjoyed a roughly 30-year period where radio was king. When we literally had to tune in and warm up, to enjoy a program over the air. This was the Golden Age of Radio. It brought us such memorable events as the Hindenburg Crash of 1937, the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Declaration of War in 1939 and countless famous old-time radio programs, from “Gang Busters” to “Dragnet”, to “Richard Diamond” and “Abbott & Costello”.

If you want to read more about that, have a look here.

Back then, the family radio-set was an important piece of household equipment. But even by the 1930s, its dominance in our living-rooms was being threatened by a new kid on the block called television.

The Invention of Television

The word ‘television’ comes from the Greek ‘tele’ meaning ‘from afar’. Just like how telephone, and telegraph mean sounds, and writing, or messages, from afar, television means pictures from afar.

So, who invented television?

As with many great inventions, from airplanes to motor-cars, telephones, the fountain pen and the typewriter, television cannot be wholly attributed to one man.

Experiments in transmitting images over a distance have dated back as far as the late 1800s, however, television as we would recognise it today, that is, moving images transmitted to a screen, did not emerge until the mid-1920s. The man responsible for its creation was Mr. John Logie Baird, a Scotsman (1888-1946). To this day, the Australian TV industry still holds the “Logie Awards” every year in his honour.

Mr. Baird was experimenting with transmitting images over the air for a long time, starting in the early 1920s. However, it was not until the early 1930s that the first TV sets that we might know today, ever appeared in shop windows.

Early Television

Named after its inventor, this is the Baird Televisor, ca. 1933, one of the first ever residential TV sets! It’s hardly widescreen, but it is a television.

Back in the 20s and 30s, radio was the dominant force for entertainment, education and news, and T.V. programming was often limited to a few hours, or even a few minutes a day, and nothing more than black and white film with no sound, or sound, with no pictures! T.V. during the interwar period was little more than a fairground attraction, or a toy for the rich.

By the second half of the 1930s, TV started becoming more accessible, and more advanced, although it still had a limited market. Picture-quality was not what it might be, but now, TV sets had sound! Sets were still expensive, but those who could afford them, bought them from famous department-stores like Selfridges in London. In the United States, T.V. broadcasting started in the 1930s and Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first American president to appear on television, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Nazi-Vision

That’s right! Nazi-Vision!

Believe it or not, but it was the Nazis who created one of the world’s first national television networks. German factories started producing early TV sets in 1934, and the Nazis were among the very first people on earth to realise the potential for television to reach several audiences at once, and spread the glorious Nazi ideologies of Strength through Joy, racial purity and an abundance of bratwurst for all!

Based in the German capital of Berlin, the Nazi-controlled broadcasting station and studio produced everything from propaganda movies, to Nazi rallies, speeches and other material, which was transmitted to the screens of loyal Germans fortunate enough to own the first generation of home television-sets. While most of the programming was broadcast live, and was not recorded, some 250-odd reels of ancient film remains, which gives us a tantalizing look at television under the Nazis, from 1935-1944.

Although the Nazis could see that TV could be a great technology for spreading their ideologies and propaganda, they also realised that the technology would have to be greatly improved before it would work properly. The limitations of early cameras meant that picture-quality was mediocre at best. Their solution was to record their broadcasts onto film, and play it back later, like they did with any other movie. This not only improved quality, but it also had the unintended side-effect of giving us a record of Nazi television that has survived to this day.

Despite the Nazis grand vision, the relative expensiveness of television sets meant that the audience for their programming was always rather small. Few people owned sets. Those who did were usually party-members with the money to spend, people in positions of power, money or authority, and a chosen lucky few private citizens. The rest of the sets were set up in public “Television Parlors”, scattered around Berlin. They were little more than simple movie-theaters, where the big screen had been replaced by the small one.

Another opportunity for the Nazis came in 1936. That’s right, the Berlin Olympics of 1936, where Jesse Owens beat the Aryans and humiliated Hitler, were the first Olympics to be publicly televised!

However, the fact remained that, despite the Nazis best efforts, early television remained impractical on a large scale. They had improved some things, such as picture-quality and sound, but a limited audience meant that until the medium was more widely adopted and accepted, and better recording, broadcasting, and receiving means had been devised, TV would be little more than a toy. Indeed, even by the outbreak of the Second World War, the entire nation of Germany had only about 500 television sets, scattered around the country.

Television and the War

By the early 1940s, some semblance of regular TV broadcasts had begun. In 1941, CBS in the United States was broadcasting televised news in 15-minute bulletins, twice a day. Regular programming began to introduce the TV shows that we would recognise today, although the limitations of the studio-cameras and lights of the period left much to be desired when it came to picture-quality. The war itself played a big role in holding back the development of TV. Rationing and shortages of almost everything needed to make TV sets, from wood to metal to glass, made them expensive luxury-items. And at any rate, the companies that made TV. sets were more interested in making radios and other electronics for the war effort.

These shortcomings and interruptions severely affected the widespread use of televisions, and it wasn’t until after the war, in 1947, that regular T.V. broadcasting really took off in the United States.

In Germany, where television was being exploited for propaganda purposes, advances in technology had been made, but even then, programming was brief. Usually only a few hours a day, if at all. By autumn of 1944, with constant, heavy bombing-raids on German cities, and the war going badly for the Nazis, the national broadcasting company in Germany ceased transmissions.

Please Check your Local Paper for the Times

The war is over! Yay!

In the late 1940s, TV programming really started taking off. With the war over, more technology and research could be profitably spent developing and improving the emerging medium of television. For the growing number of television-owners, there were now more frequent telecasts and a greater variety of options, everything from news programs, sitcoms, and early kids’ shows like the famous “Howdy Doody” program, starting in 1947!

There was stiff competition from radio during this time, but one by one, popular radio programs of the 1930s and 40s slowly shifted from the old, to the new, setting up regular TV spots for themselves on the weekly schedule. For a while, some actors and performers ran concurrent TV and radio programs; “Dragnet” used to do it for nearly a whole decade!

By the early 1950s, TV was becoming more and more accepted, and popular shows such as “Amos & Andy” (1951) and the Jack Benny Program (1950), were big hits on TV. Radio-writers and musicians who found themselves suddenly unemployed, began scriptwriting for these newfangled television-series, and writing and recording music for TV shows.

The Shape of the Box

Early televisions of the 1930s and 40s closely followed the styles of furniture and radios of the period. A typical 1930s radio-set was large, with a handsome wood case, cloth-covered speakers and handsome bakelite knobs. Television sets were made in the same style. Here’s an RCA 360, from 1947, one of the first postwar televisions to be mass-produced and available to the public:

By the 1950s, as with many other things, from typewriters to radios to kitchen gadgets, sleeker lines, newer materials and different colour-palettes were the rage. Boxy old wood-case televisions were out. More simplistic and uncluttered looks were in…

In the 50s, televisions were the latest and greatest thing around. Some people who couldn’t actually afford a set, would just buy an aerial and stick it on their rooves, just to pretend that they did, so that they could keep up with the Joneses.

Remote Television

Almost as soon as TV started taking off, people started looking for ways to make the technology more appealing to the everyday user. Why should you have to get up and flip a dial and knob whenever you wanted to change the channel? That arduous, six, seven, or nine-foot trek to the set, and back again, is such an inconvenience! Surely there’s a better way?

I See the Light!

As early as 1950, the first TV remote-controls had been invented. Originally connected to the set itself by long cables, the first wireless TV-remotes, of the kind we recognise today, came out in the mid 1950s. One of the first wireless remotes was the Flashmatic, from 1955. It worked quite simply: You pressed the buttons on the controller and aimed it at the television. A beam of light from the remote hit a photoelectric panel on the TV set, which changed the channel.

Brilliant, but problematic. See, the light-sensitive electric cell on the television-set did not differentiate between the beam shot from the remote, and any other source of light. If you turned on an electric lamp near to the television, or even if you opened the curtains and let in the sunlight, the channel would change automatically, even without the remote!

A Click and a Switch!

Early TV remotes worked on light-beams affecting light-sensitive electric panels on the television set. They worked well enough, so long as you had a decent aim and there weren’t any interfering light-sources, but the drawbacks of their over-sensitivity and fiddly operation made them somewhat impractical. A better type of TV remote was invented shortly after, which relied not on light, but on sound. Pressing the remote-buttons let off clicks of different frequencies, which could be picked up by the TV-set. Each frequency related to a specific command – changing the channel, or the volume, as the case may have been. But even this could be problematic, when people with sensitive hearing could hear the pulses of sound (which were designed to be outside the human hearing-range).

Slice and Dice!

Don’tcha just hate it that, just when the show gets to the interesting bit, it suddenly breaks for a commercial?

You can thank TV remotes for that.

After the invention of the remote, it was discovered by studio bigwigs that airing commercials between shows was ineffective. Once a show was over, you could just turn the set off, or flip to another channel. And you didn’t have to watch the stupid commercial for Remington typewriters, or Brylcreem, or Pepsodent, or whatever other boring junk those commercial schmucks were trying to peddle in your own living room! How dare they invade your privacy like this!?

To remedy this, the modern format of television was created, where shows were split into segments or acts, just like a play at the theater. This allowed for advertising, but it also meant that people were less likely to flip away from the channel, in case they missed the return of their favourite TV episode, thereby increasing the viewer-numbers of TV commercials.

Crafty bastards…

The Golden Age of Television

The Golden Age of Television is defined as the period from the early 1950s up to the 1970s. It was during this period that many of the classic and famous TV shows that we know and love and remember, were broadcast. But more importantly, it was during this time (especially in the 50s and 60s), that TV gained dominance over radio for the first time in history. Also, it was during the 50s and 60s that TV developed its own style, format and language.

Previously, TV shows were modeled after radio-programs, but not everything used in radio was possible on television, which necessitated various changes, which led to the evolution of modern television. Shows produced on TV during and after this changeover, are considered classics of television.

What shows, you might ask? Well, how about Dragnet? The Jack Benny Show? Amos & Andy? Leave It To Beaver? Life with Luigi, and numerous other programs.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Along with regular programming, the television revolutionized the broadcasting of news. Previously, you had the radio and the newspaper. But now, the nightly, six o’clock bulletin was the mainstay of news, sports and weather. The news anchor and reporters became staples of nightly broadcasts. Programs like the 1950s “See it Now“, began to replace radio broadcasts as the method for spreading news to the public. The line “Good night, and good luck”, was the sign-off line used by famous reporter Edward R. Murrow, notable for reporting on the Blitz in London, and MacCarthyism during the 1950s.

We Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Program…

By the 60s and 70s, TV had become the mainstay of most well-to-do households in the developed world, and had finally replaced radio as the main medium for electronic entertainment, music and news. It had by now, reached the format which we’re most familiar with.

The 60s and 70s saw many of the most famous TV shows in history take to the air, like Gilligan’s Island, the Addams Family, Are You Being Served?, Dad’s Army, Dragnet (which transferred from radio in the 1950s), and the Dick Van Dyke Show.

It was in the early 1970s that the first TV-recording equipment arrived on the scene. These days, we have DVD recorders and other technology that will allow us to pause, rewind, record and watch multiple shows at once. But we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if the VCR and the video-cassette didn’t get there first. Entering the market in 1971, the VHS tape and the VCR remained the standard method for recording TV-programs for thirty years, until the end of the 20th century. Tricks like putting sticky-tape over the slots in the tape-cassette to disable the anti-recording feature on some cassettes, would enable people to use almost any cassette to record movies, TV shows and almost anything else that they wanted, right off their TV sets. VCDs, and eventually, DVDs, and their accompanying recorders, would of course replace them starting in the late 1990s, but VHS tapes paved the way.

That brings us more or less to the modern day, so far as TVs are concerned. Some things have changed, such as digital TVs from old cathode-ray tube (CRT) TVs, and the lack of a need for a pair of rabbit-ear antennae, but in the past few years, not much else has changed about the basics of television as we know it today.

Want to Know More?

“Television under the Swastika – The History of Nazi Television”

A History of Television from the Grolier Encyclopedia

The Elements of a Vintage Study or Office


It occurs to me that there’s a lot of blogs and forums out there these days, dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal. There are those who sail merrily on their way, oblivious to everything, and there are those who have thrown out the anchors at the top of the falls, holding back with all their might, mankind’s devilish attempts to hurl them into the abyss of blandness, cookie-cutterism and lack of personality and style.

Some Sort of Introduction

Websites and blogs such as the famous Art of Manliness, and The Gentleman, and forums such as the Fedora Lounge, were created to educate people about what life, mostly for men, but also for women, used to be. Before we all got tangled up in what Hollywood and the men from marketing and advertising wanted us to look like.

Some people have seen the older ways and in one way or another, have decided that they would like to return to them, or imitate their style in one way or another, ranging from behaviour, dress, grooming, style, and home decor.

In the 21st century world, the odious ‘man cave’ has made its appearance, both in peoples’ homes, and as a term on the internet. It is an odious term. Yes. I have said it, and it is said.

We already have ‘study’, ‘office’, ‘den’, ‘loft’, ‘workshop’, ‘games-room’ and ‘garage’ as sanctuaries of masculinity, and as places for men and their friends to hide themselves away from others, and enjoy themselves in their own privacy, or enjoy their privacy with their chosen circle of friends.

But apparently, none of these terms sufficiently captured the essence of what the ‘man-cave’ is, which is in itself, a rather fluid term which at times seems to defy definition altogether. A man-cave can be anything from a games-room, a home-theater, a library, an office,  study, a private bar or a model-making workshop, tinkering-room or gym. Perhaps this is why older terminology has been replaced by something more suited to capture such a diverse space that the man-cave has become.

But I’m kinda digressing here. Like…a LOT. I apologise…

The Actual Point of this Posting

One of the most common and popular rooms in the house, and one which may well become a person’s man-cave, is the room which in older times was marked as a study, office, or den. In an attempt to inject these traditionally masculine rooms with masculinity once more, some men have chosen to go the oldschool-route, and redecorate and redesign their studies so that they might look like the great chambers of thought and knowledge that they once were, full of books, wood, leather, whiskey and tobacco smoke.

This posting will cover the details that you’ll need if you want to try and pull off that classic, old-world man-cave study/office look from yesteryear. Those big, classy executive-style offices that you see in old houses, in period movies, and old photographs, with all the lashings of wood and leather and steel and brass, glass and soft, fluffy rugs. The traditional man’s office of yesteryear.

The Stuff You Will Need

The Desk

Every good study…has a desk. It goes without saying. But if you’re going for that old-world look, what kinds of desks should you be looking for? There are several to choose from.

The Rolltop

The rolltop desk is a traditional desk-form from the Georgian era, characterised by the curved rolling lid made of linked wooden slats. The desk typically comes in one of two styles: Either with a quarter-circle curved frontage and side-panels, or a more bendy “S”-styled roll, such as what is pictured above. One is not necessarily better than the other, and it’s up to personal taste which one you want.

The rolltop desk has plenty of space for storing little nicknacks, files, stationery and so-forth, and enough space on it to keep a typewriter, or a computer. Provided the computer or typewriter is of the portable, laptop variety, the rolltop lid in most cases, can be pulled down over the machine at the end of the day, without the top of the computer or the typewriter getting in the way.

The rolltop also has lots of little cubbyholes and pigeon-holes. These are extremely useful for things like stamps, bottles of ink, pens, paperclips, staplers, hole-punchers and other desktop equipment that you would need on an infrequent basis, but would need to access in a hurry when you did.

The Slant-Top or Bureau

The slant-top or bureau desk is characterised by its famous drop-down work-surface, which is usually supported by a pair of pull-out supports, either side of the top drawers. Much like the rolltop, this desk-form dates back to the 1700s, but remains popular with those people who like to keep things neat and tidy. Its rather small size forces you to keep clutter to a minimum, and like the rolltop, a simple flip of the lid hides everything neatly away from the sight of others.

The Secretary Desk

The secretary desk is instantly recognisable from its distinctive shape. It’s basically a bureau with a bookcase stacked on top. This is a handy desk-form if you find yourself constantly needing to flip through reference-books during your work, and you’re sick of having to trek across the study to your bookcases and back, to find the information you need. Simply stack your most-used reference-books in the case above your desk!

One of the great things about desks of this type is that the shelf at the top of the desk is the perfect place to put a desk-lamp where it will provide light, but not get in the way of your work. The upper part of the pigeonholes is also great for storing pencil-mugs, drinks and other things that you might want to access when the desk itself is closed and/or locked at the end of the day.

Rolltop and slant-top desks are almost strictly wall-desks. The backs of the desks are up against the wall, literally. Some people don’t like this. They like having a desk which they can access from all sides. What should you look for?

In this category, there are two common forms.

The Pedestal Desk

The pedestal desk is a desk-form so common that its creation goes back probably to the beginning of desk-building. It’s called a “pedestal” desk because it holds the desktop above two “pedestals” which house the drawers and storage-cupboards within. In its numerous guises and variations, the pedestal desk is the one desk-form that has survived well into the modern day.

The one small issue with pedestal-desks, and other all-round desks like this, is that there isn’t any back panel behind which you could hide wires and cables, so they can sometimes present a more messy appearance.

Particularly small pedestal desks with a narrow space between the two pedestals are often called “kneehole” desks, because the space under the desktop is just wide enough for the writer to slide in and put his knees in there. Compare the kneehole desk below, to the larger pedestal desk further up, and you’ll automatically see a difference in size.

The Partners’ Desk

The Partners’ desk is without doubt, the granddaddy of all desks. They’re called partners’ desks because they’re designed to be used by two business-partners, working face-to-face, sharing one big desk, which is essentially two pedestal-desks placed back-to-back.

Partners’ desks are MASSIVE. They’re about the size of a small car and have enough surface-area to double as an airfield during times of war. I’m pretty sure that during the Battle of Britain, Churchill allowed the RAF to use his desk as a runway for Spitfires when his majesty’s airfields were bombed out of action. Yes. Their finest hour was won thanks to desk-space.

Yes, I made that up. But the size of these desks was such that during the Second World War, those daring R.A.F. chaps used to refer to partners’ desks as “Mahogany Bombers”, due to their gigantic size. And that’s the truth!

These desks also weigh about as much as a whale after it’s gone through the krill buffet. If you’re looking for a power-desk, you must buy one of these. But be warned, they weigh a lot, and they take up a lot of real-estate. You need a BIG study, office, or man-cave, to fit this in!

Unless IKEA has invented a flat-pack version of this, you’ll never get one home in the boot of your car. You might succeed if you have a truck. Best bet is a trailer of some variety, a moving-van, or a pair of teleport-booths.

Classic Desk Accessories

Now that you’ve picked your desk, you need something to put on it. What kinds of things were common on desks 50, 70, 100 years ago? For the accessories and items that make up that classic desktop look of times gone by, read on.

The Lamp

Unless your awesomeness, sophistication and coolness is such that it generates its own, blinding glow of smug superiority, you’ll need a lamp on your desk. If you want something that will match your beautiful antique or solid-wood desk, and not some smunky piece of junk that you bought at IKEA, then you couldn’t go past a traditional Emeralite desk-lamp…

Commonly called “bankers’ lamps” because of their association with banks and their tellers, Emeralite desktop lamps have been manufactured since 1909! Talk about endurance of design! They were originally produced by the company of H.G. McFaddin & Co., in New York, U.S.A. To this day, the classic brass base and stem, and the swiveling green glass lampshade has remained a popular choice for those seeking old-world lighting charm. The brass is shiny and reflective, increasing the amount of light, and the green lamp-shade provides for a nice dash of colour!

But why is it green?

Although you can get these lamps with their shades in almost any colour, from frosty white to lemon yellow, its most common colour, and the colour which everyone associates with these lamps, is green. Why?

Emeralite lamps (note the name: “Emerald Light”) were made with green glass shades because light shining through the glass was softened by the colour green, and was easy on the eyes, while still providing enough light to be useful. The problem was that early electric lightbulbs could be a tad overpowering (some bulbs made in the Edwardian-era are still burning brightly to this day, a testament to their quality and longevity!). Placing a green shade between the light and the user was meant to soften it and make it less glaring on the eyes.

As bankers and accountants often had to update and check ledgers and balance-sheets, usually written in tiny script, having soft lighting that wouldn’t burn out their eyes was important. This is why the shades are green.

It’s also why those old-fashioned visors (such as worn by bank-tellers and accountants) are green. To diffuse the light and make it less intense.

Enough with the history, where do I get one? You can find them easily at antiques shops, second-hand shops, lighting-shops and office-supply chains. The design is so iconic that there are still people manufacturing the exact same style of lamp today, over a century later. You can pick one up, brand new, for not very much money at all.

A Leather Desktop 

You can’t go past the feel of real leather. Soft, cool, relaxing and smooth. And also an essential on any old-fashioned desk.

In the old days, leather-topped desks (such as the ones seen above), were considered the height of quality. The reason is not always obvious. Some people think that the leather is there purely because it’s there, and it’s there because it’s leather, and leather is expensive and if it’s expensive it’s gotta be quality and…yawn.

No.

Leather is found on old desks because it provides a smooth, soft, cushioned surface for writing. Don’t forget that until the 1950s, most people wrote with fountain pens, or dip-pens. Ever pricked yourself with the tip of a steel pen-nib? I can assure you that it hurts. A LOT.

A pen-nib is sharp enough in some cases, to literally draw blood. Since scraping such a needle-sharp pen-point on a wooden desktop would gouge marks and troughs into it, and make writing a very uncomfortable job, desks were lined with leather to give the nibs a smoother journey across the playing-field. These days, leather-topped desks are mostly purchased for their aesthetics, but if you intend to do a lot of handwriting at your desk (with a fountain pen or a dip-pen), then you should certainly buy a desk with a leather top.

Desk Blotters

What’s that, I hear you say? You can’t find a desk with a leather surface? Or they’re too expensive? Or they’ve been ripped up from years of poor use?

Fear not, intrepid study re-decorator, your grandparents already thought of a solution. They’re called desk-blotters.

Desk-blotters are those big leather pads that you see on executive desks, with the sheets of blotting-paper (yes, that’s what it is, blotting-paper) slotted into their corners. You can buy these things second-hand at antiques shops and places like that, or on eBay. Or you can buy them brand-new from homewares shops and large stationery-chains. Blotting-paper can be purchased in huge A1 sheets from places like arts-and-crafts shops, and big stationery-shops. You may need to cut the paper down to size for it to fit into your blotter, though.

Desk-blotters are handy for a number of reasons. Just like with the leather desk-surface, they protect the nibs of your pens from hard, friction-producing surfaces. They also arrest any drips or spills from ink, or drinks, or food (provided that they land on the blotting-paper, which may be changed and removed as necessary). The blotter also protected the leather surface of the desk underneath, if you didn’t want to damage it, but they also had a role in muffling sounds and providing stability which is necessary for the next item on our list.

The Typewriter

You can’t possibly have a nice, classic desktop setup like what you see in the movies, without a pretty, mechanical typewriter.

Remington Standard No. 16., Desktop Typewriter., Ca. 1933

For a machine that really pops and stands out for all the right reasons, and to match the traditional decor of the room, you’ll probably want a typewriter from the first half of the 20th century. A real vintage or antique machine with chrome and steel, and which has all those classic round glass keys with the chrome rings. Such machines ooze class and style.

However, be warned that typewriters of this style are getting harder and harder to find in working condition these days. All-steel typewriters with the flashy glass keys died out after WWII, and are almost unheard of after 1950. But if you’re looking for one (even a non-functioning one to act as a display-piece), then typewriter models likely to be found in old, pre-war offices and households include the Underwood Standard range, (Nos. 1-6), the Royal No. 10 model, the Remington Standard range (Nos. 10-16), and the L.C. Smith & Bros. Standard No. 8 model.

Be warned: A desktop typewriter of this size and vintage is EXTREMELY HEAVY. A Royal 10 weighs roughly 30 pounds. A Remington of a similar vintage weighs about twice as much. Make sure you have a STRONG desk that can take the weight, but more importantly, can handle the bone-jarring vibrations produced by the machine when it operates.

If a huge chunky desktop typewriter is too much to have on your desk, then you could get a nice vintage portable. You can choose from those made by companies such as Corona, Remington, Royal, Imperial, Continental, Olivetti and Underwood. Portables have the benefits of style, convenience, portability, compactness and smaller price-tags.

To find out more about how to buy your typewriter, read this. 

Having a typewriter in your study has many pluses. Apart from the fact that they’re extremely stylish and photogenic, a typewriter can save your ass if for any reason, you have a computer-failure. Anything from a crash to a blackout, to your printer packing up. Provided your machine’s in working order, in a pinch, a ribbon and a couple of sheets of fresh paper will have your letter, your essay, your business-report or other important document done in a few minutes.

Typewriters are also handy for things like typecasting on your blog, for keeping a diary or a journal, and for running off one-off documents that you really don’t want to have to save on your computer and waste disk-space with.

To muffle any undesirable clanking from your typewriter, and to stop it from shifting around on your desk, you may like to place a typewriter-pad underneath it. In the old days, you could buy these things from any stationery-shop. They’re just thick, square pads of foam or felt that you stick underneath your machine.

If you’re using a portable typewriter, a large mouse-pad, suitably orientated, can be an excellent substitute. A larger desktop typewriter will need something that covers more surface-area, and which will have to be much thicker, to cope with the significantly higher weight. To prevent irritating rattling, clinking or clanking while typing, remove any glass objects (jars, sets of drinking-glasses, etc) off your desk. Even the smallest portable typewriter can produce significant vibrations.

Fountain Pens

A man who loves to write should always have a good fountain pen. Not only are they infinitely classy, they are also much smoother and lighter writers than the modern ballpoint pen. For more information about these classic writing instruments, how to buy them, how to use them, care for them and other information, there is an entire category dedicated to them, which may be found on the menus back at the top of this page, on the left side of the screen.

Inkwell or Inkstand

You couldn’t have a classic desktop setup without one of these, could you? An inkwell, or an inkstand (a pair of inkwells on a stand, with slots and spaces for pens, nibs, and other bits and pieces) was a common desktop accessory, which remained popular long after dip-pens were obsolete. Some inkstands were given away as presentation-pieces or gifts.

The traditional inkstand or inkwell that might be found on a traditional desk would’ve been made of glass, silver, or brass.

Rocker Blotter

If you have a fountain pen, then you need a rocker-blotter. Rocker-blotters, in their various sizes and styles, have been desktop accessories since the Victorian era. They can be made of almost anything, from steel to silver, pewter, brass, leather, and a dizzying array of wood-types.

Rocker-blotters come apart into two-or-three pieces. A strip of blotting-paper (or in a pinch, paper-towel) is slipped over the blotter’s base, and it’s held in-place by the top-plate, which in-turn is held in-place by the knob at the top, which simply screws down. Paper is changed as necessary and as frequently as the blotter’s use requires it.

Magnifying Glass

Every household, or every study, and desk, should have some sort of magnifying device. For stuff like reading maps and small print, a standard, desktop magnifying glass is often sufficient. For a magnifier that won’t look out of place in your new study’s oldschool theme, look for a glass with a silver or brass frame, possibly with a cut-glass handle, like the one pictured above. Glasses like that are heavy and solid in the hands, unlikely to slide off the desk and provide good magnification.

Their extra weight means that they can also double as extra-classy paperweights, if need be.

A Good Drinking-Vessel

Either to be stored at the corner of your desk, or on a separate surface such as a sideboard, you should always have a nice drinking-vessel. What it is depends on what you like to drink. Fine glassware for top-quality alcoholic beverages, or even if you don’t drink alcohol, it can look fine filled with water. If you dislike having to constantly fill up your glass, search for something larger, like a traditional 1-pint pewter tankard.

Relax, modern pewter doesn’t contain any lead, so they’re perfectly safe to drink out of. But if you are the suspicious type, buy a traditional-style tankard with a see-through base. Traditionally made of glass, most modern tankards have see-through bases made of plastic (although some makers do still make tankards with traditional glass bases).

This was an innovation from Georgian times, and was created so that drunken bar-patrons would notice if a Royal Navy pressman had dropped a silver shilling into his beer. Press-gangs would enter a bar and look for drinkers. Accepting a shilling from a pressman was taken as your agreement to enter the Royal Navy. To trick drinkers, pressmen would drop a shilling into their tankards of beer. The drinkers would never see the shilling until the beer was all gone, and they were too drunk to notice it. They’d find the coin at the bottom of their mugs and were therefore hoodwinked into joining the navy.

To beat this crooked system of recruitment, people started making tankards with see-through bottoms so that drinkers could make sure there was nothing hiding at the bottom of their booze.

If you’re really worried about people slipping stuff into your drink, get yourself one of those German beer-steins with the lids on top.

Ash-Tray

Fewer people smoke today than they did back in the 30s, 40s and 50s, but an ash-tray is a nice thing to have on your desk, even if you don’t smoke. They’re handy as receptacles for things like loose-change, keys, business-cards and other important, but small, fiddly things that you don’t want to lose accidentally. The classic man’s ashtray is typically made of either brass, steel, or cut glass.

Bill-Spike

Anyone who is in the habit of writing down dozens of little post-it notes, phone-numbers, phone-messages, and other little details on small pieces of paper on a regular basis (like me!) will certainly appreciate a bill-spike.

Commonly found on shopfront-counters, reception-desks and other places where receipts are want to gather, these painfully sharp steel spikes on their metal bases are handy for keeping a tab on little bits of paper which are important enough to keep around, but not large or detailed enough to put in a folder, in a book, or in a drawer somewhere (where they’d probably get lost, anyway). You can pick these things up at places like stationery-chains and nick-nack shops for just a couple of dollars.

I have one on my desk, and without it, I’d forget where I put a person’s phone-number, or the address of someplace, within an hour of writing it down. Having a bill-spike is great for just poking down those flittery bits of paper that some people just have all over their bedrooms, offices and studies. Just write down your note, and poke it on down, and it won’t move anywhere until you want it to.

If your spike has a little coin-catcher, like that one in the photo (mine does), so-much the better. Handy for keeping your loose change in. If it doesn’t, then that’s why you’ve got the ash-tray on your desk for.

Letter Holder

For some people, having a steel bill-spike on their desk can be a safety hazard (if you have kids, for example). An alternative is the traditional letter-holder. Typically made of wood, brass or steel, these things can range from simple one-slot holders, to entire caddies that will hold letters, envelopes, incoming mail, outgoing mail, pens, pencils, scissors, stamps, paperclips, staples and oodles of other things. Handy for storing loose bits of paper in there.

Inbox

No, not one of those electronic things. I mean a proper inbox! Remember when they used to be made of wood? Handy for keeping documents that you’re working on, spare copy-paper and other things. If you need extra help with organisation, get a matching “outbox” too.

Stapler

You couldn’t possibly have a vintage office man-cave, without a stapler. And you couldn’t possibly have a stapler more vintage than the El Casco M5, from 1934.

Established in Spain in 1920, El Casco was originally a firearms manufacturer, producing revolvers. But the Depression hit the company like a kick in the nuts. Desperate not to keel over and die, the company turned its precision machining of firearms into precision machining of exquisite desktop accessories…which it still manufactures today. And the M5 stapler is one of its most iconic designs, and is the stapler that you would have to have in any vintage office.

Other Oldschool Office Fixtures

Oldschool Storage Solutions

Pigeon-holes and filing-cabinets kinda rule the roost here. I don’t believe in things really doing double-duty. An object should have a use, and it should be used for that purpose. Having things that double up as something else can be fiddly and frustrating to some people, just as much as it can be space-saving and time-saving for others. Keep a nice old-fashioned filing-cabinet in your office or study. Two or three drawers, possibly four, depending on how much filing you need to do.

And while you’re at it, invest in some of those old beige/custard/buff-coloured manila folders, the ones made of cardboard. I find these handy because you can just write whatever you need to, on the front of the file, in big letters, to save you having to fiddle around with tags and stickers. And some more modern files don’t have surfaces or colour-selections that lend themselves well to this function. Especially handy if you have poor eyesight.

Sound System

For most men, music is a must. To enjoy your favourite rock, jazz, classical, pop, Latin/South-American, or other genre of music, it sounds so much nicer when it’s coming out of something that looks pretty. Or even if it’s just listening to your favourite radio-station, talkback, music, or otherwise. What’s something that you can put in your new, revamped man-space that will look nice and sound nice?

For those of us who enjoy variety, you probably couldn’t go past a Crosley-brand radio-gramophone. Records are becoming more and more popular these days, and people young and old are collecting records, buying new records, resurrecting old records, and dusting off their old collections.  The Crosley record-player shown above is one of many reproduction units evoking the radio-styles of the 30s and 40s. It can tune into AM and FM radio, it can play all your records, ranging from 33, 45, up to 78rpm, and it even has audio-cassette capabilities. Some units of this style even have slots for CDs (keep an eye out for those, if that’s what you’re after).

Some people find themselves listening to the radio more than they listen to their CD, record, cassette or even MP3-collections. Good, old-fashioned tube or transistor-radios are ideal for this. Some people say that vacuum-tube radios, of the kind popular from the 20s-40s, are the ones that produce the very best sound.

Old-fashioned tube-radios came in a number of styles. The two most common are cathedral…

…and tombstone…

…named for their curved, and rectangular/square profiles.

You can buy an antique one that’s been restored, or you can buy a modern reproduction, which will look the part, sound the part, but cost a fraction of the price.

If you have an extensive collection of CDs or records, you might want to buy an old jukebox from the 1940s or 50s…

You can buy original vintage ones, or you can buy modern reproduction jukeboxes, which are designed to play a stack of CDs, instead of a stack of records!

 Seating Solutions

Don’t be a Victorian, and believe that ultra-comfortable seating is something to be considered immoral and rude. Every office man-cave should have a comfortable office-chair. The modern office-chair was invented in the mid-1800s, and was typified by the Centripetal Armchair:

In many ways, this was the first modern office-chair. It came with a swivel seat, rolling caster-wheels, and had models which came with additional features such as headrests and arm-rests. In fact, when it was unveiled in 1851, it was considered so modern and revolutionary that the uptight Victorians were completely horrified by it! Victorian morality dictated that such comfort and pleasure, derived from a piece of furniture, suggested relaxed, loose morals, quite shocking and improper in those days! As a result, despite its revolutionary design, the chair was a poor seller.

Fortunately, such starched, straitlaced attitudes are not so prevalent today, and you can easily go out and by a comfortable chair without fear of immorality.

You don’t have to buy a chair as fancy as that, but any desk-chair should be comfortable and fully adjustable. If you’re going for that vintage look, older chairs were typically made of wood and/or leather. Not plastic or other materials. Chairs like these (particularly ones made of wood) are often pretty cheap and can be bought almost anywhere.

If your room is large enough, then you might also consider the inclusion of armchairs and/or a couch. Handy for visitors, or just as a place to kick back, relax, and have a nap. Or read. Or write.

A Safe Place

What better place to keep things safe than…a safe?

Of course, there are other alternatives, but not all of them are particularly effective. Those pesky “personal” safes that you can buy aren’t really that effective. If it’s small enough to carry home, it’s small enough for someone to steal. And therefore…useless.

What kind of strongbox you buy depends on what you want to keep safe. Some desks come with lockable drawers. If you have a vintage desk with the keys intact, you could use that as your safe. Nobody’s going to try and carry away an entire desk. Some filing-cabinets also have the same feature, for storing important documents.

But if these two options aren’t suitable, and having a floor or a wall-safe isn’t an option, then your best bet is to get an actual, honest-to-goodness safe. Those old-fashioned steel ones that Wil-E-Coyote loves to drop on the Road Runner. A safe like that in working condition, with a known combination, will keep your valuables of all kinds…well…safe!

Of course, these safes come with a few strings attached – They take up quite a bit of space. And they are also extremely heavy! Be glad that some of them come with stands and wheels! But they are handy in storing stuff that you want to have protected. Now, nobody is going to be running off with your precious collection of ‘gentleman’s literature’.

Coat-Tree

A classic, bentwood tree is always handy. This one belongs to me. Traditionally, hats were placed on the top branches, coats on the lower branches, and things like umbrellas, walking-sticks and canes were placed in the ring around the base. Even if you don’t own a stick or a hat, these things can still be handy as a place to dump your coat when you come in out of the cold. Better than chucking them on the couch, anyway.

Open-Grille Fan

Back in the old days, when health and safety regulations were not what they are today, almost every office or study would have one of these perched somewhere around the room, either on the desk (if there was space…unlikely), or on a stand, pedestal or side-table. Old-style open-grille fans are stylish, easy to clean, and keep you cool the old-fashioned way. Just don’t put your fingers anywhere near it when it’s running, and keep the kids away from it. Or better yet, you could install ceiling-fans. Having a nice collection of paperweights (or paperweight stand-ins) would be important when you have a fan like this in your room.

Rotary Telephone

The old, rotary-dial telephones of the 20s and 30s are iconic, and no vintage office, if you’re trying to recreate one, would be found without one. You can still buy original telephones in working order. Simply plug it into the wall, and let it ring! Some of these old phones have bases and bodies made of steel, so they can be surprisingly heavy. But the good news with such solid construction is that after a heated conversation, you can literally slam down the handset without damaging the unit.

Some Concluding Remarks… 

These are more or less the bare bones essentials that you’ll need to buy, to pull off the look of a vintage office or study, if that’s the angle for your man-cave, or home-office redecoration. You can vary them around a bit and mix them up, but in completion, they’ll turn almost any room into a replica office or home study, straight from 1935.

Any other elements you add in are personal touches to add your own little spin to things. This is my vintage desktop at home:

As you can see, most of the things listed in this posting can be found there. It’s an ongoing project, inspired by my recent purchase of the banker’s lamp in the corner, which in-turn, inspired this posting, for any guy looking to dress up his study or office in a more interesting, vintage style.

« Older entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 150 other followers