Friday, April 27, 2012

The Kingdom of Wacky and Wonderful Illustration

At a recent antique show, I scored a slightly beat up and thoroughly awesome copy of The Kingdom of Nature; An Illustrated History of the Animal World by Mrs. Frank Leslie and copyrighted in 1888.  The preface advertises a content of almost 1,000 illustrations.  Many of them are just amazing in a distinctly late 19th century way.  Here are a few samples to start with.  A series will follow here and on my secondary blog,

The price for this gem?  $5.00.  One of the high points of living in the dawn of digital books is that the real ones are being dumped on the cheap.  The sad part is that many will never find a home and will end up in a landfill somewhere.  It appears that this book has not been digitized.  I hope you enjoy the images here and to follow.

The Oliver 9 decided to contribute a short review seen further below.

Times were tough in the "Predamite Period" described at the beginning of the book.
The Mighty Oliver 9 is back!  With assistance from the faithful gingercat.  He gets grumpy without exercise.

Fortunately, evolution kicked in.  I wonder if he knew how to use a typewriter?

It's all good until he runs out of femurs for his feline friend.

This calligraphic type style should be mandated by law.
This is a hefty and substantial tome.  Cover to cover, it is pushing 2 inches thick with 440 pages of slight puffery that is typical of the era.  I have read far worse in turn of the last century technology history reviews.  If the title page is any indication, this is probably the best book ever written!  Or something like that.

Yep, best book ever!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

Today is the observed 448th birthday of the Bard.  To celebrate, I scanned portions of a May, 1964 National Geographic article penned by the then director of the Folger Library in Washington, D.C.  In classic National Geographic fashion, the magazine included an amazing map which could not be scanned as a whole.  I hope you enjoy some of the details.

I love this rendition of Puck.

There be monsters here.  This reminds me of the old flat Earth maps that assumed the presence of huge and menacing sea creatures lurking the depths near the edge of the world.

Only a nerd would be excited at finding a vintage magazine featuring Shakespeare's Britain.
Artist's rendition of the Globe.

Of course, there are always the haters that say Shakespeare didn't write the collected works of Shakespeare.  Some say he didn't even exist.  Some point to his signature as being a sign of illiteracy.  I guess that means the majority of doctors can't actually read.  I could say the same for most of my peers in the regulatory compliance world.  My signature is beyond illegible.

I have something special for the Shakespeare deniers: a reminder that on this blog he has some muscle behind him.

As an aside, I am becoming reacquainted with an old friend after the utter failure of a new one.  I've owned an Epson Perfection 3170 Photo scanner for a number of years.  It is a single purpose device with a more complicated interface than most of the family prefers.  It had been supplanted by an all-in-one scanner/printer combination, a HP Deskjet 4480.  The latter is now declared the worst recent piece of technology I have owned other than Windows Vista.  It won't recognize refill cartridges.  Expensive high capacity cartridges work for a dozen or so pages and then are reported as empty or start overprinting lines.  Worse yet, when there is a cartridge problem, the scanner also stops working.

In contrast, the old Epson still works perfectly and the company has supplied updated drivers for Windows 7.  Bear in mind that this scanner dates to Windows XP.  Kudos to Epson!  I wish I could say the same for Adobe's Lightroom (they never updated RAW profiles for 1.0 and force users to buy new software) and the ColorVision Syder2express (no software updates since Vista).   Please bear with me while I get used to the controls and optimize scan file sizes.

For the HP Deskjet 4480, I present an Epic Fail award photo.  I will never buy another new HP printer, even if it is tossed in free with a computer package.

Vultures await the carcass of the HP 4480.  Long may it rot.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chicago Bike Patrol in Training

I love just about every form of photography.  Candid street photography is especially enjoyable since I like wandering impulsively with the camera at the ready.  I never know what might turn up.

Buskers and Bike Police.  Add a few thousand tourists to this scene and the summer picture will be complete.
Every city has spring rituals.  Chicago will be mobbed by tourists from all over the world in the summer months.  There is much to be done to prepare for the onslaught and make the city look its best. I'm accustomed to visiting in April and early May when the landscaping crews are doing their thing.  Crews are pressure washing the sidewalks and scraping up old gum.  If you look up, you'll see swing stages as skyscrapers are cleaned and maintained.

As I walked along Michigan Avenue last week, I saw something new:  a fleet of Chicago's finest preparing for high season bike patrols.
Those are tulips in the island between the Wrigley and Tribune buildings.  Chicago had a really mild winter.
While I've seen a few officers on scooters and horses, most get around the Magnificent Mile on foot or on bike.  Of course, they need conditioning and training.
Only a tourist or photographer would even notice a pack of police on mountain bikes.  The average urban dweller prides himself/herself on staying focused.
Taken with a Panasonic NEX-3 with the kit lens.
Off they go!  I'm pretty sure their next stop would have been Millennium Park.  I'll be back in Chicago for a trade association meeting in a few weeks.  We'll see what shows up in front of my wandering camera.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Nelson-Atkins World's Fairs Exhibit Opening

Margo would love a visit at Meet Margo: The Gold Royal with Star(let) Power

Entertainment for the evening.  Sadly, there was a conspicuous lack of mimes.

Photography is not allowed in the exhibit due to the number of pieces on loan from other galleries and private collections.  Visit the website for more:

This is a major exhibit with many special programs and educational tie ins through its run.  Skim the website and you'll get a good idea of the treasures that await.  Our favorite part was the transition from Art Nouveau  to Art Deco.  Margo's designer, Henry Dreyfuss, even built a model city, "The Democracity", for the 1939 New York World's Fair.

In keeping with the tradition of the World's Fairs, the Nelson-Atkins decided to house a temporary structure showcasing technology and design.  After an open competition, the Sun Pavilion was born.  It lives on the lawn just past the sculpture garden.

The structure is comprised of reused scaffold support parts and old cargo containers.  It is interactive.  Visitors can donate various bits of debris which artists will turn into new art.  The solar panel array is functional and connected to a power management system so visitors can learn about the mechanics of taking DC and making it into AC.

Here is the official description from the museum website:
In conjunction with Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is proud to present the Sun Pavilion. World’s fairs were the most important vehicle for debuting technological and stylistic advancements for functional objects and the pavilions that housed them. The Sun Pavilion is a temporary structure keeping with these important themes. The design and construction team for the Sun Pavilion includes Generator Studio, Tm Gratkowski, Brightergy LLC, Thornton Tomasetti, BC Engineers and Prosser Wilbert Construction. The Sun Pavilion will be a sophisticated and visually compelling mixture of architecture, design, and technology. The open and fragmented array of solar panels, scaffolding and interior spaces will create an exterior connection to the featured exhibition in the Bloch Building and provide interactive experiences on the museum campus. Visitors of all ages will experience progressive principles of contemporary design and technology in this exciting new space. 

gingercat making electricity.
 You can learn more about building the interactive portions from the designers.
 And here is the power output for the day:
Architectural Record story

I hope you can make it to the exhibit!  The pedicab driver is lonely.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Craiglist Bargain Typewriter

Quick!  Someone grab this $100 bargain machine before it goes on ebay!  It has a unique wide carriage, glass top keys and the oxidation is thrown in at no extra charge.  Writing the next Great American Novel?  This can be your muse!

I just returned from an extremely busy conference week in Chicago.  I have many new photos on the camera that need to be imported and was contemplating my next entry.  Finding this gem just made my life easier.  The Amazing $100 Typewriter

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Meet Margo: The Gold Royal with Star(let) Power

"Give us that, Deagol my love."
"Because it's my birthday, and I wants it."

Thus began Smeogol's slow descent into madness.  Fortunately, I didn't need to drown anyone or scale Mount Doom to acquire the Precious now known as Margo.  But I had a birthday, and I wanted a gold plated Royal.

What is it about gold?   The whole concept of a gold based economy always mystified me.  Why not big stone discs or beads?  Obsidian.  Yeah, it's durable and relatively uncommon.  Why not obsidian? 

To understand the whole concept of gold, one must gaze upon it and think of a time past where few shiny things existed unscathed in our corrosive atmosphere.

Whole empires rose and fell with gold symbols and artifacts at their center.  Wars have been fought over gold.  And why?  Maybe because it is just so pretty.  We covets the Precious.

As suggested in the title, Margo is a typewriter with Hollywood starlet power.  Fortunately, the warranty card came with the machine and provides at least partial provenance.

The trail is a bit cold.  There is no absolute proof that this typewriter belonged to the actress, Jane Wald.  She would have been 22 when this machine was purchased in Hollywood.  That at least fits a narrative.  And even though the ebay seller stated that "It looks like it has never been used!", it in fact had plenty of evidence of extensive use including paper shreds, eraser shavings and lack of mechanical upkeep.

According to the Typewriter Serial Number Database, this machine was manufactured in 1948.  That at least gives a hint that it was not built to order other than the name plaque.

Margo had two primary mechanical issues along with a number of clean and lube related eccentricities.  She was missing an odd screw widgy thingy that actuates an armature for the back spacer.  Also, every shift was accompanied by resistance followed by a "cla-clunk!"  That turned out to be a lever out of adjustment.  I think its purpose was to keep the type basket from moving around during transportation.

The seller was located in Florida; a sensible place to retire.  The case sure smelled like the perpetual mildew that is Florida (no insult intended to Floridians, but every hotel and rental car I've been in there smells of air freshener or mildew).  I removed the side and back panels for mechanical access and to remove the irredeemably stinky wool sound deadening pads.  Relatively damp storage helped keep the rubber parts supple and the only evident pitting was at the high contact points.  Richard Polt has commented on the relatively thin plating on these machines.

I used the Cape Cod Polishing Cloths for Fine Metals to clean the gold plate.  The innards were mildly corroded and required a bunch of PB Blaster, mineral spirits and elbow grease  to get everything cleaned and loosened up.  I think she looks lovely.

The bodywork is really a lovely bit of industrial design by the renowned Henry Dreyfuss.  I have a Gray Magic once owned by a professor and the beat-to-heck Arrow featured at the beginning of Royal week.
But, in my opinion, neither of these color schemes bring out the design detail the way Margo's contrasting black and gold does.

Henry Dreyfuss was concerned with aesthetics and the human/machine interface.  The keys are shaped just so.  The glass tops are slightly concave and have just a bit of texture molded in.  For a great writeup on Henry Dreyfuss and the the QDL, visit Robert Messenger's blog at

There are a few more gold Royals living out in the Typosphere.
Towards the bottom - this is Richard Polt's collection

The main claim to fame for the gold plated Royals is that one was the weapon of choice for Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.  I can see the attraction.

The gold plated QDLs were reportedly a limited edition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company.  It's only fitting that I share images of the Royal portable and its shiny first generation ancestor.

More on the chrome and wood grain Royal portable at

What's in a name?  Why is this typewriter named Margo?  Well, MEK and I like Wes Jackson movies.  The machine is all shiny and glitzy, but rough around the edges like Royal Tenenbaum.  This machine doesn't look all that masculine to us, especially with Jane's name on the paper table. She is vaguely exotic, has a mysterious past and is a little tarnished. So Margo Tenenbaum it is.  Bonus:  She even likes guys that are rough around the edges, just like Margo!

One thing that I absolutely love about this machine is that Royal didn't skimp on the number of gold plated parts.  How many modern "special edition" cars have you seen with a carbon console insert and some chrome bezels on the dashboard?  Even portions of the ribbon vibrator are gold plated.

Here are a couple of parting shots for the road.

Unless a zealous dragon or hafling takes Margo away, you will see more of her.  It's going to be hard to put her in a case since she complements the slate bench so well.  So shiny is the Precious...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Royal Hartford Adjustment Department Circa 1908

Last month a box appeared on our doorstep bearing a gift from a friend.  These photos are taken from a print she picked up many years ago when she lived in the Kansas City area.  It is pretty beat up and the emulsion is doing weird things after 100 years.  But it is still 10 times awesome!

 I am reluctant to take this original print out of the frame given its condition.  Please ignore the reflections.

According to Royal company history, this photo was taken the year the Hartford manufacturing facility started up.  I've looked closely at the machine on the bench and can find no model number identifier.  Was this before they called the No. 1 by that name?

I looked up the studio and found more by the same photographer on a Connecticut history website.
Connecticutt History Online: John C. Nyser  MEK was nerding out on the photo of the book  keeping and penmanship class at the YMCA.

Do a search for Royal Typewriter on the website and you will be rewarded with photos of the factory and the Royal Typewriter Fife and Drum Corps.  Really. Royal Typewriter Company photos

 My photo would probably have been taken on an 8x10 plate.  The print is most likely like a contact sheet and holds a lot of detail.  For you serial number geeks, take a look at the covers.  I can make out one that says 16,541 which would be consistent with a 1907 manufacture date as shown on the Typewriter Serial Number Database.

This was a brand new facility and this portion looks like a pretty decent place to work.

I'll pull this out of the frame and do a proper copy before it falls apart.  This print is a great background for the work bench.  Typewriter and technology ephemera doesn't get much better than this! 

Royal Week at vintagetechobsessions continues through the weekend with a special typewriter waiting in the wings.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Royal Study in Toughness

Before we go any further, I want to assure you that this post is not an April Fool's Day prank.  The typecast below is from this typewriter, as found, with no lube, adjustments or ribbon replacement.  It was going to be taken apart until I happened to try a few keys.  Sigh.

Just like the Arrow (a rebadged QDL) said, I bought it for the sole purpose of cannibalizing a funky screw that actuates the back space mechanism.  (Correction:  that was $2.00 and worth it just for the screw.)  The love interest mentioned above is much prettier and exclusive and theoretically had an easier and pampered life.  However, the screw in question was missing or had been removed.  And I assure you that she required much lube and adjustment to work properly.  (Famous ebay seller quote:  "Looks like this has never been used!")

This beast looks like it has been to Hell and back, but it works nearly perfectly with only two typebars sticking at the platen.  I'm not sure if the margin release key works; I'll have to bend it back into position to find out.

In high school, when I first started working on cars and motorcycles, I liked the ones that were rough around the edges with good, strong engines.  It was partly due to not having much to spend on cars and partly because I just making things work.  I self-taught on engine rebuilding way back when and drove some really scroungy looking cars.  But they ran, and I respect that.

The guy I bought this and a mint Polaroid 95 Land Camera from organizes a great rod show that I absolutely must attend.  If you like homebrew rat rods and customs, check out photos of Greaserama taken by a friend of mine at 

My family unit has engaged me in a "discussion" on what degree of clean this machine should be.  I'm leaning towards the barn rat rod approach.  The essential nature of this machine is expressed through total neglect and still having the heart of a champion.  My three girls gazed upon me with various expressions ranging from baleful reproach to Sheldon-is-trying-to-make-your head-explode as they argued for continued existence and mechanical cleaning and lubrication.

If you have read their blogs (which I set up for them) you know how opinionated they are.  I am, perhaps, doomed.

So, gentle reader, what do you think?  Should I give the innards a clean and lube?  Should I clean the dirt off the body?  That risks removing some over spray, but I think the auto paint blobs aren't going anywhere.  Up front, I have to tell you that "boat anchor", "door stop" and "junk robot parts" are welcome opinions protected by the First Amendment.  However, sentimentality for functional mechanical things as outweighed reason in this case.

Also, 1950's car club nickname suggestions are appreciated.

Even the grubby type slugs eventually get their day at vintagetechobsessions.  We have an equal macro opportunity policy.

Heads up:  It is Royal week at vintagetechobsessions.  The aforementioned love interest was my birthday present and it really is pretty.  I'll just say it is a study in contrasts.  Stay tuned!