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Wierd and Wonderful Gadgets of the Victorian Era

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The 1920s satnav ... and other weird and wonderful gadgets that never quite took off


It was the invention of the future - a tiny machine complete with its own map that would tell motorists which way to go.
But this was no satnav - after all, the communications satellites that help modern cars locate themselves were still decades away.
Instead, the route-finder for the well-equipped 1920s driver was a wristwatch-style device equipped with minuscule maps.
1920s route-finder at British Library gadget exhibition
Lost in time: The 1920s route-finder that never took off

Miniature scrolls bearing the directions were loaded onto the watch and revolved as the wearer continued his journey.
The 1920s TomTom never took off - perhaps because there were too few motorists to buy them.
It is one of the labour and face-saving devices to go on display from a private collection of weird and wonderful gadgets from the past.
Maurice Collins, a retired businessman from Muswell Hill, London, has cherry-picked 50 must-have items from his collection of 1,400 historic gadgets to show off at the British Library Business and Intellectual Property Centre.
Mr Morris said his collection was a celebration of 'ingenious products that attempted to solve human difficulty'.
Other crazy Heath Robinson contraptions in the show include...

  • BURGLAR ALARM 

The clockwork mechanism on this 1870s burglar alarm was wound up and the upright lever set, before the device was placed at the foot of a door and a spike pushed into the floor. If an intruder tried to enter, the lever would be pushed down and set off the surprisingly loud and effective bell.
Door alarm


  • PISTOL PURSE
Highwaymen were a real danger in the late 19th century and this cunning design might just have saved your honour, property and even life. A dainty weapon was concealed in a secret compartment of this seemingly normal ladies' purse. The barrel could hold only one bullet  -  so you had to make your shot count.
pistol purse

electro massager
  • ELECTRO MASSAGER
During the 1930s, body massage was not seen as a luxury or part of being pampered but was, correctly, regarded as important for maintaining healthy skin and good circulation. However this functional-looking dynamo massager appears neither pleasurable nor safety conscious, as it gave tiny electric shocks to the user.


  • TOE SOCKS
These pre-shrunk 'To Sox' were designed to act as toe protectors. Produced during World War II, it was claimed that they could reduce hosiery costs by up to 80 per cent. They were designed to be worn over the big toes, to protect socks from wear.
toe

  • THE ENVELOPE SEALER
This invention, by Reynolds of Chicago, was a byword for gravitas and efficiency. When the lever is cranked, a roller forces an open envelope to undergo a dampening process, before a second roller presses it closed.
sealer


peep
Double cigarette holder
  • PEEP SHOW
Hand-cranked 'What the butler saw' machines were a staple of British amusement arcades for much of the 20th century. Some featured supposedly erotic slideshows  -  like this one, pictured above left,  -  while others offered comedies and dramas. All were available for a penny and were seen through a metal socket on the screen.

  • CIGARETTE HOLDER
This double holder, pictured above right, is thought to have been inspired by a fictional cigarette case belonging to Bulldog Drummond  -  hero of Sapper's bestselling crime novels of the day  -  which 'held Turkish on one side and Virginian on the other'.

  • LIGHT SPECTACLES
Invented in the U.S. in the 1930s, these specs were adorned with two small, battery-powered lights, with a long wire trailing beneath. The experience was marred only by the likelihood of electrocution when it rained.

specs

eye massage
  • EYE MASSAGER
Apparently it was not enough to have a gadget for massaging the body.
By the 1920s, it was also deemed necessary to devise a mechanism to massage the eyeballs. This convoluted gadget was pressed to the face.
The user would then operate the small lever  to compress the rubber bellows which would in turn emit cool puffs of air directly onto the eyeballs.


  • MOUSTACHE PROTECTOR
Having a bushy moustache has always been something of an obstacle to refined dining  -  particularly when it came to mulligatawny soup. The answer was to use a moustache protector, spoon or cup  -  designed with a hole for the mustachioed man to sip through.
moustache

  • FOOD PROCESSOR
The modern food processor is something we take for granted  -  just fill the bowl and push the switch. More satisfying  -  and quieter  -  was this Victorian food chopper. Turning the handle pushes the cutting arm up and down and rotates the bowl at the same time.
chopper


  • FINGER STRETCHER FOR PIANISTS
Developed in America in 1910 to help pianists hit the sprawling notes demanded by the likes of Stravinsky and Debussy. Careful use was required: it is thought the composer Schumann destroyed his hands using an early version.
finger

  • PAGE TURNER
Designed for musicians this dates from 1905. Sheet music could be prepared for turning by fixing the top of each metal rod on to the desired page. When ready, a catch was pulled free and the page flipped over.
page

  • CLOCKWORK TEASMADE
Patented in Birmingham in 1902, this brass and copper tea maker was the first Teasmade. The alarm clock triggered a switch and a match was then struck against moving sandpaper, lighting the spirit stove under the kettle. Once the water boiled, the steam pressure lifted a hinged flap and the kettle would tilt, filling the teapot beneath. Finally, a plate would swing over the stove, extinguishing its flames.
teasmade

  • AN EARLY LAVATORY
In the 19th century, the cost of using a public convenience, such as this, was one penny  -  hence the phrase 'to spend a penny'. This decorative 1870s water closet was manufactured by Mr Jennings  -  a plumber who made his name installing such WCs at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.
lav







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2 comments:

Ha! We'd like to order one pistol purse and one moustache protector, thanks very much!

Great post!

Aerin
Royal Steamline Captain

http://www.royalsteamline.com // wedding invitations from a time that never was
http://www.theblog.royalsteamline.com // inspiration for brides & grooms
http://www.royalsteamline.etsy.com // dress badges & brooches


My hubby sent me the link to the wrist map on gajitz.com the other day - it's wonderful!


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