Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Vintage School Desks


We all went to school and we all sat at school desks.   We sat at school desks for hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months, and years and years.

We started sitting at school desks in kindergarten and sat at them for the thirteen years of K-12. I added four more years sitting at school desks for college and then two more for grad school.

Schools desks come in many shapes and sizes.  An amazing moment for many adults is when they visit a kindergarten and they see the teeny tiny little desks. It's hard to imagine how tiny we once were.

One thing that all the school desks seem to have in common is how industrial strength they were.  Strong enough to stand up to years of leaning and banging.  In the old days, they were attached to the floor. I have several in which the back of one row of school desk is the desk for the row behind them.

Contemporary School Desk
When I think about school desks, I remember an odd but true story.

Rural Classroom in Sangmelima, Cameroon, Africa
When I was in my early 20s, I lived in a small town in Southern Cameroon called Sangmelima. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  There was another volunteer in my town who was friends with a local carpenter who we called "Uncle."  Uncle was a little less than responsible and he had a few kids and a wife with a very sharp tongue. One day as we stopped by, we heard her chewing him out for failing to come up with the money for the school fees, apparently their boy had just been sent home from school since the fees were overdue.

Vintage School Desk
Vintage School Desk 
The other volunteer and I quickly loaned him money for the fees and walked with him and his son back to the school to sort things out.

It turns out the problem wasn't just the fees but as the teacher explained and pointed out, she had thirty desks and thirty students. Although he now had the cash, the seats were quite literally, all full.  So Uncle turned on the charm and she finally agreed that if she had more desks and chairs, she would accept the boy back into school. So we went back to Uncles house and it only took him a few hours to build another four school desks. We marched them over to school, set them up, and she accepted him back into school.

When I was young, I went to school  in London and one of our subjects was penmanship.  We had fountain pens that we would fill up with ink from the ink wells and try to carefully copy over our lessons. I was terrible. Ink would blot, I'd have ink all over my hands and sometimes on my desk and clothes. And that was on the days when I was trying not to make a mess, not counting the moments when they would leave us alone and we would flick ink at each other.




Monday, July 12, 2021

SRA, Golden Books, and Card Catalogs

I took this picture in the hallway of our office.  What a great collection of classic educational materials....

A Library card catalog,  a SRA box and a Golden Book
A Library card catalog,  a SRA box and a Golden Book

Sitting on a classic elementary school card catalog, there is a box of the SRA materials with an old Golden Book and just the corner of an old World Book Encyclopedia.  Does that bring back memories or what?

This is part of the RetroEdTech collection curated by the president of Time4Learning in their offices.  For more info on each items:

Card Catalogs - Card catalogs were the key to every school and public library.  Users could look up books by either author or title and then find them on the shelves. They conceptual organization was the Dewey Decimal System and each library had its own physical layout and maps to where to find the books.  (Quoting from Wikipedia). The Dewey Decimal Classification organizes library materials by discipline or field of study. Main divisions include philosophy, social sciences, science, technology, and history. The scheme is made up of ten classes, each divided into ten divisions, each having ten sections. The system's notation uses Arabic numbers, with three whole numbers making up the main classes and sub-classes and decimals creating further divisions. The classification structure is hierarchical and the notation follows the same hierarchy. Libraries not needing the full level of detail of the classification can trim right-most decimal digits from the class number to obtain a more general classification.[39] For example:
500 Natural sciences and mathematics
510 Mathematics
516 Geometry
516.3 Analytic geometries
516.37 Metric differential geometries
516.375 Finsler Geometry
As I read about the Dewey Decimal System today, I think of the original web directories such as Yahoo and DMOZ and wonder whether they used or leveraged the Dewey System. BTW, Yahoo's directory shut down in 2014, DMOZ in 2017 per Wikipedia.

Golden Books - The Golden Books are a great collection of kids books both story books and informational text. The Poky Little Puppy was the most popular and a particular favorite of mine.  We had the 45 record of it which I remember listening to time and time again. 






























SRA - Did personalized instruction start with those SRA reading cards and boxes that were so popular in the 1960s and 70s?  Probably not since the old one room school houses and many other educational systems presumably had systems for perssonalized or student-paced instruction. But SRA was probably a major milestone in that it was broadly used and had a defined widely used system for student paced and individualized reading. The SRA box, properly called the Reading Library Kits from  Scientific Reading Associates, was a widely used system developed by Don Parker for personalizing learning and having students take some ownership of their reading.    I'd like to research this more but here's a few notes from Audrey Waters Hacked Education Blog on SRA.

The cards were purposefully designed as an alternative to whole class instruction, so that students could focus on activities aimed at their particular (reading) level and move forward at their own pace. “I wanted, somehow, to individualize instruction,” Parker says in his story. Individualized instruction is often branded as “personalization....


The SRA Reading Laboratory Kit was first published in 1957, with a suggested sale price of $39.95 per box. IBM acquired SRA in 1964. It sold SRA to Maxwell Communications Company in 1988, and when the latter tried to stage a hostile takeover of CTB/McGraw-Hill the following year, the SRA assets became part of a new company, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.
McGraw-Hill continues to publish the SRA Reading Laboratory – in print and as software – to this day. Over 127 million children have used the product.

If you like this nostalgia, you might like reading about dictionaries and Encyclopedias.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Edison Gold Moulded Records - Very Early Record Players

 Here's a question that almost nobody seems to wonder about it except me.  What came first, the first voice recording or the first telephone call?

The first call - at least as far as most history books go - was by Thomas Edison in 1876 who summoned his assistant with the famous line: "Watson, come here, I need you.".  

The first recording seems to have been in the decades before in France but it might not count since the recording was not intended to be played back. It was intended by the inventor to be traced and looked at, a little like a photograph of the voice.

If we only focus on Edison, he made his first phone call a year before he first recorded and played back his first sounds.  

A decade later, Edison launched his business selling his recording and playback devices.

In 1902,  the Edison Gold Moulded system went on a sale and in 2015, I bought myself one along with some of the wax cylinders. It is sadly not in working condition.  

Introducing my Edison Gold Moulded Record Machine. It basically has a cyclinder with the recording on it which spins, a needle that follows a groove. The needle connects to a metal tube which progressively expands like the end of a trumpet which amplifies the sound like a cheerleader’s megaphone. Incredibly simple!


Edison Gold Moulded Records
Edison Phonograph Cylinders

I started reading about it on the University of California website. Here's a little info:

The "Gold-Moulded" process, developed in 1902, significantly ameliorated these limitations (ed: uneven quality, limited number of quality copies etc). The process involved creating a metal mould from a wax master; a brown wax blank could then be put inside the resulting mould and subjected to a preestablished and precisely calibrated level of heat. As the blank expanded, the grooves would be pressed into the blank, and after cooling, the newly moulded cylinder could be removed from the mould. The "gold" from its namesake is derived from the trace levels of the metal that were applied as a conductive agent in creating the initial mould from the wax master. With Edison Gold-Moulded cylinders, playback speed was standardized at 160 revolutions per minute (RPM). The number of grooves on gold-moulded cylinders remained the same as for brown wax cylinders, at 100 TPI, or threads per inch.

Want to see:

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Mid Century Modern Green Dial Telephone

Thanks to Etsy, I just added a Mid Century Modern dial phone to my collection. It’s got that green color so popular in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.





 Click for more glimpses of my vintage and antique phone collection. 
vintage and antique phone collection which includes some candlesticks and some kitschy cute 60s phones.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Editing Film, Old Style

It's hard to believe but until around 25 years ago, every single film was edited together by hand on machines like these.


The process was careful to maintain film quality since each generation of copy, back in the analog days, was worse than the original.

So the original film footage was copied and then the original was left in a vault.  The copy was cut and spliced together over and over again until the editor and director were pleased with the result. Then, the time stamps were carefully noted and the original film was spliced together. And from that original, the copies for distribution were made.

To be honest, I went through this process myself with video tape but never with actual film. And I can't imagine how the audio track was handled since there has always been sound effects and audio work added to the original shoot.

The book with all the tricks for doing title for films is a real shocker. There's all the plans for building a system to hold the camera and do a "zoom" into the title. Or to have the title appear to scroll past.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Architectural Drawing Tools

I have vivid and fond memories of drawing in math class using a compass, protractor, and ruler.  Do kids still do that?  These memories are mixed with others of drawing accurate pie charts by hand while working in my mid 20s. I know nobody does that anymore: all graphs are now computer created.

Look what I was given this weekend.  It's a set of architectural drawing tools for precise work. I know that there's a compass, I'm not sure what the other tools are called or really, exactly what they're for.


This was Lester's drawing tools during his time as an architecture students in the mid 70s as the University of Miami.  A small embossed company name is on the leather package.


The first search results on Stellar Drawing Instruments shows that there is an active Ebay market in such things. A little more searching reveals an article on AmericanHistory.si.edu about these types of instruments. This is referred to as a flat case or pocket case and then the maker (Steller), number of instruments, and model might be listed.  Would this be a Stellar DS4 12 Instrument Flat Case?

I'm going to go get my glasses and study this a little more but I'll post it right now so I can maybe solicit some guidance on what it is. I'm also now curious about pre plastic rules and protractors.






Saturday, October 6, 2018

Speak n Spell and More Spelling Technology

Here's what we have in the Retro Collection:

There's the Speak N Spell from the 1970s which we remembered thanks to its role in the Toy Story Films.  I have a complete post on Speak n Spell and I have both the Speak N Spell and the Math cousin who was usppose to teach the math facts.

Speak and Spell
Speak and Spell

I also have a See and Spell. And I quote my See and Spell article: I haven't found a date on it but I'm guessing its post WWII, perhaps the 50s.

 You get to spin the wheel and in each of the three windows, you can see a little picture.   There are maybe ten rows, three each. The pictures are of baby, toy, dog, cat, boy, girl, bone etc

You look at the picture of the word, then you try to spell the word.

Finally you open the window to see how you did. Pretty exciting, huh?



See and Spell
See and Spell
I also have an array of old spelling textbooks and how tos that cover spelling. I'm never quite convinced that I should be amassing these old books since if I start, there is an infinite supply of them. Yick. Here's two.
Spelling texts

Should I add the original cover page of SpellingCity too? I guess I will. Here it is, circa
August 2009. (see the modern vocabularycity?)



And here's more info on the Speak N Spell and the Math N Spell
In terms of fun learning, here's more on The Phonics Game and other classics


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Mary Poppins: A Magic Lantern in the Nursery

I was watching Mary Poppins aboard a flight the other day and during the number starting with:

In every job to be done, there is an element of fun.
Find the fun and snap, the jobs a game....

And a"  spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down...

Which takes place in the children's nursery, I suddenly noticed a detail that had escaped me for so many years. There is clearly a small magic lantern on a shelf in the nursery.  Take a look:


Here's a close up:


Want to know about using a magic lantern or the history of magic lanterns?

And here's a picture of my magic lantern.

Magic Lantern Lit
Magic Lantern Lit


Want to see a Victorian Era style school desk from my collection?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Morse Code

The telegraph with Morse Code revolutionized long distance communications in 1800s.  Coupled with the railroad, it launched the modern network era which directly led to the Interstate Highway System, the telephone system, and today's Internet.

My Dad used and knew Morse. I know:

dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot (SOS).  

For my birthday, I received my own Morse Code set (thanks Diane and Brian).

Morse Code Signaling Outfit
Morse Code Signaling Outfit

I'm sort of surprised that there's no more websites and apps dedicated to allowing us to experience the beauty of Morse Code. Well, there's a project!

Vintage Cameras

While today's youth might be unfamiliar with taking pictures with a dedicated camera, I can well remember black and white cameras, Polaroid cameras, Kodak Instamatics, bellows cameras, flash bulbs, and even developing and printing lack and white photos.  And my collection is full of these. In fact, it got enriched by two new cameras in the past week.

These are Polaroid cameras before the Polaroid became synonymous with instant photography.


Selfies weren't so practical with the old technology....
John Edelson selfie
John Edelson Selfie




The Polaroid Instant Camera.







Thursday, March 1, 2018

Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern Lit
Magic Lantern Lit!
The magic of light!  The Magic Lantern. In our office, we have what is known as a Magic Lantern! We fired it up this week.

Photons travelling through the air creating an image of a place, a time, where in most cases, it would not have been possible to travel to or see without the help of a Magic Lantern.

No need to rub this lantern and make a wish to be transported to a new dimension.

We take a lot for granted in the 21st century. Roll back time just a couple of generations to the middle of the 18th century one would see teachers using a Magic Lantern to transport their student to a place outside their classroom. Today, it’s the Internet, along with cell phones, iPads, tablets but in those days a different but special set of tech tools were required.

In order to create photons with enough lumens to create an image one would have to burn fuel. (Certain fuels burned brighter than others but that is a whole different subject). 
The light from that fuel would be shine onto a convex mirror to concentrate the light and reflect it through a lens that would project the filtered image onto a screen (in most cases a wall). 

In the following pictures (each picture tells a thousand words) we show you the technology behind the Magic Lantern along with images of what is required to make that technology function correctly.

Enjoy and truly appreciate what we have today!



Please Note that some items were substituted i.e lighter, scissors, newer bottle of parafin fuel and such


















Want more information our  Magic Lantern?