By Karen Parr-Moody
At some point all of the “latest technologies” were modern. The printing press, the camera, the television – any one of these represented a watershed moment for those who experienced their newness. And at GasLamp, many of these now make interesting conversation pieces for home décor.
Julian Fellowes, creator of the popular PBS show “Downton Abbey”, chose to base it in the Edwardian period precisely because it was such a time of rapid change, both socially and technologically. People living during this era witnessed many important inventions that would cause great change in society. Among these was the shift from candlelight to electricity, the move from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles and the transition – although not complete – from letter and telegram to telephone.
During the interwar period between World War I and World War II there were many expansions in the relatively new invention of the telephone, which was created in 1876. One of these changes was a shift from what was called the “candlestick phone” – an upright stick shaped phone – to desk phones that look more like what we see today.
The Western Electric phone in the photo, above right, is from the 202 series of telephones (ringer box with hand crank, not shown; $277.99; Booth B-204). Unlike the candlestick phones, which required that one hold, separately, both an earpiece and a mouthpiece to talk, the 202 series were the first phones that used a single handset. These were available from the late ’20s into the ’30s and were characterized by a round base and raised dial. This phone also has a handset made of Bakelite, an early plastic developed in 1907.
Karl Benz – of Mercedes-Benz fame – introduced the first gasoline powered automobile in Europe in 1885. The radio came on its heels, in 1895, invented by Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi. In a roundabout way, the red transistor radio in the photo, above left, is a byproduct of those inventions ($55, Booth B-1005). This little radio is a Transitone radio made by Philco; Philco was known for making auto radios beginning around 1927. By 1938, Philco dropped the Transitone name from its auto radios and instead used the name for a series of low-priced radios for the home, which is what this little red number was.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and such was the case with the invention of the cash register. James Jacob Ritty was a barkeeper whose saloon, the Pony House, was a hotspot for famous customers, including Buffalo Bill Cody, bank robber John Dillinger and prizefighter Jack Dempsey. It also was home to some pilfering cashiers. In attempt to combat theft by his staff, he worked on several designs before he finally patented the first working mechanical cash register in 1879. He called it "Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier."
Ritty’s ownership of the cash register patent didn’t last long; he preferred running a bar to advancing his invention. The patent ultimately became owned by the National Cash Register Company, which made many ornate brass and cast iron registers finished in bronze, nickel or oxidized copper. These are highly collectible today. The register in the photo, right, is National’s Model 1054-x-g made of wood ($395; Booth B-1005). These less expensive registers went into production during the 1920s.
Various attempts were made at inventing a mechanical writing machine, with forerunners dating to the fourteenth century. But it wasn’t until 1868, when American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes developed the machine that would be called the Remington, that the modern typewriter was truly born.
The typewriter in the photo, left, is the Royal 10, which was introduced in 1914 ($150, Booth B-1005). It was the pinnacle of typewriter design; when it was developed, it continued to be built similarly for decades, with most changes being merely cosmetic. The Royal 10 was touted for being the sturdiest and strongest typewriter around. The Royal brand, which emerged in 1906, dominated the market together with Underwood and the Remington.
A more recent invention is found in the Weatherscope by Taylor, which was made in the last 40 or so years (photo right; $49, Booth B-2012). Taylor Instruments has been making devices for measuring weather since 1851. This Weatherscope is a wooden panel that includes a thermometer, a barometer, and two units that show the prevailing wind speed and direction. It may be installed permanently in a wall space or it can sit on a desk or shelf.
These items may look archaic or quaint to us now. But each one of them embodies the spirit of man’s curiosity. And, each being a well-designed object, these inventions also easily add some interest to one’s modern décor.