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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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’.


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.


A Little Wooden Jeeves – My Vintage Clothes Valet

The Valet Stand

I have wanted one of these things for years, to keep my clothes organised, instead of hanging them on hooks or draping them over the backs of chairs. Ever seen one? It’s called a clothes valet, or a valet stand…

Valet stands were once common in households of the well-to-do, typically, the Middle Class and upwards, who could afford nicer clothes, and could spend the money required for a stand to keep them neat and tidy.

Such stands were common from the 1800s up to the mid-20th century. When men’s daily fashion steered away from trousers, jackets, suits, sport-coats and blazers in the decades after the Second World War, valet stands became less and less useful, and eventually people stopped buying them, and making them. But they are handy pieces of kit for those who still tend to dress in a more conservative or traditional, vintage style.

Valet stands can range from the incredibly simple, to the amazingly elaborate. A really simple stand might just have a coat-hanger on top of a pair of legs with three connector-bars at the base to serve as a coat and shoe-stand. A really elaborate valet-stand can come with a coat-hanger, trouser-bar, shoe-rests, compartmentalised jewellery-caddy, tie-bar, hat-stand…even a chair with built-in nick-nack drawer!

The Backstory

A stand like this would’ve been typical of the style popular from the last quarter of the 1800s up to the postwar period, up to around the 1960s, when men’s fashion took a serious turn. I bought the stand featured in these photographs, today, at an antiques fair, for $5.00!

The clothes valet was standing outside one of the tent-stalls at the antiques fair, with some sort of advertising poster or sign clipped onto it, and it was obviously being used as a sandwich-board or an advertising-stand. And initially, I didn’t think it was for sale. But when I got right up close to it, I noticed a white price-tag hanging from it, which said: “$5.00”.

And my heart just went pitty-patter. I tracked down the stallholder and inquired about this amazing and under-appreciated piece of woodwork standing, unloved and ignored, outside her tent. She said that the price was indeed correct. $5.00. Once she’d removed the clips and the poster, I was welcome to take it, she said. So I coughed up a fiver and walked off with the stand.

The best five bucks I’ve ever spent. You’ll never find one of this vintage, of this style, in this condition, for that kind of money, not even if you tried. This was a real vintage score :D.

The Features of the Stand

So, let’s show you around the stand, such as it is…

Up the top here, we have the tie-bar, then below it, the shoulder-width coat-hanger. Underneath that is the recessed tray for things like watches, cufflinks, collar-bars, tie-bars and other such masculine jewellery.

Beneath the jewellery-tray is the trouser-bar, for hanging your trousers on. And right at the bottom is the…


You simply can’t find beautiful vintage household pieces like this anymore, and I consider myself very lucky to have this, for such a super-low price. It’s in perfect condition, barring a few dings and scratches. Apart from that, it looks almost brand-new.

A valet-stand made today, brand-new out of the workshop, would probably cost you hundreds of dollars, even for a simple bog-standard one. A mid-range stand, looking something like this…I don’t even want to guess! Even antique ones aren’t cheap. I got this for a song, and I couldn’t be happier.

In retrospect, the song should probably be: “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails“. Hahaha!!

It’s absolutely beautiful, it’s been something I’ve chased after for at least five years, and I finally have one, for possibly the lowest price that one of these has ever sold for, barring one that was given away for free. And I don’t ever see something like that happening!

Clothes Valets Today

You can still buy clothes valets today. You can order them online and such. But nothing beats one that was built back in the days when they were an essential for any well-dressed man about town, and might’ve been found in almost any man’s bedroom. The quality, the style and the sturdiness comes as standard, and you can be assured that whoever used this thing before you was just as snappy a dresser as you are.


Underneath the Underwood

Part of the fun of owning antiques and second-hand nick-nacks is the challenge of pulling them apart, seeing how they work, cleaning them up, and putting them back together. Today, I had such an event with my Underwood…

I bought this typewriter a few months back to fulfill a lifelong obsession with these machines. And since buying it, I’d been exploring the intricacies of old mechanical typewriters. By poking around with my machine, cleaning it and diagnosing problems, I found out how various functions worked, why sometimes they didn’t work, and how they were fixed.

Amazingly, after all that…the typewriter still works.

Despite its seeming complexity, a mechanical typewriter is really quite a simple machine.

You slot paper in the back. You turn the platen-knobs. The knobs turn the platen, which pulls the paper in, and grips it against the feed-rollers inside the carriage. This creates the friction which pulls the paper into the typewriter. As you type, the ratchet system on the typewriter causes the mainspring to release energy, which unwinds the spring, which pulls on the draw-band, which pulls the carriage, which advances the carriage along the race, which actuates a lever to flip a hammer to strike the bell and signal end-of-line.

Smacking the return-lever kicks the platen back a notch (or two, or three, depending on line-setting), and shoving the carriage back winds up the mainspring, and resets the machine all over again. A stopper bar at the back of the carriage blocks the left-and-right movement of the carriage by arresting the two margin-stops at user-set margins. Pressing the margin-release drops the bar and allows the carriage to move freely. Pushing the bar up resets the margins to their previous settings.

All done mechanically with no electronics at all.

The majority of a typewriter is made of metal. Steel. But some parts of a typewriter are made of wood, paper, glass, and rubber. And these may occasionally need attention.

When buying a second-hand typewriter, one of the most common things that may need attention are the feed-rollers.

The feed-rollers are two (or more, depending on the size of the typewriter) invisible rubber rollers or cylinders hiding inside the typewriter-carriage. When you turn the platen-knobs, the platen rubs against the feed-rollers, trapping any paper fed into the machine, and pulling it through the typewriter, ready for use.

Feed-rollers and platens are coated with rubber to provide grip and cushioning. If a platen or rollers are hard or cracked, they need to be recovered, or treated, to improve grip. To do this, it’s necessary to remove the platen.

That’s what I was doing today.

An Exploration

In a recent typing-episode, one of the feed-rollers became dislodged for reasons I couldn’t figure out. I managed to re-lodge it, but I decided that I wanted to have a closer look at the insides of the machine. To do that, I would have to remove the platen to gain access to the rollers.

Because typewriters were so common back in the old days, and there was an active repair-industry going on, access to parts of a typewriter that needed periodic attention was usually easy to get. Such as the feed-rollers.

To get to the rollers, I had to remove the platen, the big, black, long, rubber-sheathed…yeah, get your minds out of the gutter…cylinder that makes up most of the carriage.

The platen is held onto the carriage by a surprisingly simple method. Two screws, one knob and a long hard shaft. Somewhere in there is a joke.

Most typewriter-carriages are assembled the same way, and these directions (or a variation of them) are going to be the likely method of platen-removal, if you ever have to do it to your own machine. Here’s a small tutorial about how to do it.

You will need…

– Small-head screwdrivers (flat-head, most probably).
– Q-tips/cotton bud-sticks.
– Methylated Spirits/Denatured Alcohol.
– Air-puffer, vacuum-cleaner, or a pair of good lungs.
– Needle-nose tweezers.
– Optional: A pair of pliers.

1. Remove platen-knob. 

On my typewriter, the Underwood Standard Portable, you first have to take off the left platen-knob. To do this, twist the platen around until you see a small screw in the gap between the platen-knob, and the endplate of the left side of the carriage. Put your screwdriver on the screw and unscrew it.

You don’t have to take the screw off completely, just loosen it. The left platen knob will now just slide right off.

(On some typewriters, the knob is simply screwed in place. If so, just unscrew it. But check for exterior screws on BOTH knobs, first).

2. Unscrew right-side platen-screw.

Hidden on the platen-shaft is a small screw on the right side, between the platen-rubber, and the right carriage end-plate. Loosen this screw. Again, full removal of the screw is not necessary.

(This applies to my Underwood portable, your typewriter may be slightly different).

3. Grab right-hand platen-knob. Pull!

Removing the left platen-knob, and loosening the platen-screw (step 2), has released the pressure on the platen-rod INSIDE the platen-shaft, which is attached to the right platen-knob.

Pull the right-hand platen-knob. A long, steel shaft will come sliding out. Don’t bend it, or it’ll never go back in again!

4. Remove the Platen!

And that is IT. Two screws, one knob, and a steel shaft, are the only things holding the platen onto the carriage! With those removed, you can now wriggle the platen out! Start with the side of the platen which has the ratchet-teeth on it, first (usually, this is the LEFT side of the platen). You may have to wriggle it a bit, and ease it out CAREFULLY. You don’t want to bend or break anything. Press the paper-release lever on your carriage (usually found on the right side of the carriage) to give yourself a few extra milimeters of wriggle-space, and to get the paper-bale rail out of the way.

To make things just a little bit easier, adjust the line-space lever so that it’s at its maximum (double, or triple-spaced). This will get the line-space lever ratchet-system out of the way, and make it easier to get the platen out (and in, later).

And after swearing, grumbling and wriggling, you’ll end up with something like this:

Here, we have the typewriter, with the platen, knobs and rod removed! The ratcheted, left side of the platen is bottom-most in this photograph.

With the platen removed, you now have full access to the well where the platen was resting. You can flush out dust, wipe away cobwebs and clean it out really good inside! While you’re in there, check on the feed-rollers. They look like this:

Feed-rollers are not attached to the typewriter in any way whatsoever. Their name directly reflects their purpose. They feed paper, and they roll freely. Feed-rollers.

You should pick the rollers out of their well, and check them for ‘flats’, where the rubber has hardened and flattened out, due to years of pressing against the platen, and for excessive wear-down due to constant rubbing. If the rollers are hard (like you see in my photo), you can rejuvenate them by rubbing them with fine-grit sandpaper, or by rubbing them carefully with rubber-reconditioner, which will soften them up, and improve their grip. While you have the platen lying around, you might wanna do the same to it, as well, if it’s necessary.

With the well open, you should clean out all the dust and gunk that’s built up in the previously inaccessible parts of the typewriter. Like…um…this:

…and this…

Once you’ve cleaned as much as you can, drop the feed-rollers back into their slots, and then wriggle the platen back down into the carriage. Thread the platen-rod through the holes provided (you may need to do extra wriggling to achieve this), smack the left-hand platen-knob back on the end, and tighten up the screws.

Special Note:

Screws on typewriters and other old machines can be rather stiff. You can use a pair of pliers to add leverage to your screwdriver to unscrew them with greater ease. But be sure to use the pliers to add more leverage to the screwdriver when you screw the screws BACK, as well, so as to provide enough friction for the screws to grip the rod, and rotate the platen. If you don’t, then the screws won’t grip the platen-rod, and you’ll have free-spinning knobs without the platen moving at all.


The History of the Modern Toilet

The toilet. The latrine. The commode. The privy. The water-closet. The closed-stool.

Whatever you call it, for centuries, mankind has always needed a place to get away from it all. Since the dawn of time, man has required the use of a place or contraption for the peaceful, if not always quiet, ejection of bodily waste. These days, that place is the modern flushing, sit-down toilet. But where did it come from?

Before the Toilet

Damn near every house on earth…has a toilet. It’s that one indispensible invention that none of us could do without. Fridges, TVs, computers, telephones…even electrical lighting…but not the toilet.

But the toilet is an amazingly modern invention. What happened before then?

Primative Toilets

For centuries, a toilet was little more than a hole that you dug in the ground. Toilet-paper was whatever you could lay your hands on…usually leaves.But to give the ancients some degree of credit on hygeine, various ancient societies have had their own lavatorial inventions over the centuries. Civilisations such as the Ancient Eygptians and the Ancient Romans had toilets that worked with running water and which served to keep the populous clean, satisfied and healthy. In Ancient Rome, public bathhouses usually had toilet-chambers available for public use. Ejected matter would end up in the channel beneath the communal toilets, which would then be flushed away periodically by large volumes of water expelled from the public bathhouse nearby.

Medieval Toilets

Societies such as the Ancient Greeks, Eygptians and Romans all had rather sophistocated ideas and inventions to deal with the issue of human waste. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the Western World went back to shitting in a hole.

In the Medieval Era, concepts about personal hygeine were virtually nonexistent. A total lack of understanding about how disease was spread, and the dangers of untreated sewerage, caused sanitation nightmares that would send all those Health-and-Safety officers running for cover…sometimes literally!

In the great cities of Europe, such as London, Paris, Prague and Rome, toilets took several steps backwards from the Roman era several hundred years before. In a typical medieval town or city, a toilet was a seat with a hole cut into it that projected out of the side of the building. Any released feculence would just drop into the streets below…bad luck if you were out for a walk. Streets of medieval cities were often filled with several feet of compacted, mashed up, mushed up, foot-trodden weeks of sewerage. The smells were naturally abominable…but at the time, no link was made between this, and any sort of danger to public health.

If your toilet didn’t eject out the side of the building into the street, then it might eject out into a river or stream. Or the muck in the streets would end up being dumped into the nearest river anyway. This led to incredible and unspeakable pollution…and poisoning! Because people used to drink that water, too! And wash their clothes in it. And bathe in it…and cook with it…Water in medieval times was so polluted and foul-tasting that almost everyone drank wine or beer instead. Even kids! In fact, kids would drink ‘Small Beer’ (with a lower alcoholic content), while their parents would drink ‘Big Beer’ (which naturally, had a stronger taste and higher alcohol content).


But what if you couldn’t get your toilet to jut out over the street? Or over a river or stream? Or down into one of the few sewers that would have existed in the medieval world? What then?

Well, then you would make use of the cesspit.

A cesspit is basically a medival septic tank. It’s the huge chamber or room underneath your toilet into which all your bodily waste would be dumped into. Every few weeks…or months…you had to get the thing emptied, just like with septic-tanks today. And to get it emptied, you had to go out and find the chap with quite possibly the worst job in history.

The gong-scourer.

‘Cess’ and ‘gong’ are old English words for sewerage and dung. The gong-scourer was the poor bastard who emptied out your cesspit.

Although in all honesty, he wasn’t that poor. Being a gong-scourer was a job that was literally swimming in shit. It was a filthy, hazardous, dangerous, backbreaking job. You would have to shovel out tons of excrement from all the toilets and cesspits all over town and you had to do this every single night. Because the work was so obviously revolting, not many people would do it. So wise-thinking city-authorities would pay gong-scourers a pretty princely wage in return for their vital and revolting job. How much?

18d for every 1 ton of waste removed.

That’s 18 pence (A shilling and a half) for every ton of waste.

This in an era when the average wage of a working man in London was sixpence a day.

Of course, for some gong-scourers, even money wasn’t enough. A chap named Samson, royal gong-scourer to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I of England, was paid half in money, half in rum!

Privies and Closed Stools

In the medieval world, there were two toilets available to you. The most common one ws the privy. Coming from the Latin word for ‘Privacy’, the privy was a removable seat over a cesspit. Any business-transactions done in a privy would end up in the cesspit below. To clear out the pit, the gong-scourer would remove the seat and climb down into the muck to shovel or bucket it out. Not a fun job.

The other, slightly more comfortable and dignified toilet was the Closed Stool. If you’ve ever wondered where we get the word for feces meaning ‘stool’ from…well…take a guess.

The Closed Stool was similar to a modern toilet-chair. It was a box with a hole in it. Inside the box was a large bucket. After the daily interaction with the stool, the bucket was removed, emptied, washed and replaced inside the stool. An altogether cleaner and more comfortable toiletry eperience…what you did with the waste when the bucket was full was another matter.

Inventing the Modern Toilet

As you may have guessed, after the downspiral from the Ancient world, mankind was living in a world of muck and filth. From the Dark Ages up to the 1800s, almost all toilets were of the kind described above. And they only provided temprorary relief from one of our oldest problems.

Where do you put it?

The big problem was that sewers…really effective sewers…simply did not exist. Even into the 1800s, big rivers such as the Seine and the Thames, were little more than huge open drains! What few public sewers there were, would be choked, blocked, overflowing and completely unable to handle the waste of the millions of people who flooded into the cities and towns of Europe during the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the idea of modern sewers wasn’t given any serious, practical thought until the 1860s, in London. It was then that Sir Joseph Bazalgette designed and helped to build the world’s first modern sewerage-system underneath the city of London.

So, where did that leave the modern toilet?

Ancestors to the Modern Toilet

The first truly modern toilet, of a kind that we might possibly recognise today, was actually invented in the 16th Century, to be precise, in 1596.

The chap who invented it was a man named Sir John Harington. Being godson to Queen Elizabeth I, he probably had the time and money to invent what was effectively the world’s first modern toilet. He called it the ‘Ajax’. He installed such a toilet in his house and then built another one for the Queen. The Ajax wasn’t perfect, but it did work…kinda.

The toilet was installed over a sewer-drain. The cistern behind the seat was filled with water from buckets. At the end of the episode, a plug was pulled. Water flooded from the cistern into the bowl. Then, another plug was pulled and the entire contents of the toilet-bowl were flushed out into the drain below. Effective, but without running water, the cistern had to be refilled manually each time.

The next instance of a modern-style commode does not make its appearance until the 1700s. And just like back in the 1590s, this fantastic new invention, the flushing toilet, was to be used only by a queen. But this time, not a queen of England, but of France.

Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI.

The setting is the royal palace of Versailles, 12km south of Paris.

The famed Palace of Versailles is the last word in luxury. Huge banquets, luxurious chambers, flashy clothes, powdered wigs and the world-renowned Hall of Mirrors. Heaven on Earth! Right?


The truth was that, for all its luxury and obscene opulence, the Palace of Versailles was little cleaner than a sewer! Animals were allowed to wander at will through the stately halls, and relieve themselves as they pleased. And it wasn’t just animals, either. For a place as expensive and luxurious as Versailles, there were almost NO toilets…ANYWHERE! Courtiers, servants, guests and visitors were compelled to relieve themselves where-ever they could. And I literally mean…WHERE-EVER. Underneath staircases, behind curtains, in the dead-space behind doors, or into chamber-pots, the contents of which would then be ejected out the window into the palace courtyard below.


Amazing as it seems, there was actually a TOILET in Versailles. A real, honest-to-goodness flushing toilet. But it was for the use of ONE person ONLY. And that one person was the Queen of France herself: Marie Antoinette. The toilet (which can still be seen in Versailles today!) was one of the few plumbing fixtures in the entire palace, and was secreted away in the deepest, darkest, most private chambers of the queen’s royal apartments. Apartments which only her most trusted and intimate of servants would ever have seen. Most people didn’t even know the toilet existed!

Over the next two hundred-plus years, mankind improved on Sir John’s design. Eventually, in 1851, the world’s first public…flushing…toilets, were unveiled!


In the Crystal Palace in London during the Great Exhibition. Although the toilets were public, they were not free – For the privilege of emptying your bowels in the latest modern conveniences, you had to give the bathroom attendant one penny before he granted you access to the newfangled ‘flushing toilet’.

Probably the most famous names associated with the history of the toilet, however, is that of an American. A plumber with the unfortunate name of Thomas…


Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Crapper’s name did not lead to the coinage of the term ‘crap’ meaning to take a dump. The word ‘crap’ actually comes from the Latin word ‘Crappa’, meaning ‘chaff’, the leftover husks from stalks of wheat (as in “to separate the wheat from the chaff”). So literally, “Crap” is the leftovers. The stuff we leave behind. The stuff we reject and ignore. Crap.

Why is it called a Toilet?

The word ‘Toilet’ comes from France. Originally, “toilet” referred to one’s personal hygiene and grooming. To “attend to one’s toilet”, meant to keep oneself clean. This ranged from bathing, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, shaving, washing your face, and relieving bodily waste. The utensils and products used in the execution of these procedures were known as “toiletries”. Even today, when you go on holiday, you still take a “toiletry bag” with you.

With the invention of the modern commode, the word ‘Toilet’ moved from the more general term meaning grooming, to the more specific one, meaning a receptacle for bodily waste. And that has been its main definition ever since.

The Victorian Toilet

The toilet as we know it today really came into its own during the second half of the 1800s. In big cities with new, enlarged, free-flowing sewer-systems which were now capable of handling large volumes of waste on a daily basis, plumbed toilets were finally practical. And with this practicality, came a surge of toilet-manufacturers.

Designs varied slightly from maker to maker, but all toilets were made up of a bowl, a C, U, or S-bend, to trap water and prevent the rise of sewer-gas, a seat, and a cistern for the storage of flush-water. For something that was essentially a self-emptying chamber-pot, the Victorian toilet was decorated with surprising artistry, and both the exterior and interior of a toilet-bowl were just as likely to be covered in blue-glaze paint, flowers, forest-scenes, water-scenes and nature scenes as the plates of your finest bone china dinner-service.

Because modern toilets descend from the toilets of the Victorian era, you can still install a Victorian loo in your house today. And it would function just as well as a modern one. It’s the same technology, after all. Just a little bit fancier.

There’s been little change in toilets since the Victorian era. There are now more water-efficient ones, ones which are easier to clean, more comfortable, even those insane Japanese ones that do everything for you, and then some, but the toilet as we know it, has essentially reached the end of the road, when it comes to development.

Want to Know More?

A lot of the information gleamed for this article were taken from the Dan Snow documentaries “Filthy Cities” (“London”, “Paris”, and “New York”), and the Dr. Lucy Woslery documentaries “If Walls Could Talk”. You can find these on YouTube.


Packing with Style – Vintage Luggage

Some time back, I wrote a piece about the “Golden Age of Travel“; the period from the third quarter of the 1800s, to the late 1930s, when for the first time in history, it was possible for ordinary people of moderate means, to travel cross-country, and around the world. Social changes and technological improvements in transport and communications meant that for the first time in history, it was really practical for the middle-class couple, single, or family, to go on a holiday!

This posting will look at the various bits and pieces of luggage which people brought with them on their whirlwind tours of the Continent, the American interior, the Dominion of Canada, the Far East, the Mediterranean, or the South Pacific. The kinds of bags and cases which would’ve been checked onto trains, steamships, taxi-cabs, and in and out of hotel-lobbies in cities ranging from Melbourne, London, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Rome, Nanking, Saigon and Hong Kong. The sort of luggage which is plastered with those old steamship-tickets, hotel-room numbers, claim-tags and name-tags. The kind of luggage that went around the world and back again in a haze of smoke, steam and gasoline.

The Appeal of Vintage Luggage

There are people out there who collect vintage luggage. Some people use it when they travel, some people use them as coffee-tables, storage-spaces, decorative items or as photography-props. But what is their appeal?

Vintage luggage was made with care and attention. Back before the days of excessively widespread travel, and before the days of airplanes and jetliners, luggage was made to be pretty and attractive. Because back then, it was unlikely that somebody would throw around a 500-pound steamer-trunk.

The luggage of the Golden Age of Travel reflected very much, the types of transport available at the time, together with the fashions of the period. It’s this, being-of-its-time, its style and the “stories it could tell”, that makes vintage luggage so appealing to collectors and nicknack-snatchers. Here is a typical vintage luggage setup which you might find on someone’s bed, or strapped to the back of an old car:

These are actually my own vintage luggage-pieces. From left to right, we have an old hatbox, a gladstone bag, a typewriter-case, and a suitcase (underneath). I’ll break them down, piece by piece and look into their history and their significance, but I’ll also be discussing other pieces of luggage which aren’t shown here.


Back in the 20s and 30s, it was almost taken for granted that a man owned at least one hat. Either a Panama, a trilby, a fedora, a homburg, or a bowler. On instances where a man traveled and took more than one hat with him, the hat not worn on his noggin would be stored in the hat-box.

The boxes were made rigid and circular, so that any hats (typically felt hats) could be stored inside without fear of being crushed, misshapen or otherwise damaged during travel. If you’re looking for one, hat-boxes are very distinctly shaped, with a circular profile to hold their contents. Some hat-boxes even came with their own hat-brushes for keeping the hats stored within clean during travel.


With the rise of travel during the early 20th century came a corresponding rise in communications. Companies such as Underwood, Corona, Royal and Remington, were among the first manufacturers of typewriters to produce portable, carry-anywhere machines. Granted, they could still weigh as much as 10lbs (about 5-6kg), but they were considered a damn sight more portable than the enormous desktop typewriters of the period (weighing up to 30-50lbs).

Portable typewriters took a while in coming. While the basic form of the typewriter was pretty-much agreed-on by all the major manufacturers by ca. 1900, the portable didn’t really show up until the early 20th century.

There were a few false starts in the 1890s, but  it wasn’t until after World War One that portables became truly practical. The issue was trying to shrink down all the major elements of a larger desktop typewriter into a small enough, but also practical enough, size and form so that it could be used reliably.

Starting in 1919, companies such as Underwood, Remington, Corona and Royal produced the first practical portable typewriters. They advertised that their new machines could be used ANYWHERE on earth! One Remington advertisement from the late 1920s said that their machines could even be carried up to the top of Mount Everest, where they would still function perfectly!

The public were quick to grab onto these new portables, and soon, there was fierce competition among typewriter-companies to produce better, stronger, smaller, more stylish, more feature-filled machines. Just as larger typewriters were variously called “Office”, “Standard” or “Desktop” machines, smaller typewriters were called “Juniors”, “Travel” typewriters, “portable” and even “Household” typewriters, to differentiate them from their larger cousins.

The case which you see there belongs to my 1920s Underwood Standard Portable. Here’s the case, opened, with the typewriter inside:

Gladstone Bag

The humble “Gladstone” has been a fixture of luggage for over a century. It was invented by English leather-worker and bag-manufacturer J.G. Beard in the late 1800s. Beard was a strong supporter of the British Prime Minister; at the time, one William Ewart GLADSTONE (1809-1898). Gladstone was a prolific politician. He was elected to the office of P.M. not once, nor twice, but FOUR TIMES during his long life.

Mr. Gladstone was obviously a popular man, but he didn’t hang around much. He was famous for charging off all over Europe at a moment’s notice, and was one of the most-traveled politicians of his age. Putting two-and-two together, Mr. Beard named his new creation after the long-serving P.M., and his love of travel.

The Gladstone Bag, in its various permutations – Strapped, strapless, square-profiled or curved, was a constant companion to the tourist of the Golden Age of Travel. Everyone from Dorian Gray, to Sherlock Holmes, and countless actual, real-life people, carried one of these bags around with them where-ever they went!

Gladstone bags were used for everything! They were tool-bags for tradesmen, briefcases for lawyers, overnight-bags and weekend-cases for travelling salesmen, and sample-cases for company-representatives.

Undoubtedly, however, the Gladstone is most famously remembered in the 21st Century, as the kind of bag which old-time family physicians carried around with them. Back in the days when doctors still made house-calls, you could count on him to show up at your front door in a three-piece suit, homburg hat and his trusty Gladstone bag.

It’s become so common for these bags to be associated with physicians that sometimes, an eBay or Google search under “Gladstone bag” will yield nothing, whereas a search for “Doctor’s bag” will bring up everything, and then some.

Why was it that Gladstones were so popular with doctors? What was it that made them stick so firmly to this particular profession? And why, decades after most family practitioners stopped making house-calls, are they still called doctor’s bags?

The Gladstone bag is unique among bags and cases in the sense that it is both hard, and soft-sided.

A Gladstone bag is held shut by a combination of catches, hooks, straps and buckles (not all Gladstones have straps and buckles, but some do). When these fastenings are released and the bag is pulled open, the steel frame around the mouth snaps rigid, (or it should, if your bag’s in working order!).

With the mouth reinforced and held in-place with the steel frame, it would be easy for a doctor to shove his hand into the bag and grab whatever necessary and essential piece of equipment he would need in the event of an emergency. Much more easily than if he had to fumble with the soft, sagging, floppy sides of a knapsack, a backpack, a messenger-bag or other type of hold-all.

Also, because the bag closes smoothly in the center, over the top of the storage compartment, and not down one side like with a conventional briefcase, there’s no danger of the contents, which might include glass bottles and needles, spilling everywhere and smashing to pieces when the bag was carried for transport.

Don’t forget that in the early 1900s, it was still common for many operations to be carried out in the home, by your doctor. He could show up after a telegram, a telephone-call or a private message, to perform anything from stitches to dressing, to removing your appendix. And he’d do it right there on your dining-room table. Having a bag which he could easily access in an emergency was essential for his job to run smoothly.

Vintage Suitcase

This suitcase is not an antique. But it is representative of the style of suitcase carried by almost every traveler and tourist during the early 20th century, when steamships and railways were in their prime.

Back when men still wore suits on a regular basis, and suits were stored in suit-cases, travel-bags of this style were common around the world. Not all of them featured expandable tops and reinforcing straps such as this one, but in almost every railway-station, bus-depot and on every dockside in the world, suitcases like these could be found in abundance. Made of leather, lined in cotton and reinforced with rivets and studs as seen here, suitcases like these are highly popular today among vintage luggage collectors. They have an enduring charm and style that transcends time.

Several months back, a cousin of mine was over for a visit. He was hunting for antiques as gifts for his girlfriend. When he saw the suitcase, he was instantly attracted to it. But I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. I’ve owned it for longer than I care to admit, and don’t use it nearly as often as I might, but it is certainly a conversation-starter.

Suitcases of this style were sometimes part of an entire suite or set of luggage. Such a suite might include a set of matching suitcases, and a variety of smaller suitcases, all of the same style, which went together as one big set. Such as shown here by this beautiful set of Louis Vuitton cases:

Larger cases stored clothes such as jackets, coats and suits. Smaller cases stored shirts, shoes, collars, cuffs, scarves, gloves and undergarments. Still smaller cases might be used to store important items such as jewellery. The smallest cases were used to store toiletries and grooming-supplies, such as shoe-polish kits, brushes, combs, razors, and tooth-brushing supplies.

Steamer Trunk

Oh, for the days before luggage-weight restrictions, when you could carry a whole piano onto a ship, and the only thing the load-master would say was: “That better not rock around when the ship’s underway”.

Enormous carriage trunks and steamer-trunks, similar to the one shown above, were common sights on railway platforms and steamship docks around the world during the Interwar Period of the 20s and 30s. When going from one place to another meant a long sea-voyage, you had to pack into a steamer-trunk absolutely everything that you needed when you traveled.

Did I say long?

Southampton to New York = 7 Days by steamer.

Naples to Shanghai = 8 Weeks by steamer.

Melbourne to San Francisco = 2 Weeks by steamer.

San Francisco to Chicago = 7 Days by train.

Southampton to Sydney = 9 weeks by steamer.

A round-the-world cruise (not an uncommon event back then), could take the better part of a year. On a long voyage, a steamer-trunk was an absolute must-have!

Don’t forget that you weren’t going from A-to-B directly, in most cases. On a trip from Italy to China, you might leave Naples. But then you’d dock in Cairo, drop off passengers and mail, pick up more passenger and mail, take on coal and provisions. Then you’d sail through to the Indian Ocean, drop anchor at Bombay, drop off and pick up passengers, mail, coal and provisions, then sail to Singapore. The process was repeated. Then to Hong Kong, where it was repeated again. Until you finally reached Shanghai, in China.

It would be a very long time at sea.


A portmanteau is a really rare bit of travel-kit these days. You don’t see them very often. Back in the days of steamship travel in the early 1900s, a portmanteau was used for storing shoes, coats, suits and other items which were too bulky or oddly-shaped or delicate to be just thrown into a suitcase or stuffed into a steamer-trunk. They were basically portable wardrobes, into which you could hang your clothes without fear of them being creased, crushed or otherwise damaged. In the closing scenes of the movie: “Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban“, Professor Remus Lupin is seen packing his luggage at the end of the school year. One of his travelling-trunks is a portmanteau. Portmanteaus are mentioned at least once in Bram Stoker’s novel: “Dracula”, in which there is a lot of travelling, as Dr. Van Helsing and his friends attempt to destroy the evil vampire lord, Count Dracula.

Luggage like this is either impractical or quaint today. Sometimes both! Certainly, you couldn’t get a steamer-trunk or a portmanteau onto an airplane these days! At least, not as carry-on baggage! Some people who dash around from place to place, such as pilots, still use gladstone bags as handy and compact overnight bags to store basic supplies in, when they might only be staying a night or two, in any one location.

Largely, though, luggage like this is relegated to storage, display or to film and TV sets, museum exhibits and photography-props. But there was a time, not too long ago, when they steamed off around the world on ocean-liners and steam-trains, faithfully accompanying their masters on their travels around the world.


Getting the Most out of your Typewriter Ribbons

A staggering 98% of typewriters survive on ribbons. The other 2% use ink-rollers, or a variation of the stamp-pad.

Depending on how lucky or resourceful you are, finding ribbons for your typewriter is not very difficult. You might be as lucky as I am, to find them at your local shop in town, brand-new, in the box. Or you may have to buy them online (eBay sells dozens of them, you can take your pick!).

But supposing…supposing that you can’t buy your ribbons locally and support a neighbourhood business? Perhaps you cannot buy the ribbons online for whatever number of reasons?

How do you make your ribbon last for as long as possible?

Typewriter Features

The typewriter itself should be able to help you.

Most typewriters have what’s called a “bichrome ribbon switch”. It’s a switch that moves from left to right (or up and down, as the case may be) on the side of your machine. Can’t find it? Look for two, or three coloured dots or squares. Typically, red, blue and white (or red, black and white, again, as the case may be).

The ribbon-selector determines which half of the 1/2in.-wide ribbon, the typebars will strike when you use your machine, either the top 1/4in, or bottom 1/4in., of the ribbon.

Simply type until the ribbon is finished. Take it out, reverse it, slot it into the machine again and resume typing on the unused half of the ribbon.

You can also use the “Ribbon Reverser”. Combined with the ribbon-switch (not all machines have both functions, some do, some don’t. Mine does), it’s possible to run the ribbon back and forth through the machine in opposite directions without even taking it out of the machine to flip it over!

Doing this, you can make one ribbon last for up to four passages through the typewriter.

Re-Inking a Ribbon

It is possible to re-ink a ribbon, if you so desire (or are unable to purchase a new ribbon).

To do so, you will require the following:

1). A dried, used typewriter ribbon, all wound onto one spool.

The ribbon must be in good condition. Either a freshly-used one, or an old used one that is structurally sound. It’s no good using a ribbon that’s frayed, ripped, trashed or otherwise nonfunctional.

2). A small plate.

This is to catch any dripping ink. Don’t worry! It’s washable. Your China won’t be permanently stained…

3). Tissues.

Just in case!

4). A bottle of stamp-pad ink.

Any stationery chain worth its salt will sell little bottles of stamp-pad ink (typically, 50ml sizes). Purchase one or two bottles of the ink of your choice (red, black, blue, etc).

Got all those things? Let’s begin.

How to Re-Ink your Ribbon

Why are we using stamp-pad ink? Why not fountain pen ink?

Let me explain. The ink in a typewriter ribbon must remain wet and usable for a long period of time. If it dried out overnight, you’d be left with yards of really pretty black ribbon…and nothing else. Completely useless.

Guess what? Stamp pads must also remain wet and usable for a long period of time, otherwise you can’t press rubber stamps into it!

Beginning to see the similarities here?


Because stamp-pad ink shares the same properties as typewriter ink, it’s a perfect re-inking tool for spent ribbons. Apply the ink in the following manner:

Having ensured that the ribbon is rolled up onto one spool (but that the tail is still attached to the other!), open the bottle of stamp-ink. The mouth of the bottle should be a small slit, like this: –

If it was a regular bottle-opening, the ink would just come rushing out and you’d have a huge mess on your hands.

Holding the ribbon-spool in one hand and the bottle in the other, press the mouth of the bottle to the ribbon and GENTLY squeeze the bottle to encourage the ink onto the ribbon. In most cases, gravity alone will cause the ink to dribble out.

As the ink dribbles out, use the tip of the bottle to spread it evenly along the whole 1/2in. width of the ribbon. Do one section, then rotate the spool, and do another section, then rotate, do another section, and so-forth, until all 360 degrees of the ribbon have been inked in this manner.

DO NOT OVERDO IT! One drop of ink has to seep right through the ribbon to the bottom of the spool. Use the ink as sparingly as possible. No more than two drops for each section, spread out along the ribbon. anymore than that, and the ribbon will be too heavily saturated to be of any practical use.

It is NOT necessary to unroll the entire ribbon and do every single inch of it. Simply roll it up and drip and spread ink onto it as I described. The ink will seep through the layers of ribbon, saturating the entire length of the ribbon until the whole thing has been re-inked. Fast, easy, a bit messy, but over and done with in 5 minutes.

Once the ribbon has been re-inked, set it back into the typewriter and position it for use. You’re done!


How to Clean Mechanical Typewriter Keys

I recently purchased an Underwood Standard Portable four-bank mechanical typewriter, from the mid-1920s. It’s a beautiful machine…

Ain’t it purdy?

…which is everything a classic, vintage typewriter ought to be. White glass keys, black steel body, a delightful little bell at the back which goes ‘Ding!’ and all the rest of it. But it frustrated me that the typewriter’s KEYS would stick and jam constantly.

Now in all fairness, I purchased this machine KNOWING that the keys would stick. But I was prepared to take the risk and buy it anyway. I might not get another chance to find a nice machine like this. But having bought it, I needed to get the keys working.

Do you have an old mechanical typewriter like this, with sticking keys? This is what you do to clean them up and stop them from jamming and sticking…

You Will Need…

1). Bottle of METHYLATED SPIRITS. Preferably a large one.

N.B.: Methylated Spirits is called different things in different places. In America, it’s ‘Denatured Alcohol’.

2). A soft brush. Like a small paintbrush. Not a toothbrush, that’s too stiff.

3). A small bowl or cup. This is to decant the meths into, during cleaning.

4). A roll of paper-towels.

5). Patience. Care. Attentiveness.

Preparing the Machine

To start unjamming the sticking keys, you need to rip off about 3-4 sheets of paper-towel. Fold them up along the perforations so that you have a nice, thick square of paper. Lift up the machine and shove the paper underneath. If your typewriter is an open-bottom machine like mine, that’s all you have to do.

If it’s a closed-bottom machine (for example, the Royal No. 10 desktop typewriter), then you must remove the bottom first (just unscrew it).

Having placed the wadding of paper underneath, fill your little bowl or cup, with meths. Fill it UP. You might be here for a long time.

Remove the ribbon from the typewriter. If you’re not already familiar with it, then double-check how the ribbon is installed into the machine FIRST, before you remove it.

Roll two or three sheets of regular A4 paper into the typewriter. This is to act as padding against the constant pounding of the keys against the platen and roller.

If your machine has one, open or take off the dust-cover that covers the type-basket.

You are now ready to start cleaning.

Cleaning the Type-Basket

Assuming that the machine is NOT damaged, and there are no bent hammers, broken linkages or other defects, but the machine’s keys still jam and stick, your next step is to clean the machine. Specifically, you want to focus on the type-basket. The type-basket is that big, smiley face in front of your keyboard.

A typewriter works in the following way:

You press on a key. The key depresses, and it pulls on a lever. That lever is attached to a typebar. When the lever drops, it pulls the typebar up with force, and the head of the bar strikes the ribbon, imprinting ink onto the paper. Releasing the key causes the typebar to gravity-drop back into place, resetting it for the next strike.

Jamming is caused by gunk and debris (dust, white-out crumbs, lint, etc) which gets into the fine, inaccessible areas of the typewriter-basket. This debris creates friction which stops the typebars from working naturally, through gravity and mechanical force, as they should.

This is what you’re trying to remove from the machine. It’s done in the following manner:

1). Dip your brush into the cup or bowl of methylated spirits. Remove it, and shake off any excess meths.

2). Brush the meths into the ends of the typebars, right at the back of the basket, into all the little grooves where the typebars attach to their key-levers. Brush from side to side, along the ‘smile’, and also, up and down in short strokes, to force the methylated spirits and the brush-bristles, between the grooves and gaps of the typebars.

3). Repeat this. Over. And over. And over. And over. Just keep brushing and probing, scrubbing, brushing, and probing and washing and flushing.

— — — —

What happens is that the methylated spirits dissolves the gunk stuck to the type-bars. It then just drips out of the bottom of the machine and collects on the paper-towels below. Any excess spirits just evaporates into the air, leaving a clean, and dry typing mechanism behind.

— — — —

Keep brushing and cleaning and flushing like this. Every few minutes, press the offending keys, along with all the others, to check for jamming, or improvement of function. This process can take a few minutes, or it can take days. If you want proof that the methylated spirits is cleaning your machine, then simply lift up the typewriter. You will have to change the paper-towels underneath the machine throughout the cleaning process, as they eventually become saturated with spirits and require replacing.

In removing the sheets of paper-towels, take note of their condition. A really dirty, jammed up machine will be dribbling oodles of black, grey dust and crud onto the paper, and you’ll be able to see it really really clearly. It’ll look almost like fireplace soot. This is the rubbish you’re trying to get out of your machine.

You must repeat this process until the paper removed from under the typewriter is COMPLETELY CLEAN and has NO debris on it AT ALL. This is the sign that it has all been flushed out and that the mechanism is cleaned and ready for proper use.

To give your typewriter a fighting chance, you might also want to clean under the machine at all the points where the typewriter-keys connect with the type-bars. Removing as much dust and crud as you can will ensure that the machine runs as best as possible. You can do this by brushing methylated spirits along the linkage-points, and then carefully wiping them clean with paper-towels or tissues. You may have to do this several times as well.

How long does it take to clean a typewriter? It really depends on its age, when it was last used, when it was last cleaned, how it’s been treated, its size and how thorough your cleaning is. It could take half an hour. It could take two hours. For me, I was cleaning it, on and off, for half a day, letting the meths soak through the machine to do its job, coming back, adding more, and changing the paper periodically to check the progress.

Important Note

As tempting as it may be, do NOT USE OIL on your TYPEWRITER. EVER.

As every person who repairs typewriters will probably tell you, and as all the period instruction-manuals (including my own) will also tell you, oil is a typewriter’s worst enemy. Do not use WD-40, olive-oil, melted butter, pig’s fat, sewing-machine oil or lard, in the hopes of getting your machine running.

Oil will lubricate the machine, yes. But it will also become a dust-trap as particles settle on the oil (which just sits there, it doesn’t evaporate and dry up) and create a disgusting sludge over time, that will…you guessed it…jam the machine. And you’re back to Square One.

Using meths is the ONLY way to clean your machine, as methylated spirits will just evaporate once the job is done, and leave no residue behind which dust can cling to.

If you MUST have lubricant (which is unlikely, as the whole machine should work on gravity alone), then make sure it is one that is non-greasy, and which does NOT attract dust. Otherwise, you’re in strife.

Is it Really That Easy?

Yes! Following this process, I successfully unjammed about a half-dozen keys in the typewriter that you see up above. It’s a messy, slow, sometimes frustrating method, but it does work. Otherwise I wouldn’t share it on my blog. Hopefully, it will work for you as well!

Happy typing!