I love old mechanical and electronic things. I’m just endlessly fascinated with them.
When I see an old typewriter in an antique store, it’s all I can do not to bring it home. That pull is even stronger when I find a vintage radio or television.
What I appreciate most about these old machines is their visual design. How did the designers work with or around these machines’ hard points? A typewriter is going to have keys and a platen. A television’s screen is going to be its main design element whether the designers like it or not. A radio can’t not have a way to select stations.
It fascinates me endlessly how industrial designers went on to make aesthetic choices from there. A television could be a small and tight portable or a wide console in a walnut cabinet. A typewriter could be low and sleek, or tall and stout. A radio can have a circular dial, or a linear dial, or even a digital dial. Its speaker can be large and prominent, or small and hidden around the back.
I always want to experience these machines — feel the action of a typewriter’s keys, find how selective a radio’s tuner is and how good the set sounds, see the television’s picture quality.
I’ve owned a few old machines — a 1950s typewriter, a late-1940s console radio and phonograph, a portable radio with a dial hidden behind a mechanism that worked like a roll-top desk, and a mid-1960s black-and-white console television. Trouble was, when they inevitably broke down from age or use, I had no idea how to repair them. Even if I did, parts aren’t always available anymore. An old friend of mine who knew how to fix old televisions traced the failure in mine down to a power regulator, if I recall correctly, that was unique to a handful of sets by that manufacturer in that era. Finding a new-old-stock part was unlikely. Our best bet would be to find another broken set with that part, and harvest it. That proved to be an incredibly difficult needle to thread, and in the end I gave up.
But the bigger problem with collecting things like televisions is figuring out where to put them. My house is already full of the stuff we need to live.
The one kind of old machine that I’ve allowed myself to collect is vintage film cameras. They tend to be small and thus easier to store. And for now anyway there are enough repair people for me to send them to when they fail.