Then and Now: Vintage Office Supplies
The office supply industry has come a long way over the years. Products continue to get smaller, slimmer and lighter. These days the vast majority of office supplies are small, portable and made of economy materials such as plastic. If you need a calculator, odds are you have one lying around in your desk drawer. Years ago, your calculator would have needed its own trolley cart in order to be transported even just down the hall. At the turn of the century, life as an office worker was very different. What are now our considered basic tools were once oversized, heavy and pretty intimidating contraptions in their beta phase. So, what did a turn of the century calculator look like? To see how far we’ve come, here’s a list of some early, vintage office supplies.
This common desktop essential once needed an entire desktop all to its self. This 1885 Dixon Lamson pencil sharpener was able to sharpen pencils of all sizes. This sharpener also had some serious aesthetics. Made of cast iron, copper and wood, this sharpener was made with attention to quality and detail and was one of the very early hand cranked pencil sharpeners.
Today, sharpeners are small and sleek featuring a shavings reservoir and are, of course, electric. But the major difference is that they are portable! As with many of the products on this list, you will see that portability is a key factor in office supply evolution.
Our beloved paper pincher had a very interesting design history. In 1895 the Jones Manufacturing Company released a strange contraption called the Star Paper Fastener. It kinda resembles a modern stapler but what’s with that curled tail? As it turns out, that tail served a purpose and marked the birth of the strip stapler. Staples were wound around the tail and fed into the machine. It was one of the first machines that cut individual staples off a stamped strip of connected metal staples.
Today, strip staplers are the norm and have shrunk significantly when compared to its bulky predecessor. The mechanics have been simplified and these guys can now sit comfortably on any desk top without eating up tons of space. Nowadays, strip staplers are even available in pocket sized varieties.
This old time calculator gives a whole new meaning to this phrase crunching numbers. This antique adding machine used a keyboard for inputting data and was able to print onto roll paper. In order to print, the operator had to draw the lever which would crunch down on the paper to transfer the data. This particular machine was a “blind” printing machine. This meant that the printed paper released from the rear, making it not easily viewable.
Today, calculators are completely digital, have internal recall and memory and probably weight less than one of the keyboard buttons on this ancient thing.
Back in the day, weighing anything required the user to actually know how units of measure work. This type of scale was typically used to measure small goods such as candies, grains and similar items. You would set the scale to the desired weight by using metal counter weights on one side and then adding the desired amount of product to match on the other. Once the needle in the middle of the unit was centered, your knew your measurement was correct.
These days, unit conversions on scales are calculated for you. All you have to do is select your unit of measure on the machine. No need for counterweight.
Clock and Calendar
This Park Sherman solid brass desk calendar was pretty fancy for its time. This one was popular in the 30’s and 40’s and is manually wound on both ends to set the days and month. Calendars like this were staples during that time. Today, desk calendars either come in the paper wall mounted variety or as digital desktop accessories, like this one. Much more information is available such as the time, temperature and even the humidity!
This little guy has undergone a significant makeover. Once upon a time, binder clips were simply an industrial hunk of metal, simply intended to hold things together. Not much thought was put into aesthetics or design appeal. Although the modern version sports a more streamlined look, vintage binder clips are now heavily sought after in the home decor market. Their rustic design is great for displaying art and other wall hangings. Interesting how something that was once viewed as purely practical can later become a design feature.
So, wanna make multiple copies of your resume? Imagine having to carve out every single letter, graphic and number into a piece (or pieces) of wood and place it into a massive machine. Cover it in ink and use muscle power to press the ink into the paper. now repeat these steps for every copy you need. This Old school 1878 Colombian Jobber printing press was once the preferred and EASY way to make small scale copies.
Have a sudden appreciation for your tired little Epson, don’t you.