The Cover of George Orwell’s 1984 Becomes Less Censored with Wear & Tear

1984 before

In 2013, Pen­guin released in the UK a series of new cov­ers for five works by George Orwell, includ­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly bold cov­er design for Orwell’s best-known work, 1984. Accord­ing to Cre­ative Review, the design­er, David Pear­son, made it so that the book’s title and Orwell’s name were debossed, then almost com­plete­ly obscured by black foil­ing, leav­ing just “enough of a dent for the title to be deter­mined.” No doubt, the design plays on the whole idea of cen­sor­ship, “ref­er­enc­ing the rewrit­ing of his­to­ry car­ried out by the novel’s Min­istry of Truth.”

Years lat­er, you’ll have dif­fi­cul­ty buy­ing new copies of Pear­son­’s design. They’re in pret­ty short sup­ply. But any­one with a well-worn copy of the book might dis­cov­er what one Red­di­tor has also observed–that the cov­er design “becomes less cen­sored with wear.” Com­pare the “before” image above to the “after” image down below. Was this all part of Pear­son­’s long-range mas­ter plan? Or some­thing of a design flaw? We’ll prob­a­bly nev­er know. But if you’re look­ing for a book that gets bet­ter with age, then this is one to add to your list.

1984 after

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Very First Adap­ta­tion of George Orwell’s 1984 in a Radio Play Star­ring David Niv­en (1949)

Free Down­load: A Knit­ting Pat­tern for a Sweater Depict­ing an Icon­ic Cov­er of George Orwell’s 1984

George Orwell’s Har­row­ing Race to Fin­ish 1984 Before His Death

Aldous Hux­ley to George Orwell: My Hell­ish Vision of the Future is Bet­ter Than Yours (1949)

Can You Crack the Uncrackable Code in Kryptos, the CIA’s Work of Public Art?

It can be chal­leng­ing to parse the mean­ing of many non-nar­ra­tive art­works.

Some­times the title will offer a clue, or the artist will shed some light in an inter­view.

Is it a com­ment on the cul­tur­al, socio-eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal con­text in which it was cre­at­ed?

Or is the act of cre­at­ing it the artist’s most salient point?

Are mul­ti­ple inter­pre­ta­tions pos­si­ble?

Artist Jim San­born’s mas­sive sculp­ture Kryp­tos may inspire var­i­ous reac­tions in its view­ers, but there’s def­i­nite­ly a sin­gle cor­rect inter­pre­ta­tion.

But 78-year-old San­born isn’t say­ing what…

He wants some­one else to iden­ti­fy it.

Kryp­tos’ main mys­tery — more like “a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enig­ma” to quote Win­ston Churchill — was hand cut into an S‑shaped cop­per screen using jig­saws.

Image cour­tesy of the CIA

Pro­fes­sion­al crypt­an­a­lysts, hob­by­ists, and stu­dents have been attempt­ing to crack the code of its 865 let­ters and 4 ques­tion marks since 1990, when it was installed on the grounds of CIA head­quar­ters in Lan­g­ley, Vir­ginia.

The hands-on part fell well with­in Sanborn’s purview. But a Mas­ters in sculp­ture from Pratt Insti­tute does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly con­fer cryp­tog­ra­phy bonafides, so San­born enlist­ed Edward Schei­dt, the retired chair­man of the CIA’s Cryp­to­graph­ic Cen­ter, for a crash course in late 20th-cen­tu­ry cod­ing sys­tems.

San­born sam­pled var­i­ous cod­ing meth­ods for the fin­ished piece, want­i­ng the act of deci­pher­ing to feel like “peel­ing lay­ers off an onion.”

That onion has been par­tial­ly peeled for years.

Deci­pher­ing three of its four pan­els is a pelt shared by com­put­er sci­en­tist and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Cryp­togram Asso­ci­a­tion, James Gillo­gly, and CIA ana­lyst David Stein.

Gillo­gly arrived at his solu­tion in 1999, using a Pen­tium II.

Stein reached the same con­clu­sion a year ear­li­er, after chip­ping away at it for some 400 hours with pen­cil and paper, though the CIA kept his achieve­ment on the down low until Gillo­gly went pub­lic with his.

The fol­low­ing year the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency claimed that four of their employ­ees, work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, had reached an iden­ti­cal solu­tion in 1992, a fact cor­rob­o­rat­ed by doc­u­ments obtained through the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act.

(On a relat­ed note, I got Wor­dle in three this morn­ing…)

This still leaves the 97-char­ac­ter phrase from the final pan­el up for grabs. Crack­ing it will be the penul­ti­mate step in solv­ing Kryp­tos’ puz­zle. As San­born told NPR in 2020, “that phrase is in itself a rid­dle:”

It’s mys­te­ri­ous. It’s going to lead to some­thing else. It’s not going to be fin­ished when it’s decod­ed.

The pub­lic is wel­come to con­tin­ue mak­ing edu­cat­ed guess­es.

San­born has leaked three clues over the years, all words that can be found in the final pas­sage of decrypt­ed text.

BERLIN, at posi­tions 64 — 69 (2010)

CLOCK, at posi­tions 70 — 74 (2014)

NORTHEAST, at posi­tion 26 — 34

Have you solved it, yet?


Don’t feel bad…

San­born has been field­ing incor­rect answers dai­ly for decades, though a ris­ing tide of aggres­sive and racist mes­sages led him to charge 50 bucks per sub­mis­sion, to which he responds via e‑mail, with absolute­ly no hope of hints.

Kryp­tos’ most ded­i­cat­ed fans, like game devel­op­er /cryptologist Elon­ka Dunin, seen ply­ing San­born with copi­ous quan­ti­ties of sushi above in Great Big Sto­ry’s video, find val­ue in work­ing togeth­er and, some­times, in per­son.

Their dream is that San­born might inad­ver­tent­ly let slip a valu­able tid­bit in their pres­ence, though that seems like a long shot.

The artist claims to have got­ten very skilled at main­tain­ing a pok­er face.

(Wait, does that sug­gest his inter­locu­tors have been get­ting warmer?)

Dunin has relin­quished all fan­tasies of solv­ing Kryp­tos solo, and now works to help some­one — any­one — solve it.

(Please, Lord, don’t let it be chat­G­PT…)

San­ford has put a con­tin­gency plan in place in case no one ever man­ages to get to the bot­tom of the Kryp­tos (ancient Greek for “hid­den”) conun­drum.

He, or rep­re­sen­ta­tives of his estate, will auc­tion off the solu­tion. He is con­tent with let­ting the win­ning bid­der decide whether or not to share what’s been revealed to them.

“I do real­ize that the val­ue of Kryp­tos is unknown and that per­haps this con­cept will bear lit­tle fruit,” he told the New York Times, though if one takes the mass­es of peo­ple des­per­ate to learn the solu­tion and fac­tors in Sanford’s inten­tion to donate all pro­ceeds to cli­mate research, it may well bear quite a healthy amount of fruit.

Join Elon­ka Dunin’s online com­mu­ni­ty of Kryp­tos enthu­si­asts here.

To give you a taste of what you’re in for, here are the first two pan­els, fol­lowed by their solu­tions, with the artist’s inten­tion­al mis­spellings intact.

Encrypt­ed Text

Decrypt­ed Text
Between sub­tle shad­ing and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlu­sion.


Encrypt­ed Text

Decrypt­ed Text
It was total­ly invis­i­ble Hows that pos­si­ble? They used the Earths mag­net­ic field X
The infor­ma­tion was gath­ered and trans­mit­ted under­gru­und to an unknown loca­tion X
Does Lan­g­ley know about this? They should Its buried out there some­where X
Who knows the exact loca­tion? Only WW This was his last mes­sage X
Thir­ty eight degrees fifty sev­en min­utes six point five sec­onds north
Sev­en­ty sev­en degrees eight min­utes forty four sec­onds west ID by rows

View step by step solu­tions for the first three of Kryp­tos’ encrypt­ed pan­els here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Enig­ma Machine: How Alan Tur­ing Helped Break the Unbreak­able Nazi Code

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence May Have Cracked the Code of the Voyn­ich Man­u­script: Has Mod­ern Tech­nol­o­gy Final­ly Solved a Medieval Mys­tery?

The Code of Charles Dick­ens’ Short­hand Has Been Cracked by Com­put­er Pro­gram­mers, Solv­ing a 160-Year-Old Mys­tery

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch a 106-Year-Old Wizard of Oz Book Get Magically Restored … By Cutting the Book’s Spine, Washing Pages & Recoloring Illustrations

Author, edu­ca­tor and book restora­tion expert Sophia Bogle is in a con­stant race against time. Her mis­sion: to res­cue and restore ill-treat­ed books before their lam­en­ta­ble con­di­tions can con­sign them to the land­fill.

To the untrained eye, many of these vol­umes appear beyond repair, but Bogle has nerves of steel, preter­nat­ur­al patience, sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion, and over thir­ty years of expe­ri­ence.

In the Wired video above, she uses a 106-year-old first edi­tion of Frank L. Baum’s The Lost Princess of Oz to demon­strate some of the steps of her craft — from cut­ting open an old book’s spine and wash­ing dirty pages to repair­ing tears and recol­or­ing illus­tra­tions.

Pri­or to tak­ing the final step, she scrawls a hid­den mes­sage on the back­ing mate­r­i­al of the spine:

I do love the fact that there’s the sto­ry in the book, there’s the sto­ry of the restora­tion of the book, there’s the sto­ry of who has owned the book and now, I’m just in there just a lit­tle bit more.

This play­ful bit of hard-won license is a far cry from some shady restora­tion prac­tices she men­tions in an inter­view on the Wel­come to Lit­er­ary Ash­land blog, in an attempt to arm the gen­er­al pub­lic with tools for spot­ting poten­tial fraud:

I am not sure that there is any­thing in the world that can­not be twist­ed with evil intent…Swapping out pages with pub­lish­ers infor­ma­tion in order to make the book appear to be a more valu­able edi­tion. Scratch­ing out/removing num­bers or words for the same pur­pose. And last­ly, swap­ping out pages to insert the author’s sig­na­ture. None of those things can be done with­out intent to defraud and it is the intent that mat­ters most. 

Bogle plies her trade using all sorts of spe­cial­ized pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment — two sewing frames, a job backer, a gold fin­ish­ing stove, a nip­ping press, a Kwikprint stamp­ing machine and draw­ers full of stamps and dies — but she also offers free and low-cost vir­tu­al book repair cours­es to those whose binderies have yet to be estab­lished.

One reward for Kick­starter back­ers who helped her pub­lish Book Restora­tion Unveiled: An Essen­tial Guide for Bib­lio­philes was a bind-it-your­self print­able pdf of the book.

Reat­tach­ing a paperback’s cov­er or deodor­iz­ing a musty old book may rep­re­sent the extent of your hands on impulse.

Book lovers who have both the time and the tem­pera­ment for book­bind­ing, as well as Bogle’s pas­sion for pre­serv­ing cul­ture one book at a time, might con­sid­er apply­ing for a Save Your Books schol­ar­ship.

See more of Sophia Bogle’s book restora­tions on her Save Your Books YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How to Res­cue a Wet, Dam­aged Book: A Handy Visu­al Primer

How Obses­sive Artists Col­orize Old Pho­tographs & Restore the True Col­ors of the Past

The Art of Restor­ing a 400-Year-Old Paint­ing: A Five-Minute Primer

Watch the Painstak­ing and Nerve-Rack­ing Process of Restor­ing a Draw­ing by Michelan­ge­lo

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

My Neighbor Totoro Inspires a Line of Traditional Japanese Handicrafts

We sup­pose it’s con­ceiv­able that a gift of a wood­en Totoro fig­urine, hand-carved from a sin­gle block using 50 dif­fer­ent kinds of chis­els, might spark a rev­er­ence for tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese craft and nature in the next gen­er­a­tion…

Or, they may be left wish­ing you’d giv­en them a vast­ly more hug­gable machine-made plushie ver­sion, espe­cial­ly if you can’t help suck­ing in your breath every time they start fum­bling with that exquis­ite­ly craft­ed ¥330,000 yen heir­loom-to-be. (That’s $2341.81 in US dol­lars.)

Of course, direc­tor Hayao Miyaza­ki’s 1988 ani­mat­ed fea­ture My Neigh­bor Totoro has legions of fans of all ages, and some will con­sid­er them­selves quite lucky if they win the lot­tery that grants them the abil­i­ty to pur­chase such a trea­sure.

They’re not only carved by skilled arti­sans in Ina­mi, the city of wood­carv­ing, but the wood is also that of a cam­phor tree — the nat­ur­al habi­tat of the mys­te­ri­ous, mag­i­cal Totoro! (It’s also con­sid­ered holy by prac­ti­tion­ers of the Shin­to reli­gion.)

Still, if it’s unclear that the recip­i­ent will tru­ly appre­ci­ate such thought­ful­ness, you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter off going with anoth­er offer­ing from Stu­dio Ghibli’s Totoro-themed col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nak­a­gawa Masashichi Shoten, a pur­vey­or of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese crafts.

Per­haps a¥4180 bud vase fired in Ure­shi­no City’s Edo-peri­od Yozan Kiln, fea­tur­ing Totoro or a clus­ter of susuwatari, the pom pom-like soot sprites infest­ing the Kusak­abe fam­i­ly’s new home, who also play a part in Spir­it­ed Away.

Maybe a tiny Totoro bell amulet, mold­ed by crafts­men in Odawara, cel­e­brat­ed for the qual­i­ty of their met­al­work since the ear­ly 1500s, when they out­fit­ted samu­rai with weapons, armor and hel­mets?

What about a Totoro-embla­zoned trea­sure box from Yat­suo, made of sten­cil-dyed hand­made washi paper? There’s noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong with stash­ing your acorn col­lec­tion in an old Altoid’s tin, but this ves­sel comes with his­toric pedi­gree:

As one of the lead­ing towns along the trunk road, Yatu­so flour­ished through … pro­duc­tion of wrap­ping paper for the nation-wide famous “Toya­ma Med­i­cine”. At its gold­en age, from the Edo Era to the begin­ning of the Mei­ji Era in the 19th cen­tu­ry, many peo­ple were engaged in paper­mak­ing by hand­work in their homes. Yat­suo Japan­ese paper was expect­ed to be unbreak­able because it was used as pack­age for expen­sive med­i­cine and at the same time it should look bril­liant. It had to be thick and stout so that it could be imper­vi­ous to water and the label print­ed on the sur­face would not be smeared.

The list of Totoro-inspired tra­di­tion­al crafts is impres­sive. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­pling:

Chusen-dyed tenugui hand­ker­chiefs and t‑shirts…

Dish­tow­els made from five lay­ers of Kayaori fab­ric that “was intro­duced to Japan dur­ing the Nara peri­od and is said to allow wind to pass through but keep mos­qui­toes out”…

Tiny Ari­ta ware acorn plates that reward mem­bers of the clean plate club with a view of the Cat­bus 

View the col­lec­tion and learn more about February’s lot­tery for a chance to pur­chase a Cam­phor wood Totoro here.

Hands-on fans may pre­fer to cul­ti­vate an appre­ci­a­tion for tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese hand­i­crafts by attempt­ing a DIY Totoro.

Via Spoon & Tam­a­go/Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Stream Hun­dreds of Hours of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Movie Music That Will Help You Study, Work, or Sim­ply Relax: My Neigh­bor Totoro, Spir­it­ed Away & More

A Tour of Stu­dio Ghibli’s Brand New Theme Park in Japan, Which Re-Cre­ates the Worlds of Spir­it­ed Away, My Neigh­bor Totoro, and Oth­er Clas­sics

Build Your Own Minia­ture Sets from Hayao Miyazaki’s Beloved Films: My Neigh­bor Totoro, Kiki’s Deliv­ery Ser­vice & More

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How Pantone Became the Global Authority on Color

Pan­tone has declared “Peach Fuzz” the Col­or of the Year. This selec­tion, how­ev­er, rais­es the ques­tion: How did Pan­tone become the glob­al author­i­ty on col­or? Above, the Wall Street Jour­nal describes how Pan­tone began as a com­mer­cial print­ing com­pa­ny dur­ing the 1950s. Then, in the ear­ly 60s, it evolved into some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. Rec­og­niz­ing that its clients (and oth­er com­pa­nies) need to print mate­ri­als with con­sis­tent col­ors, Pan­tone cre­at­ed a uni­ver­sal col­or lan­guage, the Pan­tone Match­ing Sys­tem (PMS), where each col­or is assigned a spe­cif­ic num­ber. For instance, “Peach Fuzz” cor­re­sponds to #FFBE98. As Slate points out, this sys­tem ensured that “print­ers and clients would have a shared ref­er­ence when they talk to one another—an indus­try stan­dard, so that a col­or would mean the same thing all the way from a designer’s vision to the print­ed item.” Over the next 60 years, Pan­tone con­tin­ued to nur­ture the Pan­tone Match­ing Sys­tem, undoubt­ed­ly gen­er­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue along the way and, more impor­tant­ly, mak­ing itself the arbiter of col­or world­wide.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete Dig­i­tal Scan

Prince Gets an Offi­cial Pur­ple Pan­tone Col­or

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

Behold LEGO Reenactments of Famous Psychology Experiments, as Imagined by Artificial Intelligence

Cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Tomer Ull­man, head of Harvard’s Com­pu­ta­tion, Cog­ni­tion, and Devel­op­ment lab, may have inad­ver­tent­ly blun­dered into an untapped vein of LEGO Icon inspi­ra­tion when his inter­est in AI led him to stage recre­ations of famous psych exper­i­ments.

If you think Vin­cent Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night LEGO play­set is a chal­lenge, imag­ine putting togeth­er the AI-gen­er­at­ed play­set inspired by Yale psy­chol­o­gist Stan­ley Milgram’s 1961 obe­di­ence stud­ies, above.

Par­tic­i­pants in these stud­ies were assigned to play one of two parts — teacher or learn­er. Part­ner pairs were seat­ed in sep­a­rate rooms, acces­si­ble to each oth­er by micro­phones. The teacher read the learn­er a list of matched words they’d expect­ed to remem­ber short­ly there­after. If the learn­er flubbed up, the teacher was to admin­is­ter an elec­tric shock via a series of labelled switch­es, upping it by 15-volts for each suc­ces­sive error. The micro­phones ensured that the teacher was privy to the learner’s increas­ing­ly dis­tressed reac­tions — screams, des­per­ate protes­ta­tion, and — at the high­est volt­age — radio silence.

Should a teacher hes­i­tate, they’d be remind­ed that the para­me­ters of the exper­i­ment, for which they were earn­ing $4.50, required them to con­tin­ue. They also received reas­sur­ance that the painful shocks caused no per­ma­nent tis­sue dam­age.

Here’s the thing:

The teach­ers were inno­cent as to the experiment’s true nature. They thought the study’s focus was punishment’s effect on learn­ing abil­i­ty, but in fact, Mil­gram was study­ing the lim­its of obe­di­ence to author­i­ty.

The learn­ers were all in on the ruse. They received no shocks. Their respons­es were all feigned.

If our eyes don’t deceive us, the Mil­gram exper­i­ment that the AI imag­ines is even more extreme than the orig­i­nal. It appears all par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing those wait­ing for their turn, are in the same room.

As some­one com­ment­ed on Bluesky, the new social media plat­form on which Ull­man shared his hypo­thet­i­cal play­sets, “the sub­tle details the AI has got wrong here are the stuff of night­mares.”

AI’s take on the Stan­ford prison exper­i­ment seems more benign than the con­tro­ver­sial 1971 exper­i­ment that recruit­ed 24 stu­dent par­tic­i­pants for a filmed study of prison life to be staged in Stan­ford University’s psy­chol­o­gy depart­men­t’s base­ment, ran­dom­ly divid­ing them into pris­on­ers and guards.

AI’s faith­ful recre­ation of the LEGO fig­urines’ phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions can’t real­ly cap­ture the faux guards’ bru­tal­i­ty — mak­ing their pris­on­ers clean out toi­lets with their bare hands, strip­ping them naked, and depriv­ing them of food and beds. Their pow­er abus­es were so wan­ton, and the pris­on­ers’ dis­tress so extreme, that the planned dura­tion of two weeks was scrapped six days in.

It’s worth not­ing that all the stu­dent par­tic­i­pants came to the study with clean bills of phys­i­cal and men­tal health, and no his­to­ries of crim­i­nal arrest.

Far less upset­ting are the cog­ni­tive sci­ence exper­i­ment play­sets depict­ing the delayed grat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Stan­ford Marsh­mal­low Test and the selec­tive atten­tion of the Invis­i­ble Goril­la Test (both right above).

Ull­man also steered AI toward LEGO trib­utes to B.F. Skinner’s oper­ant con­di­tion­ing cham­ber and Mar­tin Seligman’s learned help­less­ness research (below).

No word on whether he has plans to con­tin­ue exper­i­ment­ing with AI-engi­neered LEGO play­set pro­pos­als fea­tur­ing his­toric exper­i­ments of psy­chol­o­gy and cog­ni­tive sci­ence.

Fol­low on Bluesky if you’re curi­ous. You’ll need to reg­is­ter for a free account and apply for an invite code, if you haven’t already… wait, are we set­ting our­selves up to be unwit­ting par­tic­i­pants in anoth­er psych exper­i­ment?


Via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Psy­chol­o­gy Exper­i­ment That Shocked the World: Milgram’s Obe­di­ence Study (1961)

The Lit­tle Albert Exper­i­ment: The Per­verse 1920 Study That Made a Baby Afraid of San­ta Claus & Bun­nies

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the Mikiphone, the World’s First Portable Record Player: “Fits a Jacket Pocket; Goes into a Lady’s Handbag” (1924)

The iPod shuf­fle recent­ly enjoyed a bit of a come­back on Tik­Tok.

Can the Mikiphone be far behind?

The inven­tion of sib­lings Mik­lós and Éti­enne Vadász, the world’s first pock­et record play­er caused a stir when it was intro­duced a cen­tu­ry ago, nab­bing first prize at an inter­na­tion­al music exhi­bi­tion and find­ing favor with mod­ernist archi­tect Le Cor­busier, who hailed it for embody­ing the “essence of the esprit nou­veau.”

Unlike more recent portable audio inno­va­tions, some assem­bly was required.

It’s fair to assume that the Stan­ford Archive of Record­ed Sound staffer deft­ly unpack­ing antique Mikiphone com­po­nents from its cun­ning Sony Dis­c­man-sized case, above, has more prac­tice putting the thing togeth­er than a ner­vous young fel­la eager to woo his gal al fres­co with his just pur­chased, cut­ting edge 1924 tech­nol­o­gy.

A peri­od adver­tise­ment extols the Mikiphone’s porta­bil­i­ty …

Fits in a jack­et pock­et

Goes in a lady’s hand­bag

Will hang on a cycle frame

Goes in a car door pock­et

Ide­al for pic­nics, car jaunts, riv­er trips

…but fails to men­tion that in order to enjoy it, you’d also have to schlep along a fair amount of 78 RPM records, whose 10-inch diam­e­ters aren’t near­ly so pock­et and purse-com­pat­i­ble.

Mai­son Pail­lard pro­duced approx­i­mate­ly 180,000 of these hand-cranked won­ders over the course of three years. When sales dropped in 1927, the remain­ing stock was sold off at a dis­count or giv­en away to con­test win­ners.

These days, an authen­tic Mik­phone can fetch $500 and upward at auc­tion. (Beware of Miki­phonies!)

Relat­ed Con­tent

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renais­sance Inven­tion Cre­at­ed to Make Books Portable & Help Schol­ars Study Sev­er­al Books at Once (1588)

Behold the Jacobean Trav­el­ing Library: The 17th Cen­tu­ry Fore­run­ner to the Kin­dle

The Walk­man Turns 40: See Every Gen­er­a­tion of Sony’s Icon­ic Per­son­al Stereo in One Minute

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.



The History of Disco Visualized on a Circuit Diagram of a Klipschorn Speaker: Features 600 Musicians, DJs, Producers, Clubs & Record Labels

Half a cen­tu­ry after it was birthed in New York’s black, Lati­no and gay under­ground club scene–and near­ly 45 years after the infa­mous Dis­co Demo­li­tion in Chicago’s Comiskey Park–dis­co is final­ly being accord­ed some respect in the annals of music his­to­ry.

Even those who remain imper­vi­ous to dis­co fever seem will­ing to acknowl­edge its cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance as evi­denced by a recent exchange on the Trouser Press forum:

It was every­where and could indeed get tire­some. But today I can appre­ci­ate how well put-togeth­er those records by an artist like the Bee Gees were…

Hear­ing tech­no for the first time in the ear­ly 90s, and real­iz­ing it was just dis­co in a new, all-elec­tron­ic pack­age, made me real­ize how good a lot of it was…

I remem­ber see­ing (A Taste of Hon­ey) on The Mid­night Spe­cial. It was the first time I’d seen a band with female mem­bers play­ing instru­ments…

Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed the his­to­ry of hip-hop, UK-based design stu­dio Dorothy gives dis­co its due with a blue­print pay­ing trib­ute to the many artists who made the form what it was, from foun­da­tion lay­ers like Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, Mar­vin Gaye, and James Brown to such trail­blaz­ing super­stars as Don­na Sum­mer, Glo­ria Gaynor, Sylvester, Chic and the Bee Gees.

The Dis­co Love Blue­print also name checks some of disco’s influ­en­tial pro­duc­ers, DJs, and labels, along with water­shed moments like 1969’s Stonewall Upris­ing and 1977’s Sat­ur­day Night Fever, report­ed­ly film crit­ic Gene Siskel’s favorite movie.

And while the dis­co explo­sion even­tu­al­ly saw young straight sin­gles doing the Bump in Indi­anapo­lis, Phoenix, and Spokane, Dorothy sticks close to the epi­cen­ter by includ­ing such leg­endary New York City clubs as Stu­dio 54, The Gallery, Par­adise Garage, The Saint, and The Loft, a pri­vate dis­cotheque in DJ David Man­cu­so’s Low­er Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

In Bill Brewster’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The His­to­ry of the Disc Jock­ey, Man­cu­so’s audio engi­neer, Alex Ros­ner, recalled the Loft’s clien­tele as being “prob­a­bly about six­ty per­cent black and sev­en­ty per­cent gay:”

There was a mix of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, there was a mix of races, mix of eco­nom­ic groups. A real mix, where the com­mon denom­i­na­tor was music.

One can’t men­tion the music at The Loft with­out giv­ing props to the inno­v­a­tive and effi­cient sound sys­tem Ros­ner devised for Mancuso’s 1,850-square-foot space, using a McIn­tosh ampli­fi­er, an AR ampli­fi­er, Vega bass bot­tom speak­ers, and two Klip­schorn Corn­wall loud­speak­ers, whose cir­cuit dia­gram inspired the Dis­co Love Blue­print­’s lay­out.

As com­pos­er and pro­duc­er Matt Som­mers told The Vinyl Fac­to­ry, those speak­ers sur­round­ed dancers with the sort of high vol­ume, undis­tort­ed sound they could lose them­selves in:

…the Man­cu­so par­ties were unique because what he did was take it to a whole oth­er lev­el and cre­at­ed that envel­op­ment expe­ri­ence where you could real­ly get lost and I think that’s what peo­ple love about that, because you can just let your trou­bles go and enjoy it.

Get Dorothy’s Dis­co Love Blue­print, fea­tur­ing 600 musi­cians, DJs, pro­duc­ers, clubs and record labels here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

The His­to­ry of Jazz Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Phono­graph: Fea­tures 1,000+ Musi­cians, Artists, Song­writ­ers and Pro­duc­ers

The His­to­ry of Rock Mapped Out on the Cir­cuit Board of a Gui­tar Ampli­fi­er: 1400 Musi­cians, Song­writ­ers & Pro­duc­ers

Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

The His­to­ry of Hip Hop Music Visu­al­ized on a Turntable Cir­cuit Dia­gram: Fea­tures 700 Artists, from DJ Kool Herc to Kanye West

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

The Untold Sto­ry of Dis­co and Its Black, Lati­no & LGBTQ Roots

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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