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Gizmos A - Z

Accoson Sphygmomanometer

Acoustic Coupler

Advance PP5 Stabilised PSU

Aibo ERS-111 Robotic Pet

Aiwa LX-110 Linear Turntable

Aiwa TP-32A Tape Recorder

Alcatel Minitel 1 Videotex

Aldis Folding Slide Viewer

Alpha-Tek Pocket Radio

Airlite 71 Aviation Headset

Aitron Wrist Radio

Aiwa TP-60R Tape Recorder

AKG K290 Surround 'Phones

Amerex Alpha One Spycorder

Amstrad NC100 Notepad

AN/PRC-6 Walkie Talkie

Apple Macintosh SE FDHD

Amstrad CPC 464 Computer

AlphaTantel Prestel

Astatic D-104 Desk Microphone

Atari 2600 Video Game

Atari 600XL Home Computer

Audiotronic LSH 80 'Phones

Avia Electronic Watch

Avid Pneumatic Headphones

AVO Multiminor

AVO Model 8 Multimeter

Bambino Challenger Radio

Bandai Solar LCD Game

Baygen Freeplay Lantern

Bellwood, Bond Spycorder

Benkson 79 Mini Tape Recorder

Betacom BF1 Pianotel Phone

Betacom CP/6 Ferrari Phone

Binatone Digivox Alarm

Binatone Long Ranger 6 CB

Binatone Mk6 Video Game

Binotone Radio Binoculars

Bio Activity Translator

Biri-1 Radiation Monitor

Bowmar LED Digital Watch

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Cartex TX-160 Multiband Radio

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Channel Master 6546

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Computer Novelty AM/FM Radio

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Concord F20 Sound Camera

Coomber 2241-7 CD Cassette

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Dansette Richmond Radio

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Dokorder PR-4K Mini Tape

DP-66M Geiger Counter

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Euromarine Radiofix Mk 5

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Fi-Cord 101 Tape Recorder

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Fisher-Price 826 Cassette

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Franklin LF-390 Guitar Radio

Gaertner Pioneer Geiger Counter

Garmin GPS III Pilot Satnav

GE 3-5805 AM CB Radio

GE 3-5908 Help CB Radio

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General Radiological NE 029-02

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HMV 2210 Tape Recorder

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Horstmann Pluslite Task Lamp

Ianero Polaris Spotlight

Ingersoll XK505 TV, Radio

International HP-1000 Radio

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James Bond TV Watch

Jasa AM Wristwatch Radio

Juliette LT-44 Tape Recorder

Jupiter FC60 Radio

JVC GR-C1 Camcorder

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Kvarts DRSB-01 Dosimeter

Kvarts DRSB-88 Dosimeter

Kvarts DRSB-90 Geiger Count

Kyoto S600 8-Track Player

La Pavoni Espresso Machine

Macarthys Surgical AM Radio

Magnetic Core Memory 4kb

Maplin YU-13 Video Stabilizer

Marlboro Giant  AM Radio

Mattel Intellivision

Maxcom Cordless Phone

McArthur Microscope OU

Memo Call Tape Recorder

Micronta 22-195A Multimeter

Micronta 3001 Metal Detector

Micronta S-100 Signal Injector

Microphax Case II Fiche

Midland 12-204 Tape Rccorder

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Minolta 10P 16mm Camera

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Mohawk Chief Tape Recorder

Motorola 5000X Bag Phone

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MPMan MP-F20 MP3 Player

Music Man Talking Radio

Mystery Microphone


Widget Of The Week

Protona Minifon Attaché Tape Recorder, 1959

All credit to Philips for the phenomenal success of the audio Compact Cassette format, launched in 1963, but if you look through Dustygizmos you will see that it wasn’t the first or even necessarily the best tape cassette system of its day. In fact there is little doubt that Philips would have been aware of this one developed by German company Protona, (later to become Telefunken), whilst it was working on Compact Cassette. It belongs to the Minifon Attaché, first seen in 1959, though the cassette had been designed a few years previously. There are numerous similarities between the two formats and the recorders, including the tandem reel layout, two-side recording, capstan drive mechanism; the only significant differences are that the Minifon cassette is a little larger and uses quarter-inch wide tape (Compact cassette tape is 1/8th inch wide), but ironically, while the cassette is bigger the Minifon Attaché is only around two-thirds the size of first generation Cassette recorders, and a good deal more sophisticated.


The feature list is as good a place as any to begin and the most obvious one is the row of piano key controls. These were very unusual on late 50s tape recorders, and almost unheard of on one as small as this. And it is very small; it fits easily into a coat pocket and it’s highly portable, thanks to it being battery powered. That wasn’t uncommon back then but the ‘Mini-Accu’ battery it uses was. It’s a rechargeable type using what was in the late 50s the relatively new Nickel- Cadmium technology known generically as DEAC (‘deek’) cells, named after the pioneering manufacturer Deutsche Edison Akkumuatoren Company.


Another reason it is so small is due to it using transistors, instead of valves in the amplifier circuit. Once again this was cutting edge stuff and it was one of only a small handful of transistorised tape recorders in the late fifties. One more reason for the diminutive size is the lack of a built-in speaker, instead it was supplied with stethoscope type earphones and an external speaker was available as an optional extra. It also came with a microphone, fitted with a remote Play/Record switch and it was supplied with a very well made leather case.


The machine is exceptionally well made. The case and chassis are both made of metal, and the moving parts are excellent examples of German precision engineering. Then there’s the speed-stabilised motor, which looks like it was made in a watch factory. The circuit boards have are a repair person’s dream and are meant to be easily get-attable, though this one, and the two others that passed have through my hands all worked faultlessly. 


There’s no need to go through the controls, they are clearly labelled and very easy to use; the only thing that’s missing is a fast-wind function, though this would have been no great hardship in its intended application. So, the question is, at a time when tape recorders were still a long way from being a commonplace consumer product, who was it aimed at? The small size and functions are clearly suggests it was a piece of office equipment. It would have been used for dictation and taking notes, however, when you take a closer look at the optional extras there are a few surprises. Why, for example, would anyone need a microphone disguised as a wristwatch? Then there’s the telephone recording adaptor and an easily concealable miniature microphone. Of course it is quite possible that it was used for serious espionage. This was the start of the Cold War after all, and if the movies and books are to be believed Germany was a hotbed of spooks. However, covert recording would also have been regarded as a legitimate business tool and no doubt tiny machines like the Attaché were routinely used for eavesdropping on meetings and gathering industrial secrets.


No prizes for guessing where this one and the others that I have owned came from. It was ebay, but bought at least 10 years ago, when machines like this were still plentiful, and cheap. I do not recall how much it cost but I wouldn’t have paid more than £10 or so for it, and that included the leather case and accessories. The original battery was long gone, in any case it would have been useless; early rechargeables had a very short life. It’s was easily overcome, though, and it (they) all worked when connected to a mains power supply, and it would be a fairly simple matter to construct a holder for modern batteries. As I indicated they were all in good working order, though to make sure they stayed that way moving parts were lubricated and any iffy looking rubber belts replaced. Although the tape moves at a relatively sedate speed of 4.76cm/sec sound quality is pretty decent, it’s by no means hi-fi quality but its fine for speech and musical recordings are far from terrible. Given the advances that gradually improved the performance of compact cassette machines I have no doubt that they could have been applied to the Minifon, had it been a commercial success. 


What Happened To It?

Clever marketing by Philips ensured that Compact Cassette saw off all of its rivals, not that the Attaché ever had any pretensions as an entertainment device. It resulted in the eventual demise of reel-to-reel tape recorders, though they lingered on for another couple of decades by occupying a niche at the top end of the market. Protona were taken over by Telefunken in 1962 but the Minifon continued in production, going through several revisions and badges (at one point it was branded ITT) until 1967 when the Attaché and Protona names disappeared from view.


Sales of the Attaché must have been quite good and up until a few years ago there were usually one or two on ebay at any given time. The supply eventually dried up, though and the few machines that appear on the market are snapped up quickly, sometimes for quite astonishing prices. With so few examples to go it is hard to say exactly how much they are worth but anywhere between £50 and £100 would be a good starting point for one in working condition, and a case and accessories can only add to its value.   


First seen:          1959

Original Price:   950DM (£80.00)

Value Today:     £100.00 (0317)

Features:           Single speed capstan drive, proprietary cassette using 0.25 in (0.63cm) wide tape, tape speed 1.8ips (4.76 cm/sec), running time 30 mins 15 min per side), 3-digit tape counter, battery/recording level indicator, 6 transistor amplifier, piano-key controls (Stop, Rewind, Play/Listen, Record)

Power req.                         7.5v mini-accu DEAC rechargeable battery

Dimensions:                        178 x 100 x 43mm

Weight:                               900g

Made (assembled) in:          West Germany

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)         6