Crystal Radios

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Mini Tape Recorders


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Gizmos & Gadgets


Gizmo Gallery

A - C

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Kyoto S600 8-Track Player

Binatone Digivox Alarm

Aitron Wrist Radio

Sinclair Calculator

Hitachi WH-638 Radio

Philips EL3302 Cassette Recorder

Chinon 722-P Super 8 Cine

Grundig Memorette

Bowmar LED Digital Watch

Talkboy Tape Recorder

Staticmaster Static Brush

Vanity Fair Electron Blaster

Technicolor Portable VCR

Avo Multiminor

Standard Slide Rule

Kodak EK2 'The Handle'

Sanyo G2001 Music Centre

Maxcom Cordless Phone

Seiko EF302 Voicememo

Motorola 8500X ‘Brick’

TTC C1001 Multimeter

Telephone 280 1960

Kodak 56X Instamatic

Radofin Triton Calculator

Bio Activity Translator

GPO Trimphone


AlphaTantel Prestel

Nimslo 3D Camera

Realistic TRC 209 CB

Shogun Music Muff




Kyoto S600 8-Track Player 1970?

I always remember my old mate Mick, back in the mid 1970s, during a heated debate over the virtues of 8-track versus compact cassette, telling me that the quarter-inch tape inside the cartridges must give a ‘bigger’ sound than the 1/8th inch tape in compact cassettes. All I knew is the damn things never lasted more than half a dozen plays, which is why I quickly gave up on the format.


The natural home for the 8-track player was in the dashboard of a car but a few, like this Kyoto S600 were designed for home use, and the slightly kinder environment did mean the tapes lasted a little longer, but not much…


This player is about as basic as they come with just the standard track change button, four track indicator lamps, volume, tone and balance controls. It is mains powered and the only other connections to the outside world is a headphone jack on the front, and two phono sockets on the back, for connection to a pair of small speakers. There’s no on/off switch, pushing a cartridge into the slot turns it on. It’s housed in a real wood case (well, laminated chipboard...) and a little label on the back boasts 12 transistors and 8 diodes. It really works, though the track change mechanism could probably do with an overhaul, and the case needs a good polish but even after all these years the sound is surprisingly good on the small handful of cartridges I have in my collection, though, because of their age I’m reluctant to play them too often.


What Happened to it?

The big problem with 8-track cartridges was the single-reel ‘endless loop design, which puts a lot of strain on the tape, and the drive mechanism, but it’s big advantage over cassette was that there was no need to rewind the tape, and you could switch tracks (4 x stereo) at the press of a button, though without any means to fast-forward or rewind you usually had to wait to hear a favourite tune come around.   


I haven’t been able to find out much about the Kyoto brand, which sounds Japanese but the ‘Made in’ label on the back says Taiwan. I suspect it quietly disappeared in the 1980’s, especially if manufacturing 8-track players was its only business because that’s when the format finally died out.


8-Track lingered on in the US for a few years but it was killed by the smaller, cheaper, more convenient and yes, more reliable compact cassette. 8-Track never had any real impact on the home hi-fi market so players like this are probably quite rare. This one was found at an antiques fare and it cost £15 with half a dozen cartridges, of which two actually worked. This is definitely a technology worth collecting, prices are still very low and if you can get hold of some tapes home players like this one are fun to play around with.


First seen:                         1970?

Original Price                   £25?

Value Today?                   £15

Features:                          Volume, Tone, Balance and Track change button, 12 transistors, 8 diodes, headphone jack and speaker output
Power req.                        230VAC mains

Weight:                             2.8kg

Dimensions:                     260 x 230 x 110mm

Made in:                            Taiwan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   6

Binatone Digivox ‘Digital’ Alarm Clock, 1975?

Normally I can date a gadget fairly precisely, usually to within a year or two, but I freely admit to guessing the age of this one.


I reckon the Binatone Digivox Digital bedside radio alarm clock came out sometime in the mid 1970’s but I’m happy to be proved wrong. My reasons for that date are simple; the word ‘Digital’ was becoming a buzzword following the appearance of digital watches and calculators. The brown 'mockwood’ case is classic mid-70s design feature and at that time Binatone were a canny bunch and no doubt thought this was a quick and easy way to hop on the bandwagon, because as you can see, the word Digital is being used somewhat loosely…


The clock display is actually mechanical; the numbers or digits are printed on little hinged panels, attached to a rotating reel, and they flip over as the reel turns. It’s driven by a highly accurate synchronous electric motor, but the point is, no digital technology is involved anywhere in this product, not in the clock and definitely not in the 3-band AM/FM radio.


Feature-wise there’s not much to say. The clock and alarm adjuster knobs are on the left (the latter turns a reel graduated in 15 minutes intervals, covering a 24 hour period, and on the right there’s two knobs for tuning and two slide switches for waveband and mode (on/off/mode). The only other refinement is a small permanently on neon bulb to illuminate the display at night. It’s idiot proof and it works, and there’s no fangled Snooze button to confuse things.  


What Happened to it?

As we all know bedside radio alarm clocks never went away but towards the end of the 70s LED displays had become so cheap that there was no point making clocks like this anymore so I’m guessing it wasn’t around for very long.  Pukka ‘digital’ displays became the norm though interestingly even today most models are no more accurate as this one. That’s because most mains powered clocks derive their time timing signals from the mains frequency, which is very carefully maintained at an average of 50Hz over a 24-hour period. This practice goes way back and has used to ensure mains powered clocks keep good time since the year dot.


This one came from a car boot sale and it set me back £1.00. After a quick wipe over, a squirt or two of contact cleaner and a check around to make sure it wasn’t going to burst into flames, the clock and radio powered up and both ran straight away. A lot of these clocks were sold though probably not that many are around to tell the tale so it could be an area for future collectors of late 20th century ephemera, and if any alarm clock collectors or Binatone experts read this I would really like to be able to put a more accurate date on it. 



First seen:                         1975?

Original Price                   £10-£15

Value Today?                   £1 - £5

Features:                          On/off volume switch, tuning, waveband, clock/alarm adjust & set
Power req.                        230VAC mains

Weight:                             1kg

Dimensions:                     270 x 135 x 80mm

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   5


Aitron Wrist Radio, 1972

A wristwatch-sized radio was the sort of gadget youngsters back in the 60s and 70s would have given their eye-teeth for. Transistors had revolutionised radio design but the idea of having one so tiny that you could strap it to your wrist was pure science fiction. Yet, amazingly, there were several models, including a variant of the infamous Sinclair Micromatic (it came with a wrist strap).


This one is the Aitron and don’t be misled, it’s quite a lump – that’s a 50 pence coin next to it -- and wearing one provided a good workout for the upper and lower arms. Even so, it is still a remarkable feat of miniaturisation, cramming a 5-transisitor superhet radio and speaker into such a confined space. Some clever circuitry and a very unusual 50mm speaker (high-impedance centre-tapped voice coil, for those who care about such things) means it doesn’t need a final stage audio output transformer, which saves a lot of space, and it is powered by a single AA battery, which again is quite a feat considering the power requirements of the transistors of the day.


There are only two controls, on/off volume and tuning, the third larger ‘knob’ is actually the battery cap. The strap is a surprisingly high quality item, made of leather with a plastic protective backing, and it’s sturdy too, this one cleans up like new.

What Happened to it?

The Aitron brand seems to have disappeared without trace though this design did carry on until the late seventies and I have seen pictures of later models with a built in LED watch display. I imagine they are extremely rare and probably worth a few bob by now. Even so very few examples of this earlier model will have survived. Wrist radios have come and gone over the years and I saw one recently in our local ‘Pound’ shop, though it was only capable of driving an earphone. The concept also survives in wrist and arm bands for devices like the iPod, though again they are geared to personal playback through ear and headphones


This particular example was bought from ebay a while ago for the princely sum of £3.00. It is in excellent condition and works well, though there doesn’t seem to be much to listen to on the medium wave these days. Needless to say it sounds a bit tinny and the volume isn’t much to write home about, but for personal listening, under the bedclothes (it's what we did back then...) it’s great! 


First seen:                         1972

Original Price                   £10-£15

Value Today?                   £10-£20

Features:                          On/off volume switch, tuning
Power req.                        1 x AA

Weight:                             0.12kg

Dimensions:                      55 x 75 x 28mm (excluding strap)

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     7


Sinclair Cambridge Calculator, 1974 (Manual)

It’s impossible to overstate the impact electronic calculators had on us all back in the 1970s, until that point if you wanted to do a complex calculation, and by that I mean anything that didn’t involve the times tables, you had to resort to fearful things called Logarithms, master the intricacies of the mechanical slide rule, be employed in an office or very well off and own an adding machine.


Although adding machines and later calculators had been around long before Clive Sinclair got in on the act, few could afford them, let alone lift them… The Sinclair Cambridge was the first affordable pocket calculator, though it’s debatable how many ordinary folks could afford to lash out £43 on one of these gizmos, equivalent to several hundred pounds in today’s money. Kit versions were also available, though I seem to remember they didn’t hang around for very long since like most Sinclair DIY kits, they had a tendency not to work.


The Sinclair Cambridge, and this is the later Mk 3 version, had just four functions (add, subtract, multiply and divide, plus a Constant (K) functions, which is a very crude sort of memory, but just being able to carry out calculations to 8 decimal places, on a little box that would fit in a shirt pocket was nothing short of miraculous. Sadly build quality was up (or down) to Sinclair’s usual standard and they could be quite unreliable, and the keys were such a loose fit that they rattled, but hey, this one, picked up from ebay for £20 still works, even if you do need a magnifying glass to see the display.


What Happened To It?

For a few years Sinclair did quite well with calculators and later models featured increasingly complex scientific functions but inevitably manufacturers in the Far East started churning them out at prices that home-grown manufacturers like Sinclair couldn’t compete with. In any event, by the late 70’s Sir Clive had started turning his attention to computers and within a couple of years calculators had become basic commodity items and therefore of little interest to most people. This one came with its original felt carry case and instructions, which is quiet rare. Quite a few of them were made, so they’re not too difficult to find but runners are a bit thin on the ground, and if you’re in the market for one make sure you check the battery compartment as a leaky battery will destroy the innards.


First seen:                        1973

Original Price                   £43

Value Today?                   £25

Features:                          8-digit LED display, 4-functions plus Constant (K)
Power req.                       4 x AAA

Weight:                            50g

Dimensions:                     111 x 50 x 28mm

Made in:                           England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):    6


Hitachi WH-638, 2 Band 6 Transistor Radio 1967

In the same way that personal media players and mobile phones are standard kit for today’s teens, then back in the 60s you were nowhere man unless you had a tranny. Most of us had to put up with fairly basic cheapie pocket size medium wave jobbies but if you had rich parents you might have one of these, a 2-wave MW/LW model. It was a bit like owning a no-nameMP3 player when all of your mates had 4Gb iPods… The thing about long wave reception was that it allowed you to hear Radio Luxembourg a whole lot better than the notoriously unreliable medium wave signal on 208 metres.


Hitachi, along with Sony and Pioneer built their reputation and future global brand on humble transistor radios like these, though they were often outsourced to smaller companies and quite often the same chassis would turn up under a variety of different names. This one is a typical 6-transisitor (germanium type) superhetrodyne design with one densely packed, hand-assembled circuit board crammed full of coils, capacitors and resistors, and drenched with a liberal dollop of wax and varnish, to stop anything moving around. These circuits were so sensitive that any movement of the components would throw the tuning off bonk.


It’s powered by a single 9 volt ‘PP3’ type battery and has just three controls, for on/off volume, tuning and wave selection (on the back). There’s an earphone socket (3.5mm, mono, of course) on the side and it would have come with an earphone and a carry pouch, which fitted, on the leather case carry strap. They were very solidly built, and apart from a crackly volume, this one works fine, with the characteristic tinny sound coming from the 3-inch speaker.  


What Happened To It?

Pocket two-band trannies continued well into the 70s then gradually models with higher quality FM reception began to take over. The development of more efficient silicon transistors and then micro chips meant radios could be made smaller, cheaper and more reliable, and by that time cassette tape had become established but the magic of listening to Luxembourg, then the offshore pirates under the bedclothes had disappeared and I guess we all grew up….


This one came to me courtesy of ebay for a couple of quid or around a third of the price of the postage, and as an added bonus it came with it’s original leather case, which is also in very good condition. Technically it’s nothing special, nevertheless, I really do think 60’s radios are a seriously underrated as collectibles and examples in good condition can only increase in value so get in quick, before I buy them all up!



First seen:                         1967

Original Price                   £10?

Value Today?                   £5

Features:                          On/off volume switch, tuning, MW/LW, earphone socket
Power req.                        9volt PP3

Weight:                             0.3kg

Dimensions:                     130 x 77 x 35mm

Made in:                            Japan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   3


Philips EL3302 Cassette Recorder 1968

Philips invented the Compact Cassette format in 1963 and it was an almost immediate success, quickly overtaking reel-to-reel machines and ousting the many rival cassette formats which were appearing at about the same time. The EL3302 was one of the very first machines to use the new format and it was the first cassette recorder I ever owned. This one, bought recently on ebay for a fiver, is a slightly later model as it has a clear plastic cassette lid but otherwise it is identical with the same three-way transport switch, press to record button and recording level/battery meter.


Two thumbwheels on the side control output volume and recoding level and beside them is a bank of sockets, for the supplied microphone, line input and output and an external speaker. This was, perhaps the most annoying aspect of this machine in that it used DIN type sockets, rather than the near universal Jack connectors used on virtually every other audio device at the time. Philips and its then partners Grundig stuck grimly with DIN connectors until well into the 80s, much to everyone’s annoyance…


This was a mono machine – stereo cassettes were still some way off  -- and the sound through the built in speaker wasn’t very good but hook it up to an external speaker or a hi-fi system and it didn’t sound half bad. Build quality was excellent and the only thing to go wrong was the rubber drive belt, but these were (and still are) cheap and readily obtainable.


What Happened To It?

The EL3302 and its many variants were produced until the early 70s when they were replaced with much cheaper (and nastier designs) and eventually this type of large portable or table top cassette recorder gradually declined in popularity as the personal ‘Walkman’ style of player took off and cassette decks were integrated into stereo systems and car radios.


After almost 45 years the cassette is now dying out, a remarkable achievement for such a simple technology, and it will be sorely missed, even if it was noisy and unreliable. Recorders like the EL3302 are very thin on the ground now and could become a very decent investment, especially if you can find one in good condition, with its original leather carry case and microphone.  


First seen:                         1968

Original Price                   £18

Value Today?                   £10

Features:                          Fast forward and rewind modes, level/battery meter
Power req.                        5 x C

Weight:                             0.4kg

Dimensions:                     200 x 115 x 55mm

Made in:                            Austria

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):    5


Chinon 722-P Classic Super 8 Cine, 1973

I have to admit straight away that I never got on with cine. It always seemed to involve a lot of time, effort and expense for very little result. There’s only so much you can cram into a 3-minute home movie and in most cases it’s just a few wonky shots of kids cavorting on the beach. Nevertheless, I absolutely love the mixture of precision mechanics and technology, and it came to a peak in the seventies, just before it was killed stone dead by video.


The Chinon 722-P Classic featured here is a prime example; it’s a mid-range ‘family’ model that uses Super 8 film cartridges, developed in the 1960s. As the name suggests the film used is 8mm wide, each cartridge holds 50 feet of film, enough to 3 minutes and 20 seconds of shooting. This model has only a handful of controls, the start/stop button on the handgrip and zoom rocker on the top. There’s also an on/off switch on the side and a battery test button on the top, and that’s it. Just load four AA cells into the handle, pop in a film cartridge, frame the shot in the optically coupled viewfinder and press the Start button. Everything is automatic and the only decision you need to take when to start and stop recording. When the film is finished you send it off to be developed. The more adventurous, and those making, shall we say more exotic sorts of films, could develop them at home, usually with nothing more complicated than a bucket and a bottle or two readily available chemicals.


The real problem was cine came when the film was returned and the need to mess about setting up a screen and a projector. On the plus side editing was really easy, all you needed was a pair of scissors and some sticky tape. Another major advantage of cine, that’s been long forgotten in the age of video, was that with so little filming time to play around with the need to think carefully about each shot meant that each shot counted and little was wasted.


The Chinon 722-P is really sturdily made, very well balanced and since this one is still working faultlessly after more 30 years, you can take it as read that it was very reliable.


What happened to it?

In a word, video. The first clumsy and overweight portable video outfits appeared in the late 1970s but they were little of no threat to cine. Then in the early 1980s the first camcorders were launched, they were still large and clumsy but by the mid 80s small hand-held models were coming out of the woodwork. Prices fell and by the late 80s cine was dead. Ironically it wasn’t until the mid 90s that video picture quality started to beat top-end cine but it was all over for film. There’s a still a small hard core of enthusiasts and cine cameras are a regular at car boot sales (this one cost me £2.00) so there are plenty of bargains to be had but grab-em quick, they are disappearing fast.


First seen:                        1972

Original Price                   £100.00

Value Today?                   £15

Features:                          2 x power zoom, auto exposure, through-the-lens optical viewfinder
Power req.                        4 x AA

Weight:                             0.8kg

Dimensions:                     180 x 53 x 180 mm

Made in:                            Japan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     4

Grundig Memorette 1968

It’s tempting to think that tape recorders have always been about recording music and entertainment but the real driving force behind the technology is more mundane.


Until the early 1960s most tape recorders were found not in the home, but in offices where they were used as dictating machines. Grundig has been a major player in this market and over the years has produced some highly innovative designs, usually based around clever and exotic cassette formats. It’s worth remembering that before the Philips Compact Cassette took off in the mid 1960s there were scores of cassette systems in use.


This particular model uses a Cassette 30 pack, is a single-track design that only works in one direction, as it were, and unlike a reel-to-reel tape or cassette it cannot be turned over. The tape has to be fully rewound, whereupon it can be used again. It’s an ingenious design, though, and the end of the tape is attached to a tab, which slots into a notch on the fixed take-up reel; when the cassette is removed the tab clips to the edge of the cassette, so it won’t get lost inside.


The Grundig Memorette is a bit of a odd-ball design, half cassette, half reel-to-reel, but it’s role as a dictating machine is in no doubt, as can be seen by the chunky styling, idiot-proof controls and features like the linear time-readout meter, showing how much tape had been used, and how much remains. It’s also a portable machine, powered by a battery pack containing three DEAC packs. Incidentally DEAC (Deutsche Edison-Akkumulatoren Company, now owned by Varta Batteries) were pioneers in nickel cadmium rechargeable battery technology back in the 60s, but that’s another story.


It’s superbly well built and the mechanical components are a good example of German precision engineering. The electronic too are a sight to behold with the innards dominated by a large printed circuit board sporting pairs of OC71 and the rare 0C74 germanium transistors. This particular example is in excellent condition and almost certainly works, though the re-chargeable pack has long since expired and until I can find a circuit diagram, to find out what its voltage requirements are I’m reluctant to power it up.


What Happened To It

It’s a toss-up whether electric typewriters and word processors or the Compact Cassette consigned dictating machines to the dustbin of history. True, you can still buy voice-recorders, but this weighty machine and its ilk belongs to a bygone era, of secretaries and typing pools, when it would have been unheard of for a boss or middle manager to actually master the complexities of a typewriter.


Dictating machines were usually high quality items and expensive too, they were also made in comparatively small numbers so they are fairly rare. Nevertheless this is a largely unexplored sector of the collectible electronics market and there are still some real bargains to be had, but maybe not for much longer…



First seen:                         1968

Original Price                   £100.00

Value Today?                   £10.00

Features:                          Cassette tape, record, playback, remote control, retractable carry handle
Power req.                        6 volt DEAC rechargeable battery pack

Weight:                             2.8kg

Dimensions:                     150 x 260 x 80 mm

Made in:                            Germany

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   5



Bowmar LED Digital Watch 1972

You can tell when a gadget has acquired nostalgia value because the market is suddenly awash with modern reproductions. That’s certainly starting to happen with that classic piece of 70s cool technology, the LED watch.


These crazy devices really stated to take off after getting a weekly airing on the TV series Kojak, starring the bald lollipop-sucking detective, played by Telly ‘who loves ya baby’ Savalas. Early LED watches also had numerous walk-on roles in movies as funky or futuristic props and one model -- forget which -- featured prominently in a couple of scenes in a Bond film. At first they were horribly expensive, the first few models sold for several hundred pounds but by the mid seventies the price had dropped dramatically and very soon everyone had one.


What made the whole LED watch phenomenon really weird was the fact that they were completely useless because they only told the time when you pressed the little button on the side. It had to be that way because early LEDs consumed vast amounts of power and if lit continuously would suck the button cells dry in just a few minutes. As it was they only lasted a few weeks -- a few months if you didn’t use it very often -- making them one of the most impractical time pieces, of all time…


This one is a Bowmar and occasionally it can be persuaded to work but it’s not a very good example of the genre but the case and strap are in pretty good shape. Unfortunately they’re almost impossible to repair and all you can really do is replace the module, which is simply not economic.


Bowmar were an American company specialising in LED displays and they were briefly quite well known for making one of the first electronic calculators; its modest range of watches were assembled in Hong Kong.


What Happened To It?

LED watches vanished almost overnight when the first Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) watches started to appear in the late seventies. Most of them simply gathered dust and were eventually thrown away, or the button cells were left inside and they leaked and corroded the innards but judging by the numbers on ebay a fair few have survived. If you are interested in starting a collection be warned that most of the ones you will see are repros, and if you do buy an original, make sure that it works. 


First seen:                         1972

Original Price                   £25.00

Value Today?                   £10.00

Features:                           Press button time display
Power req.                        1 x 1.2 volt button cell

Weight:                             38g

Dimensions:                      35 x 35 x 00 mm

Made in:                            Hong Kong

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):      5

Talkboy Cassette Tape Recorder 1990

I was in two minds about including the Talkboy since it is so recent – it first appeared in 1990 -- but it has an interesting history, and with the last audio cassette machines about to disappear from the shops, the format is now all but obsolete.

Anyway, Talkboy started life as a prop in the movie Home Alone 2. This featured Macaulay Culkin reprising his role as Kevin, the accidentally abandoned child, this time in New York City. The tape recorder features in several scenes and in one of them he uses a slowed down recording of his father’s voice to book a hotel room over the phone.


Following the film’s release a lot of people asked where they could buy the fictitious toy, so Tiger Electronics in Japan licensed the design from 20th Century Fox and made it a reality. It quickly became very popular, despite the high price. Sales were spurred on by a clever ad campaign showing kids using the machine’s voice-changing slomo mode for various pranks. Tiger also went on to develop a pink version called the Talkgirl.


Technically it’s nothing special, just a fairly ordinary cheapo cassette recorder but very cleverly packaged, with an extending microphone and the half speed switch on the handgrip.


This one is in great shape and it’s a runner; it was discovered at a boot sale a few years ago selling for a fiver (bargained down to £3.00). There’s not much to go wrong with them but as with all battery powered gadgets condition is everything. Any corrosion in the battery compartment is a very bad sign; the corrosive chemicals can damage internal components, making the device practically worthless.


What Happened to It?

As with most toys this one’s lifespan would have been fairly short. Most will have been broken or thrown away within a year or two of purchase, moreover, because of the fairly high price it’s unlikely many were sold in the UK. Boxed Talkboys in good condition are fairly thin on the ground and they have been spotted on ebay selling for as much as £50, though £10 to £15 for a really fine example is nearer the mark. Talkgirls are even rarer, though without the movie association it’s unlikely they’ll become collectible anytime soon. 


First seen:                         1990

Original Price                   £25.00

Value Today?                   £15.00

Features:                          Cassette tape recorder, slow-speed switch, integral speaker, volume control and earphone socket  
Power req.                        4 x AA

Weight:                             400g

Dimensions:                      180 x 115 x 90 mm

Made in:                            China

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     4


Staticmaster Polonium 210 Anti-Static Brush 1978

Here’s a truly weird, wonderful and rather appropriate gadget from the late 1970s with some bizarre contemporary connections. It’s an anti-static brush, used to de-dustify things like vinyl records and photographic film.


So far so ordinary, but there’s a few things about the Staticmaster that makes it rather interesting. Firstly it’s radioactive, that’s right, if you look closely, just behind the bristles you can see a small grating with some brown material deposited on the surface.


This is the radioactive element and it creates a ‘field’ of ionised particles up to an inch or two ahead of the bristles and this has the effect of neutralising the static charge that makes dust stick to surfaces.


Here’s the second surprise, the radioactive material used in the brush is none other than Polonium 210, the same stuff used in the recent horrific poisoning incident that resulted in the death of the Russian ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.


Polonium 210 emits alpha particles. These are very weak and cannot penetrate skin so they are relatively ‘safe’ in the contained environment of the brush head. It is also significant that Polonium 210 has a half life of 139 days, which basically means that virtually all of the radioactivity disappears within a couple of years of manufacture, as the polonium turns into an inert isotope of lead, so these old brushes are now completely harmless.


The alpha particles emitted by Polonium 210 become dangerous when ingested into the body in liquid form or in very fine particles in quite significant qualities so before you ask, you would need a great many brushes, some pretty sophisticated equipment and very specialised knowledge to create anything dodgy from them.


What Happened to It?

Here’s another surprise, they’re still being made, and this is the only legal way you can obtain Polonium 210. The brush shown here was made in 1978 by a US company called Nuclear Products. Nowadays they are manufactured, along with a wide range of industrial and consumer anti-static products by Amstat Industries.



First seen:                         1965

Original Price                   £8.00

Value Today?                   £2

Features:                          Radioactive anti-static brush  
Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             100g

Dimensions:                     125 x 30 x 20 mm

Made in:                            USA

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   1


Vanity Fair Electron Blaster 1979

Hand-held ‘video’ games were all the rage in the late 1970s and early 80s for the simple reason that real video games were still eye-wateringly expensive, and not very portable. The Electron Blaster, made by the Taiwanese company Vanity Fair was a typical example, based on the incredibly popular Taito Space Invaders game that had appeared on arcades video games only a year earlier. Electron Blaster game was one of several identical games, other popular variants were CGL’s Galaxy Invader, Gakken Invader and Fire Away, which was sold exclusively in Radio Shack stores.


The game was housed in a futuristic looking case, dominated by the narrow green fluorescent display. It was simple to play, aliens dropped down the screen, accompanied by some cheesy sound effects and your job was to shoot them, before they shot you or made it to the bottom of the screen. The ‘gun’ was aimed using the joystick and fired by pressing the red fire button; there was a choice of three difficulty levels, which altered the speed at which the aliens moved. Extra points could be gained by shooting a spaceship, which flew across the top of the screen, and the object of the game was to destroy as many aliens as possible, without loosing any lives, and score the maximum 199 points in as short a time as possible. At the time these games kept us amused for hours, though now, with the benefit of hindsight and a highly-trained fire button thumb it seems absurdly easy to beat.   


What Happened to It?

Hand held games never really went away though basic single-game, single player devices like Electron Blaster declined in popularity throughout the 80s and were eventually blown away by programmable games ‘consoles’, like the classic Nintendo Gameboy, which first appeared in 1989. This one still works and is in pretty good shape for its age. I picked it up at a market in Brighton a couple of years ago for 50 pence. This type of gadget has been overlooked for far too long and I suspect they could become sought after. Definitely a future collectible and pristine examples can still be found, sometimes with their original boxes for very little money.


First seen:                         1979

Original Price                   £19.99

Value Today?                   £3

Features:                          Flourescent display, three difficulty levels, on/off reset switch, external DC connector  
Power req.                        4 x AA cell

Weight:                             0.4kg

Dimensions:                      245 x 125 x 45 mm

Made in:                           Taiwan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     4


Technicolor 212 Portable VCR, 1981

For a brief period in the early 1980s the Technicolor 212 portable VCR looked as though it could be the future of portable video. This was at a time when the only other portable video systems were huge ‘luggable’ VHS machines that weighed a ton and cost a small fortune.


The 212 used Compact Video Cassettes (CVC) spooled with ordinary quarter inch audio tape, similar in size and shape to a regular audio cassettes. It used a helical scaning system, similar to most VCRs and camcorders, with a linear tape speed of just 1.26 inches/sec (32.1mm/sec). Back then the 212 was regarded as a minor revolution in miniaturisation, though JVC and Sony were poised to launch the Compact VHS (VHS-C) and 8mm formats.


At the time Technicolor was best know for making movie film, so the appearance of this machine was a bit of a surprise. In fact it was jointly developed with the Japanese tape company Funai, who briefly marketed this machine under its own name. A 'combi' version with a built-in TV screen was also made though I don’t think it was ever sold in the UK.


At around £650 the 212 was quite expensive – remember this was over a quarter of a century ago… -- and you still needed a camera. In the UK it was supplied with a Hitachi model, which bumped the price up by another £550. Blank tapes cost around £6.00. It came with a companion mains power supply and RF adaptor, and an optional TV tuner/timer was also available (model No 5112), however, since only 30 minutes tapes were available (45 minute tapes did appear briefly), it wasn’t much use for serious time-shifting


It’s a lovely looking piece of kit with it’s clunky ‘piano-key’ controls, all of the sockets are mounted on the side; the large one is for the video camera connection, which draws its power form the VCRs internal rechargeable battery. As I recall picture quality was surprisingly good, though obviously not a patch on today’s portable video systems, however, much depended on the quality of the tape and dropouts – causing streaks and flashes on the picture – were quite common.


What Happened To it?

As soon as the technically superior VHS-C and 8mm formats appeared on the scene, backed by the world’s biggest electronic companies, it was curtains for Technicolour and CVC and the 212 quietly disappeared from view. Remaining stocks were sold off in shops in London’s Edgware Road for the giveaway price of only £75. A sad end to a brave attempt to take on the big boys, and who knows, if it had been launched a couple of years earlier things might have turned out differently.


Technicolor 212s still turn up on ebay from time to time, usually faulty and selling for a few pounds. I first reviewed the machine in early 1982 and I still have a small stock of CVC tapes in my collection, including one unopened one, which must be incredibly rare, all I need now is a working 212…


My thanks to fellow journalist and gadget collector Martin Pipe for his help with this one.


First seen:                         1981

Original Price                    £650 (camera £550, tapes £6.00)

Value Today?                    £50

Features:                           Tape speed: 1.26 ips (32.1 mm/sec), Video Resolution: 240 lines, Audio S/N: 40 dB, Audio Frequency Response: 100Hz to 8 kHz, audio dub, still frame, 40 minutes recording time on rechargeable battery pack,
Power req.                        1 x AA cell

Weight:                             3.2kg

Dimensions:                      246 x 76 x 259 mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     8


AVO Multiminor, 1966 (manual)

Anyone who has worked in the electrical or electronics industry will be familiar with the name AVO. British made AVO (short for Amps, Volts and Ohms) test meters and instruments are justly famous for their accuracy, reliability and above all, the kind of rugged construction that means they can take a great deal of punishment. The design of AVO meters changes little over the years and the classic Model 8 analogue multimeter, which I was using back in the 1970s is still being made, and nowadays costs the thick end of £600!


The Multiminor was designed for portability and use in the field or up ladders so it’s relatively small and light, and very easy to use. There’s only two controls, the large range/mode switch and the small ohms ‘zero’ preset, which you twiddle to compensate for the aging effect of the single AA battery, used to measure resistance. There’s also a meter zero adjustment, though this would normally only be set if the meter had suffered a severe shock, or set to the wrong range, and the needle had wrapped it self against the end-stop…


This model range has also been around for a long time and I have found references to Multiminors dating back to the 1930s. This particular one is almost certainly from the mid to late 1960s, judging by the materials and the design of the leather carry case. The top panel and switch are all made from black Bakelite and the lower part is a hammer-finished steel pressing; earlier models were all Bakelite.  


The leads are not original, and like most well-used AVOs they are probably the third or fourth set, earlier ones being lost, stolen, destroyed or the insulation burned by a carelessly placed soldering iron.


What Happened to It?

Analogue test meters are now very rare, having been largely replaced by digital instruments, nevertheless, AVOs and their ilk will continue to find favour with engineers, especially those from the old school, who appreciate the extra information they can give, and their inherent reliability. Analogue AVO meters were produced in fairly large numbers, so they’re not especially rare, and they’re virtually indestructible, so you’ll regularly find good examples selling on ebay, often for a fraction of their real worth (or original cost). A good example of a practical and genuinely useful collectible, but probably not much of an investment.


First seen:                         c1966

Original Price                   £50 - 150

Value Today?                   £10

Features:                          Measuring ranges DC volts: 2.5, 10, 25, 100, 250, 1000; AC volts: 10, 25, 100, 250, 1000 V; Current: 0.1, 1, 10, 100, 1000 mA; Resistance: x1, x100k ohms
Power req.                        1 x AA cell

Weight:                             0.5kg

Dimensions:                      143 x 92 x 35 mm

Made in:                           Archcliffe Road, Dover, Kent, England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     4


The Technical Standard Slide Rule 1966

To anyone under 30 a slide rule is probably something of a mystery (as it was to many of us over 30...), but before the advent of the electronic pocket calculator this was the quickest and indeed the only way to do complex sums, without resorting to a computer.


Those who managed to master its intricacies were able to carry out calculations faster than any adding machine or early calculator, and were often more accurate, however, they could be fiendishly difficult to drive, particularly the more specialised models.


This one is a little more advanced than the basic models forced upon maths students, and judging by the crib card on the back, detailing formulas for calculating the densities, specific gravity and cubic weights of materials like brick, cement, clay, slate and various metals, it was aimed at builders and architects. It’s missing its slider or reticule, used to align digits and read out the results but otherwise it is in good condition and still has its well-worn cardboard box


What Happened to it?

Slide rules disappeared very quickly in the mid 1970s following the arrival of the first affordable pocket calculators and with it came a great sigh of relief from generations of baffled schoolkids.


A few die-hards hung on to their slide rules but it was a doomed technology, mind you, they did have one big advantage over early calculators, they didn’t need batteries…  


First seen:                         1968

Original Price                   £3

Value Today?                   £5

Features:                          Logarithmic slide rule, reversible slide, common formulas and calculations on rear, inch/cm rulers

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             0.1kg

Dimensions:                     305 x 45 x 15 mm

Made in:                            England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):  5

Kodak EK2 ‘The Handle’ 1977 (manual)

Instant cameras were all the rage in the sixties and seventies, remember, there were no digital cameras back then. The concept was brilliant, the film developed on the spot, so no waiting for prints to come back from the chemist. It was sold as a fun, family friendly technology.

However, although the cameras were comparatively cheap, film packs were horribly expensive, costing around ten times as much as normally developed film and everyone knew most instant cameras were bought by people who wanted to take pictures that were, shall we say, of a ‘private’ nature…

Incidentally, in 1977 Polaroid developed an ‘Instant Movie’ camera system, called Polavision, it was a huge flop, and the timing was dreadful, coming just a couple of years before the first video movie systems.


Polaroid had the instant still camera market pretty much to themselves but in the mid seventies Kodak and several other manufacturers bought out instant film cameras, though as we shall see Polaroid were not about to give up their market dominance without a fight.


The Kodak EK2 dates from 1977 and was quickly dubbed ‘The Handle’ because of the large handgrip. It’s very easy to use, pop in a 10-shot PR10 pack, crank the handle and its ready to go, the film number is shown in a small window on the back. To take a shot frame your subject in the optical viewfinder, pull back on the large blue shutter button on the right side, crank the handle and out comes the print, which develops in daylight in a couple of minutes.


If the picture was too light or dark there’s a crude exposure control on the lens, operated by a thumbwheel. Indoors or in the dark you clipped on a Flip Flash, which contains a set of 10 flashbulbs. Like the Flashcube it was a brilliant way of extorting money from users, with Flip Flash bars costing several times as much as the equivalent number of single-shot flashbulbs. 


What Happened to It?

Kodak’s dalliance with Instant Film cameras lasted from 1976 to 1986 and was brought to an abrupt end following a two-year lawsuit bought against the company by Polaroid, for infringing its patents. Part of the ruling was that Kodak had to stop production and compensate stranded camera owners. Anyone who owned one could return it to Kodak in return for a cash, coupons and rebates. This meant that although millions of them were made relatively few are still in circulation. Unfortunately there’s little or no possibility of this or any other Kodak instant camera ever working again but makes an interesting addition to any gadget collection. Good examples, complete with case and accessories can only increase in value.


First seen:                        1977

Original Price                   £40

Value Today?                   £20

Features:                          10-shot Instant camera, manual ‘lighten-darken’ exposure control, 10-shot ‘Flashbar/Flipflash’, manual wind

Power req.                        6V ‘J’ Battery

Weight:                             0.8kg (ex film pack)

Dimensions:                      140 x 175 x 140 mm

Made in:                            England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):  6

Sanyo G2001 Music Centre 1980 (manual)

The Music Centre was a classic piece of seventies technology. It was a complete home hi-fi system in a single box, well, three boxes, if you count the separate speakers. It was the natural successor to radiograms of the fifties and sixties, which were more often than not large unwieldy wooden boxes, usually designed more as a piece of furniture than hi-fi equipment.


The Music Centre broke free of the radiogram’s fuddy-duddy image and didn’t try to disguise its purpose behind wooden doors and lids. The turntable, tape deck and tuner were on display and protected by a smoked acrylic cover that more often than not would be cracked or broken within six months. Manufacturers found it hard to give up their old ways and most 70s and early 80s models had mockwood panels, and laminated chipboard speaker boxes but by the mid 80s these had given way to flashier designs. 


The G2001 is one of dozens of models aimed at middle-aged buyers, who back then were the ones with the money. It’s conservatively styled, not too many controls or winky lights and still capable of playing 78rpm records. The cassette deck was one of the first to sport the ‘new’ Dolby noise reduction system, for de-hissing tapes and it had the slightly controversial ability to record directly from records. This example has survived intact, the lid is uncracked, everything still works and it actually sounds pretty good.


What Happened To It?

One box audio systems are still with us but the bulky music centre was killed off by the rise and rise of Compact Disc throughout the 1980s. As turntables started to disappear from audio systems they were replaced by CD decks, which allowed manufacturers to shrink the sizes of their boxes. Music centres gradually morphed into one-piece tower systems, then mini towers and micro systems. Nowadays you can pack 10,000 tunes in a box that fits in your pocket, and if you want to listen to your music through speakers you plug it into a docking system.


There’s still plenty of early music centres on ebay, often selling for less than the cost of shipping. If you’ve still got a collection of LPs or tapes in the loft it’s a great way of reviving those old sounds. Shortlist models from the better-known manufacturers as these tended to be built to a higher standard. Spares, like replacement styli and drive belts are also usually still obtainable and a good working example should still have a few years life left in it.



First seen:                          1980

Original Price                    £125

Value Today?                    £20

Features:                           Turntable (33/45/78rpm), cassette deck with Dolby Noise Reduction, FM/MW/LW receiver, twin speakers, 6W channel stereo amplifier

Power req.                        mains

Weight:                             4.5kg

Dimensions:                       525 x 174 x 379 mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     4

Maxcom MCP-200 Cordless Telephone 1979

First generation cordless phones were a lot of fun and I well remember spending my lunch hours walking up and down London’s Tottenham Court Road, seeing if I could log onto the many demo models in the shops, to make expensive phone calls.


These devices used analogue technology and were little more than fancy walkie-talkies. There was no security and if two or more people had one in a street it would be forever warbling as it intercepted the calls from the neighbour’s cordless phone. They were also pretty big, as you can see from this example, made by Maxcom, who incidentally were one of the first Korean companies to market electronic goods in the UK. It’s also worth noting that at the time these phones were illegal because they worked on the 1.7MHz and 49MHz frequency bands, which had been approved in the US, but were allocated to other users in the UK. I can’t recall who or what they were but a loophole in the law allowed these phones to be sold, but not used.


The Maxcom was fairly typical of the breed; the hefty handset contained a set of rechargeable batteries, that gave you a walk/talk time of around 10 minutes (well, maybe a little longer). There were no frills, just a last number recall, and an interesting ‘call’ facility. This somewhat questionable feature consisted of a button on the base station, which when pressed made the handset bleep. The box proudly proclaims it employs full duplex operation, which basically means both parties can talk at the same time. Range was typically about 50 metres or a little further than you could shout, so it wasn’t all bad. This particular example is showing its age, and the years spent on a sunny windowsill, with the once cream-coloured plastic having turned an interesting two-tone yellow and brown.


What Happened To It?

It wasn’t until cordless phones went digital, and were legalised, in the late 1980s, that they started to make any sort of sense. Early models like this one were great, so long as no-one else living nearby had one. I doubt that many had survived, they weren’t very popular because of the interference and legality issues, moreover they were unreliable and easily damaged when they fell out of your pocket – which they tended to do with monotonous regularity because they were so large. It’s the sort of thing you’ll see now and again at a boot sale, and if you see a good one, particularly if it still has its box, grab it, definitely a future collectible.


First seen:                        1979

Original Price                   £80

Value Today?                   £5

Features:                          full duplex operation, tone/pulse dialling, automatic last number redial, remote call function, belt clip

Power req.                       mains/rechargeable

Weight:                            (handset) 400g

Dimensions:                     (base unit) 230 x 180 x 80 mm, (handset) 210 x 60 x 50 mm

Made in:                           Korea

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     7


Seiko EF302G Voicememory 1980

This rather uninspiring object is what I believe to be one of the very first examples of a solid stage digital audio recorder, in other words a very distant relative of today’s microchip based MP3 players. Not that you could use this particular device to record many tunes, in fact the maximum storage capacity was a paltry 8 seconds, at the lowest quality, and 4 seconds at the higher setting, and both are pretty dire. Nevertheless, it was quite something back then and it’s the technology we are concerned with. Don’t forget this was at a time when the only way for the average Joe to record their voice was to use a tape recorder. The analogue clock is a nice touch, sadly it’s not coupled to the voice memo but it does have an alarm that bleeps at the appointed hour


Inside the unit, which is the size and shape of a standard telephone handset, there’s a chunky loudspeaker and microphone and on a densely packed circuit board there’s at least half a dozen microchips.


To illustrate just how far this technology has progressed I recently picked up a voice recorder built into the top of a pen. It had a single microchip, microscopic speaker/mike and a 1-minute recording time, which probably doesn’t sound a lot after 20 years of development, but it was purchased from my local ‘Pound ‘ shop, which basically means it cost next to nothing to make


What Happened To It?

Solid state voice memory recorders have been around for at least the last 15 years but these days apart from cheapie widgets and novelties that turn up in gadget shops and gizmo catalogues this type of stand-alone device is virtually redundant. Voice recording hasn’t gone away, though, it’s just moved on to bigger and better things and it is now a secondary feature in a wide range of other devices, everything from mobile phones to personal organisers now have memos recorders.


First seen:                  1980

Original Price             £60

Value Today?             £10

Features:                    analogue clock with alarm, 4/8 second audio memory, 3-stage volume

Power req.                  23 x AAA

Weight:                       100g

Dimensions:               195 x 60 x 35 (very approx)

Made in:                      Japan

Rarity:                         7(1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)



Motorola 8500X ‘Brick’ Mobile Phone, 1986

Incredible as it may seem now less this mighty phone was once at the cutting edge of mobile telecommunications and you had to be filthy rich (or a builder) to own one. The 8500 was a second-generation analogue phone, following hard on the heels of the first ‘transportable’ models, built inside a small attaché case, introduced in the early 1980s. It was nothing sort of revolutionary and the small (by 80s standards) detachable battery pack gave an unheard of 1-hour talk time.


No fancy gadgets or colour displays here, just a simple red LED readout showing the number and battery state. The controls are also very straightforward, though ironically there’s more buttons that you would find on a modern mobile. For those concerned about the health hazards or using a cellphone you might be interested to know that the 8500 and it’s ilk had a pretty poor reputation and were responsible for numerous injuries, including several rather nasty accidents to user’s eyes, caused by a sharp poke with the rubber duck aerial…


What Happened To It?

You had to be there to appreciate just how potent a symbol of wealth and power a mobile phone could be. Early adopters often drew small crowds when they were used in public but it quickly became a joke. Phone owner’s image also suffered at the hands of Delboy ‘Only Fools and Horses’ Trotter, who favoured this particular model.


Eventually prices fell and smaller pocket sized models started to appear and now everyone has one but the high price meant that old phones like this one were produced in relatively small numbers. The 8500 was discontinued in 1987 and many were returned for replacement and they would have been scrapped. Survivors are rare, examples in good condition, with the original box, case and charger can easily fetch several hundred pounds in ebay. This one has been fairly well used and is probably only worth £30 or so, but prices are rising steadily.


The analogue networks were switched off five years ago so they are practically useless, though a couple of specialist companies can strip out the old analogue guts and replace them with the innards of a modern phone, even s, it’s not the sort of thing you would want to carry around with you for very long. If you want to go for the retro look then one of the first generation digital phones, like the classic Motorola flip-lid Micro TAC might be a better bet.



First seen:                  1986

Original Price             £1200

Value Today?             £20 - £50

Features:                    Analogue operation, last number recall and store, address book, 1-hour talk time

Power req.                  Proprietary 7.5 volt nicad pack

Weight:                       800g

Dimensions:               200 x 80 x 45 (very approx)

Made in:                      USA

Rarity:                         5 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


TTC C1001 Multimeter, 1971

Back in the 60’s and 70s there was huge amount of dabbling going on. Boys of all ages (and it was very much a boy thing), especially nerdy ones, were into electronics in a big way. For a short while electronic construction kits were all the rage but for the hardcore enthusiast it had to be DIY all the way, which meant learning which end of a soldering iron to hold, and buying your transistors, resistors and capacitors from the dozens of companies that sprung up all over the place.


There was a healthy magazine market too, with titles like Practical Wireless, Radio Constructor, Practical Electronics. Elektor and Electronics Today International (ETI, who gave me my first job in journalism). Each month these magazines published detailed plans for impossibly complicated electronic gadgets, most of which never worked, and the must-have accessory was a Multimeter, so you could find out what went wrong with it.


Incidentally, after working for various electronic constructor magazines over the years I can tell you that at least half the things we published never worked and one of my first jobs was to put together the corrections page each month. Also, my sincere apologies for anyone who received shocks from the many dodgy mains-powered projects we occasionally and most unwisely published…


Anyway, this particular multimeter dates back to the early 70’s and was ideal for simple projects, being able to measure AC and DC voltages, small currents and resistance. It was reasonably accurate and a pocket-money alternative to serious multimeters like the magnificent AVO models used by serious teccies. This one is based around a large angled moving coil meter, housed in a sturdy bakelite case and it came with a leather carry case and pair of tests leads.


What happened to it?

Most test meters had gone digital by the late 70’s and very accurate they were too, giving precise readings of volts, ohms, amps and much more besides to several decimal places. However, call me an old stick in the mud but I still prefer to watch a flickering needle. I genuinely believe it tells you more about what’s happening in an electrical or electronic circuit than a set of digits. Changes in current or voltage, for example, are much easier to see when represented by a moving needle. It’s also easier to judge the performance and condition of a capacitor by measuring its resistance, and watching the charge quickly rise and slowly fall. Most moving coil multimeters of this era were built like brick outhouses and they didn’t reven need a battery for measuring volts and amps (the battery was used for checking resistance).


Old test meters pop up now and again in junk markets and car boot sales. However, it is unlikely that cheap little ones like this will ever become seriously collectable but big old AVO meters are definitely worth having; they are superbly well built and to anyone who has used one, a thing of beauty and precision.


First seen:                   1971

Original Price              £8.95

Value Today?              £2 - £5

Features:                     Moving coil meter, DC volts 5 – 500/2.5k, AC volts 10 – 1000, DC current 0-5uA/0-250mA, DC Resistance 0-infinity 2 x ranges

Power req.                  1 x AA

Weight:                       400g

Dimensions:               115 x 85 x 28 (very approx)

Made in:                      Japan

Rarity:                          6 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Telephone 280, the 'Buttinski' or 'Butts', 1960

This weird and wacky looking telephone is definitely not the sort of thing you would have found in the average home or office in the sixties and seventies. It's a Telephone 280 or GPO lineman’s test phone, sometimes known as the Buttinski or Butts*.


The two most obvious features are the fact that it’s encased in thick rubber, and the small dial, set into the back of the mouthpiece. The small red button on the side works like a handset switch. Press it to pick up the line, and give it a twist to keep the line open. These phones were mostly made by Plessey and went into service in the late 1950s, this one is thought to date from the early 1960s, it came from a car boot sale a few years ago and cost 50 pence. Judging by the condition of the rubber case it has led a hard life, nevertheless, it does still work.


What happened to it?

Telephone 280 was phased out in the early 1980s and replaced by more compact, mostly yellow coloured electronic test phones. Obviously the new phones are designed for use with newer digital exchanges and clearly do a much better job, but if you want a phone, that can double up as a rubber mallet, survive a drop from the top of a telegraph pole and like as not, still be working in another 100 years time, look no further than the 280. Quite a few of them were made and since they are almost indestructible they do turn up on ebay from time to time. Prices vary but if you are very lucky you might pick up a good one for less than a tenner. 


First seen:                   1962

Original Price              £ probably quite a bit...

Value Today?              £10 - £20

Features:                     Mechanical numbered dial, push to talk and lock switch

Power req.                  n/a

Weight:                       700g

Dimensions:                270 x 100 x 80 (very approx)

Made in:                      England

Rarity:                         5 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


* The 280 had several affectionate nicknames including 'Buttinski' and 'Butts' and depending who you talk to this refers to the way it was used by engineers to track and trace calls, or 'butt' into phone calls. 'Butts' is also used in the US and is a reference to the way (or area) it hangs from the lineman's tool holster or  'butt' belt.



Kodak Instamatic Camera & Magicubes 1972

Two for the price of one this week with the Kodak Instamatic 56X and the ‘Magicube’. The Instamatic camera range started in 1963 and was the first commercially successful attempt to create a totally idiot-proof camera using a drop in film cartridge. The ‘126’ cartridge was fully enclosed and all you had to do was pop it in the back of the camera, wind it on, point and shoot.


It all sounds a bit obvious now but before then you had to faff around with roll film, threading it onto a roller that more often than not didn’t wind the film on properly. 126 Instamatics remained tremendously popular for more than 10 years. The 56X was nothing special, just one of hundreds of very basic fixed focus and exposure manual wind cameras made by Kodak and countless other manufacturers but because they were so cheap and cheerful they were regarded as semi-disposable so probably not that many have survived.


The amazing Magicube really deserves its own Dustygizmo slot. What makes Magicubes really clever is the fact that they are pyrotechnic, rather than electrical devices. As you probably know one-shot flashbulbs are filled with a fine magnesium ribbon that’s ‘fired’ by passing a small current through an element. This heats up the magnesium so that it burns and gives off a brilliant flash of light. Magicubes were more like small fireworks. They are fired by the camera pressing a pin in the base of the bulb. It works a bit like striking a match, setting off the magnesium in the bulb. It’s simple, reliable (mostly) and there’s no need for batteries. More importantly for Kodak and the other manufacturers they were very profitable as they cost several times as much as ordinary flashbulbs   


What happened to it?

Magicubes were always a bit of a con, most users disliked them because they were expensive and incredibly wasteful and they all but disappeared when cheap electronic flash systems were developed.


Sales of 126 Instamatics had started to tail off by the early 1970s so Kodak introduced the 110 cartridge format in 1973, which enabled cameras to be made even smaller and cuter. After an initial burst of interest that too started to wane, so Kodak’s next attempt to maintain their market share was the ‘Disc’ camera format in 1982 (pencilled in for a future Gadget of the Week). It didn’t do very well and by that time first generation digital still cameras were just starting to appear.


Kodak never saw it coming and plugged away with its core photographic film business and in 1994 it introduced its last gasp effort, the clever but ultimately doomed APS format. But by then it was too late, digital photography had started to take off, Kodak belatedly jumped aboard the bandwagon but it lost out by being so slow and it has seen its film camera business virtually disappear. But relics like these live on and are becoming collectable, especially the more elaborate Instamatics; there was even an SLR type. Look out too for Disc cameras; because of the format’s lack of popularity and relatively short life they are comparatively rare and good examples could become a worthwhile investment. Check out the Kodak Classics website for everything you ever wanted to know about these cameras   


First seen:                   1972

Original Price               c £20

Value Today?              £1

Features:                     Fixed focus f/11, 43mm lens, 1/50th sec shutter, manual wind, Magicube socket, optical viewfinder

Power req.                   n/a

Weight:                        200g

Dimensions:                110 x 65 x 60 (very approx)

Made in:                       England

Rarity:                          4 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Radofin Triton 1400 Pocket Calculator 1974

At first glance there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this pocket calculator but look a little closer, the display uses microscopic 7- segment LEDs instead of an LCD and there’s fewer buttons than you would expect to see on a modern device. The Radofin Triton 1400 is actually over 30 years old and was in the first wave of cheap pocket calculators, following just a year or two after the pioneering models launched by Sharp, Texas and Sinclair.


This particular model was made in Hong Kong but Radofin was actually a UK company and its first machines were built in the UK.


By current standards it is extremely crude, and the software is riddled with bugs, especially if you try to make it do ‘impossible’ sums – enter divide > point > zero and watch it go quietly mad... The ‘K’ button (it is supposed to mean ‘Konstant’) is an early attempt at a memory function, though it is also very easily confused. Nevertheless, at the time using one of these things for the first time and being able to carry out complex calculations in fractions of a second was nothing short of a miracle, especially for a generation that had been bought up with and struggled with the complexities of logarithms (whatever happened to them?) and slide rules.


What happened to it?

Calculators continued to get smarter, smaller and cheaper but one of the biggest innovations was the introduction of the LCD in the late 1970s, which replaced the battery sapping LEDs used previously. We now take calculators totally for granted, they’re cheap enough to be given away, they dangle from key rings in short they are just another disposable commodity, but they have a fascinating history and very early models from the 70s, which were built in comparatively small numbers, are becoming sought after collectibles. If you see one at a jumble or car-boot sale, especially if it has an LED display grab it!



First seen:                   1974

Original Price              c. £20

Value Today?              £10

Features:                     8-digit LED display, four functions (plus, minus, subtract & divide)

Power req.                   9v PP2

Weight:                        800g

Dimensions:                120 x 65 x 25 (very approx)

Made in:                       Hong Kong

Rarity:                          7 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)



Bio Activity Translator, 1979

I’m guessing that few dustygizmos visitors will have seen one of these before since so few of them were ever built. It’s a Jeremy Lord Bio Activity Translator, a device that converts the tiny electrical impulses generated by all living organisms, into sounds. It was part of a brief fad for hooking plants and small creatures up to electronic devices in an effort to communicate with them or try and understand what they were saying...


Don’t laugh, there is something to it, and if you change a plant’s environment, by varying the amount of water and light it gets then the impulses it generates will change. Similarly, if you shake the plant, or cut off a leave you will get another, usually more strident type of reaction, which some advocates of the ‘technology’ took to indicate shock or pain.


This particular device was sold in kit form, for around £18.95, which was a fair sum almost 30 years ago, and it was quite a challenge to build with dozens of components to solder onto a printed circuit board. Basically it’s a very sensitive amplifier, connected via various filtering circuits to a voltage-controlled oscillator that makes all the noises. It has a built-in speaker, or you can connect it up to your hi-fi system, to really hear your vegetation scream! It’s battery powered and there are just two connections, one to a spike that goes into the soil, the other is a conductive pad in a spring clip that attaches to a leaf. Just switch it on and tease you plant and you’ll be rewarded with a string of notes that were mostly quite annoying though to be fair on occasions it could be quite tuneful. 


What happened to it?

Bioactivity remains a very active area of research but its application in home entertainment was always going to be limited, not least because most plants are not that melodic. Similar devices have popped up from time to time and perhaps with the current resurgence of interest in greenery and plant welfare it may be time for a revival.



First seen:                   1979

Original Price              £18.95 (supplied in kit form)

Value Today?              £50

Features:                     voltage controlled amplifier and envelope modulated pulse generator, coupled to a voltage-controlled oscillator

Power req.                   2 x 4.5 volt cycle lamp batteries

Weight:                        700g

Dimensions:                198 x 145 x 86mm (very approx)

Made in:                      Jeremy Lord Synthesisers, London SW16

Rarity:                          9 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)



GPO Trimphone 1965

The Trimphone or Telephone No. 722, to give it its official name is a real sixties icon. It first appeared in 1965 and was the brainchild of GPO designer Martyn Rowlands. ‘Trim’ is actually an acronym for Tone Ringer Illuminated Model, two features which make this still very stylish phone stand out.


The ringer or ‘warbler’ is really distinctive and you can hear a sample by clicking HERE. The sound was produced by a simple transistorised oscillator, one of the first ‘electronic’ ringers and a major technical leap as up until that time virtually all phones used electromechanical bells. The illuminated dial is the subject of some controversy because it relies on a thin almost circular glass tube, filled with radioactive Tritium gas, which reacts with a phosphor coating to produce a constant greenish blue glow. The actual amount of radioactivity is very low – less than the background radiation in some areas -- but the phone was eventually withdrawn following safety concerns. Several colour variants were produced and later a push-button version was introduced; both types were produced in very large numbers – more than 1.6 million were made, before it was withdrawn in 1981, and in spite of them being recalled by BT you can still find them selling in antique shops and car boot sales for between £10 to £20. Refurbished ‘as new’ models, fitted with BT sockets sell for around £50.


What Happened to it?

The Trimphone never really went away, though obviously by today’s standards it is incredibly basic. Although it will work on a modern phone line it is obviously very limited in what it can do, but don’t let that worry you, it is a working example of British 1960s technology and design at its very best, a great conversation piece – in all senses of the word – and as time goes by a functional collectable that can only appreciate in value.  There’s lots more about the Trimphone Here



First seen:                   1965

Original Price              n/a, supplied as part of phone rental contract

Value Today?              £50

Features:                     ‘Warbler’ ringer, ringer volume control, radioactive glowing dial, rotary or push-button dial

Power req.                   powered by phone line

Weight:                        800g

Dimensions:                210 x 100 x 115 (very approx)

Made in:                      UK

Rarity:                          6 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Stylophone 1967

No collection of 60s and 70s technology would be complete without a Stylophone. It was invented in 1967 by British pianist Brian Jarvis who along with brothers Bert and Ted Coleman formed a company called Dubreq to manufacture them. By the time the craze fizzled out in the late 70s some 3-million had been sold.


It was basically a monophonic -- you could only play one note at a time -- electronic organ, played by moving a wired ‘stylus’ across a printed metal keyboard, completing a simple circuit. The sound was very distinctive, especially with the ‘vibrato’ switched on, and it famously featured on several 70s pop hits, including David Bowie’s Space Oddity. For most of the time it was on sale it was associated with Rolf Harris, who helped to launch it on his TV show and made several records featuring the instrument.


Only two models were ever produced, the ‘Pocket’, shown here (also available in white and brown) and the larger and more advanced 350S, though there were countless copies and clones made in the Far East. When it first went on sale it cost an amazing £8 18s 6d (eight pounds, eighteen shillings and sixpence, or around £8.92) which is more than £100 at today’s prices.  This one is in fairly average condition, found on ebay a few years ago for £10, but it did come in its original box. Nowadays a really pristine example could set you back £100 or more but it is still possible to buy Stylophones for between £55 and £150; these are the real deal, made in the 70’s either refurbished or ‘New’ old stock that for some reason was never sold.  


What Happened to it?

It was basically a toy and this is a remarkably fickle market; musical tastes also change very quickly and the Stylophone ‘sound’ became passé. The development of much more sophisticated electronic instruments also played a part in its eventual demise; first generation synthesisers were just starting to appear at this time and the Stylophone’s limited repertoire sealed its doom. Every so often it is rediscovered and several contemporary bands have dabbled with it. Stylophones will always be a popular collectable, however, and if you want to find out more, maybe buy one or just relive that rich distinctive sound then pop along to the Stylophone collector’s web site 


First seen:                   1967

Original Price              £8 18s 6d

Value Today?              £50

Features:                     Single octave keyboard, 4-transistor oscillator/amplifier, internal speaker, amplifier output, volume control (later models)

Power req.                   single 9v PP3

Weight:                        300g

Dimensions:                158 x 40 x 100 (very approx)

Made in:                      UK )

Rarity:                          7 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


AlphaTantel Prestel Terminal 1979

It is said that there’s nothing new under the Sun and this little box dating from very early 1980s proves it, as far as data communications are concerned. A good ten years before the Internet went public it was possible to download information, software and play games through a phone line and display it on a TV or monitor screen.


Prestel or ViewData as it was generically known was developed by the British Post Office in the 1970s. It was an interactive video text system, loosely based on Teletext technology, sharing the same 40 x 24 text character display format.


Prestel users had to pay a subscription to access information and a number of journalists (and I was one of them) were recruited by ‘IPs' or Information Providers to generate the content for the system. This ranged from the latest news and stock information to simple games, technology articles (my department) and buyer’s guides. Prestel could also be used to send messages to other subscribers -- early email -- there were forums and what we would now call chat lines and users could even upload their own personal pages (forerunners of YouTube, MySpace)


The AlphaTantel unit here was used to input and upload material to IP via the main server computer in London; this was then edited and  ‘mirrored’ on a number of regional servers on a network that is uncannily similar to the Internet (albeit on a much smaller scale).


As you can see it has a crude calculator style keyboard and entering more than a few lines of text was a long and tedious business. On the plus side it was quite easy to use and all it needed was a mains connection and a telephone socket (old style multi-way jack); the TV connected to a aerial socket on the back or if you were really flash you could use a monitor as it has an RGB output socket. It had a built-in modem, which dialled up the server and established the connection at a blistering 1200 baud. There was also a printer port and a DIN socket for connecting the unit to an audio cassette recorder, for recording data.


What Happened to it?

Quite simply the Post office and the various IPs were greedy and priced it out of business. Substantial hardware costs and subscription charges were on top of normal call rates when you were online, so you had to be fairly well off, especially if the call involved a long distance connection. On top of that most IPs charged by the page, up to 99 pence in some cases (and that was when a quid was worth something…).


Prestel hung around for around 10 years and the Post Office finally closed it down in 1991, not that anyone noticed. Nevertheless, this now forgotten technology laid the foundations of the Internet and the next time you hear about some whizzy new web feature there is a fair chance that Prestel was doing it twenty years ago.


First seen:                   1979

Original Price              £200

Value Today?              £100

Features:                     QWERTY keyboard, built-in 1200/75 baud modem, 15-pin D-Sub printer port, RGB video out, RF video out, tape/data adaptor port

Power req.                   220-230 volt AC mains

Weight:                        2.4kg

Dimensions:                270 x 55 x 170 (very approx)

Made in:                      UK Tantel Products, Ely)

Rarity:                          9 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Nimslo 3D Camera 1980

Named after its US inventors, Dr Jerry Nims and Allan Lo, the Nimslo camera was one of the most successful attempts at a 3D photographic system to date. Prototypes were developed in the late 1970s and it finally went on sale in 1980 for around £80; the cameras were built in the UK, by Timex Ltd. at its Dundee plant.


It’s an ingenious design and one of the key selling points was that it used ordinary 35mm film. When you click the shutter it takes four images through each of its four lenses. The horizantal distance between the lenses -- the outer ones are spaced approximately to equal to that of our own eyes -- means that each image is taken from very slightly different angle to it neighbour. The really clever part, though, is in the processing. The four images are layered one on top of each other, and on top of that is a thin, grooved transparent film, called a ‘Lenticular’ screen. The grooves act like prisms, so as you alter the angle of the print you see the different layers, giving a strong impression of depth.  It’s a bit like one of those toy badges, where the image changes as you move it


What Happened to it?

Nimslo prints could look spectacular but it took practice to get it just right as you had to pose your subjects and any objects in the field of view to ensure that they were at the optimum distances from the lens, to get the full 3D effect.


Unfortunately only a couple of laboratories were able to handle the special process; it took weeks, sometimes months to get a film developed and it was eye-wateringly expensive. The camera limped on for around 10 years, sustained by a small band of devotees, but it simply cost too much and it was never going to be become a mass-market product. A specialist company in Canada still provides a processing service for Nimslo film and a number of the other 3D cameras that have come (and mostly) gone over the years. If you would like to know more about this fascinating topic pop along to 


First seen:                   1980

Original Price              £80

Value Today?              £100

Features:                     Continuously variable electronically controlled shutter, fixed focus (1:5 6/30mm) lenses, 35mm film 100 - 400 ASA, manual wind and rewind, flash hot shoe, cable release socket, double exposure prevention

Power req.                   2 x alkaline button cells

Weight:                        0.35kg (ex batteries)

Dimensions:                137 x 74 x 43(very approx)

Made in:                       UK

Rarity:                          8 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Realistic TRC-209 1979

This Realistic TRC-209 has the unusual distinction of being an illegal gadget... If you haven’t already guessed it’s a Citizen’s Band radio. However, It’s not one of those namby-pamby FM jobbies begrudgingly legalised by the UK Government in 1981, but a genuine hairy-chested 27MHz AM hand-portable from the US with 40-channels and a healthy 5-watts of output power.


This one is a 1979 vintage model, one of a pair smuggled in from the US. They were purchased from Realistic -- Tandy in the UK -- for around £60, a fair sum back then! It’s very sturdily built and has a tough leather carry case. It’s a real handful, with top-mounted controls for channel change, on/off volume and Squelch. There’s also a power/battery meter and sockets for an external mike and speaker. The PTT (push-to-talk) switch is on the left and sockets on the right for external antenna, power and charger. The bulge in the 1.5 metre long telescopic antenna is a ‘centre load’, a small coil that improves the aerial’s efficiency.


What happened to it?

Those who can remember back to the early days of CB will tell you that it died the day it was legalised; quite simply all the fun went out of it. The UK’s FM system was a poor alternative, the range was little further than you could shout and the equipment was bland and expensive. AM CB went further underground and lived on for a few years, indeed there are still a few die-hards out there but what really killed CB was the idiots and kids who jammed the airwaves and by the late 1980s the mobile phone had arrived. Still, it was a good laugh while it lasted. 10-10 good buddy…


First seen:                  1979

Original Price              £30

Value Today?              £50

Features:                     27MHz AM, 40 channels, 5-watt RF output, battery/power meter, centre load antenna, volume, Squelch, Hi/Lo output, external mike, antenna speaker sockets, leather carry case

Power req.                   9 x AA rechargeable/alkaline, 7 x AA zinc carbon (2 dummy batteries supplied)

Weight:                       1kg (ex batteries)

Dimensions:                 260 x 65 x 80mm (very approx)

Made in:                       Japan

Rarity:                          8 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Shogun Music Muff 1982


Dating from late 1982 the Shogun Music Muff was the first and quite possibly the only attempt to combine a stereo FM radio and micro cassette player into a pair of headphones.


The Tuner is on one side and the tape deck on the other, with the batteries (3 x AAA) held in a sliding draw that fits into the underside of the radio. Despite the weight (around 500g with batteries and tape) it is surprisingly comfortable thanks to the soft ear cushions and padded and adjustable headband


What Happened to it?

The radio works well enough but it all goes horribly wrong with the tape player. It’s a cheapo design and apart from the poor sound quality it’s clearly impossible to avoid motor noise when it’s only a few centimetres from your right ear. The other, more fundamental problem was the complete lack of pre-recorded micro cassettes. Back in those days micro cassette recorders were rare and expensive so there wasn’t even the opportunity to make your own. It had a relatively short life -- probably on sale for less than 6 months -- few were made and hardly any will have survived and those that have could be worth a few bob to collectors of odd-ball tape recorders


First seen:                   1982

Original Price              £79.99

Value Today?              £40

Features:                     Stereo microcassette player, FM tuner telescopic antenna

Power req.                  3 x AA

Weight:                       0.5kg (ex batteries)

Dimensions:                110 x 85 x 120mm (very approx)

Made in:                      Japan

Rarity:                          8 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


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