Antiquities or antiques are ancient collectable items that are valued for their historical importance. The age, beauty, utility, cultural importance, sentimental connection or any other unique feature attached to an item makes it desirable. Any antique is a reflection of the socio-cultural standing of a previous era or a time period in the human civilization. Most collectables of this class possess a certain degree of design or craftsmanship. Some of these antiques were in use till a little time ago and then with the decrease in their popularity and usage over the years, they were deemed to be called the tokens from the past.
This article focuses on a few such articles that our generation has seen but never realized how important they once had been.
Not so long ago, when my Dad had gone to Germany, he called me up to ask what I want from there. Not so sure of what I really did want, I asked him to get anything he feels like. He returned with a bunch of these colourful paper rectangles with a blank other side to be written on. The world knows them better as the postcards.
These small souvenirs brimming with culture, colour and a characteristic story behind them are a staple form of communication from the past and a visual treat to both the sender and the receiver. Besides the message written inside it, the gesture of choosing an appropriate postcard and having it sent to that particular person is enough to bring about a smile to his/her face. A tourists’ souvenir-collection would not be complete without some gorgeous postcards from the place he has struck off his bucket-list. This memento might be a little lacking as per modern aesthetic standards, but these single image cards were once every hobbyists’ treasures.
The first postcard ever was a printed image which was sent via mail and was received in Hungary in 1869. United States’ first postcard appeared in the year 1873. It depicted the main building of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition in Chicago. Paris also saw the postcard-culture when cards with images of the Eiffel Tower were printed in the year 1889. In the Great Britain the very first advertising cards were printed in 1872.
There were a variety of postcards that were once widely used. From a variety of ‘view’ cards with images of famous architectural sites and landmarks, to other ‘art’, ‘fashion’ and ‘historical’ cards; one can find them all.
Societies all over the world had taken to this mode of communication where there is no need of an envelope or stamps. From army personnel to young pen-pals, everyone has used these beautiful cards for communicating with their loved ones.
Call it the hourglass, sand timer, sand clock or the sand glass; this tool is the oldest device known to mankind for measuring time. These days, hourglasses are used mostly for ornamental purposes or for domestic and kitchen applications like board games or boiling an egg.
An hourglass can measure time varying from a few minutes to even a number of hours depending on a number of factors. The mechanism behind its operation is the flow of sand or any similar granulated substance through an orifice connection two bulbs. The two vertical glass bulbs are connected to allow a regulated trickle of the granulated material from the top to bottom. Once the top bulb is completely empty, the hourglass can be inverted for the next cycle. The factors that determine the time that can be measured are the amount of sand or the granulated substance, the size of the bulbs, the width of the neck/passage or the orifice and the quality of the material that has been put inside the bulbs.
The place of origin of the sand-glass is not very clear; though it is said it might have been invented by the ancient Egyptian civilization. The American Institute of New York claims that it was invited in about 150BC, at Alexandria. There was a phase when the hourglass disappeared till it became a popular culture again in the medieval European civilization. It was in the 14th century when the sand-glass became a common house-hold item. It was used on land as well as in the sea. Churches and other institutions used them widely to keep track of the time. It was also used by sailors to record time as mechanical clocks were not easily available back then.
Soon after 1500AD the hourglass lost its utility and charm due to the development of cheap mechanical clock technology. The oldest sand-glass that is known to survive is at the British Museum in London.
Invented in the year 1887 by Emile Berliner, a German by nativity who was then working in Washington D.C., the gramophone is one of the choicest possessions for many, be it curators or music enthusiasts. Earlier attempts like the one by Thomas Alva Edison, which was called the ‘phonograph’ could record sounds from cylinders but could not reproduce human voice and each recording played only once. There were certain other attempts that were made after Edison, for instance the ‘graphophone’ by Graham Bell. Here wax cylinders were used and although these could be played repeatedly, they had to be recorded separately, making mass production of records difficult.
Berliner was successful in inventing a convenient system for sound recording. Another advantage was that she employed flat disks instead of cylinders thus bringing in the portability factor.
The concept of recording sound by fixing a needle to a membrane resonating in symphony dates back to early 19th century. Gramophones formed an important part of human culture. They were a part of huge operas and were even housed in many institutions like offices. The avant-garde reigned the industry till more efficient digital storage technologies came up. It is sad that now the only place we can easily spot one of these is either the antiques-shop or the museums.
Though the article ends here, there is a huge list of such forgotten objects of beauty that were once a common commodity. We sure have better and more efficient alternatives for all of them; but there is a charm about these that shall never be lost. And as they say: “Old is Gold”, these vintage tokens are definitely more precious than we think they are.