Stuff

Rubik’s Cube

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At one point in my early post college years I found myself jobless in the period running up to Christmas. I decided that a job in a Department store would be a perfect way to help soak up a few weeks before starting a new job and some of my old Student debt. I worked for the Army & Navy store in Guilford (Surrey, UK). I was I’m my early 20’s but have – an annoyance when seeking service at a bar – always looked young for my age. So it seemed right for me to agree to work in the Toy Department.

A new range of toys had been launched that year on the U.K. market by Bandai called “Transformers” which, as you’ll know from the later films, were vehicles that through some manipulation – that got easier the more worn the toy became – transformed into a robot. They sold really well, I like to think due my abilities at demonstration and pitching, but it became the second highest selling toy that the Toy Department had ever seen. Perhaps predictably, the highest selling toy – released a few years earlier and a complete phenominon – was the Rubik’s Cube.

Invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and Architectural Professor, Ernő Rubik, in 1980 Rubik licensed his Cube to the Ideal Toy Corporation, a Ma & Pa US company founded in 1938 and then famous in our house as the manufacturer of the hit game Mouse Trap – first launched in 1963.

Rubric’s Cube, was a massive success from its launch in 1980 and, as of 2009, it had sold over 350 million cubes, worldwide, thereby claiming the title of the world’s top-selling game.

The classic Rubik’s Cube comprises six faces divided into nine squares and each covered by a sticker, of one of six colours: white, red, blue, orange, green, and yellow. By virtue of its internal mechanism each face could be turned independently, allowing the colours to be mixed and presenting the player with possibility of solving the puzzle if all six faces are returned to their original one colour.

I suspect for many of us, despite the awe we have for this iconic game and its underlying mechanics, solving the puzzle was always frustrating. I have seen recording breaking attempts that have shown competitors solving the puzzle in a matter of a few seconds. There are “cheat” sites on the internet explaining that you too can solve Rubik’s Cube just by “learning six algorithms”! For me, there have been times when confounded by this multicoloured cube, with perhaps only two or, maybe, three squares bearing the same colour on the same face, that the temptation to smash it with a claw hammer has been overwhelming!

The Compagnie International des Wagon-Lits – Travel poster

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It’s 1979 and I’m on the Night Ferry, an overnight sleeper train running between London’s Victoria Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord. Cue the accordion soundtrack, the slight hint of Channel No 5 and certainly the distinctive aroma of a Disque Blue. Where else could we possibly be?

The Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (Literally “Sleeping Cars”) maintained twelve carriages that were custom designed to fit the smaller gauge of the British railway network. The service started in 1936 and was discontinued in 1980 – using the same rolling stock throughout – but prior to Eurostar it was the only non-stop way to get from London to Paris. The carriages were loaded onto “train-ferries” for the cross channel section of the journey and at Dunkerque the carriages were off-loaded for the onward journey to Paris.

The luxurious Wagons-Lits was founded in 1872 by Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers, who had seen the Pullman night carriages operating whilst on a trip to the United States in the late 1860’s. He imported the idea into Europe. Wagon-Lits quickly established itself as the premier provider and operator of European railway sleepers and dining cars. They only provided the carriages and relied upon the domestic or state-wide operators for the locomotives that pulled them.

The journey that I would have loved to taken would have been on The Côte d’Azur Pullman Express which ran from December 1929 until May 1939. The service was operated by Wagons-Lits and the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (known as the PLM). The train was scheduled to leave Paris at 08:50, stopping at Dijon, Lyon and Marseilles and making further stops at the resort towns along the French Riviera including, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, Nice, reaching its final destination, Ventimiglia (Italy). The journey took 15 hours and 10 minutes.

Accompanying the promotion for this new service many iconic travel posters were commissioned including in 1929, the Pierre Fix-Masseau piece, shown as our featured image.

Pierre’s father, Pierre Félix Masseau, was, until 1935, the director of the École Nationale d’Art Décoratif (“Art Deco”) in Limoges. The inevitable result was that, Pierre’s poster work – and that of his many poster-art contemporaries, Roger Broders, Cassandre and Paul Colin – was heavily influenced by Art Deco, a successor to and reaction against Art Nouveau. Art Deco was above all associated with both luxury and modernity; it combined very expensive materials and exquisite craftsmanship realised in modernistic forms – hence its use in these seductive travel posters.

These wonderful posters were designed to lure inquisitive travellers into sampling the delights of the then modern European and luxurious railway system, to holiday in alluring destinations of snow and beach but, above all, they are the most remarkable examples of stylised commercial art. Our continued fascination with these fine works has resulted in their comparative scarcity and justifiable value.

Montecristo Cigars

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Cuba, for someone who hasn’t yet had the opportunity to visit the island, seems to be renowned for four things. Its recently reconciled position with the USA, a bevy of 1950’s classic American cars – that half a century are still going strong – the work of the very talented “Buena Vista Social Club” and its World-dominant position in the making and selling of fine cigars.

For me, pre-eminent amongst the wonderful Cuban cigar brands, with their flamboyant cigar rings and sturdy packaging are the products of the Cuban state-owned tobacco, Habanos SA, that are marketed under the iconic name of “Montecristo.

Our featured image is the cigar ring of Montecristo that was revised in 2013. The Montecristo brand accounts for around 25% of Habanos SA’s world-wide sales. It is reported that by volume the Montecristo No. 4 is the World’s most popular cigar.

The name of the Montecristo was inspired by the novel “The Count of Montecristo”. It was first used in July 1935 when Alonso Menéndez bought a factory, which until then had made cigars under the Particulares and Byron brand names, he rebranded using the name of Montecristo. In 1936 Snr. Menéndez, with a new partner, founded Menéndez, García y Cía. The new business acquired the H. Upmann factory, from J Franau SA, in 1937 and consolidated production of the Montecristo and Upmann brands at the Upmann factory. The business was nationalised in 1961 following the Cuban Revolution.

The Montecristo logo (below) comprises a triangle of swords and a fleur-de-lis, was designed by John Hunter Morris and Elkan Co. Ltd., Montecristo’s UK distributor. J. Frankau continued as the sole distributor of the H. Upmann brand in the UK, until in 1963, the firms merged to become Hunters & Frankau. The resulting business is still the sole importer and distributor of all Cuban cigars in the UK.

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Montecristo has grown its range of cigars over the years from an original five, plus a tubed cigar added in the 1940’s and further additions of five new sizes in the 1970’s and 80’s. In 2004, the Edmundo, a large robusto-sized cigar, was added. In 2009 a new range known “Open” was added that comprises a selection of slightly less densely flavoured cigars than the usual Montecristo. For me, the No 2 Montecristo, a Pirámide or torpedo shaped large cigar, continues to be a particular favourite.

A cursory study of cigars will show that aside from their range number and name it is usual that their ring size is given, to denoted their thickness. Over 22 years ago, and perhaps being slightly under-prepared, I asked my wife to marry me with a Montecristo No 1 cigar ring. Luckily, she said yes and I got a jeweller in Central London to make her an engagement ring that was stylised to look a little like the shape of the cigar ring with a central diamond and tapering to smaller diamonds around the band – it’s still beautiful ring.

Baccarat Chrystal Paperweight

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As a young law graduate in 1980, fresh out of college in London and with images of those who resided in Les Deux Magots, Saint Germain des Prés and the neighbouring, Quartier Latin – as depicted by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald – whirling romantically around my brain, I went to live in Paris.

I was a reasonable French speaker from many family holidays in Charente Maritime. I suspect this area – which we all loved – was chosen as my Father’s family maintained that our roots were in La Rochelle and in an emigre Huguenot family who left France for England under the tyrannical reign of Louis XIV in the early 18th Century.

I smoked Disque Bleu and partied with the offspring of intellectuals, composers, film makers and the like it was an amazing experience but reality dawned that I needed to find an apartment and an income. Really quite sound thinking for a 21 year old, who looked about sixteen. I recently re-discovered my old Carte Orange, a monthly renewable season ticket for the Paris Metro. It carried a durable plastic ticket and a photo of someone who now resembles my son!

I had made a connection with the sister of a partner of a prominent Paris based law firm. Seeing him – who couldn’t have been more suave – at their fabulous offices on the Champs-Élysées, above what was City Bank, I was invited to become a Stagiair. A post often occupied by trainee lawyers in the French system of Advocats, an opportunity that I jumped at.

I was required to translate documents and generally undertake what we would call “outdoor clerk” duties. Registering documents at the Courts and the Companies Registry and hand-delivering mail to locally based clients.

I understood Intellectual Property Rights, and the firm who had hired me were specialists in the same area. They worked with an array of French and Paris based fashion business talent that was mind-blowing. I was on first name terms with Jean-Claude and his brother, Hubert de Givenchy – who knew for some reason that I tended to always arrive at his atelier when Ines de la Fressange was modelling for him! Karl Lagerfeld (who worked for Chloe at that point) was another who certainly knew my name, Pierre Cardin and the Vaudable family who at the time owned Maxim’s were all regular visitors to the offices.

One of the clear reasons why the client list was so special was the firm’s senior partner, an fabulous character and hugely proud internationalist, Rene du Chambray whose desk in his grand office was cluttered with signed photos of the famous including Coco Chanel and his late father in law, the war-time leader of the Vichy Government, Pierre Laval. His wall also had a painting of the close associate of George Washington and Andrew Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette, of whom Maître de Chambrun was a direct descendent.

Aside from his legal career, and very close to his heart, Maître de Chambrun was also Chairman of Baccarat Crystal between 1960 and 1992.

Before arriving in Paris I was aware of Rene Lalique and the sand blasted statutes for which he is famed that graced the bonnets of many classic cars of an earlier era, but I hadn’t understood the prominance of the Baccarat brand in Europe. Baccarat Chrystal dates back to 1764 when King Louis XV gave permission to Prince Bishop Cardinal Louis-Joseph de Laval-Montmorency to found a glassworks in the town of Baccarat in Lorraine (Eastern France). Until 1816, when the first crystal oven was installed, production consisted of window panes and mirrors. In the mid-1840’s Baccarat developed a range of glass “millefiori” paperweights that continue to today to be a true representation of Baccarat’s craftsmanship. Baccarat is also renowned for chandeliers, very elegant tableware – particularly beautiful champagne flutes – and perfume bottles.

On leaving the law firm I was called into Maître de Chambrun’s office, where the entire firm had gathered each holding a Baccarat Chrystal glass of champagne and I was presented with a very familiar red box that contained the cobalt blue Baccarat “Gemini” – my birth-sign – paperweight. Beyond special.

In 2005 Baccarat Chrystal was acquired by Starwood Capital Group and in 2012 Starwood announced that they would launch a chain of luxury hotels to be called “Baccarat Hotels and Resorts”.

Wood & Sons “Beryl Ware” Pottery

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There is a trend at play that I am detecting in many walks of life. This is a retro movement that is accompanying manically busy working lives. Its role is to bring a greater simplicity by an intentional decluttering which overall results in a less stressful existence. Chief amongst this are a paring back of the complicated, rejecting the unfamiliar and becoming increasingly conscious of the need to surround yourself with the aesthetically pleasing.

Let me highlight a couple of examples of how I have seen this evolve.

Take the cycle with coloured tyre walls, saddle and brake blocks – and one fixed gear. If you are not part of the Peloton on an opening stage of the Tour de France and your commute doesn’t involve the navigation of treacherous ravines then its pretty safe to assume that one gear is sufficient. Minimal maintenance, stylish look and sturdy ride with gear changes reduced to zero.

Three words – Noise Cancelling Headphones (NCH). Shutting out extraneous noise and chatter whilst you are trying to concentrate. You may want to focus on your chosen entertainment or on your delivery at work and there is just too much unnecessary background noise that disturbs concentration and/or enjoyment. NCH epic!

When it comes to domestic choices the quandary that is experienced often can be minimised by the search for the familiar, the known, the loved. I know very few people who are old enough to tie their own shoelaces who haven’t been to a “greasy spoon” Cafe, a Tea Room/kiosk in a local park, a Cricket/Tennis team’s club house or a Church or school garden party who haven’t at one time or another enjoyed a refreshing brew out of a simple elegant and hugely stylish cup from the range of Woods “Beryl Ware”.

Allow me to recommend Fortnum & Mason’s Assam Superb

Beryl Ware is an iconic design classic from the 1940’s. It came in three colours, mint green, jasmine and iris. This utility earthenware has a longevity that few of todays brands can hope to emulate.

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Although its design stems from an era of austerity when it was intended that products be made using the least of materials, there are some nods in the direction of art deco with the concentric lines scored into the saucer/side/dinner plates and the flourishing handles of the cups, coffee and tea pots.

Beryl Ware was made in quantity by Wood & Sons Ltd. in the Pottery towns of Trent (New Wharf Pottery) and later in Burslem (Stanley Pottery). The company can trace its history dates back to 1865 and its founder Absalom Wood and his son T.F. Wood. The famous and rather fine Susie Cooper brand was an associated brand.

Sadly the business went into receivership in December 1981 and was sold to new owners in 1982 trading as Wood & Sons (1982) Ltd until its closure in 1995. From 1995 onwards Wood & Sons struggled to survive finally being compelled to call in the receivers in February 2005.

Whilst many including Jamie Oliver have sourced examples of Beryl Ware from house sales and auctions to give an authentic feel to their restaurants currently their products are not readily available. For now – just watch this space!

Images from Wood & Sons

Monopoly board game

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At Christmastime, probably in the early evening on a cooler winter’s evening, one of my kids will say “Who fancies a game of Monopoly?”

We actually have three Monopoly sets, an old “back-box” set dating from the 1940’s, a newer London set and a Paris set from the early 1980’s – a long story – but particularly the black box set with its quarter folded board always sends me spiralling back through to my early teenage years. My family loved board and similar games.

My mother’s Mother, particularly loved Monopoly – in fact the 1940’s set was hers – but also, when we were much younger, we’d play Mousetrap, Cluedo with her, and a game she called “Halma” – which we knew by the name of a variant “Chinese Chequers” – that was invented in 1883/4 by George Howard Monks, a US thoracic surgeon at Harvard Medical School. She was a devoted and hugely patient Grandmother.

Later we graduated to Scrabble and Mahjong – an aunt had bought back a set for her brother, my Dad, after being stationed with the RAF in Singapore.

Drinks would be served and an old green baize card table was a perfect playing surface.

I can still hear my Mother’s groans, when someone suggested a game of Monopoly. She wasn’t that fond of the game and above all, as a mother, she really didn’t like the slavering capitalism, collusion and cheating (or should I say “house-rules”) that the game seemed to provoke in some though, of course, not me, of her relatives and offspring!

My sister and I loved the increasingly less crisp bank notes and novel playing tokens which I suspect were cast in poisonous lead – a Brookland’s Bentlyesque car, a thimble, a boot and a top-hat. The earlier Monopoly set had green and red wooden houses and hotels that we would accumulate on our acquired properties and we’d take great pleasure in charging other players through the roof once hotels had been constructed often taking the title deeds to neighbouring properties in exchange for the charges levied where the former owner could not afford to settle them.

The railway stations and the utility companies were nice cash cows and, above all, we hated going to jail unless we had been lucky enough to acquire a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card or to have bought one from a less minted player.

The enduring challenge of Monopoly continues to capture the imagination of my family today and I wanted to take a look to see what I could find out about this iconic board game.

There seems to be some level of mystery – and vested interests – but the received knowledge is that Monopoly originated in the United States in 1903, devised to demonstrate how an economy rewards wealth creation as opposed to the stifling of enterprise under monopolistic conditions. First patented in 1904 by American anti-monopolist Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips as “The Landlord’s Game” it was released in early 1906 with variants of the original game being developed until the early 1930’s including a version by contributor, Charles Darrow.

The most recognised current incarnation of Monopoly was first published by Parker Brothers in 1935 – having been developed in 1933 – and subtitled “The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game. Launched on February 6th 1935, the Parker Brother’s version, in my view, seems to sit at odds with Ms Magie’s vision of the game; as it is now won by acquiring the most property and driving all other players into bankruptcy!

The original name of the dollar waiving little Mr Monopoly character on the black box was “Rich Uncle Pennybags”

In early 1935, before the game had been put into production in the US, Parker Brothers sent over a copy of Monopoly to John Waddington Ltd., a firm of printers from Leeds (Yorkshire) who had the ambition to branch out into card games. Norman Watson, the son of the then Waddington’s MD, was so impressed by the game that he persuaded his father to telephone Parker Brothers in the US – at a time when transatlantic calls were very rare. This call resulted in Waddingtons being appointed a Parker Brother’s licensee tasked with producing and marketing the game outside of the United States and to devise a London-version of the Monopoly board with London’s landmarks, railway stations and street names.

Since the board game was first commercially sold it has firmly become part of popular culture – and my family’s Christmases. It has been licensed in more than 103 countries, printed in more than 100 different editions and in more than thirty-seven languages.

Despite its court tested nature as ‘generic’ Parker Brothers and its current parent company, Hasbro, holds valid trademarks for the game – and consequently the word – “Monopoly”.

Cross Century Classic Sterling Silver ballpen

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The Cross family business was founded in Providence (Rhode Island) in 1846 by Richard Cross where they manufactured gold and silver casings for pencils. Richard’s son, Alonzo T Cross inherited the business from his father and developed a host of innovations including the predecessors of the mechanical pencil and modern ball-pen.

Cross pens are the essence of understatement and their simple, Art Deco lines make them timeless. The ladies’ Classic Century is elegant and its Sterling Silver body acquires an allure with age – a patina that should only rarely be cleaned.

I was in New York looking for a gift for my wife and there is something classically American about this iconic and authentic pen that forms part of a range that was launched in 1946. Its patented twist-action barrel sparked a design revolution and its sleek profile has found an army of loyal fans.

Cross is, perhaps, not regarded as being a foremost luxury brand but for me the range, style and workmanship are underrated. The Classic Century is an authentic American classic.

In 2013 the business of AT Cross was purchased by Clarion Capital Partners LLC.

David Gammon’s Transcriptors Turntable

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With the world again waking up to the aural beauty to be found in music that is played from a stylus hitting a groove I wanted to look at one of the most emblematic and iconic turntables ever designed.

In 1964 British designer, David Gammon’s, produced Transcriptors’ “Hydraulic Reference” turntable. Transcriptors was founded in 1960 by Mr Gammon and it became a leading manufacturer of HiFi equipment throughout the 60’s until the 80’s .

The 1971 Stanley Kubrick classic film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ featured throughout the film a 1964 Hydraulic Reference turntable.

Also in 1973, Mr Gammon’s received a design award from the London Design Centre for the Hydraulic Reference turntable.

By 1973 Mr Gammon’s had moved his factory to Ireland where he produced the equally iconic “Saturn”, “Skeleton” and scaled-down “Round Table” turntables. Mr Gammon’s moved to New York City in 1974 to service the US demand for his products.

The design of Transcriptors stimulated a trend to expose the internal components. By using very high quality acrylic and aluminium Transcriptors gave their products an aesthetic appeal comparable to their sonic quality. They are today highly collectable and housed in many design museums around the world including MoMa in New York.

Transcriptors’ is now run by Mr Gammon’s eldest son and the company provides a full spares, repairs and restoration service for all our existing turntables and tonearm. It also makes the Reference R1 turntables available to order.

Image from MoMA

Wahl Clippers

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As men we are not always the best a coping with change. A particular challenge for many of us – me included – is losing or thinning of our hair.

About fifteen years ago after a handful of years of denial I bit the bullet and bought a Wahl clipper – which I use to this day – and took my remaining hair back to a Number 1. Thankfully my wife and kids are supportive and say that it genuinely suits me – I think they may just be being kind!

The Wahl Clipper Corporation has been making clippers since the patent was first applied for on October 14th 1919 by Leo J. Wahl for his first electromagnetic hair clippers starting a trend for home grooming which no doubt barber’s shops worldwide have cursed ever since.

Leo Wahl’s journey started at school in Sterling in 1911 when he experimented with vibrating electromagnetic motors. He later went to the University of Illinois where he designed a vibrating medical massager which was produced by his uncle J. Frank Wahl. Leo assisted in sales for his uncle spending time visiting barbershops where he saw a need to improve barber tools. When his uncle was called into service during the Mexican Revolution, Leo Wahl took over the business and started to experiment with a new electric hair clipper.

By the end of 1920, Wahl Manufacturing Company had sold thousands of clippers to barbers all over the United States. The patent was granted to Leo on 2nd February 1921 and Leo changed the company’s name to Wahl Clipper Corporation.

With demand for their clippers ever upwards in 1950 Wahl the company began an export effort manufacturing products with differing voltages for oversea use.

On May 20th 1957 Leo J. Wahl passed away. During his life he’d applied for more than 100 patents on his various inventions with many human and animal grooming products as a result.

By 1967 the company had designed and was marketing to barbers the first cordless/rechargeable battery-operated hair trimmer.

In 1997 Gregory S. Wahl was elected president of Wahl Clipper, USA, succeeding his father, John F. (Jack) Wahl, who continued to serve as CEO.

In 2009, in its 90th year, Wahl introduced the first grooming tool to be powered by a lithium battery – the most technologically advanced rechargeable battery.

Today Wahl Clipper Corporation is still based in Sterling (Illinois) and its products are sold in around 165 countries worldwide. Based upon the success of Wahl’s original clipper – which in many ways is a truly classic icon of Americana – Wahl are justifiably proud of their heritage and innovations that have had worldwide impact.

One small tip – if you plan to use a Wahl clipper – to avoid the Mohecan that can result if you they to trim your hair by yourself – invest in a good hand held mirror or better still get some assistance!

Image from Wahl Clipper Corporation

Anglepoise Lamp

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The original Original 1227 Anglepoise – a balanced-arm lamp – was designed and patented on 4th July 1932 by George Carwardine a British automotive engineer.

The 1227 Angelpoise was first released for sale in 1935.

Carwardine designed vehicle suspension systems and the sprung and jointed elements of the Anglepoise are understood to have derived from his earlier work.

Carwardine’s production partner, Terry Spring Company, devoted much of its production during the Second World War to the war effort equipping bombers with the lamps. The lamp fast became a British design classic and continues to be marketed and sold today.

The classic Anglepoise lamp has been re-imagined by Sir Kenneth Grange, the industrial product designer, and contemporary designers, Margaret Howell and Paul Smith, each of whom has extended the collection of the iconic Anglepoise lamp to reflecting its beauty and versatility.

Photo by Anglepoise

Moleskine Notebook

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Probably one of our most recent design classic the Moleskine comes from an Italian manufacturer, papermaker and product designer and was co-founded in Milan in 1997 by Maria Sebregondi.

Moleskine produces stunning re-imagined classic notebooks stylised to follow the aesthetics of a ‘traditional’ black notebook with rounded corners and ivory-coloured paper. Bound in cardboard with a sewn spine that allows the notebook to lie flat. An elastic band is used to seal the cover, a ribbon bookmark is included along with an expandable pocket inside the rear cover.

As the historical note found in each Moleskine’s expandable pocket tells us, legendary authors, including Hemingway and Chatin and artists, Van Gogh and Picasso, used simple rectangular black books with rounded corners sealed with an elastic strap as made by a small French bookbinder. Indeed it appears that this notebook was Bruce Chatin’s favourite and it was he who christened it “moleskin”.

In 1986, the family owned manufacturer of the little black notebook in the French city of Tour went out of business which prompted Chatin, prior to his departure for Australia, to try to buy as many copies as he could, with little success.

Maria had the idea of resurrecting the iconic notebooks and put it to Modo & Modo who subsequently trademarked the Moleskine brand and began production. By 1998, Modo & Modo were producing 30,000 notebooks a year.

In 2006, with demand apparently outstripping supply, Modo & Modo SpA was purchased by the private equity firm, Syntegra Capital. In August 2006, investment fund Société Générale Capital purchased Modo & Modo SpA, and invested in its continued expansion and diversification, changing its name to Moleskine Srl.

In March 2013 the company announced an IPO, becoming a joint-stock company and renamed Moleskine SpA.

Moleskine’s assessment of their simple and beautiful product is that “it represents, around the world, a symbol of contemporary nomadism, closely connected with the digital world.”

My Moleskine Notebook: I have used two notebooks for years Moleskin is my preferred notebook when travelling or in meetings. Its ivory acid free paper is very forgiving for my scruffy handwriting and its size sits well next to my iPad.

Given the final comment from Molekine, just above, I have been in numerous meeting particularly with those involving either an entrepreneur or an investor in the world of digital media and the vast majority arrive with a pen and their little – usually black -Moleskine.

There are other beautiful colours available, my wife particularly loves the red version, which I suspect stands out well in the dark depths of a large handbag.

Your Moleskine Notebook: Please feel free to share your experiences of Moleskine notebooks. We’d really like to hear them.

Photo from Moleskine

Bic Cristal ballpoint pen

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During the Second World War, Marcel Bich had seen a ballpoint pen made in Argentina by Hungarian brothers László and Gyorgy Bíró – which they had first announced in 1931.

Bich’s (later to change his name to “Bic”) design team developed the Bic Cristal after he invested in Swiss technology capable of cutting and shaping metal down to a 1mm sphere which allowed ink to flow freely. Bich developed a viscous ink that neither leaked nor clogged and, under a licence from Bíró, launched the Bic Cristal in December 1950 – a huge world-wide success.

The Bic Cristal was the best selling pen in the world; the 100 billionth was sold in September 2006.

Photo from BicWorld.com

Staedtler Norris HB Pencils

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First Launched: Between 1900 and 1901.

The City of Nuremberg has a long history of pencil making and several hundred years before J.S. Staedtler opened his business in 1835 the roots of Staedtler family’s involvement can be traced back to 1662 when a pencil-maker named Friedrich Staedtler is referred to in the city’s archives.

On 3 October 1835, J.S. Staedtler received permission from the municipal council of Nuremberg to produce black-lead, red chalk and pastel pencils in his industrial plant.

By 1866, the company had grown 54 employees and produced 15,000 gross (or 2,160,000 pencils) per year.

Between 1900 and 1901 “Noris” brand – that is still a preferred brand with British schools – was created alongside of the Mars brand. Staedtler now has over 20 global subsidiaries and seven manufacturing facilities with over 85% of its production still taking place at its headquarters in Nuremberg.

The company celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2010.

My Staedtler Noris Pencils: In researching this piece I was amazed to see just how many famous authors prefer to write in pencil – even if lap-tops, or way back, typewriters are available. I have always used these classic pencils to take notes during meetings and to make changes to draft documents. I buy boxes at a time as I go through them so quickly – or is it that they are stolen by my children….

Your Staedler Noris Pencils:

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Amazon Kindle Fire

Ok so I love books. I love small paperbacks, I love big coffee-table books – the ones with amazing pictures – and I love spending an hour in a bookshop looking at rows and rows of yes, you guessed it, books!

So the idea of e-books reducing several hundred amazing volumes onto a small tablet was for many years complete anathema. That is until I actually was give an Amazon Kindle Fire for Christmas a couple of years back – complete with a fabulously designed hard case that propped the Kindle up for you to read it. Well, the Kindle languished in its sturdy bright orange packaging until about May the following year when curiosity got the better of me and I decided to plug it in. Already being the owner of an Amazon account the password for which was prompted by the Kindle and a light then came on.

I am not the world’s fastest reader. In fact in my defence I enjoy luxuriating over the language and yes a novel that the average person can shoot through in a week-end may take me as much as a few months or more. The very idea of needing to take more than one book on a long plane ride or vacation seemed far fetched. To be told that my Amazon Kindle Fire could hold 6000 books was complete nonsense.

Since I first sparked the Amazon Kindle Fire into life I now have 39 books – and adding a new one every now and again.

The Amazon Kindle electronic book (e-book) reader was designed by Lab126/Amazon and launched in 2007. It was initiated by CEO Jeff Bezos in 2004 to build the world’s best e-reader. With a backlight screen the Kindle simulate reading on paper making it an easy to use alternative to a book.

In addition to downloading whole books the Kindle allows the user to browse – and obtain meaty samples of books – download for cost and for free e-books, newspapers and magazines via wireless networking to the Kindle Store at Amazon – which as July 2016 has more than 4.6m e-books available to the US market.

Kindle – meaning to light a fire – was the name devised by branding consultants Michael Cronan and Karin Hibma, being an apt metaphor for reading and intellectual excitement.

In addition to my Amazon Kindle Fire, Amazon has also introduced software to allow me to use the content of my Kindle on my iPhone and iPad via IOS technology. With a synch function that allows all devices to catch up to where I am in a book – which is very useful.

Since launch in 2007 to date there have been a huge number of editions – and international variations – and generations each improving on its predecessor – generally becoming more cost effective but with development such as the Kindle Paperwhite – released in most international markets in early 2013 updated in September of the year – forever changing the overall user experience.

A fine piece of modern design the Amazon Kindle Fire is defined to give the printed word a run for its money but curiously there seems to be some anecdotal evidence that the interest in books is currently experiencing a resurgence. 12 inch vinyl and bound books seeing a revival – surely great ideas!

Photo from Amazon

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Gibson Les Paul Guitar

In 1952 the Gibson Guitar Corporation started selling “The Gibson Les Paul” a solid body electric guitar with a gold finish, with two P-90 single coil pickups, a one-piece, ‘trapeze’-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under a steel stop-bar. The Les Paul was designed by a team comprising the then Gibson president Ted McCarty, factory manager John Huis and guitarist/inventor Les Paul – although some dispute remains as to the precise involvement of each party.

In 1957, the “humbucker” pickups were added and in 1958 the trade mark sunburst finishes were first offered – although they were not instantly a sales success. The Les Paul has been continually produced in countless signature versions and editions since featuring legendary guitarists including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and Slash.

Les Pauls have proved very popular with many genres of music to this day.

I am a rubbish guitarist but the staggering beauty off these instruments has for me an enduring appeal. The above iconic tobacco burst is from 1958 and is a highly collectable example of this American iconic design.

Photo from Gibson

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Polaroid Camera

Designed by Edwin Land 1948

Edwin Land, an American scientist, in 1947 founded Polaroid and invented instant film. He unveiled the first commercial instant camera, the model 95 Land Camera, in 1948. The camera used a self-developing film that created a chemically developed print which became visible moments after the shot was taken.

Polaroid’s various cameras have used different composition of films and formats. The first examples had positive and negative film rolled onto the cameras spindles. Most recent models used the more convenient integral film which contained all elements for film printing and was offered in the a versatile square format becoming a favourite with creative artists.

The Polaroid model became a firm favourite with traditional photographers for scene setting and ensuring that the composition was correct. The found a natural home in film production with set designers, script and continuity editors to ensure that the set was dressed identically for each shot and that the actors took their correct marks. They were extensively used for ID cards and the instant printing of ultrasound image.

Polaroid was for more than fifty year a company that had advanced a specific technology that was rendered virtually redundant with arrival of digital photography, leaving instant cameras a niche/collector market.

In February 2008, Polaroid was forced to close its manufacturing facility and file for creditor protection under the US Chapter 11 arrangements. In 2009, Polaroid was acquired by PLR IP Holdings, LLC which markets various products such as the Polaroid branded Fuji Instax instant camera – which has acquired a new market particularly younger consumers who are not used to printed photographs – which become excellent keepsakes from a great night out, for example.

My Polaroid: A friend, Stephen Mahoney, the respected Fashion and Media PR is heavily involved in the London fashion scene and had a weekly column in the Evening Standard. He was regularly out at film premiers and other highly visible social occasions taking his Polaroid camera to each event. He would take a shot of a celebrity and they would sign the resulting photo. The best of these shots were collated for his weekly column which was always eagerly anticipated.

Photo from Polaroid

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Maglite D 3 cell torch

Designed by Tony Maglica 1955

This American icon was designed and first manufactured by Tony Maglica who set up Mag Instrument in 1955 – an finally incorporated in 1974. He was born in New York City in the Great Depression and was raised in his Mother’s native Croatia. In 1950 Mr Maglica escaped back to America and even though he spoke no English he was determined to make the most of his training as an experimental machinist. Finally he managed to save $125 to place a deposit on his first lathe.

He manufactured precision parts for industry, aerospace and the military, gaining a reputation for quality. As the company grew, Mr. Maglica wanted to develop and build a new and improved battery operated torch. The anodised aluminium Magnate was introduced in 1979 and soon became the firm favourite with the Police and Firefighters – and then mechanics, stage builders and DJ’s.

Over the next twenty years multiple versions of the Maglite were developed including miniature, LED and rechargeable versions. Since 1982 Maglite production was moved to company’s HQ in Ontario, California.

Excellence in design has been recognised by the Japan Institute of Design and by the Museum for Applied Art in Germany. As short-hand for quality the former CEO of Apple Computer, Gilbert F. Amelio, said he wanted Apple to be “essentially the Maglite of computers”.

My Maglite – I have several of these beautifully designed and manufactured torches. My first, the large D 3 cell version (first available in 1979), is a cross between a torch and truncheon! I have a couple of small sized belt-loop portable Maglites that when unscrewed and the cap place at the end of the battery compartment turns the simple torch into a romantic dinner table-centre candle – with the small naked bulb twinkling like a flame – go on try it.

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Photos from Maglite

 

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Roberts Radio

Roberts was founded in 1932 by Harry Roberts and Leslie Bidmead – they financed
a deposit on a small factory by selling Bidmead’s motorbike!

The company was initially based in central London but moved to East Molesey in 1941. In 1962, the company had a purpose-built factory constructed in West Molesey, and still retains a presence in the area but is now based in Mexborough, South Yorkshire.

The company has been granted three Royal warrants in its own right, and one via its acquisition of Dynatron Radio Ltd.

By the late 1930s the company had settled on an upright box shape set covered in coloured leathercloth with fabric loudspeaker grille – a style that they would keep to and evolve slowly.

The company struggled in the 1980s until one of its radios was featured in a 1989 Martini TV commercial. Interest was revived. Two limited edition product runs sold out quickly and led to the popular reissue of the original design as the Revival model.

Roberts produced their first DAB digital radio in 1999. In the 2000s Roberts successfully sold BBC World Service branded wide radio sets.

The definitive re-imagined model of the classic 1950’s style Roberts radio is seen in the Revival RD60 which is complete with DAB technology, is iPod/MP3 enabled and a stereo speaker.

Now owned by the Irish consumer electronics group, Glen Dimplex.

My Roberts Radio experience: As curious as it may sound, almost every music company’s office I have visited in many year involved in that business, in addition to the retro gold and platinum discs that tend to decorate reception areas and Boardrooms, it is usual to see near to the sound system of any Artist & Repertoire (A&R) person worth their salt – a Roberts radio – an essential piece of hardware.

Why? The reason for this is perhaps a little less relevant today – as so often music is now listen to on a streamed or download fed BlueTooth enabled stereo sound player – but it was very important when making a critical creative judgement on the sound of a recorded track. By passing the sound feed through a Roberts radio the A&R person could hear what the listener to a radio station at home or in the car would hear – often as a mono signal. Often too bright productions were made a little simpler as a result.

An eternal regret was that my Grandmother’s Roberts radio, dating from the late 1960’s/early 1970’s was wrapped up in a house clearance – it would have been a prized possession.

Photo from Roberts Radio

 

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Ipad 2 Air

Date Launched: 3rd April 2010

Designer: Jonathan Ives

History: In a 1983 speech Steve Jobs explained Apple’s simple stategy: “What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes … and we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything.”

The iPad is an iOS-based tablet computers designed and marketed by Apple inc. The first iPad was released on April 3, 2010 with the most recent iPad model, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro released on March 31, 2016.

The user interface is built around the device’s multi-function screen that includes a virtual keyboard. All models include built-in WiFi and cellular connectivity is available on certain models.

As of January 2015, there have been over 250 million iPads sold. There have been six version of the iPad. Apple sold more than 15 million first-generation iPads prior to the launch of the iPad 2.

The success of the iPhone led to Apple the launch of iPad that it had begun developing before the iPhone. In 1991, Jonathan Ive’s first project for Apple was a design for a stylus-based tablet – the Mackintosh Folio – but later agreed with Jobs that the phone was more important and contained much of the tablets innovations.

At the time of writing the most recent iteration of the iPad was in March 2016 when the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was announced, which coincided with Apple launching 256 GB storage for both the iPad Pro 9.7 and 12.9-inch versions.

Photo by Apple

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Kodak Super 8 – re-imagine a classic design

Designed by Yves Behar, Ilgu Cha, Sarah Neurnberger, Steven Overman, Danielle Atkins.

Available from Q4 2016

Kodak are predicting an analogue renaissance with Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams – both “real” film devotees – have been very enthusiastic about this launch.

A revived version of the 1965 original Super 8 Camera that revolutionised amateur filmmaking.

The 2016 version combines the core of traditional filmmaking techniques – using the Super 8mm amateur format analogue film – with enhanced digital features for a new generation.

Included is a new digitally enhanced version is very flexible view finder – which uniquely for a Super 8 shows you what you are filming – a body mic that syncs to an SD memory card, and HDMI connectors to take to your post production suite – probably on your lap top. With the purchase of your cartridge you pay for the film and the processing which includes the return of an analogue reel of film plays digital links in 4k quality to post to the Cloud for your own post production.

The Super 8mm cartridge loading eliminated the need for threading the film and meant that a complete 50-foot cartridge could be shot without interruption.

The cartridge fed back setting formation to the camera about the speed (ASA) of the film and light filter. In 1973 a magnetic strip was added to the side of the film that made it possible to record sound and visuals simultaneously.

Still a preferred medium for short films, commercial and music videos the unique aesthetic quality of the Super 8 is re-imagined in this compact and easy to use film camera.

Its not for those seeking a quick footage fix but for those keen to to learn more Kodak have a series of tips on using your Super 8 – http://www.kodak.com/Consumer/Products/Super8/Super-8-tips/default.htm

Photo by Kodak

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