So wacky

MOST of us have, at one time or another, had an idea for a wacky invention, which might make a fortune, but we never do anything about it. Others are brave enough to try to make them work by going on TV shows such as Dragons’ Den.

By (Daily Mail)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Mon 18 Aug 2008, 9:36 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:50 PM

Now, a new exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian madcap inventions at the British Library, collected by Maurice Collins, shows that such contraptions have captured Man’s imagination for years...

The envelope sealer

THIS invention, by Reynolds of Chicago, was a byword for gravitas and efficiency.

When the lever is cranked, a roller forces an open envelope to undergo a dampening process, before a second roller presses it closed.

Burglar alarm

THE clockwork mechanism on this 1870s burglar alarm was wound up and the upright lever set, before the device was placed at the foot of a door and a spike pushed into the floor. If an intruder tried to enter, the lever would be pushed down and set off the surprisingly loud and effective bell.

Toe socks

THESE pre-shrunk ‘To Sox’ were designed to act as toe protectors. Produced during World War II, it was claimed that they could reduce hosiery costs by up to 80 per cent. They were designed to be worn over the big toes, to protect socks from wear.

Electro massager

IN THE 1930s, body massage was seen as vital for healthy skin and good circulation.

This dynamo massager appears neither pleasurable nor safety-conscious, as it gave tiny electric shocks to the user.

Pistol purse

HIGHWAYMEN were a real danger in the late 19th century and this cunning design might just have saved your honour, property and even life. A dainty weapon was concealed in a secret compartment of this seemingly normal ladies’ purse. The barrel could hold only one bullet - so you had to make your shot count.

An early lavatory

IN THE 19th century, the cost of using a public convenience, such as this, was one penny - hence the phrase “to spend a penny.”

This decorative 1870s water closet was manufactured by Mr Jennings - a plumber who made his name installing such WCs at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.

Clockwork teasmade

PATENTED in Birmingham in 1902, this brass and copper tea maker was the first Teasmade. The alarm clock triggered a switch and a match was then struck against moving sandpaper, lighting the spirit stove under the kettle. Once the water boiled, the steam pressure lifted a hinged flap and the kettle would tilt, filling the teapot beneath.

Finally, a plate would swing over the stove, extinguishing its flames.

Finger stretcher for pianists

DEVELOPED in America in 1910 to help pianists hit the sprawling notes demanded by the likes of Stravinsky and Debussy.

Careful use was required: it is thought the composer Schumann destroyed his hands using an early version.

Peep show

HAND-CRANKED ‘What the butler saw’ machines were a staple of British amusement arcades for much of the 20th century.

Some featured supposedly erotic slideshows - like this one - while others offered comedies and dramas. All were available for a penny and were seen through a metal socket on the screen.

Food processor

THE modern food processor is something we take for granted -- just fill the bowl and push the switch. More satisfying -- and quieter -- was this Victorian food chopper.

Turning the handle pushes the cutting arm up and down and rotates the bowl at the same time.

Moustache protector

HAVING a bushy moustache has always been something of an obstacle to refined dining -- particularly when it came to mulligatawny soup. The answer was to use a moustache protector, spoon or cup -- designed with a hole for the mustachioed man to sip through.

Page turner

DESIGNED for musicians this dates from 1905. Sheet music could be prepared for turning by fixing the top of each metal rod on to the desired page. When ready, a catch was pulled free and the page flipped over.

Eye massager

Pressing this 1920s gadget to one’s face and operating a small lever to compress the rubber bellows puffed cool, massaging air on to the eyeballs.

Light spectacles

Invented in the U.S. in the 1930s, these specs were adorned with two small, battery-powered lights, with a long wire trailing beneath. The experience was marred only by the likelihood of electrocution when it rained.

Cigarette holder

This double holder is thought to have been inspired by a fictional cigarette case belonging to Bulldog Drummond - hero of Sapper’s bestselling crime novels of the day - which “held Turkish on one side and Virginian on the other.”

More news from