Fred's Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

The Fred's Head blog contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Fred's Head is offered by the American Printing House for the Blind. It was voted best blindness-related blog three years in a row by

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Fred's Head is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, who passed away on September 21, 2014. Check out the bottom of this page for: subscribing to posts via email; browsing articles by subject; subscribing to RSS feeds; APH resources; the archive of this blog; APH on YouTube; contributing articles to Fred's Head; and disclaimers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Edison Voice Writer

Edison Voice Writer
 Our object this week was found in storerooms at the Delaware County Workers for the Blind in Muncie, Indiana in 2013.  Office dictation equipment was used by professional stenographers who were blind or visually impaired to type documents for others, and also by blind professionals to record letters, notes, or any other material they wished to archive.  The machine stored its recording on a red seven inch “Edison Diamond Disc” which could also be played back on a standard phonograph.  Disc-cutting systems such as the Voice Writer, Sound Scriber, and Dictaphone began to decline in popularity in the 1960s, replaced by tape based systems.

The case was designed for Edison by Carl Otto and introduced in 1952.  If you have never heard of Otto, he was one of the most influential industrial designers of the twentieth century.  He designed soda fountain dispensers for Coca-Cola and electric shavers for Schick.  His Edison Voice Writer design, with its rectangular, gray-brown cast aluminum chassis, and bright aluminum trim won a national award from the Industrial Designers Institute. 

Otto supposedly said in 1945, "We create beauty for useful purposes...not for museums."  But in this case, I guess he was wrong…

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Metal "Stampers" for Vinyl Phonograph Record Production

APH started record production of spoken word “talking books” in 1936. Audio books back then came on black vinyl 33 1/3 rpm phonograph records.   The process was fascinating, labor-intensive, and pretty dirty. 

This “stamper”—of which we have quite a few—is an example of just how dirty it could get.  After the acetate or “wax” disk was cut on a machine called a recording lathe, the disk was dipped into a nasty brew in our metal plating shop and zapped with electricity.  A thin coat of nickel silver gradually built up on the outside.  The acetate was peeled away from the resulting stamper and recycled, and the metal stamper was washed thoroughly to get rid of the chemicals.   You made two stampers for each phonograph record, one for side A and one for side B.  

The photograph from 1936 shows the stampers in the jaws of one of our original record presses.  Our last rigid vinyl disc was pressed on May 8, 1987 for a recording of “Those Days," a 1986 family memoir by Richard Critchfield.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The WPA Museum Extension Project Dioramas

Top view of WPA Museum Extension Project dioramas

In the 1930s, the government created a number of relief programs to keep people working as the country struggled through the Great Depression.  One of the lesser known was the Museum Extension Project which paid unemployed artists to create educational models for school children.  I have seen a number of the architectural models of historic buildings, including a scale model of Kentucky’s Old State Capitol Building that is in our collection. 

Front view through glass of diorama featuring monks printing the Bible on a printing press

Our collection also holds eight unusual dioramas of famous scenes from history.  They are fitted into little wooden boxes with glass fronts—which makes them very hard to photograph!—and the lids open to let little hands in to explore.  They came to us from the Kentucky School for the Blind.  The subjects vary from the 1682 Penn Treaty to Coronado’s “discovery” of the Southwest in 1540.  The one shown in the picture features monks printing the bible on a printing press.  They are molded from clay and painted, with a curved painted cardboard background.

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