I should probably know who Ted Nelson was, and I can only apologize to both Mr. Nelson and my mythical readership for not having any idea what he did when he grew up.
Instead, I only know of him as a guy who, from the 1960s through the 1980s, tore out and sent in every single “send for more information” card he could get his hands on, and then took all the resulting material and saved it in boxes.
Today, the contents of Ted Nelson’s junk mail boxes are lovingly reproduced on the Internet Archive — more than 6,800 individual catalogs and inducements, for everything from minicomputers to Columbia House-type record clubs to sex manuals.
I couldn’t even get to the bottom of the box, so to speak: I got through 25 screens of material and had to give up. Here are some of the highlights:
–Not one but two 1970 issues of Americana, the promotional magazine of American Motors.
-An undated holiday gift catalog (almost certainly Sixties) from a New Jersey music store. Highlights include a golden bust of Beethoven … the “whimsical” musical figurines, one or two of which my folks used to have … the Fuzz Face distortion pedal … and a selection of Harmony electric guitars, which are cheesy except for the one or two that are really kinda sweet.
-A two-pager from 1980 for Alpha Syntauri, a device that allowed the user to play live music through their Apple computer. Record over 7000 notes in a single session, too!
(The freaking link embed feature isn’t working; here’s where you can go to learn more: https://archive.org/details/TNM_alphaSyntauri_live_music_on_Apple_computer_-__20180131_0046/mode/2up)
-A 1980 catalog for Bell & Howell’s Mailmobile office mail delivery robot. The office where I work had mailbots until the pandemic; I dunno why the pandemic killed them off but they weren’t there when we got back. Perhaps they are still in a storage room somewhere. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Mailmobile_office_mail_delivery_robot_1980_-__20171021_0159
-A 1981 pamphlet for Whizzard computer graphics. I don’t know the brand, but the design aesthetic on this one takes me right back to the early 1980s: https://archive.org/details/TNM_Whizzard_6200_family_of_raster_graphics_syste_20180202_0275/mode/2up
-Another brand that brings me back: Scott audio components. My parents had a set of Scott speakers, which later got handed down to me when they upgraded. The old Scott speakers also came in a pair of big rectangular cardboard boxes with a picture of a young woman on the side; the boxes were filled with out-of-season clothing. They’re not shown in this brief catalog, alas. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Audio_equipment_-_Scott_Stereo_20180304_0243/mode/2up
-A 1971 mailing from Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, with marketing materials for microfilming machines. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Various_film_processing_equipment_-_Eastman_K_20170925_0199/mode/2up
-An undated catalog for the Wisconsin Cheese Guild. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Cheese_catalog_-_Wisconsin_Cheese_Guild_20180329_0165/mode/2up
-I’m developing a weird romantic fondness for the Bell System that rivals the one I have for East Germany and the Montreal Expos. (The Expos, at least, were likeable.)
Here’s a catalog about data communications that’s awash in Bell atmosphere, as well as hints of the future (business machines talking to each other from miles apart!): https://archive.org/details/TNM_Data_communications_services_-_Bell_System_20171206_0133/mode/2up
-A 1984 catalog for Sharp portable computers. The up-and-coming young businessmen on this spread are only just starting to understand how much their personal lives will be subsumed to their jobs now that they can carry a computer with them: https://archive.org/details/TNM_Sharp_PC-5000_portable_computer_-_Sharp_Elect_20180303_0200/page/n5/mode/2up
-Childcraft 1969: Toys that teach! The smoked plastic squares on the front cover sure look familiar, as do a few of the other educational amusements scattered through this catalog. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Childcraft_learning_toy_catalog_1969_20180125_0266/mode/2up
-An undated catalog from Keystone Plastics of Media, Pennsylvania, advertising small plastic mouse cages for laboratory animals. Twenty-five pages’ worth, somehow. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Laboratory_rodent_cages_mouse_house_-_Keyston_20171025_0041/mode/2up
-There’s an awful lot of computer-related stuff in Ted Nelson’s junk mail box, including this undated pamphlet for Weismantel Associates minicomputers, from St. Paul, Minnesota. In an alternate universe, Cupertino is an undeveloped wasteland and we are all listening to music on our Weismantel WPods right now. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Weismantel_-_Waicom_16_20170703_0028/mode/2up
-Similarly, I enjoy this 1966 product pitch from Vermont Research just b/c I miss the days when a person or business with a technological itch might look to a place like North Springfield, Vermont, to scratch it. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Drum_memories_-_Vermont_Research_Corp_1966_20170826_0105/mode/2up
-Also a sucker for anything Digital Equipment Corp., such as this fall 1980 catalog for one of their computer lines. I wonder how much computing power was actually in one of those systems, and what hardware it would take to reproduce it now. https://archive.org/details/TNM_VAX-11-780_System_-_Digital_Equipment_Corp_19_20180218_0087/mode/2up
-Church announcement boards, guaranteed to stay lustrous, by A.C. Davenport & Son Co. of Palatine, Illinois. Today’s special: Fried lake smelts! https://archive.org/details/TNM_Church_announcement_boards_all_weather_-_DAV-_20171020_0131/page/n27/mode/2up
-RCA Corporation’s 1965 annual report, from the old days when it was a sign of weakness to include women, people of color, or people under 50 in your annual report. None of these men had ever heard of Jefferson Airplane; their sheltered bliss would last one more year. https://archive.org/details/TNM_RCA_Radio_Corporation_of_America_Annual_Report_1965_20170621_0322/mode/2up
-An undated marketing piece for a De Havilland military airplane. Who was this made for? Like, was somebody in the market to buy one of these for themselves? https://archive.org/details/TNM_De_Havilland_Canada_DHC-5_Buffalo_and_General_E_20171025_0093/mode/2up
-Finally, the Digital Equipment Corp. Users Symposium (I think) program for fall 1975. Computer privacy legislation is a hot topic. Whaddya know. https://archive.org/details/TNM_Impact_of_Computer_Privacy_Legislation_-_DECU_20170915_0403/mode/2up