Prehistoric Technology

Retrothing.com revels in the gee-whiz gadgetry of yore. Remember early Atari and Super 8s?

October 26, 2006|By Jessica Berthold | Jessica Berthold,The Morning Call

There are blogs galore devoted solely to specific material objects: Cars, electronics, computers and the like. Most focus on the newest, most advanced versions of the products. But not Retrothing (retrothing.com).

Specializing in vintage technology, the blog revels in the quirky inventions of days gone by. For those who thrill at the novelty of Super 8 cameras, the warm scratchiness of vinyl records or the joyful camp of voice-controlled plastic robots, Retrothing is an ever-expanding bounty.

While you can't buy most objects on the site at your local megastore, some posts do feature new products whose aesthetic harks back to an earlier time. The blog's even got an online shop that sells a few of these newer models. As for the rest of the items on Retrothing you may covet, that's between you and eBay.

Bohus Blahut, 34, the co-editor of Retrothing, is an independent filmmaker in Chicago. He's got so many retro items in his apartment that he rotates them in shifts and displays them by theme.

How did you get interested in retro items?

I guess it started in high school with my first job. I had $14 in my pocket, and the choice was, "Should I get the one Max Headroom T-shirt or 10 crazy T-shirts at the thrift?" Really it was the tremendous value that got me. You can fulfill a lot of childhood dreams at thrift stores, too.

How so?

Like all of a sudden every Atari game is 25 cents. And you find stuff that isn't around anymore, like from the 1960s or the bicentennial era. In my bathroom I have these presidential busts that are actually cologne. Who would make that now? The '50s and '60s epitomize this time when it was OK to have fun with decor, to be kind of playful. And that's the kind of guy I am.

What's your favorite sort of retro item?

If it is gadgety or has a nice sense of design, I like it. I am fond of '60s mod design, or geometric design.

Sometimes the blog has new products on it. What's the criteria for a nonretro item to make the blog?

If something is new but speaks to retro sensibilities or retro charms, like in the design or concept, we'll put it on.

If there were a fire at your house, which possession would you grab?

Because most of my stuff is thrifted, I can't say a lot of it has a deep emotional value. But maybe I would take the accordion I bought from my accordion teacher, who died. And it's dorky that I know how to play my accordion, I know. It's retro and it's weird and uncustomary and it is one of those things that people rag on, but you know what? When you play accordion, it's a party.

What has been your most popular post?

I got the most comments for this old drink called Orbitz that had these unidentifiable bits floating around in it. It was like those commercials where they show the sneeze and the little germ particles suspended in the air. I bought some on a road trip once.

What's a retro object you are lusting after?

It's idiotic, but I would love an optigan, which is an organ that was made by a division of Mattel. To develop the organs, they had the guys who make mechanical talking dolls do the engineering. So you put in a clear plastic disk, and on the disk is a squiggly line that makes the sounds, and there are different disks for different instruments.

How do you know that such a thing exists?

There is an awesome band called Optiganally Yours I heard about when I was learning about mellotrons. You'd think the music would be cheesy funny party stuff, but it's the sweetest, most heartrending music in the world.

Do you spend a lot of time at flea markets?

Probably more than I should given the size of my apartment. I hit the thrift about once a week. It's fun; it's not like regular shopping. But you have to be strong, or you could easily turn your house into a huge cube for junk. You have to say: `'I walked in here not needing a mechanical model of orbiting planets, and I don't need one now."

RETROTHING.COM

In A Word:

Old-school.

E-candy for:

People who'd rather shop at thrift stores than trendy boutiques.

In sum:

Photos and info on vintage or vintage-looking-tech products.

This blog as a person:

Antiques dealer.

Sample topics:

30-year-old board game versions of television game shows. Electronic musical toys from the 1960s. Vintage typewriters, staplers, model rockets and movie cameras.

Classic post:

"The Omnibot 2000 (robot) features a wickedly cool pop-out cassette unit that can record and play back sequences of commands (it can also play music cassettes, if you happen to have any 1980s mix tapes lying around)." (April 3, 2006.)

Making it happen:

Chicagoan Bohus Blahut and Canadian James Grahame.

Created:

June 2005.

Updates:

Several times a day.

Writing:

Colloquial.

Popularity:

150,000 page views per month.

Comments allowed?

Yes.

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