A fascinating combination of office furniture types in 1906! 

1906 Advertisement for a combination card index table and telephone stand featuring a desk with the satellite combination table next to it.

The Adjustable Table Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan manufactured a combination table for both telephones and index cards. It was designed as an accessory to be stood next to one’s desk to accommodate a telephone at the beginning of the telephone era and also served as storage for one’s card index.

Given the broad business-based use of the card index at the time and the newness of the telephone, this piece of furniture likely was not designed as an early proto-rolodex, though it certainly could have been (and very well may have likely been) used as such in practice.

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

9 thoughts on “”

  1. This could also be an early precursor to Twitter!

    Folks have certainly mentioned other incarnations:
    – annotations in books (person to self),
    – postcards (person to person),
    – the telegraph (person to person and possibly to others by personal communication or newspaper distribution)

    but this is the first version of short note user interface for both creation, storage, and distribution by means of
    electrical transmission (via telephone) with a bigger network (still person to person, but with potential for easy/cheap distribution to more than a single person)

  2. I totally want one of these as a side table for my couch/reading chair for both storing index cards and as a temporary writing surface while reading!

  3. It’s not a ZK furniture though. Index cards were not used to store atomic notes, or have alphanumeric indexes. 🙂

    They would store communique, contact information, business transactions, invoices. The (early) 1900’s was an interesting time for businesses – with the telephone becoming more standard, and the advent of the automotive.

    Index cards were very popular for businesses during this time. Easy to transport, easy to file away, look up, etc. Libraries used it as a standard feature (I’m sure you’re all familiar with the dewey decimal system). Records, invoices, customer data were stored on these index cards due to how durable they were compared to normal paper.

    The most popular size of the time was the 5″ x 8″ index cards (owing to the emerging popularity of the Kardex filing systems), which is probably what this cabinet accommodates! This is approximately the A5 paper size.

    With the advent of digital computers, businesses moved away from these index cards and back to cheaper printed paper.

    The most common size nowadays is 3″ x 5″.

    Edit: as an aside, I’m surprised no one has ever talked about Thomas Harrison’s or Vincent Placcius’ Arca Studiorum. I mean, Vincent was practically an early alpha-beta version of Luhmann, before Luhmann was even born. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_Placcius)


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