Steelcase 8 Drawer Steel Card Index Filing Cabinet for 4 x 6 inch cards

Maybe I didn’t have enough filing space for index cards yet? Maybe it was because the price was too alluring to resist? Maybe it was because of the stunning black and grey powder coat? Maybe it was because I didn’t have any serious Steelcase in my atomic era furniture collection yet? Maybe it was the stunning art deco styling touches on the aluminum drawer handles and label frames? Regardless of the reason, the undeniable fact of the matter is that, as of yesterday, I’ve got another card index filing cabinet or zettelkasten. 

The empty frame of the black Steelcase filing cabinet sitting in a corner next to a wooden barrister's bookcase. Eight empty drawers lined up on the floor in a 4x2 matrix makes it easy to see the storage capacity of the Steelcase card index. Close up of one of the 16 aluminum index frames on the exterior of the cabinet featuring several sets of milled lines in each frame giving it an art-deco vibe. Fully assembled Steelcase card index filing cabinet next to a bookcase

This one is is a 20 gauge solid steel behemoth Steelcase in black and silver powder coat and it is in stunning condition with all the hardware. It stands 52 1/4 inches tall, is 14 7/8 inches wide, and 28 1/2 inches deep (without hardware). Each drawer had two rows of card storage space totaling 55 inches. With 8 drawers, this should easily hold 61,000 index cards. 

Close up on a single drawer full of 7,000 cellophane wrapped index cards in blocks of 500.

Sadly, someone has removed all the card following blocks. I’ll keep an eye out for replacements, but I’m unlikely to find some originals, though I could probably also custom design my own. In the meanwhile I find that a nice heavy old fashioned glass or a cellophaned block of 500 index cards serve the same functionality. The drawer dimensions are custom made for 4 x 6 inch index cards, but A6 cards and Exacompta’s 100 x 150mm cards fit comfortably as well. One of the drawers also has a collection of 3.5 x 5.5 inch pocket notebooks (most are Field Notes) which are also easily archivable within it.

Based on the styling, I’m guessing it dates from the 1940s to early 1960s, but there are no markings or indications, and it will take some research to see if I can pin down a more accurate date.

Close up feature of the aluminum handle, index frame, and lock mechanism on the front of the Steelcase drawers. Each features matching milled lines which give an art deco feel to the cabinet.

A few of the indexing label frames on the unit are upside down and one or two are loose, but that’s easily fixed by removing a screw and cover plate in the front of the drawer and making a quick adjustment. I’ve also got a few extra metal clips to fix the loose frames.

Two metal rectangle clips with a small hole punched out of their centers. These would grab onto the posts of the index frames to hold them onto the filing cabinet

Much like my Singer card index, this one has internal sliding metal chassis into which the individual drawers sit. This allows them to be easily slid out of the cabinet individually for use on my desk or away from the cabinet. The drawers come with built-in handles at the back of the drawer for making carrying them around as trays more comfortable. The drawers are 10.6 pounds each, each chassis is 4.6 pounds, and the cabinet itself is probably 120 pounds giving the entire assembly a curb weight of about 240 pounds.

Angle on a Steelcase card index drawer and chassis. The back of the drawer features a hole just large enough to put one's hand through to make carrying the drawer as a tray easier. Card index drawer on the floor in front of a Steelcase filing cabinet with a steel drawer chassis pulled out. The Steelcase card index with a few drawers inserted, but one removed and featuring the silver metal chassis which is pulled out to accept its drawer.

Placed just behind my desk, I notice that the drawer width is just wide enough, that I can pull out the fourth drawer from the bottom and set my Smith-Corona Clipper on top of it. This makes for a lovely makeshift typing desk. The filing cabinet’s black powder coat is a pretty close match to that of the typewriter.

A drawer is pulled out of the filing cabinet and a black typewriter sits on top of it as an impromptu typing desk.

I’ve already moved the majority of my cards into it and plan to use it as my daily driver. This may mean that the Singer becomes overflow storage once I’m done refurbishing it. The Shaw-Walker box, which was just becoming too full and taking up a lot of desk real estate, will find a life in the kitchen or by the bar as my recipe box.

I’ve also noticed that some of my smaller 3 x 5″ wooden card indexes sit quite comfortably into the empty drawers as a means of clearing off some desk space if I wish.

This may be my last box acquisition for a while. Someone said if I were to add any more, I’ll have moved beyond hobbyist collector and into the realm of museum curator.

View of a steel desk with a typewriter on top of it. Behind the desk is a swivel chair, a Steelcase card index, and a barrister bookcase full of books.

 

Library charging trays for vertically oriented 3 x 5″ index cards

Amidst my seemingly ever-growing collection of index card boxes and trays, I’ve been contemplating getting something that would store cards in a vertical orientation rather than the traditional horizontal. As I’ve been watching the market over the past couple of years, nothing had really come up that suited the bill until this past summer. 

That’s when I saw a small handful of what are known as library charging trays pop up. 

What is a library charging tray?

These library charging trays were traditionally used in libraries in the mid to late-twentieth century at the circulation desk. A librarian would remove the book card from the pocket adhered to one of the inside covers of the book. This card would identify the book’s author and title and generally have a list of borrower’s names along with either the due date or the return date, or sometimes both. Once filled out, the card would be placed vertically in the charging tray behind a tab indicating its due date. The librarian would then place a due date card into the empty pocket with a stamped due date on it. Alternately some of these pockets may have been printed with grids into which a due date would be stamped. 

The last page and inside cover of a the library book Webster's Early European History featuring a book card with the author's name and book title along with a list of due dates and borrower's names sitting on top of the book pocket glued to the inside cover. On the last page of the book is a 3x5" slip glued onto the page with a grid of four columns for stamping due dates. There are about six dates stamped in from the early 1980s.

The library would then have in their charging tray an ordered list of checked out books which they could later use to follow up on if they became overdue.

Upon return of the book from the patron, the librarian would then be able to match up the title and stamped due date in the pocket with that from the card in the charging tray and refile the book card into the pocket of the appropriate book before returning it to the shelves for the next patron.

Yellow due date card for the Crowell Public Library which has it's address at the top underneath which appears three rows of black stamped due dates spanning from July 11 2016 to March 24 2018.

Models and Materials

Most charging trays I’ve seen range from 1 row of cards and have gone up to 5 rows. Most common are 2 and 3 row models. 

I’ve yet to see older trays made out of oak. Most seem to be from the 1960s onward and are often constructed of maple. Gaylord Brothers and Remington-Rand seem to have been the primary manufacturers of these, but it’s possible that other companies may have made them as well. 

My charging trays

When I acquired my Shaw-Walker desktop two drawer card index, I mentioned that I had purchased a few charging trays. Let’s take a look at the two of them briefly.

One tray has two rows for cards while the other has three. The double tray is definitely manufactured by Gaylord Bros, Inc. and still has the original manufacturer’s sticker on the bottom. The other is unmarked and is most likely a Gaylord too as Remington-Rand typically put a small metal badge on most of their products. This one not only doesn’t have that traditional badging, but also doesn’t have any telltale nail holes where it may have originally been. The double tray has 12 1/2″ of internal space for cards in each row and the triple has 10 3/4″ in each row which would give them enough space to hold approximately 3,500 and 4,500 index cards respectively.

The double tray seems almost new despite some minor wear. (We all know how rough those librarians can be.) The triple tray shows more signs of wear including some old labeling with handwriting that provides a fun level of patina.

Three column library charging tray sitting on top of a library card catalog.

Side view of a three row charging tray with index cards sitting in it.

View into a charging tray to show the metal follower blocks which hold cards upright.

Close up of the dovetail wooden join on the corner of a library charging tray

New uses for library charging trays

Naturally one could immediately consider using these trays to hold index cards for their note taking and filing practices. This is particularly useful for those who might appreciate a physical zettelkasten form factor for using vertically oriented 3 x 5″ index cards. (I’ve never seen a charging tray made for 4 x 6″ index cards and would suspect they never existed.)

Beyond this, those who are into the idea of maintaining a hipster PDA or who have 3 x 5″ index cards for general productivity purposes would certainly appreciate these boxes for their filing and archiving needs. If you’re unfamiliar with these sorts of practices see my article about The Memindex Method. A charging tray would certainly make an excellent home for a modern day Memindex practice. Pair it with an index card wallet and you’re off to the races as if you were living back in 1903.

What other functions could these trays be upcycled for? I’m curious to hear others’ ideas here.

Finding  Charging Trays

Used/Vintage Charging Trays

With the digitization of most library circulation processes the noble charging tray has generally gone out of fashion. At the height of their use, most libraries didn’t really need many of them, so they were never as ubiquitous in the broader market the way other card index boxes and cabinets were. As a result it’s rarer to see them on the secondary/used market in comparison to their brethren. When you do find them, it’s more likely that you’ll see them incorrectly listed as card index drawers. I suspect it would be incredibly rare that a second hand seller would know what they actually were, but even if they did, the key words in their name mean dramatically different things now which swamp the search engine optimization algorithms with things which patently are not these boxes.

This means long search times and patience to attempt to track them down. I’ve seen several listed as “rare” which they are to some degree, but not as rare as most sellers think they are in terms of pricing. They primarily seem rare because no one knows what to call them and as a result pricing can be all over the map. I’ve seen some two and three drawer versions listed for $300 and up. For a more reasonable reference I got both of mine for a total of $60 and a very modest shipping charge. I’ve seen one or two others sell for $20 to $30 each. A couple of trays I saw in Spring 2023 which listed for several hundred are still gathering dust on vintage store shelves.

Ferris Bueller standing in the bathroom of Chez Quis meme image with the superimposed words: "The Gaylord Bros. Library Charging Tray. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

New Charging Trays

If you don’t have the patience to get something vintage, you might try purchasing new charging trays from Brodart. According to my research, they’re the only player left making and selling them outside of one online retailer in India offering a 5 tray model for for 2″x3″ and 3″x5″ cards for about US$50.

Sadly, Brodart has had some ongoing issues with their online web store this fall, so one would need to download a copy of their catalog and order via email, phone, or fax. In my physical copy of their most recent catalog they appear in the Processing and Circulation section on page 137. They offer both single and double trays in either a light or a darker finish. Prices for them range from US$76.76 to 149.06. The smaller trays will fit 600 cards with the larger trays fitting 1,000 cards each. Given their size, they might make for rather elegant desktop boxes. On that same catalog page Brodart also conveniently offers green pressboard card guides (dividers) which are either plain or labeled with the months of the year in a vertical 5″ tall by 3″ wide configuration. Separately they have some manila dividers with 1/3 cut alphabet tabs (A-Z) for helping you to sort and separate your cards.

For those who might prefer to use these in a zettelkasten practice, Brodart also makes borrower’s cards and book cards in a range of light to medium-weight card stock (similar to index cards) which are pre-printed with a range of metadata fields common to these types of cards (author, title, date loaned, borrower’s name, date returned, date due, room number, etc. Most of these cards are listed on catalog pages 128 and 129. Some of these would be particularly useful for making bibliography cards which would use some of these preprinted data fields. The date and patron portions could then be used to note page numbers and either quotes from the text/one’s own ideas respectively. All these cards are conveniently lined for writing your notes. Naturally one could just as easily use their own 3 x 5″ index cards of choice in a vertical orientation.

Brodart book card featuring two lines at the top for the title of the book and the author followed by a two column lined grid with spaces for Date Due and Borrower's Name
Brodart Book Card Catalog Number 23-242 906
Acquired Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word by Walter J. Ong (Methuen & Co.)
Analyzes the differences in consciousness between oral and literate societies and points out the intellectual, literary, and social effects of writing
It’s been on my list for a while now, and I have newer digital editions, but today I acquired a first edition hardcover of Walter J. Ong’s text Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982). Something about it cries out to be read in its original print incarnation.

It is in excellent shape, though missing a dust jacket and has the attendant portions of an ex-library copy (Widener University). The ex-library features bring me great joy though because its got some reasonable evidence of prior readers in the form of marginalia in at least six different hands as well as two different languages (English and Chinese). I can’t wait to add my own to the growing list.

Midcentury Gaylord Bros., Inc. Oak Modular Library Card Catalog Acquisition

In a quest to expand on my analog office practices, last Saturday, I drove out to Rancho Cucamonga to purchase a spectacular midcentury Gaylord Bros., Inc. modular library card catalog. I spent parts of the week making some minor tweaks (gluing some broken wood rails) and cleaning it up in the garage. Last night, as a present and to celebrate the start of Autumn, I brought it into the house to reassemble it. It now lives in the dining room adjacent to the the office and near both the bar as well as the library that others in the household prefer to call our formal living room. I honestly didn’t pre-plan it this way, but given our floorplan, it is sitting in the “heart” of our home.

Multi-sectional 20 drawer wooden library card catalog in the corner of a room with white walls and a hardwood floor. Oblique view of Gaylord Bros. library card catalog in the corner of a room with colorful paintings hanging on the opposing walls.

Three of the four sections are all similarly made out of oak and appear to be co-contemporaneous in terms of style and materials (solid wood and metal). The final section, a five drawer insert is obviously of later manufacture and while stained brown with what appears to potentially be a mahogany frontispiece, has  plastic trays with metal fittings and what appear to be galvanized steel card stops. The other sections comprise a low level table-like support with four legs; a 5×3 drawer section; and a 2 inch thick top which covers the holes in the top of the modular drawer sections and provides a flat surface. The top section also features the traditional Gaylord Bros., Inc. name plate.

Metal name plate nailed into oak. It features the company name Gaylord Bros., Inc. (in a large stylized script) below which reads "Syracuse, N. Y. - Stockton, Calif." and next to which appears a circular logo with entwined letters G and B around which is written "Established 1896".

Given the subtle intricacies of the construction, I’ll provide some photos of how the pieces dovetail together as well as the smaller mechanics and features in a future post.

Fully assembled the piece is 33″ wide x 17 3/8″ deep and stands 36 1/2″ tall. With internal drawer space of 13 3/4″ for the 15 drawers and 14 1/2″ for the other 5, there should be space for approximately 38,715 index cards.

I’m thrilled that all the fittings seem to be original, and all the drawers have their original card catalog rods. The drawers on the 5×3 drawer section have a spring loaded mechanism under the front of the drawer which when pushed to the left side unlocks the card catalog rods which have beefy brass knobs. The 5×1 drawer section rods are unlocked by pulling up on them slightly from the bottom and then pulling them straight out.

View of the bottom of a card catalog drawer with a finger actuating a spring loaded metal lever to unlock the card catalog's metal rod. Close up view of the metal bracket for holding a card catalog rod. The rod is missing so that one can look into the hole to see the internal locking mechanism.

I’ll have to do some more in-depth research of old Gaylord Bros. catalogs, but based on materials, manufacture, and style, I’m going to guess that the older portion of the card catalog dates from the mid-30s to the 1940s, while the newer section is likely late 60s. The overall size and standardized, modular structure allows the pieces to sit together in quite a clever way and were made over a long enough period of time that different pieces from disparate decades still work well together. While the wood grain, stain, and even fittings are all slightly different, the to different styles work fairly well together.

For those who appreciated my recent article Market analysis of library card catalogs in 2023, I’m thrilled to report that I purchased this stunning beauty—one of the prettiest, oldest, and best conditioned catalogs I’ve seen listed—for a very reasonable $250. I suspect the seller, who is a vintage collector, seasoned eBay seller, and is well aware of the market, may have gone even lower, but I was happy to overpay a little. Given the online market, something like this would usually list for between $1,200 and $1,600, but would likely sit unsold and unloved for years.

Library card cabinet drawer with a metal drawer pull labeled with a tiny red heart

I love the style and the condition, and it does make for a fantastic little piece of fine furniture with a lovely patina. Unexpectedly, someone else in the house may be even more enamored of it than I, which bodes well for its actual long term care and use. Currently it will serve as an archive storage for some of my 3 x 5″ index card note collection in addition to storage of a partial library card cataloging for some of our physical books. I also have cards from an older rolodex and a small recipe collection that will take up residence. Other empty drawers will house a small wine selection along with several bottles of scotch until they’re pushed out by the growing collection of cards. 

Oblique angle of a bottle of Glenmorangie scotch and two crystal old fashioned glasses in open adjoining drawers of a library card catalog
Surely this is what Hemingway would have done?!

Angle on a row of five library card catalog drawers open with bottles of wine displayed in each.

Other than general maintenance I don’t think I’ll be doing any other restoration work on it beyond the small fixes I’ve already made.

On the top of the catalog, in addition to space for writing notes, I’ll keep one of my two desktop card indexes and a 1948 Smith-Corona Clipper

Close up of Gaylord Bros. library card catalog with a smaller desktop card index and black Smith-Corona Clipper typewriter on top

What would you do with a library card catalog?

Acquired BOOX Tab Ultra C (The Official BOOX Store)
Latest Kaleido3 screen, HD and clear ePaper, Android 11, an exclusive GPU, and a Qualcomm processor. Tab Ultra C is an ePaper tablet PC designed to strike a balance between focus and enjoyment.
Ordered this a few weeks back and it finally arrived today. Can’t wait to delve into how this may help improve my reading and note taking process.
Acquired a copy of the Library of America’s Octavia Butler volume containing Kindred, Fledgling, and her Collected stories.

While I hope to read chunks of it over the summer in Butler’s childhood neighborhood of Pasadena, I got it to read Bloodchild for the Octavia Butler Sci Fi Book Club on 6/24/2023 at 3:00 PM at Octavia’s Bookshelf which is co-hosting with the La Pintoresca Branch Library and the Huntington Library.

Vintage desktop Remington Rand 10 5/8 inch card index for 3 x 5″ cards

I’ve bought (yet another) card index on April 22nd. This must mean that I’m officially a collector, but if I keep this up I may have to start a museum soon.

Close up of a bronze metallic art deco designed plaque on the front of a small card index that reads "Remington Rand / Library Bureau Div." sandwiched in between the words "Made" and "in U.S.A." Two small nails hold the plaque on to the box. In front of the box is a white index card that read in red typewriter print "The power of information" with a quote typed in black below it.

This model is a Remington Rand Library Bureau Division 10 5/8″ x 5 5/8″ x 2″ dovetailed wooden box with steel follower and toothed sliding track. The sides of the box are 1/4″ thick and was designed for 3 x 5 inch index cards. The box has a softer brown color and wider grain typical of the mid-century Remington Rand Library Bureau Division products. Because it is short enough, it can fit inside my larger card catalog filing cabinet if necessary. 

Angle down on a small, light brown wooden card index. The box has several manilla 1/5 cut 3x5" card dividers inside along with some white index cards. Outside of the box on the table in front of it are a typewritten index card and a black metal Rotring 800 0.5mm mechanical pencil. Off to one side is a white ceramic bowl full of lemons.

Given that Remington Rand used the Library Bureau Division brand name from its acquisition in 1927 into the 1950s and the materials and design used, I’m guessing that this model is likely from the late 40s to early 50s. This was likely used as a desktop card index or possibly as a charging tray in a library. Sadly it didn’t come with any information about provenance. With the follower all the way back it’s got 8 1/2 inches for cards which means space for about 1,200 standard index cards.

There are no nail holes on the bottom indicating that it had feet, but it does have the faint appearance that it may have either had felt feet or a felt sheet glued to the bottom to prevent it scratching one’s desktop. As I expect to use it on a glass top, I probably won’t modify it. Beyond this and a few small scuffs showing very moderate use, it’s in exceptionally fine shape.

Bottom of a 10 5/8" card index featuring two wooden slats on the sides and a metal strip down the middle for the card follower inside the box. A faint black item number "6015" is printed on the bottom.

I’d picked up an 11 inch Shaw-Walker card index recently, but I couldn’t help making a knee-jerk purchase of another vintage desktop card index. I got it used on eBay for the pittance of $16, which compared to some of the modern cardboard,  plastic and metal options is honestly a steal, especially since it’s got a much nicer look and permanent feel compared to some of the more “modern” zettelkasten containers. Who wants a $20 cardboard box from Amazon when you can have a solid piece of history made of hard wood and steel on your desk?

Since my father worked in manufacturing for both Ingersoll Rand (no relation) and Remington at different points in his life, its quite a nice reminder of him sitting on my desk on a daily basis. Because it bears the name Library Bureau, it also harkens back to the early days of mass manufactured library card catalog equipment beginning with Melvil Dewey in 1876.

Of course, I ought to quit picking up these 3 x 5 inch card boxes and get some more 4 x 6 inch boxes since I primarily use those on a daily basis. 

Any ideas what I ought to use this box for? Perhaps it ought to be an address card index/rolodex? I’ve already made the decision to do my “memindex” in 4 x 6″ cards and the Shaw-Walker is accumulating cards with jokes and humorous observations (jokerzettel anyone?).

View from the front of an empty Remington Rand card index box toward the back featuring a steel card follower sitting in a steel slider tray with teeth on the right side for adjusting the follower in the box.

View of the back of a tan painted steel card follower in a Remington Rand card index. It has a silver steel button on the top which has a spring loaded pin lever to allow the follower to be positioned in the box at one of approximately 42 evenly spaced teeth in its metal tray.

Of course I now have a small voice inside saying that I need a Remington typewriter on my desk to match it.

1948 Smith-Corona “Clipper”

Childhood Typewriters

I’ve had a hollow space in my chest where a typewriter wanted to be. I’d had a few inexpensive plastic ones in my childhood before having a really spectacular Smith-Corona, but I thought that through many moves it had been long lost. Until, that is, I visited my parents on spring break this past week. While going through some old papers and boxes, I ran across a dusty, but stunning old jewel from my youth. 

Hiding in a corner of memorabilia was a hard black box which I immediately recognized as my old portable typewriter! I recall my parents having purchased it at a yard sale and bringing it home for us kids to use in 1984. It took a while back then to clean it up, but I used it for a variety of school projects and papers for several years until its use for school papers was later taken over by an electronic Panasonic word processor. Despite the newer technology I still preferred that old typewriter for composing and noodling around.

Ooh, my little pretty one, my pretty one

So, what is this fantastic jewel? It’s a 1948 Smith-Corona “Clipper” 4C (serial number 4C-242370). It’s still in spectacular shape. I had to re-connect the letter “A”s linkage joint, but all the keys still work well, and it’s going to need a new ribbon. The interior is a bit dusty and needs some cleaning and oiling, but a short afternoon of tinkering should make quick work of any issues. 

Oblique angle down on the top of a black Smith-Corona Clipper sitting on a brown wooden tabletop.

What’s fascinating is that all of the parts and functionalities of the machine came back to me instantaneously when I touched it. I knew all the small subtleties of sliding in a sheet of paper and aligning it to perfection. All the small niceties like the single/double space switch, the margin adjustments, the lovely bell, the ribbon direction adjustment switch, and even the centering mechanism were right there at my fingertips.

Rear view angle of the carriage return on the Smith-Corona Clipper with a view into the internals featuring the bell. The apparatus could be cleaner and features some use and dust build up on the oiled metal.

Sadly the original key wasn’t with the typewriter’s lock, but it was easily pickable. I’m reasonably sure the key will turn up as I dig through my other childhood memorabilia in the near future. At the worst, I can probably print a new key using a recipe I’ve already found online. I even unearthed a roughly contemporaneous typewriter manual for the Smith-Corona Clipper model

And the best part is that a young 12 year old was drawn to it and immediately wanted to use it and take it home with us, so the typewriter obsession may go on for at least another generation.

I can’t wait to begin using my new (old) tool for thought in my zettelkasten practice. I’m curious to see what the slow down effect of a manual typewriter has on my writing and thinking work. Perhaps the composition of my cards at the end of the day will have the added satisfaction of punching the keys of a fantastic typewriter.

Typed 3 x 5 inch index card. The top title in red ink reads "The Power of Information" with the following quotation: 
No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them. --- Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

If nothing else, the Clipper does look quite nice next to my Shaw-Walker card index which is from the same era.

Desk level view of the front of a Shaw-Walker wooden card index tray next to a black typewriter.

Ultra-luxury of the “Clipper”

Just where does the Smith-Corona “Clipper” sit in the pantheon of typewriters? A variety of writers in the 21st century still talk about their love and nostalgia of specific typewriters mentioning the design esthetic of the Olivetti, a remembrance of an old Underwood, or their fondness of a Remington, but I think Tom Hanks sums things up pretty well:

This is what I would suggest: if you wanted the perfect typewriter that will last forever that would be a great conversation piece, I’d say get the Smith-Corona Clipper. That will be as satisfying a typing experience as you will ever have.
—Tom Hanks, actor, producer, typewriter enthusiast and collector, author of Uncommon Type on CBS Sunday Morning: “Tom Hanks, Typewriter Enthusiast” [00:07:30]

Close up of the Clipper logo on a Smith-Corona typewriter. It features a red outline of the small single wing, four engine airplane with the word "Clipper" underneath it  underlined with red waves so as to make the plane appear to be flying over water.

Of course Hanks comes by this analysis naturally as the Clipper typewriter’s namesake is the Boeing 314 Clipper, which appears prominently on the front left panel of the typewriter’s cover. The context and history of some of this airplane have been lost to current generations. Twelve of these air yachts were built by Boeing and operated for a decade between 1938 and 1948. Nine of the airplanes were operated by Pan-Am as transoceanic “one class” ultra-luxury air travel featuring lounges, dining areas with silver service for six-course meals from four-star chefs served by white coated stewards, seats that converted to sleeping bunks for overnight accommodations, and separate male and female dressing rooms for the comfort of elite businesspeople and wealthy travelers in the mid-twentieth century. As an indicator of the exclusivity and expense at the time, a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong on the Clipper was listed for $760, which is equivalent to about $15,000 adjusted for inflation in 2021 (Klaás, 1989, p. 20).

Pan Am’s Clipper service of the 1940s represents the romance of flight in that era in the same way Smith-Corona Clipper represents the romance of typing in the ensuing decades. Most Americans’ nostalgia for the luxury and exotic freedom of airline flight in the 1960s and 1970s was built on this early experience operating the Clipper nearly 20 years before.

Reverse view into the opened Smith-Corona Clipper featuring a close up view of all of the type face and levers. Just visible at the top are a side view of the keys on the front of the typewriter.

References

“Tom Hanks, Typewriter Enthusiast.” CBS News Sunday Morning. CBS, October 15, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTtDb73NkNM.

Klaás, M. D. (December 1989). “Clipper Across the Pacific, Part One”. Air Classics. 25 (12).

Vintage wooden desk top Shaw-Walker 11 inch card index for 3 x 5″ cards

I’ve been watching the secondary market for used card indexes for a while and finally caved and purchased a vintage wooden desk top Shaw-Walker 11 inch card index for 3 x 5″ index cards. It was dusty and dirty and in reasonably good shape, but with some cleaning and some wood polish, it’s in much better shape.

Close up of the black and gold lettered Shaw-Walker Logo on the front of a 3 x 5 inch card index

I removed the original tacks on the bottom which appeared to have once held down some red felt. I cut out a new rectangle of green felt and reattached the tacks so that the index won’t scratch up my desktop. The dovetails are in good shape, but it seems like in a year or two some of the joins may need to be re-glued.

In all, for a small $10.00 investment, it’s a stunning addition for my zettelkasten card collection. Compared to some of the cardboard and metal options out there, it was half the price, but is far prettier and infinitely more durable.

Of course I’ve got a strong preference for 4 x 6″, so I’ll be on the look out for something bigger, but this was just too good a deal to pass up. Perhaps I’ll use it like a Memindex or a related productivity tool?

Oblique angle on a Shaw-Walker 11 inch 3 x 5 inch card index View from the back of the wooden card stop mechanism on an 11 inch card index. Close up of a reddish sticker on the bottom of a wooden card index. View of the bottom of a Shaw-Walker card index featuring two slats separated by a metal rod.

 

📚 Acquisition: Oranges by John McPhee

Acquired Oranges by John McPhee (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux )
A classic of reportage, Oranges was first conceived as a short magazine article about oranges and orange juice, but the author kept encountering so much irresistible information that he eventually found that he had in fact written a book. It contains sketches of orange growers, orange botanists, orange pickers, orange packers, early settlers on Florida's Indian River, the first orange barons, modern concentrate makers, and a fascinating profile of Ben Hill Griffin of Frostproof, Florida who may be the last of the individual orange barons. McPhee's astonishing book has an almost narrative progression, is immensely readable, and is frequently amusing. Louis XIV hung tapestries of oranges in the halls of Versailles, because oranges and orange trees were the symbols of his nature and his reign. This book, in a sense, is a tapestry of oranges, too—with elements in it that range from the great orangeries of European monarchs to a custom of people in the modern Caribbean who split oranges and clean floors with them, one half in each hand.

Singer Business Furniture 20 gauge steel industrial 16 drawer index card filing cabinet

I suppose if you’re gonna goin “all-in” on having a zettelkasten (slip box) or index card-based commonplace book you may as well invest in some serious atomic-era heavy steel hardware…

So today I took the plunge and picked up a Singer Business Furniture 20 gauge steel industrial index card filing cabinet. It’s the sort of thing that Niklas Luhmann or Roland Barthes may have only dreamt of.

Angle on an open drawer with two individual card files
One of the double drawers pulled out.

The monster has 8 sliding platform chassis with 16 removable file drawers. I’ve done a little bit of clean up on it, but it has been well loved over time. Much like my prior furniture refurbishment projects, I expect I’ll bead blast off the original finish and rust and re-enamel it. I’m debating colors or potentially going brushed steel with heavy clear coat, though that’s a lot of work for the size and configuration. I’m initially thinking perhaps gunmetal grey with metallic blue flecked paint to match my desk, or perhaps a fun orange highlight color on the drawer fronts?

Specifications

Singer Business Furniture, Corry Jamestown index card filing cabinet (114 OB)

  • 8 slider chassis with 16 individually (and easily) removeable drawers
  • Exterior dimensions: 22 7/8″ wide x 52″ tall x 28 3/4″ deep
  • Interior drawer dimensions: 9 3/8″ wide x 4 3/4″ tall x 27 3/8″ deep (or 26 1/8″ deep with the card stops installed)
  • Fits cards: 3×5″, 4×6″, 7 3/8 x 3 1/4″ (Hollerinth cards)
  • Removable metal slider card stops
  • 13 removeable index card rods (3 missing)
  • Aluminum drawer pulls
  • Aluminum label frames
  • Original industrial beige color, chipped and scratched
  • 20 gauge steel

I thought about weighing it, but the thing is just too big for any of the nearby scales I’ve got access to. It’s definitely a bear to move even by sliding and required a heavy dolly and at least two people to maneuver. Three or more would be required to pick it up physically.  One drawback to the size and weight is that it isn’t easily portable if there were an emergency, but the construction is so solid that it should definitely survive the most dire earthquakes or possibly nuclear bomb blasts. I suspect it’ll be a bit before I have multiple drawers full, so I can always individually remove active drawers.

A quick calculation on the front of an index card—no more backs of envelopes for me!—indicates that packs of relatively standard Oxford index cards should put the capacity of this monster at 55,700 index cards (with the drawer stops in place).

Photos

Features

The drawers should be nice and roomy for the 4×6″ index cards I’ve been using, but can also accommodate collections of smaller 3×5″ cards I’ve got.

While the drawers come with index card rods to hold the cards physically in their files, I suspect I won’t be using them. They seem to be of a design that would require custom cards for utilizing this feature anyway. I do quite like the rod design as the thumbscrews on the outside have small nubs on them with a key-like cut out on the drawer front with a compression washer. One then inserts the rod, fits it into the moveable card stop, and pushes it into the keyhole. A quarter or half turn of the rod and thumbscrew locks the rod into the cabinet.

The index card file stops are easily removable and have a simple springloaded clamp mechanism for moving them easily within the drawer. 

While used, the entire thing is in generally excellent shape. Almost all the original hardware is still extant and the drawer mechanisms all slide smoothly, so those won’t require much, if any real work.

Because the filing cabinet is so massive and generally immovable, a fun and terrifically convenient feature is that each of the 16 file drawers are individually removable. This allows one to take a particular drawer or two to their desk and work on them before needing to return them to the cabinet when one is done. To make this drawer movement easier, in addition to the explicit handle on the front of each drawer, there’s an oval hole on the back of each drawer which functions as a handle on the other end.  This is likely how I’ll use it, at least until I’ve refinished the cabinet and the drawers and move it into my office space permanently. 

Individual drawers of cards can be removed from the filing cabinet. Here's one that has been removed and is sitting sideways on top of the file drawer that had been pulled out.
One of the individual file drawers removed and sitting on its mate.

Because the files are wide and long enough, I might also profitably use the file for holding 8 1/2 x 11″ material stacked up in piles if necessary. 

Naming

Some have talked about naming their zettelkasten. I’ve been considering calling the whole cabinet “The Ark of Studies” (Arca studiorum) after Thomas Harrison’s invention in the 1640s as it also contains a nod to Hugh of St. Victor’s mnemonic work relating to Noah’s Ark. Perhaps I’ll hame it Stonehenge II, because I’ll rely on it as a “forgetting machine” and it’s almost as big and heavy as a bluestone from the Preseli Hills in Wales—especially if I paint it that color. Beyond this perhaps I might give each individual drawer a name. This leaves sixteen slots, so I’m thinking about naming them after famous figures in the history of note taking and related spaces of intellectual history.

Right now it’ll likely be a subset of Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Seneca, Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, Desiderius Erasmus, Rodolphus Agricola, Philip Melancthon, Konrad Gessner, John Locke, Carl Linnaeus, Thomas Harrison, Vincentius Placcius, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Niklas Luhmann, Beatrice Webb, Marcel Mauss, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mortimer J. Adler, Niklas Luhmann, Roland Barthes, Vladimir Nabokov, George Carlin (I’ve got to have a drawer dedicated to comedy right?), Twyla Tharp, and Eminem. Who else am I missing? Who should I consider?

Oddities

Being a piece of used office furniture, it naturally came with some surplus junk inside. Most of this was of the paperclip and rubber band nature with plenty of dust and lint. There were a full collection of drawer labels with someone’s handwritten numbers for the files the card index once contained. Unexpected finds included some screws, nuts and bolts, part of a hacksaw blade, a rotary saw blade, some drill bits, a socket wrench fitting, and—most puzzling—a live round of ammunition! Every zettelkasten should have one of these right? 

view of bullet from behind as it sits on filing cabinet
The oddest thing I found hiding in my new slip box.

So go ahead and bite the bullet! Get your own cabinet, and start your analog zettelkasten today.

 

Acquired Card Catalog: 30 Notecards from The Library of Congress (Chronicle Books (via Amazon))
  • SET OF 30 NOTECARDS – Evoking memories of book-filled libraries, the Card Catalog: 30 Notecards from The Library of Congress reproduces the original cards used to keep track of literary classics.
  • HISTORIC DESIGNS – Enclosed in a keepsake cardboard replica card catalog box with tabbed dividers, each card features a different beloved work from the storied collection of the Library of Congress.
  • INCLUDED – This vintage notecard set includes a box tray with slipcase, 30 color cards (30 different designs), 30 envelopes, and 5 tabbed dividers.
  • MAKES AN EXCELLENT GIFT – This gorgeously designed notecard set makes an inspired gift for any writer or fan of The Library of Congress.
You know you might be in deep with the area of tools for thought, note taking, zettelkasten, intellectual history et al., when your loved ones are gifting you card catalog boxes with replica author index cards from the Library of Congress for stationery use for your birthday.

This small box is made of heavy cardboard and is incredibly well done to look like actual dovetailed oak. The replica cards are quite a joy to browse through. I almost don’t want to use them as the stationery they were intended to be.

Acquired Remember It Now Tee (Field Notes)
The minute we saw Aaron's frantic, hand-lettered presentation of the Field Notes credo we knew just what to do. And here it is. In December, when Field Notes co-founder Aaron Draplin hijacked our site to sell pre-orders of his totally amazing Leap of Faith Edition 3-Packs, we went along with it. TBH, we’ve learned over the years that once Aaron gets fixed on an idea, there’s pretty much no stopping him. However, when he sent us the artwork for the Memo Books, we decided to do little hijacking of our own. The minute we saw his frantic, hand-lettered presentation of the Field Notes credo — “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now” — we knew just what to do. And here it is.
You might have gone down the rabbit hole on note taking practice nerdery when you’re getting note taking related t-shirts. Better than a mug I suppose…
Acquired Winter 2021 Quarterly Field Notes Edition: Ignition (Field Notes)

With two planner books and one checklist book, our Ignition Edition 3-Pack for Winter 2021 is the perfect place to keep track of all of your things to do.

4, 3, 2, 1… IGNITION

We all need a place to jot down the first sparks of a big new idea, to record our “notes to self,” and to remind ourselves to pick up the doggo at 4 p.m. on Thursday. Our regular Field Notes Planner is great, but we’re frequently asked for a smaller edition. Our previous limited-edition pocket planners (the long-gone Ambition and Resolution editions) were also great, but we wanted to find a way to fit even more into a Memo-sized date book.

You’ll find that the new Winter 2021 “Ignition” set checks all the boxes. Each 3-Pack contains two 26-Week Planners. Splitting the year into two books gives you a full spread for each week, making more space for each day and incorporating a weekly “To do, or…” list that can be used for productivity OR inspiration. Each page also features a bit of practical advice, direct from Field Notes staff. Note that the pages are undated, allowing you to start either book anytime and fill in the dates as you go.

The third book is a “Checklist Journal” featuring the popular “Screwhead Device” that we introduced in the 2017 “Resolution” Edition. it's great for to-do lists or bullet journaling… or ignore the Screwheads, and use it like any ruled notebook.

The covers are made from water-and-tear-proof synthetic paper from Yupo that will hold up to a whole year’s worth of abuse. The book’s interior page design is subtly varnished over the cover color. The innards are our reliable 60# Finch with gray rules, bound with black staples.

POINTY. SHINY. HANDY.

Quarterly Subscribers receive a bunch of bonus items with their order this quarter! Along with your two 3-Packs of “Ignition,” we’re including a carded set of three stainless steel Book Darts. They’re perfect for marking your place as you work through the date books. An “Ignition Yellow” Clic Pen and a two-sided 2022 “One Sheet Calendar” are also included with your subscription shipment.  Subscribing is the only way to get these items, and of course you'll get the next three editions, their accompanying bonus items, and a yearlong 10% discount on most items on the website. What’s in store for subscribers for 2022? There’s only one way to find out!

By the way: If you check your planner, you’ll see there are a variety of gift-giving holidays coming up, what would make a better quarterly reminder of your generosity than a year’s worth of Field Notes?

SPECIFICATIONS:
  • 01. Proudly printed by the good people of Lake County Press, Inc., Waukegan, Ill.
  • 02. Cover: Yupo Synthetic 74#C “White,” with a brute force application of “Ignition Gray, Yellow, and Black” soy-based Toyo UV inks and a spot UV varnish.
  • 03. Innards: Finch Paper Opaque Smooth 60#T “Bright White,” with a fine, 1-color application of “Ignition Light Gray” soy-based Toyo ink.
  • 04. Cover and innards printed on a Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 40" 6-color UV printing press.
  • 05. Bound with a Heidelberg Stitchmaster ST 270 5-pocket saddle stitcher with cover feeder/scorer and Rima RS 10S in-line stacker, with appreciation to Samuel Slocum, George W. McGill, and William J. Brown, the “Founding Fathers of the Staple.”
  • 06. Corners precisely rounded to a 3/8" (9.5mm) radius with a Challenge DCM double round-corner machine.
  • 07. Edition features two 26-Week Date Books and one 56-Page Checklist Journal.
  • 08. Memo book dimensions are 3-1/2" × 5-1/2" (89mm × 140mm).
  • 09. FIELD NOTES uses only the Futura typeface family (Paul Renner, 1927) in its materials.
  • 10. All FIELD NOTES memo books are printed and manufactured in the U.S.A.
  • 11. UPC: 850032279079