Tuesday, February 21, 2006

And Now For Something Different – Rosaries

Have you heard? Rosaries aren’t just Catholic anymore. Prayer beads are used by the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Buddhists, and others. Much of art in history has been dedicated to religious themes, and Rosaries stand out as accessible art for the layperson, and can range from simple and inexpensive to elaborate and pricey.

The typical Catholic Rosary consists of five ‘decades’ of eleven beads, plus a crucifix and five additional beads, often accompanied by a rosary center dividing the loop of the five decades from the crucifix and five additional beads. Rosaries can also be simple strings of knotted cord. Often medals or other devotional items are also strung on the Rosary.

However, many variations exist. Some stings of prayer beads devoted to specific Saints consist of differing numbers of beads. Greek ‘Komboskini’ and Russian ‘Chotki’ Rosaries can consist of 25, 33, 50, 100, 103, 150 or 300 beads. ‘Mala’ beads are sometimes used in Buddhist meditation and are often 33 or 109 bead strings. ‘Anglican Prayer beads’ are often strings of 33 beads, one for each year of Christ’s life.

Prayer beads and Rosaries span many faith traditions. The internet has made beautiful designs and homemade strings widely available.

One great resource for prayer beads is The Rosary Workshop from Michigan. The site contains historical information, a Rosary timeline, and many beautiful Rosaries and sets of prayer beads to choose from.

I purchased a eleven bead Chaplet with ten bhodi seeds, one bone pater bead, and a crucifix of Ethiopian design from them, and it turned out great.

Another source I have purchased from is ViaRosa.com. ViaRosa specializes in Irish and Celtic inspired Rosaries and Chaplets.

The Irish Penal Rosary I purchased from them is not unlike the one pictured above, but is straight rather than round. One end holds the Irish Penal Cross, and the other is a brass ring. The beads are round Connemara marble rather than jasper like the one in the picture, but mine retains the jade Irish Rose pater. All of their designs are inspirational.

Prayer beads are among what has been called ‘Pocket Art’ by Walter Mosley in his essay on NPR on 11/20/2003. Pocket art consists of portable objects one can carry easily, to share and enjoy wherever one may be. Look up the transcript on NPR, and consider starting a pocket art gallery of your own, beginning, perhaps, with some handmade prayer beads.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Watch Collecting - Seiko

I just thought I'd collect here some information for Seiko collectors. Some of this information is contained in previous posts, but having it all in one place is useful.

Seiko is widely collected because of their variety, affordability, and value. Their watch line ranges from high-end mechanical watches rivaling Swiss manufactures (the Grand Seiko line), to inexpensive quartz lines; from cutting edge technological innovations (Spring Drive) to mechanical watches known for their robustness and value (the 7S26 lines).

Seiko lines run about like this (in descending order) –

  • Grand Seiko (Mechanical)
  • Spring-Drive (Hybrid)
  • Prospex (mechanical-check out the MarineMaster)
  • King Seiko (largely discontinued)
  • Credor
  • Seiko Brightz (mostly Ti, both auto and quartz)
  • Kinetic Lines (quartz-mechanical)
  • Laurel (also largely disc.)
  • Spirit (automatic)
  • 7S26 Mechanical line
  • Seiko Quartz
  • Pulsar (quartz)
  • Alba
  • Lorus (Budget quartz in the US and UK)

This is THE Seiko image database:

JayHawk's Seiko Image Database

This is THE Seiko Divers collector’s reference:

The Seiko Diver's Reference

This is a good article on the background of Seikosha (Seiko):

Four Hundred Years After - The Legacy of Seikosha on TZ

This is Higuchi, who sells Seikos from Japan:

Higuchi, Inc.

And Seiya-san, who does the same, but on a smaller scale (also Japan-only G-shocks). He has one on the site right now, which is the first in the new mid-range Seiko automatic line – the ‘Spirit’ line, between the 7S26 series and the Grand Seiko line:


These are two dealers out of Singapore:



These are the two leading Seiko custom shops in the US:

Bill ‘Yao’ at MKII Watches

MKII Watches

Jack at IWW

International Watch Works (IWW)

And the up and comer, Hands of Time (HOT) can be found here:

HOT Watches

SCWF - The Seiko/Citizen Discussion Forum (and Sales Forum):


Don’t blame future economic woes on me, I’m just the messenger!


Friday, February 03, 2006

Book Collecting – Imprints

Imprint collections are a less popular but thoroughly rewarding alternative to author or subject-centered collections. Imprint collecting involves building a collection based on the publisher, and can range from high-end endeavors like gathering works from the press of Aldus Manutius, to collecting local, college, or specialty press works.

Collecting imprints need not be the central focus of a collection, though. Imprints may tie in to a theme-based collection, as many specialty presses gravitate to defined subject areas. They may tie in to regional collections, based on the location of the publisher. Or they may be an integral part of an author based collection, as some presses are established as a vehicle for a specific author.

Fine Presses are publishing concerns that focus on the bookmaking art. The books they turn out are generally limited editions, and command prices commensurate with the painstaking detail that goes into the production process. These details can include hand set type, hand made paper, hand colored illustration or illumination, fine inks, and hand biding. These printing concerns are bastions of the traditional art of bookmaking. An interesting site, focusing on early 20th century fine presses can be found at Fine Press Books.

To examine imprint collecting, let’s look at the genre of ‘weird fiction’. Weird fiction occupies the nexus of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Its origins begin around the end of the 19th century with writers like Poe and Lord Dunsany, and its heyday was probably in the 30’s-40’s when magazines such as Weird Tales were popular. It has continued as a movement, and is currently flourishing in a resurgence of fanzines and small press concerns. It is a highly collectable field.

One well known imprint in this genre is Arkham House. Established in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, the publisher started as a vehicle for the printing of the supernatural fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Arkham House has continued for sixty years, producing strange fiction and horror from authors such as Ray Bradbury, Basil Copper, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Bloch, as well as Derleth and Wandrei. The list of works published numbers over 200, and some of the early titles such as The Outsider and Others and Beyond the Wall of Sleep demand prices in the thousands of dollars.

Some Arkham titles are still in print, and are readily accessible to the beginning collector. Many others run in the $100-$200 dollar range, and trade lively on the internet.

Another small imprint, the Borgo Press, had weird and science fiction as a staple. Founded by a College librarian Michael Burgess, and publishing many works under his pseudonym Robert Reginald, Borgo began in the unlikely desert of San Bernardino, California in the seventies. Borgo produced right around 300 books before closing up shop in 1999, including many cutting edge works of literary criticism, fiction, and spirituality. Although largely defunct, the name is carried on by Wild Side Press. Some old stock can be found on the net, while other Borgo books pop up on eBay from time to time.

Finally, a newer publisher of strange fiction, Night Shade Books out of San Francisco seems to be just hitting their stride. Reprinting genre classics by Dunsany and William Hope Hodgson, as well as featuring newer authors like Iaian M. Banks, Forrest Aguirre, and Steven Erikson, Night Shade Books offers fertile ground for a budding imprint collector. It is an imprint that is turning out top notch fiction, that will quite possibly be the collectables of tomorrow.

Small presses have a lot to offer collectors – eclectic author lists, small print runs, and original hard-to-find material for starters. They also offer an escape from mass marketed publishing that is churned out by the big houses dominating the industry. Though sometimes difficult to obtain – often through the internet or mail alone – the payoffs in interesting materials and high production quality can make seeking them out worthwhile. Likewise, Fine Presses can deliver goods from a bygone era of bookmaking.

Great collectables!


Friday, January 27, 2006

Watch Collecting – Dive! Dive! Dive!

The Seiko dive watch stands as proof that collecting watches is not just a pursuit for the wealthy.

Seiko began producing dive watches in 1965 with their 6217-8000 model (also known as the ’62 MAS’), and has kept an unbroken stream of affordable, durable dive watches coming ever since. Popular with soldiers, police, outdoorsmen, office-bound ‘desk divers’, and rock stars as well as divers around the world, the Seiko line of dive watches has become the Toyota Pickup of watches.

Toyota pickup? Known for their value, abundant used parts, and variety of customized after-market accessories, the Toyota pickup was long a favorite for 4WD enthusiasts. The 4-cylinder 22-R engine standard in the Toyota is known for its robustness – lasting for hundreds of thousands of miles.

Likewise, the Seiko dive watch has become a favorite platform for watch collectors wanting a custom look at a realistic price.

The hands-down best online reference for this much collected series of watches is maintained by Kevin Chan at Seiko Divers Reference. A detailed chronology of models, years of manufacture, variations, hundreds of images, and collected knowledge on these outstanding watches can be found there, and it is THE place to check up on that watch you’ve found at auction to make sure it is authentic.

Many of the linked articles on the Seiko Divers Reference are gleaned from The Seiko and Citizen Forum, a place filled with friendly and knowledgeable collectors. The site also maintains a Sales Forum, a good place to start a collection, without getting taken for a ride.

Current model Seiko divers like the base-model SKX007 can be had for less than $150 for Asian market models from vendors like Chronograph.com, and U.S. models like the base SKX173 can be found new or nearly new on sales forums a for less than $200, around $100 less than you might pay at a jewelry store in the mall.

A Seiko 6309 from the ‘80s on aftermarket rubber strap

Older models, like the 1988-1996 7002 series, or the 1976-1987 6309 series can also be easily found in great condition for less than $200 on sales forums. Collecting all but the pre-1975 models won’t set you back much at all.

But like the Toyota, where the Seiko diver really shines these days is in the customization and aftermarket parts department. Bill ‘Yao’ at MKII Watches has become almost synonymous with ‘custom Seiko diver’ (although he is now producing a variety of custom watches). If someone advertises a ‘Yao’ Seiko, you know it’s something special.

A ‘Yao’ customized SKX007 with bead-blasted case and GMT bezel

Likewise, Jack at International Watch Works (IWW) is well known for awesome customization. Jack takes it a step further as well, offering refurbishing and movement servicing.

Both sites have loads of pictures, as do most watch collecting forums these days. Seiko divers provide a great example of the diverse collecting opportunities that can be found even within one series of watches - and they are solid, usable timepieces as well.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Collecting Blog Subscriptions...

I just wanted to drop a quick note here about Bloglines.

I track around 50 blogs, and it would be impossible to keep up on all of those updates using browser 'Favorites'. Bloglines allows you to 'subscribe' to any blog that has an RSS feed (and most do), and allows you to sort, classify, and arrange them. It also indicates when a blog you subscribe to is updated.

Check it out.

Coin Collecting – Installment I

I’ve spent a lot of time on watches and books, and consequently it’s taken longer than I anticipated getting to Numismatics – better known as coin collecting.

Coins are art for the masses. Handled daily, their artistic value is often overlooked. They are, however, one of the last great examples of civic art in the country. Sculpture in miniature, coins are perhaps the only sculpture that most people will ever own.

It’s no secret that the field of coin collecting has really taken off in the past few years, after what was considered by some to be a long period of stagnancy. The front (obverse) of the Lincoln cent has been with us for nearly 100 years – since 1909 – and the back (reverse) of the cent has shown the Lincoln memorial since 1959. The art of the Roosevelt dime has remained unchanged since its debut in 1946, and that of the Kennedy half dollar (ignoring the bicentennial coins of 1976-77) has been the same sine 1964. A good overview of U.S. coinage during the 20th century (though now slightly dated) can be found at Circulating Coin Designs of the 20th Century by Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald.

The mint dabbled at introducing new coins with the Susan B. Anthony dollar in 1979, and the Sacagawea dollar in 2000. It wasn’t until the 50 States Quarters program began in 1999 that Americans saw frequent design changes in their coinage.

The State Quarters program highlights five reverse designs every year through 2008, one for each of the 50 states. The quarters have encouraged millions of Americans to look at their pocket change once again. Capitalizing on the success of the program, the mint has begun to produce new obverses and reverses for the Jefferson nickel with the Westward Journey nickel series. This series consists of two obverse variations, and four reverses, including an homage to the hugely popular ‘Buffalo Nickel’ of 1913-1938.

And it looks like design variation in our coinage will continue. There is talk of a nickel series portraying each of the Presidents, and the future of the Lincoln cent is a hot topic as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

What to collect?

In the past, the most common type of collection has been the ‘series’ collection. In a series collection, a collector tries to gather one example of each year and mint for a specific series, e.g. Lincoln cents. A collector may focus on one series at a time, or may maintain more than one series collection simultaneously, e.g. Lincoln cents and Washington quarters.

Less common is the series-year collection, where the collector tries to collect one example from each year of mintage, regardless of the mint that example comes from. For example, instead of collecting one 2005 Roosevelt dime from each of the mints (Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco), the collector keeps only one 2005 dime. This type of collection is often marketed on cable shopping shows, or in print by coin sellers. It is rare that dedicated collectors are content with year sets.

For some series of coins (and for the hard core coin nut), collectors may choose to collect by die variation. In any given year, a number of dies will be used at an individual mint for a single denomination. The dies are made, used, and replaced with a new die when the old one becomes worn or damaged. A collector who specializes in die variations would want one example from each die, at each mint, for each year! The Morgan Dollar is arguably the best documented series in this regard, and attracts more die variant collectors than any other series.

“Filling holes” in an album for a series may be the most common way to collect, but the new collector shouldn’t be a slave to tradition. The State Quarters program has some people collecting one quarter representing each state, one from each mint (P and D), or the clad and silver proofs as well (more on these terms in the future).

Since 1964, all coins struck for circulation have been clad. Coins before 1964 were predominantly silver. Many casual collectors will check their pocket change for coins before ’64, and keep them regardless of series or condition.

Some collectors do not restrict themselves to coins of the U.S., but gather whatever interests them from around the world. The introduction of the Euro has changed the face of European coin collecting in much the same way it has changed in the U.S. Countries participating in the Euro have abandoned their previous coinage, and all new series have resulted.

Other collectors gather coins with wildlife, ships, or commemorative issues. What you collect is strictly up to you.

I enjoy ‘Type Set’ collecting. In type set collecting, one coin is collected representing each series (or major change in each series). I will collect one Morgan dollar, and one Sacagawea dollar – and so on, for each of the series struck since the U.S. has struck its own coinage. An alternative would be to do the same for each coin minted in the 20th century, for example.


What does a collector need to know in order to get into numismatics? There are many resources available to aid the beginning collector.


A Guide Book of United States Coins 2006: The Official Red Book by R. S. Yeoman

This is the coin collecting ‘bible’. Updated annually, the ‘Red Book’ contains information on collecting, grading (or determining the condition of coins), and coin values. It is worth every cent of its $10-$15 dollar price tag to the new collector.

Numismatic Art in America: Aesthetics of the United States Coinage by Cornelius Vermeule

Though published in 1971, I believe that this is the most approachable and enjoyable history of U.S. coinage ever written. It details the artists and evolution of coin art, including design influences from countries abroad and designs that didn’t make the cut. Out of print, it can still be found secondhand at places like Bookfinder.com – and finding it will pay off!


Coin collecting has spawned a massive array of websites, with varying degrees of usefulness.

The obvious place to start is the U.S. Mint. On the Mint’s web site you can purchase the newest minted coins, and find some information on coinage in general.

Other good resources include the web site of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) the largest coin collecting organization in the United States. A good site for links and information is CoinSite, and a series of useful articles can be found at Numismedia.

One word before parting for now – coins are often touted for their investment value. My collections focus on the enjoyment and education I derive from them, because I have found that unless you are a professional dealer, in any collecting field, there is no guarantee that what you collect will appreciate. The best appreciation a collection is likely to see, is the appreciation of the collector, and those who he shares the collection with.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Book Collecting III - Focus

As I have stated in previous posts, some authorities on collecting feel that anything short of a collection with laser-like focus on a single subject, which contributes to the scholarship and understanding of a topic, is nothing more than an 'accumulation' of objects. Collector's Progress by Wilmarth Lewis illustrates this approach in the author's pursuit of a peerless collection of material pertaining to the author Horace Walpole.

Other people feel that, while such goal-directed collecting is a worthwhile endeavor, it is pedantic to discount less focused collections. Some people gather what pleases them, without regard to focus, and have no qualms calling it a collection.

I fall somewhere in between. I have many interests, and constructing many 'small collections' of good material on several topics is my approach. I think the key to naming your accumulation a 'collection' revolves around discernment.

Discernment means choosing the best items you are aware of and can afford. As you grow as a collector, the information about what constitutes good material on a given topic matures. Knowing which works are the landmarks and canon of your chosen field comes with time. Knowing what condition is typical for those books, and their values, is acquired knowledge. What you learn in the process of collecting, through mistakes, advice, and research, and how this information guides you purchases - this is discernment. Developing a discerning eye is a side-benefit of thoughtful collecting, and the knowledge gained through the process can become as valuable as the physical collection.

What are my book collecting interests?

The fields I collect are topics which have influenced my life and thought, or those which have sparked my imagination and taught me something about the world and humanity. I call them 'small collections' because the number of items on any given topic may be small, but they are the best works on the subjects that I could identify and afford.

My small collections include:

  • 'Books on Books' and Book Collecting - You didn't think I came up with all this on my own, right?
  • Books on Numismatic art and specifically A.A. Weinman, the art-nouveau sculptor resposible for some of America's most beautiful coins - the Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half.
  • Books on Naval History and the U.S. Marine Corps - An interest sparked by my time as a U.S. Marine.
  • Books by favorite authors: Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jose Saramago, Patrick O'Brian and Philip K. Dick.

These may seem like pedestrian interests, and too many topics to collect, but I have tried to excercise discernment to build meaningful small collections.

Another collection I have been building for the past ten years is more obscure, larger, and closer to what purists may call a true collection. These are books by and about the early Methodist Church in America, and the O'Kelly schism of 1792. I say closer to a true collection, because it is an area that is not well travelled, and may contribute to a field of scholarship one day.

In any event, what you collect need not be dictated by the standards of others. The two keys are that you collect with passion, and that you choose your items to the best of your ability.

Will you make mistakes along the way? Purchase 'common' books, or pay too much for them? Almost certainly. But those mistakes are vital to the evolution of a collector, and the knowledge they impart is yours, and it is priceless.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Book Collecting II - A Select Bibliography

My purpose here is to suggest a few books I have read and enjoyed, and would recommend to fellow book-lovers and collectors. As I stated at the outset of my blog, this is by no means exhaustive; it is rather an eclectic selection which I think others will enjoy.

Further, this is not a formal bibliography, but is instead a list with the barest of information that will allow an interested reader to find good books. I invite comments and additions by readers.

The Best of the New

Nicholas Basbanes

The dean of modern bibliophiles, Basbanes explores the height to which book collecting can rise – and the depths to which it can fall.
  • A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
  • Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture
  • Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book-Hunter in the 21st Century
  • A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World
  • Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World

Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This husband and wife team recount their path into collecting and illustrate waypoints recognizable to evolving collectors.

  • Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World
  • Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Book Lore
  • Warmly Inscribed: The New England Book Forger and Other Book Tales

Mid-20th Century

Jean Peters (ed.)

  • Book Collecting: A Modern Guide - An expert collection of essays on book collecting.

John Carter

  • Taste and Technique in Book Collecting – With Peters (above), two books no collector should be without

Lawrence Clark Powell

  • A Passion for Books
  • Books in my Baggage

Jack Matthews

  • Reading Matter
  • Booking in the Heartland

David McGee

  • Infinite Riches

The Old School

Charles P. Everitt

  • The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter - An unapologetic memoir of an Americana dealer.

Edwin Wolff and John F. Fleming

  • Rosenbach, A Biography - Bio of (arguably) the most famous book dealer of all time.

Thomas Frognall Dibdin

  • Bibliomania, or Book-Madness: Containing Some Account of the History, Symptoms, and Cure of this Fatal Disease - Book collecting roads lead to Dibdin.


Harold Rabinowitz

  • A Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury… - Excerpts and essays to entertain.

Please include your favorites!


On the importance of books

I just thought I'd post a quote for all the book collectors out there:

The life of a good book, is far longer than the life of a man. Its author dies, and his generation dies, and his successors are born and die; the world he knew disappears, and new orders which he could not forsee are established on its ruins; law, religion, science, commerce, society, all are transformed into shapes which would astound him; but his book continues to live. Long after he and his epoch are dead, the book speks with his voice. - Gilbert Highet

This view may explain why everyone wants to write a great novel before they die - books are a sure path to immortality.

More than that, the book itself, as a physical object, becomes a primary source of historical insight into the period in which it was produced; from it inferences can be made into the state of the world in another time and place, seperate from the lesson the book is trying to communicate.

I took this quote from A Passion for Books by Lawrence Clark Powell. Powell was a librarian's librarian, book lover, and authority on writing about California and the Southwest. His books are great reading for the book collector, and are in turn collectable in their own right.


Friday, January 13, 2006

When you can't buy another watch...

There are times when a new collector is between watch purchases. What does a collector do to keep himself busy?

Change the appearance of the watches you have.

The easiest and most popular way to do this is to change the bracelet or band. In order to do this, only one tool is necessary, and it is the first tool any watch lover should buy - a springbar tool.

These two springbar tools are representative of what you'll find out there, and are available dirctly through Otto Frei, or through Otto Frei via the Timezone Tool Shop. The two differ in that the top tool is a Bergeon 6111, a 'top quality' (read, fancier) tool, while the bottom tool is a no-frills Standard Bergeon tool. Both are up to the task, however when buying your watch tools, remember that an investment in quality tools will yeild divedends in the long run; a better tool will last longer.

Most straps and bracelets are held on by springbars. The forke end of the tool is inserted between the neck of the springbar and the case lug, and the springbar is pulled toward the center of the strap until it is clear of the hole, allowing the bar to be removed. The springbars are placed in the new strap, and the springbar is replaced into the lugs. Piece of cake!

There are pictures on all the watch forums of people trying out different watch/strap combos. Some make quite a difference, while the changes in my pictures here are subtler.

A change from a bracelet to a strap can make a watch sportier, and more comfortable in the winter.

Some bands, like the NATO style bands shown on the modified Seiko 007 below, don't require removal of the lugs to interchange straps.

I find my bands at GlobalWatchBand and The Watch Prince. Bracelets can dress a watch up, but are generally a bit more expensive. In addition, a bracelet sizing tool is necessary to adjust new bracelets to your wrist. Otto Frei carries a variety of tools to remove bracelet links, in a range of quality, complexity, and price.
Changing bands is easy, and one of the first customization tasks a collector can pick up. Adding deployants, changing buckles, and similar tasks can be performed with just a springbar tool.
Ultimately, many collectors will chose to learn to change batteries, redial watches, add custom hand sets, and service their own mechanical movements. An outstanding on-line watch school is maintained by Timezine - the TZ Watch School. Those with patience, steady hands, and a driving interest in horology are encouraged to apply!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wristwatches and the disposable society

An interesting poll is being taken at WatchUSeek, namely, are inexpensive mechanicals becoming 'disposable'.

My reply:

Yes and No

I think watches have followed the trend that most consumer products have experienced in the past 10 years or so - we do live (in the US at least) in a disposable world. This applies to all products that have seen a drastic decrease in the cost of production: VCRs, televisions, small appliances - all products formerly 'repairable' but now more cost effective to replace. It also applies to electronics and other items where technology outpaces the useful life of products: digital cameras, computers, and MP3 players, for example - why fix an outdated product?

A very small percentage of the watch-buying community buys mechanical watches. Quartz watches have always been largely disposable. With the advent of low-priced mechanicals, particularly of asian origin, more people are wearing mechanical watches. However, these mechanicals suffer from the same syndrome as the VCR - cheaper to replace than fix.

Where the exceptions occur are with the collector and enthusiast. If an individual sees enduring value in a piece for something other than utility, the watch may be worth fixing.For example, I recently bought a Marathon GG-W-113. An uncommon military watch, the Marathon exhibits an early entry of the company into military watch production, and has design elements uncommon for a watch of its type. It has a case similar to to the UK G-10, unique in US service, and houses a mechanical movement which would soon become obsolete in US military watches. So, although I spent $200 for the watch, I had no qualms in spending $70 to service this interesting watch.

If it were an unremarkable Seiko 5, I would probably not have had it serviced.

So, collector value trumps monetary value for a watch collector. If my collection focused on Seiko 5's, even a watch whose retail is low might become repairable for me, if it is no longer a production item.I do not collect VCRs, so I have no problem with a disposable mindset in that context. But for a VCR collector, who knows?

There are many vintage mechanicals that are out of repair, and are no longer worn. This is due in many cases to the perception of the owner that the style or technical features of the watch have been superceded. In this respect, mechanicals have been disposable for some time. A collector might love to fix them, however.

In the end, I guess the feasability of repair depends on the percieved value of the item to the owner, and is influenced by maitenance cost, but is not solely determined by it.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wristwatch Accuracy and the Penultimate Timekeeper

Watch aficionados - did this happen to you on New Years Eve? Midnight is near, and you set your certified chronometer against your atomic radio-controlled Casio earlier in the day so you'd know WHEN to kiss your date. As the moment gets closer people start counting down - but they are no in synch with your watch. You KNOW your watch is right, so you begin to count down the correct time, trying to get the crowd on your beat. Too late - they're already too loud, and they ring in the New Year a full three seconds early. Peeved, you forget to kiss your date, and another year starts off badly...

Well, it seems people don't care about watch accuracy all that much, even when it counts. Watch collectors are holdouts in this world gone metrologically mad - most collectors have some concept of timekeeping accuracy, and each has their own tolerance for deviance in his or her timepieces. "How accurate should my watch be?" is one of the most common threads on watch collecting bulletin boards, especially among new members.

In an interesting thread on WatchUSeek , a poll was taken asking how accurate members expected their watches to be. It turns out that 70% of respondents felt that COSC standards (+6/-4 sec/day) or a slightly looser +/-10 sec/day was acceptable. A laissez-faire 15% said that +/-30 sec/day was fine, while precisely 4.72% demand atomic clock accuracy.

I fall somewhere in between, finding a 10-20 sec/day deviation in most mechanical watches okay for me. I don't mind resetting my watch every few days. I think many collectors who own several mechanical watches, and who don't keep them constantly wound, will ultimately fall into the easygoing range that I accept. However, in my mind brand new or high dollar watches should produce COSC-like rate results.

Aside from what a collector will accept, what is realistic? Well made mechanicals, using in-house or modified commercial ETA movements, should realistically keep time within COSC standards. However, a buyer should not assume any given accuracy not claimed by the manufacturer; big names do not always ensure that a manufacturer will adhere to the consumer's expectations of accuracy.

Some unmodified ETAs might do as well as a COSC certified watch, and rates for identical models can vary on a watch-by-watch basis. For an ETA or most Seiko mechanical movements, 10-15 sec/day is not unreasonable. In my experience, Miyota (Citizen) mechanical movements are in this range as well, but may vary a bit more on a per watch basis. Timekeeping performance can degenerate over time, and a slow watch is a good sign of a watch that needs service. Performance can also quickly degenerate if the watch is subjected to shock, temperature, or moisture beyond its design limits.

Collectors can find lots of technical information on the ETA SA regarding their movements, but nowhere are any accuracy claims made. The final adjustment and performance of the movement is the province of the watch manufacturer.

Quatz watches are inherently much more accurate than mecanical ones - some collectors like quartz, some don't. The ocillation of the crystal in a quartz watch is many times more regular than any counterpart balance in a mechanical watch; quartz crystals are not subject to positional error due to gravity, and are not subject to rate change due to the winding/unwinding of a spring. They are, however prone to loss of accuracy due to temperature and moisture. Quartz watches are commonly accurate to +/-15 sec/month.

The ultimate timekeeper would be an atomic wristwatch - atomic clocks are so accurate that scientific notation is required to express accuracy. The best a conventional quartz watch can do is link regularly to an atomic clock standard, usually by radio. A quartz watch that loses half a second per day, but re-sets itself to an atomic clock every night, is effectively always on time.

The penultimate timekeeper is the thermocompensated quartz watch. Keeping time within +/-15 seconds a year, without reference to an external standard, these watches are engineering marvels. For the last word on thermocompensation, I would refer the reader to the outstanding article by Bruce Reding at the WUS High-end Quartz Forum.

There are a few ways to improve the accuracy of a watch. As has already been noted, keeping a watch clean and oiled through routine service is a good place to start, but watchmakers and enthusiasts can do more. Adjusting the accuracy of a watch by changing the rate of oscillation of the balance is called regulation. Regulation makes fine adjustments to the rate a watch beats, so that fewer beats are gained or lost per hour in relation to the ideal rate a watch is geared for.

"How accurate should my watch be?" The short answer is 'as accurate as the manufacturer specifies.' Buying a watch and expecting it to perform beyond these claims can lead to heartache. Determine what is comfortable for you, and buy accordingly. Once bought, keep the watch maintained, just as you would your car or any other piece of important machinery. Then, wear and enjoy it!

How does this help us in our New Years Eve scenario? Unless everyone is wearing a radio controlled atomic quartz, or a thermocompensated quartz watch....not at all. Just lighten up and join the countdown with everyone else. Your date will thank you.


Used Books - As Good As It Gets

My grocery store has placed anti-bacterial wipes near the carts so that shoppers can clean the handles. Restrooms now routinely have trashcans near the door, so people who use paper towels to touch the handles won't throw their trash on the floor. Gas stations near my house now have boxes of plastic gloves for consumers.

It seems that more and more people are turining into neurotics, a la Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. I'm not completely innocent here, but one place I'll surely draw the line is books.

An insightful post on a bookseller mailing list was recently provided by Larry Burdick of Book Oasis . Larry is a top-notch bookseller, and had an interesting encounter with a pair of customers:

I had an interesting experience a few days ago. Some customers had asked me to get them a copy of a Wallace Stegner book. I told them I could certainly do that, and then the husband leaned forward and said,

"It has to be a real book. Not a used one, a REAL one!"

Used books aren't real? What a distinction!

Have we really reached the point in our society where something that's not newly minted or wrapped in shrink-wrap loses all meaning? Or is this a subtext of the shopping mentality? It also begs the question about books and their place in reality!

To my mind, books are the quintessential form of reality. They comprise the thoughts and the feelings of the author. A book is the ultimate form of art, for it is one person's representation of events, experiences, ones which most of us will never do. More to the point, the fact that these same experiences have already affected the life of a previous reader makes them all the more valuable, because we know that the book has a valid effect! It is for this reason that the best books are secondhand!

As to used books not being "real", I would quibble with that as well. To me there is nothing more real than a used book. It has creases on the spine from being held up or folded back during a marathon reading session late at night. There may be a soil mark from a drop of soup during a sickday, or a drip of coffee. Forgotten bookmarks can be discovered between the pages: boarding passes with markings like London or Bangkok; sales receipts from fifteen or twenty years earlier; betting slips; tissues; fragments of torn up Dear John letters; and sometimes even money! A used book is not just the book itself, it represents a portion of someone's life, someone whom you will likely never meet face to face.

Added to which, the average run of a book in print these days is about two years, meaning that most of the books you see for sale in new bookstores won't be there for long. They will soon make the run of their scheduled printing, pass through hands of friends and families in a few years, and be relegated to secondhand bookshops. But at that point they will be carrying the creases and marks of loving hands, and carry in their pages the aforementioned cards and slips which will tell silent tales of passage around the world before landing on the shelves of a used bookstore.

In closing, I'm reminded of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, who insists that he is 'real' because the little boy who owns him says he is. At the end, the stuffed toy has absorbed so much love that he achieves reality. In a like fashion, the books which pass through our own hands build up a sort of "charge" by virtue of the stories they tell, and the interest they build up in those who read them. A sort of "dry cell" effect, if you will. Brand new books don't have a charge, because they haven't interested anyone, yet.

So, if you want a REAL book experience, buy a used book!

I agree! The reality is, there are far too many books filled with interesting and relevant information that are now out of print, and becoming increasingly hard to come by. Libraries are less the archives of yesteryear and are now 'information resources', where the primary goal is not preservation of books, but 'customer service'. In this environment, the collector is more important than ever; but to have these books saved, someone has to be willing to TOUCH a used book.Categories:

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Book Collecting Misconceptions

Some common book collecting misconceptions:

  • This book is old, so it must be valuable.” – An ‘old’ book is not necessarily a valuable book. Many novice collectors and on-line sellers assume that a book 100 years old or older is a rarity. In reality, the printed book began in the 1450’s, and many books produced in the last 200-300 years are not necessarily desirable to collectors. Further, many books printed in the late 1800’s were reprints of popular works, mass produced for public consumption – often without reference to earlier printings.
  • This book is old, so it must be rare.” – If I had a dollar for every book touted as rare on eBay, I’d be a millionaire. True rarity is a result of the size of a print run, and the number of books surviving from the run. For example, there are many anti-slavery books dating to the 1860’s that can be consistently found in an on-line search, whereas some books published in small print runs in recent years are much harder to come by. Geographic rarity is a form of rarity that has been diminished with the advent of online bookselling. In the past, a collector of Americana in the Midwestern US might have had much more difficulty finding desirable books than one in Philadelphia or New York. Today many booksellers list their inventory on the internet, easing some of the frustrations of geographic rarity.
  • This book contains a bookplate and signature of a previous collector – it must be worth less than a similar copy without them.” – Not always true. In fact, an association between the previous owner and the author or subject matter can boost a book’s value. Some collectors buy books for no other reason than an attractive bookplate.
  • This book appears to be signed by the author, it must be more valuable.” – Possibly. Book signing is a phenomenon that has become increasingly popular. So much so, that some books are published with a facsimile signature, which can be detected using a magnifying glass – dots of ink rather than a continuous line are a giveaway. Not all authors sign books – so a book signed by an author who rarely does so is often worth a premium, while an author who is a prolific signer may not increase a book’s value.
  • This book is in great condition, for its age.” – Condition is generally regarded as independent from age. There are pristine books that are hundreds of years old, and shabby books from the early 1900’s. Saying that a book is in good shape for its age is a cover for a lack of understanding of book grading standards. On eBay, this one is right up there with *RARE!!!!*
  • Buying first editions of new works now will pay off in the future.” – Not necessarily. Often, an author’s first book is the author’s most rare, as publishers often do not like to make big investments in large print runs for unknown authors. Established authors may get first edition runs for subsequent works numbering in the hundreds of thousands, essentially eliminating the rarity often associated with first editions. First editions of poor works may never appreciate, of course.
  • The seller says this is a first edition, so it must be one!” – I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. Within the realm of reputable dealers, this may be a safer assumption – but it can’t hurt to ask. When a reputable dealer says “First Edition”, what they usually mean is “First Printing, First Edition”. An ‘edition’ is all books printed from one setting of type (historically). A ‘printing’ is a number of books printed from that type at one time. To further complicate matters, a ‘state’ is a smaller variation induced during a single printing. While there is some wiggle room in these definitions, particularly with the death of traditional typesetting, in general the most desirable edition for a collector of ‘Firsts’ is the first state of the first printing of the first edition. Whew. Actually determining if a book meets these criteria is a field of study left for the most discriminating of bibliographers. Dealers may not have the correct ‘points of issue’, or list of attributes, to determine in a book is a true “First”.
  • This book is leather bound…” –or- “This book says it is a limited edition, so it must be valuable.” – Popular works often spawn editions marketed as “Collectable”. A rule of thumb – if a book is marketed as a collectable by the publisher, it probably isn’t.

How does a collector avoid these pitfalls? In a word, experience. When you decide you’d like to obtain a specific book, don’t run out and buy the first copy you find. Do research, and follow the market. You may find a book that you thought was ‘rare’ is not, or that the most desirable edition of the book is a different printing altogether. You will also save yourself money in the long haul by not buying an inferior book and upgrading it later.

If it takes you months to source a book using all of the resources available to you, including the internet, dealer catalogs, and periodicals, it is likely that the book is at least uncommon, and you might consider buying a copy when it turns up. If you see a copy weekly or monthly, you can surely wait to buy the best copy that can be had, and be more selective in finding it.

Book collecting is not a race, it’s a lifelong pursuit – one in which patience (and prudent buying) is a virtue.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Book Collecting – Installment I

Book collecting can begin as an affinity and grow into an obsession. Something about books exerts such a strong pull on the collector, that the compulsively inclined had best take care when entering the hobby – it is head and shoulders above the field when it comes to documented cases of irrational fixation for the activity, otherwise known as Bibliomania.

What makes books so compelling? Collectable objects can be interesting for a variety of reasons including rarity, aesthetic attraction, and the stories behind those who created them. Books combine a long list of attractive attributes:

  • The subject matter, its quality, and the impact the contents have had on history and culture,
  • The edition or issue, and how it illustrates the evolution of the work and the author’s changing attitude toward it,
  • The author, their biography, and the place the work has in their development as an individual,
  • The printer, and the place the book holds in the history of publishing and the body of the printer’s work,
  • The illustrations, the story of the artist who created them, and the place of the compositions in art history,
  • The binding, its materials – be it leather, paper, or other medium, the binder herself, and the binder’s story and body of work,
  • The individual book, its provenance, previous readers, owners, annotators, and their historical significance or contribution to the book as object or to the subject matter it contains,
  • The collector, and the story of how he came to obtain the book, how it influenced his life, and the memories it evokes for him,

And on and on…

A single object that can combine so many stories in one hand-held portable package is a worthy collectable indeed. It is not only the rarest of examples that combines these qualities, but every book, to one degree or another. That such an item can be so readily available, to even the beginning collector, is unique.

The beginning collector that bears in mind all of the permutations of value and history that is open to him with each acquisition is off to an auspicious start. Most begin simply by keeping copies of books that they have enjoyed, and want to keep close should they want to revisit them in the future. Later, several books of similar theme or appeal fill the shelves of the reader, and the collector is born.

Recognizing that an accumulation is becoming a collection, what should the budding collector bear in mind? First, revisiting the ‘Constants in collecting’ can be helpful. These include: Collecting what you like, Taking Your Time, Doing Research, Shopping Virtually, Watching the Market, Buying the Seller, Buying the Best You Can Afford, and (again) Taking Your Time.

In addition, there are other important overarching ideas for book collectors:

What to Collect?

Some collectors assert that a collection is only important if it is thoughtfully designed in order to contribute to a field of scholarship on a particular subject. Such collections may focus on narrow fields, and trend towards being ‘compleatist’ in their makeup. While a valid approach, this attribute as being the sole arbiter of an ‘important’ collection is open to debate.

Other collectors acquire the most important ‘high spots’ in a variety of fields, so that individual books in the collection represent the most influential works in each category. Many who collect for investment purposes take this approach.

Another strategy is collecting books which are significant to the development of the collector himself, with individual books representing periods in the life of the collector.

There also exists a category of book collector whose approach is similar to that of the ‘Cabinet Collector’ of the 19th century. Cabinet collectors were so named because they would fill their display with oddities which piqued their interest, from a variety of cultures and locales.

Whatever the approach, a collection will only fulfill the collector if it speaks to them. The messages the collection whispers to the collector need only be known between the two – but a collection where this communication is absent, like any relationship devoid of communication, will ultimately grow stale and be left behind.


As with collecting watches, a variety of resources is readily available for the new book collector.


The two best books for the beginning collector are:

Among the Gently Mad – Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the 21st Century by Nicholas Basbanes – Basbanes is the current incarnation of the Oracle at Delphi for book collectors. His other books, A Gentle Madness, Patience and Fortitude, A Splendor of Letters, and Every Book Its Reader illuminate the world of book collecting from top to bottom, and should be on every serious collector’s ‘To Read’ list. They detail the travails of collectors, auctioneers, bibliophiles, and bibliomanes as the buy, bid, 'borrow', and steal to build their collections. Among the Gently Mad is unique among them, however, because it outlines how to find and collect the books you want.

Book Collecting – A Modern Guide edited by Jean Peters – Now out of print, this book is a collection of essays, each focusing on one aspect of collecting, by a noted contributer in the respective fields. Finding this in the used book market should be the first fory into sourcing out-of-print books for the new collector.


How to find Book Collecting by Peters? Visiting the used book mega search engine Bookfinder should do it. Bookfinder searches new and OOP books from large retailers and small bookshops around the world, and is my favorite book collecting website. In a similar vein are ABE and Addall .

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) is a trade organization made up of professional independent booksellers. Buying the seller often means buying from a member of the ABAA. Their website ABAA.com also contains a wealth of information and links for collectors.


Book collecting magazines seem to come and go, but the current shining star is Fine Books & Collections Magazine. Contributors include Basbanes and a growing field of book cognoscenti.

From Here…

I hope this brief introduction will entice you to return for my future installments on book collecting. Book crazy myself, I am still in the process of evolving as a collector. Please feel free to comment, so we can grow together. And enjoy hunting down that object of your desire…unless it’s one I’m looking for too…


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Pocket Knife

Any Boy Scout will tell you – one of the most useful items to have on hand is a good pocket knife. Pocket knives are also a great holiday gift, even for the person ‘who has everything’. The variety of patterns, manufacturers, and materials available means that a knife can be a very personalized gift, and having more than one doesn’t mean redundancy.

There has always been a great variety of tools that fall into this category, but with the advent of multi-tools, one-handed opening knives, etc., there are more to choose from today than ever before. The field is so broad, in fact, that for present purposes I’ll only focus on the more traditional pocket or pen knife, and leave the multi-tools, locking knives, custom-made, and fixed blades for future discussion.


Modern pocket knives trace their lineage back to the English Jack or Barlow pattern. A ‘pattern’ is a style of knife, generally distinguished by the number of blades and their shapes. Patterns have names such as Whittler, Muskrat, Pen, Doctor’s, Gentleman’s, Trapper and Stockman - sometimes alluding to their intended function, their intended user, or their appearance. Traditional pocket knives are also sometimes called ‘slipjoint’ knives, referring to the fact that they generally do not have a locking mechanism, requiring release before the knife can be closed.

Schatt and Morgan English Jack from Cumberland Knife Works

The Barlow, the most basic pocket knife, consists of one or two blades that fold into the handle. Both blades are hinged to the same end of the knife, and open in the same direction. The handle of the knife is reinforced with a metal collar, or bolster, which is usually made from nickel silver, stainless, or chromed steel. An English Jack knife is essentially the same as a Barlow, but often has bolsters at both ends.

In fact, the English Jack knife is one of my two favorite patterns. It is simple, nicely sized, and has a pedigree back to the earliest pocket knives made. My other favorite is the equal-ended Whittler, which we’ll look at next.

Schatt and Morgan Equal-End Whittler from Cumberland Knife Works
In addition to blade configuration, other considerations in buying a pocket knife include manufacturer, materials, and aesthetic appeal.
There are many pocket knife manufacturers out there – but fewer than there used to be. Old stand-by companies like Schrade and Wenger have folded or been bought by other companies. It is probably safe to say that the most collected maker is Case, with a huge following and well documented production history. At knife shows, Case collectors easily outnumber collectors dedicated to any other single brand.

My favorite brand is Queen, and their premium subsidiary Schatt and Morgan. I feel that their design and value is top notch, and that their knives both work well and are attractive. They are located in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and are made in the USA.

Other collected makes include German Eye, Hen and Rooster, Boker, and Buck, to name a few. Swiss Army style knives from Victorinox and Wenger are also very practical and highly collectable, and are also a good low-cost entry point into the hobby.
Different makers often employ different materials. Pocket knives can have handles or ‘scales’ made of antler, bone, wood, polymer, or other synthetics. Many collectors prefer stag antler, or bone that is ‘jigged’ or grooved to look like stag. Bone and stag are very attractive, and work well, but cost a bit more and may be more prone to cracking or shrinkage than wood or synthetic materials. Bolsters that reinforce joints can be silver, nickel-silver, steel, or other metal – and again, more expensive materials are often desirable but come at a premium.

Blade steel is often a topic that can bring out long discussions of minutiae among collectors. In general, reputable makers and dealers carry knives that will perform well. Better makers make reasonably priced knives with blades of stainless 440 series steel. Some brands also make available higher grades of stainless steel, such as D2, ATS-34 or S30V – or carbon steels like 1095.

While a hole that can bury a budding collector, developing collectors might take more interest in steel. A great resource is Joe Talmadge’s Steel FAQ. Steel formulation for knives is a tradeoff between three factors: corrosion or stain resistance, edge holding, and strength. A rule of thumb for beginning collectors is Buy well regarded brands from a reputable dealer, and you’ll be fine.

On that note, where do I get my knives? I prefer to shop from Cumberland Knife Works. They carry Case, Queen, Schatt and Morgan, and others. Their website is a great place to browse, because you can search by brand or pattern, to get a good idea of what is out there. They are a dealer who stocks reliable knives, and can be trusted to sell you a good-using knife.

For collectors looking specifically for Swiss Army knives, I recommend Central Valley Wholesale, an authorized Victorinox dealer who has patterns you can’t find at the local discount store.

In my pocket? That Schatt and Morgan equal-ended Whittler up there. Nice shape, sharp blades, bone scales, and only 100 made in that color. The green is gone, but you can still get Amber and Winterbottom colored scales. Although it set me back $69, I’ll likely be passing it on to the next generation. Not a bad deal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Anchor Stones (Anker Steinbaukasten)

Lots of folks are out looking for that special, distinctive gift for their children, grandchildren, or significant other this time of year. Millions will be spent on toys that will break or be pushed aside shortly after the New Year.

One category of toy that fosters creativity is what I’ll loosely call ‘Construction Sets’. This includes traditional wooden building blocks, Lego ™ style interlocking plastic blocks, Lincoln Log™ sets, Erector™ sets, and the like. They allow the construction of structures limited only by the user’s creativity, and the range of pieces available.

Some of these products appeal to specific age groups, or require differing degrees of manual dexterity. They each also appeal to a certain aesthetic – Lincoln Logs™ and wooden blocks have a rugged build of natural products that can appeal to adults who remember them from their childhood. Interlocking plastic blocks are versatile, inexpensive, and colorful – and always seem to end up in the vacuum at my house. Erector™ sets are for the hard-core future mechanics, engineers, and architects among us.

However, there is a product that combines the best of all of these attributes – Anchor Stones.

The original Anchor Stones (Anker Steinbaukasten) go all the way back to 1879. They are beautiful colored and polished blocks of real stone, which produce beautiful buildings. They are sold in Basic sets of around 100 blocks, and Supplemental sets that can be expanded to build sets of over 2000 stones.

One of the great advantages of Anchor Stones is their versatility. They combine the simplicity and pleasing aesthetics of wooden blocks, the durability and color of interlocking plastic blocks, and the range of building complexity to rival Erector™ style building sets. Moreover, the packaging and set-building properties of Anchor Stone sets can solve the problem of what to buy the recipient next year, and the year after, and after…

While appropriate for the youngest builder, an amazing international community of enthusiasts has grown up around Anchor Stones. There are websites and blogs, mostly from Europe, that illustrate replicas of real buildings constructed with Anchor Stones. Many sites provide plans so that an aspiring Anchor architect can reproduce the results of their colleagues abroad.

From the AnkerStein.Org website

The best Anchor Stones are currently being made by Rudolstädter Anker-Steinbaukasten-Fabrik GmbH & Co. KG, and can be a bit of a challenge to come by in the United States. I like to buy from smaller businesses that are passionate about their hobbies, so the best source I could come by is George Hardy of Virginia, who also maintains a great enthusiast site at AnkerStein.Org. Basic sets are a bit easier to find, at sites such as NiftyCool Toys . The grand-daddy of construction toy sales The Construction Site also carries them.

Timeless, versatile, suitable for all ages. Maybe someone will buy ME some of these for Christmas…

For information on building toys in general, be sure to check out Alan Winston’s BlockPlay blog.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Pocket Notebooks

I'm no luddite, but sometimes technology can get in the way of efficiency. After all, all these computers were supposed to save us paper, right?

I find that carrying a notebook helps me navigate through the day. Palmtops are sexy, but a good old pen (or pencil - but that's for another day) and paper just seem more efficient to me. No waiting to power up, no batteries, no interface, and a sense of permanance all contribute to the utility of a notebook. They also seem to promote creativity, as you can jot, draw, scribble, and tape things in them quickly and easily.

The more accustomed to carrying a notebook you become, the more use the notebook gets, and the more invaluable it becomes. I dug up a pocket notebook out of the closet the other day that was 14 years old, and it was like a time capsule to another time in my life. It had reminders, shopping lists, and phone numbers that evoked some great memories.

Pocket notebooks are also extremely portable. At around 3"x5", they can easily slip into a jacket or pants pocket. Back in the late '80s I tried to get on the Day Runner bandwagon, and the size of the planner kept me from carrying it consistently, thus defeating its purpose.

Best Pocket Notebooks

Once the decision to try carrying a notebook has been made, the question that follows is which one? A cheap spiral notebook from an office store might fill the bill, but there are benefits to a little research.


If notebooks had groupies, this brand would rival the Greatful Dead. Its fan club is devout and eclectic, and if you believe the brand's marketing, its alums count no few stellar minds. Out of production for a time, Moleskines are back with a vengence.

Offered in a variety of sizes and paper colors, the basic pocket Moleskine is about 3.5" by 5.5", and has a sturdy oilcloth cover, 180 sewn pages, a bookmark, rear pocket, and an elastic band closure. A good place to grab one of these is Ninth Wave Designs , a site that also maintains a Moleskine related weblog. Once you're smitten, check out Moleskinerie to cement you addiction.
I find Moleskines durable and highly useable - but don't fall in to the nagging feeling that these are actually too nice to write in.


These Spanish-made notebooks seem to be the main competitor for the Italian Moleskine. They are closer to 4" x 6", and feature a flexable leather-like cover. The have about twice as many page, are twice as thick, but can cost about 30% less. The tradeoff is in the cover material, paper thickness, and lack of the little extras and cachet that the Moleskine offers.

That said, these are eminently useable, and only slightly harder to find that the Moleskine. Here again,Ninth Wave Designs carries these, but currentl only through their eBay auctions. Another spot, great for this and similar products is Pendemonium.


BOOK, MEMO, 6 in. 3 1/2 in., GREEN NSN 7530002220078

If you were in the US military, you may remember these - the notebook that every NCO or officer carried that helped them keep everything straight. You know the ones - green with Memoranda written across the front cover in yellow. Unlike the picture above, the ones I like are those that open like a book.

For years I looked for a source for these, with no succuess - it seemed that they were only available through the Federal Supply Service.

I finally found a source on an internet bulletin board that has lots of Veteran members. The specs, according to the source: "The cover is made of artificial leather with stitching detail. Contains 144 pages. This versatile book features a flexible cover with rounded corners and white sulfite writing paper. Does not include an index; pages are not numbered."

Not only do these hold a lot of nostalgia for folks like me, but they are a steal - around $20 a dozen! Not fancy, but they get the job done! Should I divulge my source? Should I add that they also sell no-frills Fisher Space Pens at an obscene price?

If this subject has got you intrigued, you'll find many variations on the theme at Journalisimo.

So are you nostalgic, practical, or GI issue? Any way you like - pocket notebooks can help you stay productive and creative.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

First Aid Kits

Often, the “Best Things” are things we admire and collect; other times they’re things we need. Every car, house, and ideally every individual should have access to a first aid kit. First aid kits can come in handy in everyday life, or on that one day when someone’s life could change drastically.

When I started looking at first aid kits for my family, I was fairly discouraged. I have had some first aid training in the military and in my youth, so I had some idea of what I might want to include in my first aid kit. Commercial kits from stores, pharmacies, and warehouse stores seemed to be lacking – collections of large numbers of inconsequential items included solely so the retailer could claim “255 ITEMS” on the box top.

I spoke with EMTs, nurses, and doctors, both in person and via the net. I also followed forums, websites, and bulletin boards where people who take first aid seriously hang out. I picked up quite a bit of info, and learned that there are many ways to approach the problem of having a well built first aid kit.

The most vital piece of information is this: having a first aid kit for your family is not enough – knowing how to use the contents is mandatory as well. If you want to care for yourself or an injured family member, you can only ethically do so to the extent that your training allows. The information I provide here is for informational purposes only, and assumes that the responsibility for acquiring adequate training lies on the reader. Truly, if you have children or loved ones, taking a Red Cross or Community College First Aid Course is well-spent time.

There are two approaches to obtaining a first aid kit: buying one pre-packaged, or building one yourself. The problem with building one on your own is that many of the items you might include are packaged in large quantities when your kit might only require a few. The drawback to pre-packaged kits is that you pay a premium for the convenience, and they may lack items you feel are important.

The middle way to approach the problem is to buy a basic kit, and add or subtract items as necessary.

The size of kit you build also depends on the number of people whom might use it, and what degree of portability is desired. I will consider two approaches, the personal kit, and the family home or car kit.

The Personal Kit

Here are some items you might include in an personal kit:

Gauze – The main purpose for gauze is covering a wound and absorbing fluids and dress the wound.

  • Trauma Bandage – A Blood Stopper™, or military style compression bandage is at home in every kit. They generally consist of a thick pad of gauze sponge attached to a long gauze bandage. They can be used for a variety of types of wounds, and can also be used as a sling, etc. if necessary.
  • 5” x 9” Abdominal Combine pads or Surgipads – These are large gauze sponges, with a non-stick side for large wounds.
  • 4”x4” Gauze Sponges – Useful size for many wounds. Many kits also include gauze of other sizes, but this size works well for most applications. Larger gauze can always be cut or fol;ded for smaller wounds.
  • priMED or bulkee Gauze – This is gauze that is bulk vacuum packed to save space, a consideration for keeping kit size down.
  • Petrolatum (Vaseline) Gauze – some kits include this for burns, other kits include burn gel instead

Bandages – Bandages can hold gauze dressings in place, or both act as dressing and bandage, like a band-aid.

  • Triangular Bandage – Large cloth bandage which can be folded in a variety of ways to hold gauze in place, apply pressure to a wound, or serve as a sling.
  • Adhesive bandages – Band-Aid™ or similar bandages, this is the item that is way overdone in many commercial kits.
  • ACE™ Elastic bandage – helpful for joint injuries
  • Co-Flex bandage – A sort of gauze-ish bandage that is tacky enough to adhere to itself – great for bandaging without tape.
  • Butterfly closures – Not bandages per se, but used for wound closure, like a temporary suture.
  • Cloth First Aid Tape – Can be used to secure gauze.

Medications – Kits usually contain aspirin for pain relief in adults and heart attack, Tylenol™ or ibuprofen for pain relief, and Benadryl™ for allergic reaction. Some kits add Immodium AD™ for diarrhea, cold medications, and antacids. Families with children may include Ipecac. Additionally, you will want to include any prescription medications you take regularly. Don’t go overboard on medications – they get used regularly, and will probably expire before use. Remember to secure medications from children.

Antibiotic – Neosporin or similar antibiotic is common in kits, as are iodine and benzalkonium chloride wipes for wound cleaning.

Accessories – EMT shears, nitrile gloves.

The Car/Family Kit

The primary difference between individual and car or home kits is that there is space for additional bulky items, such as alcohol, saline eye wash, and the like – and that more people may use the kit, so quantities of items may be a bit higher. However, more isn’t always better, as medications and bandages may become too old to use before they are exhausted.

The Best Commercial Kits I’ve Found?

After some looking, these are the kits that I have bought, and have found to be what I consider reasonably priced and well stocked.

Personal Kit

The Tactical Operator’s Medical Kit from CountyComm. Don’t be put off by the name – if this kit is good enough for those that routinely go in harm’s way, it’s probably good enough for you.

This kit has most things you need, and not much you don’t. It comes in a durable case that can be slipped into a backpack, briefcase, or worn on a belt, which means it should be with you when you need it. I added some CO-FLEX which I had removed the cardboard spool from, some Ibuprofin and Benadryl, and called it good to go.

The Family Kit

The Standard Emergency Medical Kit from Swift First Aid, via Boss-Safety.com. This kit adds nice items like ice packs, saline, and a rescue blanket, without adding too much extraneous stuff you’ll have no need for.

Honorable Mention

Adventure Medical Kits puts out some nicely packaged, and well thought out kits, but you may pay for more items than you’ll need, and retailers often charge premium prices for the company’s kits.

Preparedness awareness goes in and out of the media focus, but is never a bad idea.


Jeremy Mercer's top 10 bookshops

I'll be discussing book collecting in the near future, and this seems like a good prelude.

Jeremy Mercer spent time living in the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris, and like some of his predecessors, has written about the experience. In his recent entry into the field is Books, Baguettes, and Bedbugs or in the US Time was soft there.

In this article in The Guardian, Mercer lays out his globetrotting list of Top 10 Bookshops.

While your favorite bookshop is probably "the one you can get to", this far flung list is an enjoyable read.