Recently, at a traveling carnival, I came across one of those old coin-operated fortune-telling machines. You put a quarter in the slot, a figure comes to life, waves its “hand” over a glass ball, and out pops a scroll of paper with your future written on it. I was struck by the device’s mannequin, wrapped in colorful, patterned, silks and the device’s antique carved wood cabinet, with brass detailing. I was also intrigued by the idea that this mechanical device with gears and cogs was somehow supposed to be able to tell me my future. How could a cold machine possibly know my life’s destiny? Of course, it can’t. Like the fortune cookie or the Magic 8 Ball, these things are meant solely for entertainment.
Yet, they still hold power over us. For some people, a Ouija board or a deck of tarot cards can be the couriers of life-changing information. These objects are believed to possess mystifying and arcane knowledge, even though, in reality, they are just novelty consumer products. The clerk at the magic store orders a gross of tarot cards whenever the stock is low and a new Ouija board can be purchased in the board game section of your local toy store, next to Chutes and Ladders.
The thing that makes these items magical can be found in their construct…not in just how they are made or their graphic design, but in their entire idea. Usually, the stories around these items are just as important as the items themselves; and the contexts in which they are used play a massive part in their power.
I began to wonder if there are other objects that somehow provide knowledge through purely mechanical means. Old analog calculators leaped to mind, the slide ruler, the abacus, and the mechanical adding machine with its crank handle. These devices also convey complicated ideas through the simple arrangement of moving parts. And their power is not questioned. All of ancient China was controlled using sliding beads on an abacus.
Like the fortune-telling machine at the fair, these tools of science were often also beautiful, delicately carved devices with inlaid brass and ivory. Although these machines were based on math, for some, they too possess mystifying and arcane knowledge. They have their own mysticism, their own sacred places of use, and their own histories and lore. In the hands of mystics at NASA, the slide ruler took us to the moon.
So here I present a new paradigm. What if science made devices that could calculate more than just numbers? What if engineers and mathematicians could come up with formulas and conversion wheels that could tell us who to love or the nature of the soul? What might it look like if all the mysteries of the world could be quantified, laid out in charts, then formatted into easy-to-use slide wheels? What if there was a company that had been creating just such devices for decades? This collection is a celebration of that idea