My winter project this year was to sort through the family slides. It’s always felt like a wintertime job to me because it needs to be dark for proper viewing, and why would I lock myself away from the sun in the brighter months, when I could just do it in the natural dark of winter? So every fall, I’ve had the best of intentions to go through them. And every spring they’ve still been sitting there, untouched.
I think perhaps my desire to do the job in the winter, while it had a certain logic behind it, may also have worked against me. A lot of the photos, I knew, were from before I was born and would feature people and places I didn’t know. But any I was in would be from my childhood – not the best of times in my life, and something I was a little trepidatious to revisit, especially at a time of year where I already tend to feel a little gloomy.
Still, I specifically asked my mother for the slides, along with the various viewing devices and projectors she had, a long time ago, and I’d reached the point where it seemed silly to leave them stuffed in a cupboard, taking up space, to no purpose. So I set up the “Golde Manumatic Slide Projector” in the basement, and with the help of some background music and the occasional beer, I’ve been picking away at the collection.
I got maybe halfway before the projector bulb burned out.
Finding a replacement, I thought, might be a challenge. I figure the projector is from the 1950s. I’m fairly certain my parents bought it after they were married, which was in the ’50s, and from what I can find online, Golde went out of business in 1958. So I needed what was a specialty bulb even before the equipment became out-of-date.
Fortunately, I had more than only the bulb itself to go off of, as the original packaging was tucked into a compartment inside the projector case.
A new bulb wasn’t available anywhere locally, not even as a special order. Eventually, after some searching, Ron sourced a supplier in the U.S. that would ship to Canada. It was expensive – not the bulbs themselves so much, but the shipping – so I ordered two, to have a spare on hand in case the one I’m using burns out.
What I received was … a bit of a surprise.
I’d expected something new. I mean, these are new, not used. But they’re clearly not something that just rolled off the assembly line. (The invoice categorizes them as “New-Old Stock.”) The boxes are unfinished cardboard, not the shiny, plastic coated style of today. And the amount of information jammed onto every flat surface is not something you’ll often find on modern packaging.
But the real key to the bulbs’ age is in the company address.
The address is “New York 19.” The “19” indicates the Postal Zone, something that the US Postal Service began using in larger cities in 1943 to improve mail delivery efficiency. Five-digit ZIP codes were introduced in 1963. (Side note: Today I learned that ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan.) Based on those dates, that makes these bulbs somewhere between 58 and 78 years old – although considering that five-digit ZIP codes didn’t become mandatory until 1967, they could be as young as 54.
Things have definitely changed since these bulbs were manufactured and packaged, and it goes well beyond the bulbs themselves. Just above the address, there are instructions to, “Surround by at least 3″ of Excelsior for reshipment.” Excelsior is wood wool, which used to be a very common packing material.
These days? Not so much. Instead of wood wool, I got a combination of bubble wrap and Styrofoam pellets.
However, I will forgive the company I bought the bulbs from for their lapse in adherence to old-timey packing techniques, if only for the usage instructions that came with them. It’s an entire typewritten sheet of detailed information, starting out with how important it is to not handle the bulbs with your bare hands, as oils from your skin will, “cause premature lamp failure.” They recommend gloves, but say that a clean t-shirt or cloth are also acceptable. However …
We do not recommend using nasal tissue as they generally have some amount of oil to make your nose feel good.
Oh, trust me. Exploring all the facets of what was supposed to be a mundane purchase has made way more than my nose happy. I can only imagine what will happen the next time I fire up my slide projector using one of my brand new bulbs that’s older than I am.