[Seth-Trips] Slide rules! Physics auction, June 30

Seth David Schoen schoen at loyalty.org
Thu Jun 27 14:31:34 PDT 2002

A gracious lady in Berkeley passed on a tip about this exciting
auction (which I think conflicts with the Bootable Business Card
meeting the same day).


   Tom Colton with instruments
   Thomas Colton of the Physics Department shows off a few of the
   hundreds of voltmeters, ampmeters, electroscopes and resistors
   unearthed from the attic of LeConte Hall. Noah Berger photo
   From attic to auction: antique instruments to raise money for Physics
   27 June 2002

   By Bonnie Azab Powell, Public Affairs

   BERKELEY - Inside the soaring, wood-beamed warehouse of Oakland's
   Harvey Clars auction house, there are enough precious items to fill
   several mansions: grand pianos, Art Nouveau benches, a Henri II dining
   suite, Persian rugs, Limoges dinnerware. In their midst huddles an
   unusual group of objects, looking as ill at ease as engineers at a
   costume ball.

   A little after 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 30, Harvey Clars will open the
   bidding on this handful of antique scientific instruments -- and
   vintage Tinker Toys used for molecular models -- excavated from
   storage by UC Berkeley's Physics Department. This is just a test sale,
   through which the auction house will gauge the interest in an
   additional 400 or so voltmeters, galvanometers, balances, microscopes,
   collision-ball apparatuses, demonstration-size slide rules, and other
   items it plans to sell July 27-28. The Physics Department will use the
   proceeds to buy new equipment like computers, sensors, and microphones
   for its undergraduate laboratories.

   The instruments emerged from decades of seclusion in May, when the
   department began preparing to move out of the older wing of LeConte
   Hall to allow a seismic retrofit. In Physics' temporary home, Hearst
   Annex, space is at a premium. Thomas Colton, the instructional support
   group's director, thus faced the monumental housecleaning challenge of
   emptying out a 5,000-square-foot attic (with no elevator access) as
   well as numerous basement storage cupboards.

   "We didn't realize how much there was until we actually got up on
   ladders and started pulling things out," Colton says. "We thought we
   would fill up one lab room, and we did but we weren't even a quarter
   of the way finished." The storage contents ultimately covered every
   available inch of the tables in two laboratories. Colton called in
   faculty members, including Professor Emeritus Howard Shugart, to help
   identify the instruments, deciding which to set aside for Harvey
   Clars, which to consign to the university's Excess and Salvage, and
   which to keep for historical interest and as gifts for departing
   faculty. The department hopes to acquire display cases for the
   equipment for public viewing; until then, it will be stored in a
   secure room in Birge Hall.


                               AUCTION INFO 
                        Harvey Clars Auction Gallery
                            5644 Telegraph Ave.
                             Oakland, CA 94609
    Open for viewing Friday, June 28, 1-6 p.m. and Saturday, June 29, 10
                                a.m.-5 p.m.

      Auction starts at 10 a.m., Sunday, June 30. Proceeds benefit the
      Berkeley Physics Department. Directions and more information for
                      buyers at www.harveyclar.com


   Among the other objects saved were an eight-foot-long demonstration
   slide rule, some chemical balances with fine wooden cases and brass
   fittings, and a beautiful old ampere balance for measuring electric
   current that Shugart remembers using in the Physics 111 lab, an
   advanced course for seniors. There were no early calculators found.
   "Years ago [physics professor Raymond] Birge had a room with six or
   eight desk calculators and comptometers that we used for summarizing
   grades, which would take me three hours a night," recalls Shugart.
   "Then in the mid-'50s Lawrence Berkeley Lab got its first electronic
   calculator and cut that time to an hour. I suppose the old ones went
   to salvage; I hope somebody bought them."

   Consigning such beautifully crafted, if now useless instruments to the
   junkpile was exactly what Colton hoped to avoid. Two years ago, the
   Physics Department held an event for high school science teachers from
   around the Bay Area. It invited them to take home some of the most
   recently outdated equipment, such as spectroscopes, oscilloscopes and
   power supplies.


   Although one of the large demonstration slide rules stayed on the
   Berkeley campus, a four-foot version of the old calculating device
   will be in Harvey Clars' preview sale. It's possible it will fetch the
   highest price of the group: a seven-foot demonstration slide rule from
   Keuffel & Esser sold recently on eBay for $499. Also for sale is a
   Portable Precision Potentiometer (about as portable as the early
   personal computers) by the Rubicon Company, which can fetch between
   $200 and $500.


Seth David Schoen <schoen at loyalty.org> | Reading is a right, not a feature!
     http://www.loyalty.org/~schoen/   |                 -- Kathryn Myronuk
     http://vitanuova.loyalty.org/     |

More information about the Seth-Trips mailing list