Road Books, Scrolls & Letterpress Detours

A little portable device with a map in it. Sounds contemporary, eh? But someone was trying to make one in 1920s in the UK and named it the Plus Four Wristlet Route Indicator. This object was apparently included in the exhibit in 2008 of Weird and Wonderful Inventions and Gadgets at the British Library and in Curious Contraptions at The National Trust's Standen House in East Grinstead as well as at the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. Here is a picture of the comparison between then and now in an article in The Telegraph. Maurice Collins is the man from whose collection it is borrowed. I wrote to the three venues as well as to Maurice himself to see if I could get some definitive information. The British Library said that the Wristlet is listed in a handout as "c. 1926." Ultimately, the date was all I could find, but the search led me other places.

Maurice wrote that the Wristlet dated from 1927, and I was thrilled to hear that he had been a letterpress printer and had owned his own printshop. He told me he had recently given a talk called "From Winklebag to Swag." What is a winklebag? you may ask, as I did—I found the answer on the website for Winklebag Press ("hand-printed in Suffolk by blokes"). Starting around Victorian times in London, street foods (shrimp, jellied eels, and periwinkles [edible sea snails], for example) were sold in paper bags printed with hymns, poems, etc., so the sellers could distinguish themselves from their competition. Printers who produced these "winkle bags" were held in low esteem. Michael Dobney, proprietor of Winklebag Press, answered my email and told his story: 
I can just about remember them in the '60s, standing with their barrows outside pubs in London at weekends, and I guess they disappeared around the end of that decade…My first job was in an advertising agency in 1967 and my boss, Head of Print/Production used to inspect proofs every morning - at that time all type was set overnight in hot metal. And if something didn't meet his high standards he would say, 'Who printed this, the bloody winklebag printers?'
"Winklebag printer" is certainly a colorful insult. Michael also wrote, "Avoid jellied eels at all costs." I seem to have taken a scenic detour. Now back to the Route Indicator…

According to another blog, in 2010 in New Zealand, Simon Jansen made a contemporary Route Indicator Wristlet. Like its historical model, the device straps on like a watch and has two double scrolls in it that contain travel directions. Jansen describes all of the materials he used, including: brass modeling tubes with slits; flat back plate; pieces of brass; glass microscope slide; windscreen sealant; binding post screw; and an acorn nut (which, to my disappointment, was not made from the actual nut of an oak tree, but is a bit of threaded metal with an acorn-shaped end that might go with a bolt). These little lamp parts would work for scroll finials, too. A benefit to this mechanical gadget, Jansen notes, is that it is silent.

I like thinking about a wearable book and its special function: the need to move from place to place in order for it to be relevant. Here's a quickie facsimile made from found materials (photo, left): dowels, beads, glass microscope slide, piece of soda can, bit of map, ribbon. Imagine a site-specific scroll book of a poem, story, or bit of information at every block. Or, in a gallery setting or park in conjunction with objects. Walk ten paces, look up: a sculpture hanging from a tree. Take three giant steps left and take a pencil from a vase. Maybe the pencil has a message on it. Create one for your house and change the objects periodically. Or maybe you need one for your passwords or keys: a personal treasure map. Retro geocaching. Or something.

The original, and Jansen's remake, is a beautiful little structure, not unlike Peter and Donna Thomas's "Project 8: The Scrolling Book" in More Making Books By Hand: Exploring Miniature Books, Alternative Structures, and Found Objects, but in miniature and wearable. A companion to the Wristlet is a little box that stores all of the scrolls when not in use. So much potential in a tiny portable book like this and its accessories!

For another unique look at maps, check out these papercut maps from StudioKMO.

Maurice Collins has written two books that highlight some of the gadgets in his collection: Ingenious Gadgets and Eccentric Contraptions: And Amazing Gadgets, Gizmos and Thingamabobs.

I found a page turner for large ledgers and a bookmark in Ingenious Gadgets. My favorite was a pen wipe in the shape of an ink bottle with bristles on top. I asked Maurice if he had any other gadgets related to books. He wrote back:
i have over 1600 items in this collection, remembering them all is difficult, but the following comes to mind…mechanical page mark/indicators a few types, a book reading table worn around the neck used for victorian journies by train…
A book reading table! A personal, portable lectern. For teachers and preachers, or others giving direction, perhaps…


Alisa, what a great idea! Scrolls have such a history about them.
I made a wish scroll as a wedding gift to my daughter & son-in-law. Shared info about it at
Best to you!