Book Review: Doo dads galore

By Katherine Fletcher

With the advent of Internet auction sites like eBay in the mid-90s, many collectors have moved beyond garage sales, flea markets and auction houses in search of the perfect addition to their collections. Cyberspace eases the pursuit as collectibles of every conceivable sort from the other side of the world are far more accessible. Given the incredible range of items found on auction sites, collectors are going beyond the tradition of coins and stamps in favour of more sophisticated items, like electronic technology. Pepe Tozzo outlines the trend of collecting electronics in his book Retro-Electro: Collecting Technology from Atari to Walkman.

According to Tozzo, people collect technology because of nostalgia, the human inclination to hoard, and the abundance of auction sites. Collecting electronic items is a rewarding hobby because, unlike coins or stamps, the collector can actually make use of the items and enjoy more than just their looks.

Tozzo, an avid technology collector, offers sage advice to beginner collectors entering virtual or real markets. He suggests the would-be collector pick an area of interest so as to not be overwhelmed. When it’s time to shop, the collector should choose working items in the best condition available. He also advises to bring batteries to test items, and when browsing auction sites, make sure to check sellers’ ratings or feedbacks.

Retro-Electro is divided into three sections in which he provides a picture, a brief product history and price levels for each item ranging from the 1960s to present time. In Workstation, Tozzo focuses on business-related items such as calculators, computers and Personal Digital Assistants. Home Base concentrates on audio-visual gadgets, including radios, record and CD players, watches, phones, pocket televisions, amplifiers, and personal music players. Playtime covers electronic toys like the ever-annoying Tamagotchi and Furby, as well as computer gaming consoles ranging from Atari to Nintendo and Sega.

Besides being a catalogue of collectible electronic items, Retro-Electro is a delightful historic account of the transition of technology since the ’60s. It is fascinating to learn that the origin of technology we think is relatively recent took place long ago. For example, the PDA has been around as early as 1993 with the Apple Newton, and CD players came out in the early ’80s, although consumers didn’t immediately embrace the item. The book also provides insight into intriguing product and company histories. Nintendo, for example, started out in the 19th century making trading cards before entering the electronic game market in the ’70s.

Complete with a list of resources for further information, Retro-Electro is an impressive guide to collecting electronic items and a aesthetically pleasing page turner. It isn’t as remarkable, however, as the developments in the electronic technology over the last 40 years it chronicles.

Tozzo does make the odd misstep such as including the lava lamp in his catalogue. Granted, the item requires electricity to work, but it hardly fits among the other gadgets in terms of electronics. He also fails to include the DVD player, which is a seminal product in modern technology, though he does write “DVD players are killing off video recorders,” without offering any information or background on the product.

Despite these minor shortcomings, Retro-Electro is, as stated on the back cover, “addictively browsable.” Whether you are interested in collecting technology or you like to look at pretty pictures, Retro-Electro is a fun read and makes a splendid coffee table book.

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