Front desks in the pre-internet era
May 13, 2019 8:13 AM   Subscribe

What items and office supplies would be at a reception desk in the early 80s?
posted by pxe2000 to Work & Money (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Those pink "While You Were Out" phone message note pads.
posted by *s at 8:15 AM on May 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely a Rolodex.
posted by gnutron at 8:18 AM on May 13, 2019 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Dictaphone, foot pedal and all! Rolodex. Electric typewriter.
posted by wellred at 8:19 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Rolodex
Big, corded phone with a whole bunch of buttons on it
A stack of mailboxes filled with messages and memos for all employees.
An ashtray
posted by bondcliff at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: White-out. In various colors.
posted by teleri025 at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hole punch and a stapler. Spiral bound message pad with carbonless duplicate pages. Phone with several lines and LEDs indicating line numbers (handwritten labels). Ballpoint pens, different colors. Yellow highlighter. Yellow notepads. Business envelopes and Manila envelopes. Mini sewing kit. (Source: temp secretary in many offices in the early 80s, sometime receptionist, or had to sub in for the receptionist when they went out to lunch.)
posted by matildaben at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Credit card imprinter and a paper stabber.
posted by box at 8:24 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: +1 big corded phone; the bottom row of buttons was luminescent and were the switch connections to inter-office lines.

A ginormous fax machine.

A mug, of vaguely encouraging sentiment, from a comic of the day such as Ziggy or Love Is ....
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:25 AM on May 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Depends on the size of the office. In a small enough office where everybody walks past the desk, there wouldn't just be that note pad, but a mail sorter so people could grab their incoming mail and notes from the receptionist on their way to their own desks or offices. In a big enough office, that sort of thing would have been in the mail room. My dad's office was small so not only was there a sorter, there was a tray for outgoing mail right next to it (incoming mail was held in the mail room on the ground floor of his building and picked up by the first person to arrive each morning). Other typical stuff: a candy dish, maybe some flowers (possibly fake), collateral materials about the organization (brochures, newsletters, business cards). A multiline phone, maybe the kind with physical buttons you pushed for each line. An electric typewriter (IBM Selectric II was common for my dad and his peers).

Maybe specific to my dad's office, but his secretary also managed what they called the diary, a paper log of business to be pulled from filing cabinets on any given day. Whenever a case had something scheduled, an entry for that case would be added to the diary for some number of days ahead, and everything would get pulled that morning. As the boss' kid pulling the diary was always one of my jobs if I didn't have school or other plans.
posted by fedward at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Big, corded phone with a whole bunch of buttons on it

Yes, the buttons all neatly lined up at the bottom, with a red one at the far left (hold) and some of them blinking. Also, a round lock in the #1 hole.

Preview: Rube R. Nekker said it.
posted by Melismata at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Inter-office mail envelopes, with half the entries scratched out and half of the spaces not filled out yet.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:35 AM on May 13, 2019 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Some reception desks (depending on if they were very front-facing or just the reception for a company that occasionally saw people) had in-out boards with pegs that people could move when they arrived, went on lunch, etc.
posted by xingcat at 8:42 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A small clock
Pencil sharpener
Stamps and ink pad (saying "PAID" or today's date or whatever, depending on the job)
Spare change for the vending machine
A 10 key printing calculator
A visitor sign-in book
A large paper desk calendar or appointment book of some kind, to track the day's scheduled meetings
A magnetic paper clip dispenser
Scotch tape dispenser
Postage stamp dispenser
posted by castlebravo at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Electric pencil sharpener. Date stamp and inkpad.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 8:47 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: A letter opener
A paperweight
posted by vacapinta at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Agree with all of this, also:

Clock radio (faux wood-paneled!)
Letter opener
Wall calendar, desk-size calendar, appointment book calendar
Cork board
MANYmany memos tacked on cork board, taped to walls, etc.
Multi-tiered inbox
Paper files and filing cabinets
posted by kapers at 8:56 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: SO MANY STAMPS that I could not keep my little kid paws off (return addresses, copy, date), letter opener, letter sealer (the sponge tube thing that saved your tongue from paper cuts), lots of itty bitty dictaphone tapes, extra typewriter ribbon, “while you were out” pads, blotter pad calendar with all the attorneys’ days out of the office marked, big leather envelope kept in the drawer for the bank run each day, extra keys to the PO Box, and a big heavy metal and leather rolling desk chair that was excellent for spinning.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:00 AM on May 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Staple puller.
posted by JawnBigboote at 9:00 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A really bulky beige phone shoulder rest.
posted by dayintoday at 9:06 AM on May 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Someone already said fax machine, but I just want to point out that it would be the kind that used the rolls of thermal paper, not plain paper.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:10 AM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Dymo embossed label maker (little plastic strips with raised white letters)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:37 AM on May 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Carbon paper

Plastic trays labeled “In” and “Out”

A dictaphone

A small mirror to check makeup or apply lipstick because receptionists back then were invariably women who were expected to be pleasing to the eye (ugh)
posted by _Mona_ at 10:16 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A pastel sweater draped over the back of the reception desk chair. The office gets chilly sometimes.

Tennis shoes underneath for the receptionist’s commute.
posted by mochapickle at 10:31 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also a coat rack for visitor's coats.
A name plate, with the receptionist's name on it (facing incoming traffic).
A desk lamp (or two).
posted by dbmcd at 10:36 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Mints or a candy dish!
posted by mochapickle at 10:38 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Stamps and ink pads.
posted by popcassady at 11:09 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Possibly an OAG Guide of airline schedules, used by everyone for picking a flight from wherever to wherever.

Local phone book.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:10 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The petty cash box. The receptionist was usually in charge of that.
posted by beagle at 11:20 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: For his/her personal use the receptionist would also have a Filofax on the desk. And the earlier mentioned ashtray(s), one for personal use and one for the clients. Maybe a pen on a chain?
posted by ouke at 11:55 AM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: if it was a retail or service reception desk, there might actually be a old computer (IBM PC - XT) or terminal, hooked to a monochrome monitor, with a dot matrix printer with fanfold paper for invoices/receipts.
posted by jkaczor at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Post-its. (Yellow, only.)
posted by SPrintF at 12:54 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

The paper clocks with movable hands where the various people in the company could move to show when they're in/out/back.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Finger cots/rubber fingers, for help with filing and collating.
posted by magicbus at 1:26 PM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Re: Post It notes:

They were first launched in April 1980 so if you're looking at a scene from the early 80s then they'd be viewed more as a curiosity/talking-point. I seem to remember that they only became ubiquitous by the mid-late 80s.
posted by dogsbody at 1:59 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely one or more paper calendars with everyone's schedules on it, possibly the big desk blotter if receptionist is in charge of all schedules, or possibly one on the wall where people write in their own. Yes to the paper "will return at" clock hands.

Pencil sharpener, manual isn't out of the question unless the office is trying to look swank.

If not post-its, then glue-bound memo pads: with company logo, with "to-do list", with Ziggy or other cartoon characters, etc. Lots of memo pads. Including of course the "while you were out".

Also, if petty cash box, then also the paper receipt book.
posted by aimedwander at 2:55 PM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: If visitors regularly need to write there might be a pen attached to a surface with a ball chain or string.

If it was a reception area where visitors would wait, in addition to magazines visitors could read there might be multiple local newspapers.

There'd be a greater likelihood of a detached carpet or rug on a hardwood floor (creaky-sounding in some buildings) versus wall-to-wall carpeting.

To go along with the ashtray and cigarettes, there might be accidental cigarette burns on some surfaces, again depending on the environment.

Some of the more advanced electromechanical typewriters at the end of the typewriter era would produce a whirring and vibrating sound—from an idling flywheel or something like that, I'd guess?—while running, so the clacking sound of the impacts would be accompanied by additional background noise.

The printing calculators castlebravo mentions also produced very distinct noises.

White-out. In various colors.

In addition to liquid white-out there were types of white-out meant to be used with typewriters, which might take the form of a sheet of plastic film you would slide in front of the letters you needed to erase, then re-type the exact same letters to cover them up. I think there were even some fancy typewriters with both a typewriter ribbon and a spool of white-out film, and so were capable of doing the erasing automatically.
posted by XMLicious at 4:03 PM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Phone Book and Yellow Pages
And a spider plant in a 1970s style brown planter with a silver pie plate under it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:04 PM on May 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Cellophane tape — the tape itself is shiny with a yellowish tint, nestled in a heavy tape dispenser.

A nail file.
posted by mochapickle at 9:49 PM on May 13, 2019

Best answer: Packet of gummed reinforcements - small paper disks which would go around holes punched in paper to stop tearing as the pages were frequently accessed.

A tear-away desktop calendar with a cartoon for each day. It might be a boring corporate one with just the day names on it and some kind of branding. Or you might get lucky and find a Gary Larson "Far Side" calendar .

Phone directories: yellow and white pages - and an internal directory for a larger company.
posted by rongorongo at 10:37 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

FYI, the movie 9 to 5 came out in 1980, and is set in a huge office complex; will probably be full of visual cues.
posted by anastasiav at 7:33 AM on May 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

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