Mystery Devices
April 19, 2004 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Amherst College wants to know: what is this thing?
posted by Vidiot to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it not for measuring heads, y'know ... for hat sizes; with the little points on the arms making a mark in a piece of paper to record the head size?

That's what it looks like to me.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:17 PM on April 19, 2004

or phrenology
posted by andrew cooke at 12:28 PM on April 19, 2004

A measurement device is a plausible guess. I'm less convinced of the human head application; it doesn't look very practical, given the roundness of the top of the average head. The oval shape does fit though.
posted by Galvatron at 12:32 PM on April 19, 2004

(This seems like it would have been more appropriate for MetaFilter proper than for AskMe.)
posted by me3dia at 12:39 PM on April 19, 2004

It's too flat to be a phrenology machine. Those were generally dome shaped. I actually got a reading done from one of the few remaining machines at the (now defunct) Museum of Questionable Medical Devices.

As for the enigma device, I've got no idea. The precursor to the Spirograph? Maybe if you put a piece of carbon paper in there it would act as a seismograph? It's hard to tell just from the photos.
posted by Jugwine at 12:42 PM on April 19, 2004

It's an Metafilter ettiqute gauge. Just plug your usb cord in it and try posting.
posted by corpse at 12:42 PM on April 19, 2004

Machine for making doilies.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:51 PM on April 19, 2004

A few extra bits of information and wild guesses, working from nothing but the pictures.

-- There are 32 arms. Not quite enough to be the alphabet plus 0-9, even if you leave out a few letters. A sufficient amount if you were doing alphabet plus a few pieces of punctuation (which would mean numbers would be spelled out). So, first guess: some sort of post-Morse pre-telephone telegraph.

-- If the upturned points on the arms conduct electricity, then one might expect the underside of spring-loaded oval lid to look more different than it does so as to allow for more communication patterns.

-- Some keyboard instruments have 32 keys.

-- The oval shape of the upturned points is suggestive. For one, although the brass arms appear to be identical, some might be shorter than others (thus creating the oval inside the otherwise circular object) which could indicate they are tuned. So, second guess: the guts of a pipe organ.

-- The oval-shaped hints at a physical rather than aesthetic purpose. My wildest guest: they put a heart on the spikes, fastened down the oval lid, then did electrical or muscle experiments. There appear to be no blood stains.

-- The oval suggests a knitting machine which could knit one long continuous seamless sock, but the upturned points do not appear to have holes or channels for thread or yarn, not do they appear to be hinged. So, fourth guess: some sort of knitting machine.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:53 PM on April 19, 2004

Fifth guess: seismic motion reader or amplifier.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:55 PM on April 19, 2004

Add to the second guess (so, 2b): the guts of a player piano.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:56 PM on April 19, 2004

It looks like an old Zoetrope/magic lantern/slide projector thingy for showing moving pictures. (it would have images in each of those slots and be spun)

or it could be the base for an early centrifuge.
posted by amberglow at 12:57 PM on April 19, 2004

Would it necessarily be removed from the platform as they are presuming? The channels that the wooden rods are in look like they allow the rods to slide in and out.

(My first thought was that it was the bidet from Hellraiser.)
posted by joaquim at 1:06 PM on April 19, 2004

I second the motion that this be posted on the blue.

As to the machine, I like tomscatspike's does make me think of an early loom of some denomination. Or ya know, it's a kinky victorian sex's hard to tell.
posted by dejah420 at 1:13 PM on April 19, 2004

Solved [at BoingBoing].
posted by trillion at 1:14 PM on April 19, 2004

Rimbaldi device?
posted by SpecialK at 2:27 PM on April 19, 2004

First answer was right, good job blues stone.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:00 PM on April 19, 2004

excellent job.
posted by amberglow at 3:02 PM on April 19, 2004

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