One of my first visits to object collections holding material about 1950s and 1960s domestic electrical products was to the Geffrye Museum, in Shoreditch in London. The Geffrye Museum is a museum of the home, and is probably best known for its series of period rooms, which represent London middle class living space from the 1600s to the 1990s. As well as a programme of temporary exhibitions on different aspects of the home, they also run an active programme of talks and conferences and their collection of objects and pamphlets was an obvious stop for me in my search for surviving examples and documentation of domestic electrical products sold in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s.
I already had a good idea of the range of products sold in Ireland from my newspaper research, and was particularly looking for material on British brands such as Morphy Richards, Prestcold and Hotpoint, as well as British subsidiaries of American companies such as Hoover and Frigidaire. Ably guided by curator Eleanor Black, I had a fascinating time examining the object collection, getting to handle some of the surprisingly heavy irons and kettles. The highlight for me was their grey Hoover Constellation, a spherical vacuum without wheels, which was supposed to ‘float’ on its exhaust like a hovercraft. Again, it was surprisingly heavy compared to current vacuum cleaners, although the rotating hose pipe was supposed to allow the user to leave it in the middle of the room and move it as little as possible. I did have to be careful about not actually picking it up by the handle, though, as design historians tend to think about the affordances of how a product could be used, whereas curators have a concern that their objects in their care are not damaged by handling.
The trade catalogue collection was equally interesting, covering a range of product leaflets, manufacturer’s brochures and pamphlets from bodies such as the Electrical Association for Women. These pamphlets included a monthly card from the EAW outlining important electrical facts relevant to the time of year, with June covering a range of tips about bagging and labelling food for the freezer, as well as ideas about where to situate a chest freezer in the house, recommending that the kitchen was not actually the best location, if a cool, dry room such as a corridor, spare room, garage or outhouse was available.
The collection also included a book of recipes which came with a Prestcold refrigerator, featuring a large section on ice cream and other cool and frozen novelties which the appliance allowed to be made and stored at home, including banana splits and peach melba!
Overall, it was a very useful archive visit, allowing me to get a sense of the ‘home’ market for British appliances, as well as a close-up look at some of the appliances themselves. Thanks to the Geffrye Museum for facilitating my visit and for allowing me to use photographs of their collection.