The Fabulous Minifon Wire Recorder By Protona
I have found another great little gadget to obsess about. This is another example of fine German engineering from the mid 1950's, like the Minox. This "pocket sized" wire recorder is absolutely fascinating. I am sure that it was used for intelligence gathering as well as consumer uses (just like the Minox). It records onto very fine steel wire and boasts a maximum recording time of four hours with the long playing (slower running) model. In that model the wire runs at 7.87 inches per second, so for 4 hours time there is 113,328 inches of wire or 1.78 miles on a reel which is not even 1.75 inches in diameter! The head has to move up and down so the wire spools smoothly on each reel.
The entire unit is only about 4" wide by 6.75" long by 1.5" deep. It uses three batteries, one of which is a special 10.5V cell which ran the motor and is no longer available. Any DC power supply can be used to drive the motor. The other batteries are a 30V (Eveready No. 413) battery for the "peanut" tube anode which is still made today and a standard 1.5V AA cell for the filament. There were lots of variants of these made, as well as great attachments like a wristwatch which was actually microphone in disguise and a tie-clip microphone. Later versions used standard recording tape but I just love the wire version. Rumor has it that the surveillance term "wearing a wire" is attributed to units like these. These were not inexpensive pieces when they were originally sold. The list price for this model was around $269 which is about $1600 in present day dollars. The quality of manufacturing is quite high, all hand made and very high precision mechanical parts.
If you want to hear a short recording from the 1950's made on one of these machines which I recently restored just run your mouse pointer over the small box below. You will see the player run and hear the recording of a telephone conversation where the caller asks directory assistance for the listing of the "Stockholm Restaurant". Apparently this was part of a chain of restaurants during the late 1950's known as the "HOME OF THE FAMOUS SWEDISH SMORGASBORD". I find this recording to be of excellent quality, especially considering it was made at least 40 years ago!
If the video above shows up as a white empty frame and does not play you have to change the "Display video and animation on a web page that does not use external media player" browser security setting from "disable" to "enable" on your internet explorer under Tools--->Internet Options--->Security Tab, Custom Level Box.
Every one of these players I have bought has been non-functional so far, mostly due to mechanical problems associated with the deterioration of the rubber drive belts and idlers. Most of them have functioning electronics. Little in the way of repair manuals or replacement parts is available, so mostly you have to make the belts up from turntable or tape deck belts of similar profiles which is tricky but will work...don't be afraid to dive in and try to repair yours too!