Vintage Insulators: From Phone to Home

For some collectors, purchasing a Hemingray No. 42 insulator completely makes their day.

But what exactly is an insulator, you might ask? Let’s start with the basics.

An insulator is a glass item originally made to insulate telegraph and telephone wires against their wooden poles. You would see these on telephone poles especially in the 1920s through the 1940s.

An oddly-shaped insulator in-store at SNC-ETC.

An oddly-shaped insulator in-store at S&C-ETC.

Insulator collecting is a niche market which, for those involved, incites great enthusiasm over these beautiful pieces.

The most common insulator colors are clear and aqua thanks to insulators’ natural iron content. But many, many colors exist for insulators, which is part of the fun for collectors.

The earliest insulators were “Ramshorn” and “Glass Block” designs in the mid-19th century, following Morse’s invention of the telegraph line in 1844.

Clear and teal Hemingray insulators, available online.

Clear and teal Hemingray insulators, available online.

Put a battery-operated light inside the insulator for a dreamy lighting effect!

A lot of change in insulator design occurred through the years, as people had not yet figured out what worked and what didn’t. This led to many different insulator designs: all the more for collectors today.

The popular “Ramshorn” pattern held the wire suspended beneath. This design held for a while, but soon it was replaced by the superior “pin-type” insulator.

Louis Cauvet patented the last major insulator design in 1865, which marked the last big change until the end of insulators’ production in the 1970s.

Interesting insulator shapes abound.

Interesting insulator shapes abound.

All this flip-flopping did lead to a big number of colors and designs available out there. One is called the “Gingerbread Man”, with a rounded top and pointed arms. Another is the “T-Bar”, which resembles a robot with its square top and grooved, outstretched arms. However, the most popular design by far is the Hemingray No. 42. Hemingray made the biggest variety of insulator styles.

Insulators can be found in many an antique store today, and they also make great pieces for home décor, whether stand-alone or as do-it-yourself projects.

Make sure to keep an eye out for these special pieces the next time you visit an antique store.


Collecting Info

Insulator Summaries

In-depth Website

Everything You Didn’t Know About Coin Design

We use coins constantly, even if half of them disappear into the couch cushions. But think about it — who designed the images on these coins that we’re so familiar with?

Sometimes coins are designed with the artistic qualities in mind – and sometimes not.

In the early 20th century, the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar all had the same bust design. But soon there was an effort to make coins just as pretty as they were useful.

The 1907 Indian Head gold coin.

The 1907 Indian Head gold coin by Saint-Gaudens.

President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a private letter in 1904, “I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness.” He suggested an artist instead of a government employee to redesign the coins to add a little pizzazz.

The designer and sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, had already designed the World’s Columbian Exposition Commemorative Presentation medal. From Roosevelt’s request he designed the $20 double Eagle and the $10 Indian Head gold coins. Many numismatists consider these some of the most beautiful coins produced by the U.S. Mint.

A 1933 double eagle gold coin.

A 1933 double eagle gold coin by Saint-Gaudens.

The process for U.S. coins starts with an outline by Congress of what the coins should look like, as well as the metal they’ll be struck from. The Mint then asks its artists to create the described designs.

Some methods of designing look quite impressive to an outside observer.

The sculpted design, or galvano, for the Kennedy half dollar was over two feet in diameter!

In fact, much of coin designing involves a method of sculpting. Once a design is sketched out, it’s then transferred to a large scale model sculpted in layers of plaster or epoxy. The U.S. Mint in Philadelphia uses both clay and high-tech computers; designers often start out in clay then make small changes on their computers.

The plaster design of Saint-Gauden's eagle (via user Wehwalt on Wikimedia Commons)

The plaster design of Saint-Gauden’s eagle (via user Wehwalt on Wikimedia Commons)

Once the artist’s renderings have been sent in, they are reviewed for factors such as historical accuracy. A final design is chosen and tweaked by the artist. Although the Mint has been known to change the design immediately before putting it to production without the artist’s permission, usually everything goes smoothly. A new, shiny coin has been produced to add to the collection of coins under couch cushions.

Next time you rifle through your change, take a moment to appreciate the work a designer has gone through to make those coins pleasing to the eye.


A Visit to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia

Basic Steps of Coin Design

A Useful Summary of Coin Design History