[vcf-midatlantic] Problems we face as collectors/curators: The last lesson of Bob Pease

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Tue Aug 20 14:04:09 EDT 2019

Yes, this post is too long. Read it when you have time, if you have 
interest in analog electronics. Or, if you think about problems in 
collecting vintage technology from others' "archives" (spelled 


(link to previous article below)


One of the electronic trade-magazines (papery bloggy things in postal 
mail to oldies) occasionally sends me email-links to articles on their 
Web sites. This article caught my attention, as it represents the 
problems we have today as collectors of vintage computing (or 
electronic, or semiconductor) items. It's the perception that this stuff 
is junk and has no value except as curiosities accumulated by 
"hoarders". But I'll explain why this stuff has value.

If you read the article, it's about a collection of accumulated 
artifacts of work done by Bob Pease, an analog design engineer at 
Philbrick National Semiconductor in the 1960's and decades following. 
Since he worked before digital simulation - and because simulation isn't 
good enough - he accumulated many prototype circuits for things he 
designed. a reminder: prototypes prove the result. So they were 
necessary at design-verification time, and later to deal with problems 
in production.

He also found them useful to demonstrate to others, and to show when 
National was exhibiting. Bob's contributions were not only in design and 
development, but in education and in publication. His columns (and books 
from them) on analog design were amusing, informative and are read to 
this day. He personally mentored a generation of analog electronic 
designers. Bob Pease died several years ago.

However: the article is informative about attitudes about previous 
design and prototype practices; or simply about the technical past.

The article essentially suggests: "This stuff is a mess of junk. We 
don't do things this way now, we know better now. There's no value to 
this stuff, because we don't know how to make sense of it. Since some 
parts are before production, they can't be of any interest to anyone 
except as scrap. A few things, remind some of us about the-old-days. But 
this guy was a hoarder."

There's a link to a previous article of a few months prior (link above). 
The "Pease collection" was obtained from Pease's estate, I think in 
2017. The task of organizing it was "resigned" to a "media relations 
manager" - very likely a person who was unfamiliar with its technical 
content. As with the current article, other engineer's comments and 
photos give some meaning to the items photographed. Nobody seems to know 
exactly what to do with this stuff, other than to give it away to their 
older buddies at social events.

Of course, any collector of vintage semiconductors will wince when 
reading this article: they love pre-production parts. And many "senior" 
analog engineers, like the ones quoted in the articles, have some 
experience with the chips and circuits shown, and the methods Bob used 
in design and construction. Again: they are still informed by his work 
and methods. Some number of engineers or collectors, would likely be 
pleased to have some example from their mentor or simply from the period.

I won't give a lecture on "curation", the art of displaying and 
describing artifacts to glean information and context and to preserve 
intellectual and/or physical content. That describes a process that has 
yet to be performed (may never happen) for this rescued but endangered 
collection. It's already picked over a few times.

For those who are simply vintage-computing collectors or users, you'll 
likely be saddened by association about this article and situation. It 
could well be a bunch of vintage computers and accessories. Note the 
author confuses a 5.25-inch floppy drive with "a CD player". If that 
kind of iconic artifact is unrecognizable in 2019, imagine what will be 
overlooked going forward.

The last lesson of Bob Pease, may well be as suggested in the title of 
the article: "What is this stuff, anyhow?". What's to be done - if 
anything - with artifacts of technical work and products? Do they have 
value? What do they mean? Can they inform us, or simply amuse us, or do 
they just get in the way?

Herb Johnson

Herbert R. Johnson, New Jersey in the USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net
preserve, recover, restore 1970's computing
email: hjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT com
or try later herbjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT info

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