I’m pleased to introduce a brand new feature column, here at OhGizmo. Every other week, James Grahame, from RetroThing will delight us with some highlights of gadgets of yore. They might be old, but they’re still delicious. And while you’re at it, check out his site. -Ed.

There are many clever old devices hidden away in attics and garages – forgotten movie cameras lie on dusty shelves beside obsolete computers and clever mechanical toys, all crying out to be rediscovered and brought back to life. That’s what Rear View Mirror is all about – getting the word out about classic gadgets. I’ll do my best to drop be every couple of weeks to highlight the neatest, coolest and weirdest stuff from Retro Thing.

Sinclair ZX81
Let’s start by checking out a nifty “new” 20 year-old computer kit. There was a crazy competition in the early 1980s to produce the cheapest computer possible. The hands-down winner was Sinclair, who managed to crack the $100 barrier with a kit version of their incredibly low-end Sinclair ZX81…

The ZX81 offered up a membrane keyboard, just like the one on your microwave oven. It probably has about the same mental capacity, as well. If you’d like to get your hands on one, it looks Zebra Systems still has a few brand new ZX81 kits at the original price. It only has four integrated circuits, but it might be wise to bribe your TV repairman uncle to do the assembly if your soldering skills aren’t up to par.

Vostok watchI don’t think any of my relatives would appreciate receiving an ancient computer kit for the holidays, but there are some other retro items that would make perfect gifts. So, without further ado, here are a few under-$100 vintage prezzies that I’ve stumbled across in recent weeks:

Vostok Wristwatch ($70): The Russians still make nifty and affordable mechanical watches. My favourite is their Kirovskie replica, based on the original model Vostok manufactured for the Soviet armed forces. It features a 31-jewel mechanism that ticks like a T-72 tank.

Schylling robotSchylling Tin Robot ($15.99): Schylling is a 30 year-old toy manufacturer based in Rowley, Massachusetts. Their coolest toy is the Lilliput robot, a genuine tin replica of the original Japanese clockwork classic from the 1940s.

SEGA Genesis Reissue ($30): The 16-bit Genesis was the hottest videogame console of 1989, knocking the Nintendo Entertainment System from first place in Japan. Now you can own an affordable mini-console version that includes six titles from the original, including Sonic the Hedgehog and the old pack-in – Altered Beast.

Holga cameraHolga Medium Format Camera ($19.95): Kodak introduced medium-format 120 film in 1901, along with their famous $1 Brownie box camera. It’s a roll-based film that captures images on a negative four times the size of modern 35 mm film. The result is strikingly high-rez. The Holga is an amazingly cheap plastic camera that shoots this film. They’re known for capturing dreamy artistic images. Alas, they’re not always lightproof. It’s worth picking up a roll of duct tape so the lucky recipient can tape the edges of the film chamber to keep light from sneaking in. What do you expect for under twenty bucks?

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of gadgets from the past. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to showcase a handful more irresistible old contraptions. In the meantime, you’re welcome to drop by Retro Thing to explore.


  1. The Holga rocks, hands down, and is cheap. but getting color medium format film developed (u can do BW yourself) is heavy on the wallet!!!!!!!!!!(unless you want to send your film away to to mailorder darkrooms :\) Because of this it gets hard because the digital age has given us the luxury of shooting whatever we want without thinking about film conservation. Medium Format has to be developed in a darkroom by hand, can;t be put through a 35mm machine.
    In the end, the holga is tons of fun, but u should get a darkroom membership and learn how to develop color pics yourself if your gonna use it a lot, medium format creates awesome pics tho. For the ending price including buying film and developing you could justify buying one of those awesome CMOS DSLRs tho 🙂

  2. My sister had one of the ZX81’s, the blasted thing would go crazy from the weak EMP generated when the neighbor across the street would start his car. Heaven forbid if someone in the house should flip a lightswitch when this beast was in use. I wouldn’t waste my $$$ on this item.