Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 7

It’s hard to begrudge the polish and flexibility of a good pixel, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the earlier technologies. Mechanical and electronic displays with fixed images were somehow knowable in a way that screens are not, lending a palpable something to the things they inhabited. Has train travel been the same since the disappearance of the thip-thip-thipping flap display? Didn’t buses seem more resolute when emblazoned with hand-lettered roll signs, before today’s dot-matrix mayhem doomed them to speak in half-hearted and confounding abbreviations (or cheerily exclaim Out of Service as they malingered along?) Has the person yet walked the earth who has fond feelings for the starburst display of a credit card terminal?

One of my favorite outmoded technologies is the nixie tube. A tiny vacuum tube containing individual glowing cathodes for each digit, nixies were once a staple of high-end office calculators and measuring devices. Every few years, someone unearths a cache of virgin nixies and brings a nixie clock to market, which promptly sells out; this year’s offering is the Chronotronix V400 Nixie Tube Clock, an especially attractive contender in a polished cherry case, candidly offered in a limited edition. —JH

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