[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry by Kirsten Hively, who will enlighten us regarding an intriguing category of items that are sometimes rendered in sports-themed designs.]
By Kirsten Hively
One of Brinke Guthrie’s “Collector’s Corner” entries a while back featured this 1961 Cola-Cola Ball of Fame. As Paul noted parenthetically at the time, this type of wheel-chart gizmo is called a volvelle, and the Ball of Fame is a really cool example. I should know because I recently acquired a Ball of Fame. Mine is in slightly worse condition than the one Brinke linked to, but it’s still very nice. It’s now part of my growing volvelle collection.
My recent interest in volvelles was sparked by a vague memory of those circular chart things that were more common in the pre-digital era. Remember? Star charts, info-discs that would reveal facts about each state in the union through tiny cutouts as you turned them, all sorts of guides in circular form. I had no idea what these things were called, but then a friend pointed me toward Jessica Helfand’s book Reinventing the Wheel, where I learned the word volvelle, the name used for astronomical wheel charts in the Middle Ages.
But that’s just one term that’s commonly used for these wheel charts. As it turns out, there isn’t a universally accepted name. In fact, part of their charm is the varied names they give themselves: Cal-Q-Lator, Staroscope, Fact-Finder, Deduct-O-Graph, Profitometer, Wheel of Knowledge, and so on. It’s a mystery to me why these things aren’t more popular — they’re such perfect combinations of information, graphic design, and physical object.
Helfand’s book contains beautiful photos of her impressive volvelle collection, a brief history of volvelles, and some discussion of contemporary volvelles. But while the photos are enticing — especially those from the mid-century heyday of volvelle design — they’re also frustrating, because you can’t spin them, you can’t lift their tops to peak inside, you can’t flip them over (many volvelles are double-sided). That frustration became the seed for my own collection. I needed to hold one of these wheel charts in my hands. So I bought the Punctuator. But while it has an amazing name, delves deeply into a favorite topic, and is double sided, it’s a bit plain, design-wise. So my quest continued, and soon I had myself a nice little collection.
I’ve now acquired over a dozen volvelles. Most are printed on card-stock, but one is tin. The largest is a foot across; the smallest, only three inches. The topics range from the fertility cycles of farm animals to fascinating facts about the counties of Pennsylvania. Many were originally used as promotional giveaways, like the Tip-Top Know Your USA volvelle. Recent acquisitions include a cocktail guide and an amazing double volvelle that will help you choose the right filter for your car.
There are a couple of others I’d like to have, but I’m pretty happy with my collection and how it looks hanging on the wall in my studio, next to my coffee cup lid collection. Volvelles are generally easy to hang, because most of them have eyelets at the center to join the two (or more) spinning disks. But one of mine has a solid brad (so I’ve hung it from a bulldog clip), and another is inside a booklet (so it sits on a nearby shelf).
All of which brings us back to the Ball of Fame. It’s a lovely volvelle, with all the things I look for: It’s double sided, it has an eyelet in the center for easy hanging, it has some graphics (the straight text charts are generally a bit boring), it’s round (volvelles are sometimes square or other shapes), and it has a wealth of detailed information:
It doesn’t have any cool arrows and it’s not handwritten, but otherwise it’s pretty wonderful. It has American League teams on one side and National League teams on the other. When you dial the outside edge to a year from 1901 to 1960, the windows reveal facts for that year, including MVP; the team that led in stolen bases; leaders in batting and pitching; even the attendance of that year’s World Series or All-Star Game.
My favorite section, though, is the park dimensions, which seems to be unrelated to the year it lines up with. In this handy window, though, I learn that center field at Fenway Park is 420 feet, left field at Comiskey Park is 352 feet, and the approximate seating capacity of County Stadium Is 44,000. There’s a blank spot for the Mets’ stadium, which the user is invited to fill in by hand, but I think I’ll leave that blank in memory of Shea.
Helfand’s book shows three other sports-related volvelles: the 1953 Batter’s Pal, Arnold Palmer’s golf stroke advisor, and a beautiful 1932 Olympic event guide. I haven’t seen any of those for sale (and I have a feeling the ’32 volvelle would be well out of my price range even if I did), but I’ll keep looking. If anyone has spotted other sports-related examples, I’d love to hear about them.
Tracking down a specific volvelle isn’t too hard if you know its name — Ball of Fame, Cal-Q-Lator, or whatever. But if you’re just looking for volvelles in general, that’s trickier, because there’s no widely accepted name for them (many of the people selling them on eBay seem to be unfamiliar with the word volvelle, so they use all sorts of other terms). But that’s part of the appeal for me, since I love a good research project.
But here’s a thought: If you can’t find what you’re looking for, why not DIY?
That’s what I’ve been doing lately. After a few false starts, I was successful with the Wheel-O-Stirrups, which I made with research assistance from Paul (and assembly assistance from Scout and Mojo Jojo). It’s not perfect — there are some alignment issues I’d like to fix — and it was waaaaay more work than I thought it would be when I started, but I’m pretty pleased with it. As you turn the wheel to align each team name with the arrow window, another beautiful stirrup design is revealed, along with some basic information about the stirrup and the team for that year (I arbitrarily choose a single year for stirrups that were worn for multiple seasons).
The only special equipment I used was a combo hole punch-eyelet setter (you can find them at most craft sores, usually with the scrapbooking supplies, or you could just use a brad to make matters simpler) and a circle cutter. I also used some heavyweight matte photo paper, a cutting mat, and an X-Acto knife to cut the holes
The hardest part is designing the thing — it’s a real graphic design challenge to include even a modest amount of information and still end up with an object that’s legible, much less beautiful. As I designed it I found out why the inner wheels of most volvelles usually include just type, not graphics — graphics make it that much harder to fit everything in, since they take up so much real estate.
Once I came up with the design, I used Adobe Illustrator to do the actual drawing, alignment, and rotation. If only my handwriting were good enough to do the whole thing by hand! Maybe I’ll work up to that.
Volvelles are tricky, so I recommend starting simply. But once you get the hang of it, the format practically invites insanely detailed content (paging Robert Marshall!). If you want some additional inspiration — or if you just want to see some cool gizmos — there are a few more pictures in my volvelles set on Flickr. If anyone makes a cool DIY volvelle, let me know — we can start a Flickr pool to show ’em off. And if you have questions or need advice, I’ve set up a DIY volvelle Facebook page, where we can discuss design strategies, share advice, and generally geek out over these wonderful objects.
[Kirsten will be displaying her volvelle collection as part of the City Reliquary’s Collectors’ Night on Oct. 11. I’ll be showcasing some of my collections too. — PL]
Collector’s Corner, by Brinke Guthrie
I’ve previously mentioned that my first two favorite teams were the Vikes and Chiefs, who battled in one of the early Super Bowls. I liked both of those teams solely for the uniforms — or so I thought. Something I recently came across reminded me of the other reason: I thought it was totally cool that the Chiefs had a soccer-style kicker, and I dug his name too — lot different than, say, “Fred Cox.” So, leading off today, No. 3 for your Kansas City Chiefs…
• Reader David Merrill pointed out this gold-plated Redskins football, just $900. (Shanahan touched it, that’s how it turned gold. That’s just the rumor.)
• Pretty cool RCA/NFL promo football from Super Bowl XXXII. Priced to move, too.
• Sorry, this lamp just doesn’t look like Lynn Swann to me.
• Here’s a 1976 Orioles schedule featuring Brooks in an orange jersey [and featuring an apostrophe catastrophe from the days before digital typography, meaning there’s even less excuse for it — PL].
• Is this really the best photo of Jerry Sloan they could come up with?
Seen something on eBay that you think would make good Collector’s Corner fodder? Send your submissions here.
ESPN reminder: Paul here. In case you missed it yesterday afternoon, my latest ESPN column is about how the Yankees almost changed their road uni in the mid-1970s.
Giveaway reminder: I’m currently giving away an original uniform painting from the Maple Leaf Productions archives. Full details here.
Party reminder: Uni Watch gathering next Saturday, Oct. 9, 3pm, at Sheep Station in Brooklyn. Phil will be there, Scott Turner will be there, and I suppose I might show up too (assuming I can muster the energy to walk around the corner from my apartment).
Small update (literally): Up until now, I’ve only had the Meats tees available in Medium thru XXL. But as several of you have pointed out with perfectly justified indignation, meaty pleasure isn’t just for big folks. So I just got a new shipment that includes some Smalls in gray (but not white, sorry). Full ordering details here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: A South Dakota research professor is conducting a survey regarding fans’ attitudes toward advertising on sports jerseys. Whole thing takes less than 10 minutes. If you want to participate, go here and then enter 136602 in the “Go to Survey #” field. … Didn’t take gumball helmet kingpin Bill Jones long to react to Wednesday night’s events in Tampa. Bill has also been creating designs for summer collegiate baseball leagues. … Neglected to mention that Travis Snider “honored” Cito Gaston by wearing a fake ’stache on Wednesday. … Umbro has signed an outfitting deal with the reborn New York Cosmos (with thanks to Stephen Wong). … Icethetics has put together a great roundup of minor league logo changes for the upcoming season. … James van Riemsdyk of the Flyers has an interesting NOB. … Oh sure, try to blame it on the meat. Bah! … Here’s the Blackhawks’ championship ring. Someone on the Chris Creamer boards did a bit of Photoshopping to show how it could have looked a lot better. … Now that’s one weird jersey. That’s Jefferson City High in Missouri (with thanks to Dieter Kurtenbach). … Ben Traxel sent along a bunch of very cool old NASCAR pics. Check out Richard Petty in the pillbox hat! … Jeff Ash has curated his newspaper’s latest gallery of vintage Packers photos. … Scott Mason found some Hulu footage showing how NFL penalty flags were white until 1965. … New uniforms for Bowling Green hockey (with thanks to Matthew Daley). … The San Antonio Rampage — that’s an AHL team — will be wearing Spurs-themed jerseys on Oct. 23 (with thanks to Gordon Taylor). … James Bernsdorf made himself a Buffalo area code Sabres jersey. … Jake Doyle sent along a bunch of great Boston-themed photos, including a shot of Milt Schmidt looking sharp in a Bruins cardigan and Teddy Ballgame and Johnny Pesky in their Navy baseball uniforms (was Ted really No. 14, or was he just holding someone else’s bat?). But the real prize is this menu from the Bruins’ 1939 Stanley Cup victory dinner. That’s the cover of the menu, and then everyone autographed the inside of it. So gorgeous, I’m not even going to complain about the wrong-facing apostrophes. Also, Jake notes, “In Bruins logo history, the bear usually has three legs, but here it has two.”