For questions, comments, and inquiries please email Brandon

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Board to be Yld: Wilder's "Mystic Hand" Discovered!

There's a two-way street at the intersection of Researchtown and Collectingville.  One lane is bumper-to-bumper traffic, where we have new talking board discoveries driving searches for period print ads to confirm dates and locations. We just need the reappearance of a physical specimen to drive the research. The other lane, though, is a seldom-traveled freeway dotted with the stalled vehicles of old print ads of as-yet undiscovered items, endlessly enticing collectors to just go out and find these things. In some cases, like the Baltimore Manufacturing Company's "Spirit Finger," we're reading a billboard that's nothing more than a false lead to a device that's decidedly *not* a talking board as we'd hoped. In other cases, though...

The Mystic Hand ad that started the hunt! (Cover shown in inset)
 A chance eBay discovery years ago led me to a fantastic and promising print ad on the back of a 10-cent "Gypsy Fortune Teller and Dream Book" from the late 1910s. There, fully illustrated, was a definitive automatic writer: The Mystic Hand! Just as the ad proclaimed, the discovery was "truly wonderful." Of course, I always love it when a company embraces a device's spirit communication ambitions, instead of trying to conceal them in the vernacular of games, and the manufacturer even gave a nod to the early history of seances, so I was excited!

Wilder's "Mitche Manitou" talking board, 1910s-1920s, with Mystic Hand indicator, shown. Courtesy Vespia Collection.

The ad didn't provide the specific clue, but the Mystic Hand was not entirely a surprise. Wilder Manufacturing Company produced a Mystic Hand planchette as the stock indicator for their line of Mitche Manitou talking boards. But this was just an indicator conspicuously absent of a pencil, and not an automatic writer. But a Mystic Hand writing planchette? Well, that was an incredible and enticing find! And, experience tells us, you rarely see advertisements for items that never made it to market, so I knew that out there, somewhere, was a tattered and torn Mystic Hand with a sharpened pencil where a front leg was supposed to be. Or, you know, one new in the box. A boy can dream, can't he?

False starts and racing hearts: the Wilder Mystic Writing game. Beautiful, no doubt, but not an automatic writer. 

Imagine how my heart jumped early one morning when this Wilder "Mystic Writing" set appeared on eBay, and with a pretty reasonable (and, most importantly, unclaimed) Buy It Now. From that first thumbnail, I thought with a single click I'd be taking a hard left off of Ad Avenue and racing toward Collectingville. But a few more clicks revealed a mis-read map, and it turned out that the Mystic Writing set was more of a fortune-telling device than a piece of spirit communication apparatus. Despite the beautiful litho in the box top, my disappointment was manifest, and I let my good friend and collaborator Bob Murch--riding shotgun on the other end of the phone--nab it instead, with him all the while promising me that "Brandon, you're going to want this, so when you do I've got it." He was right. I eventually came around, had to have it, and it's resting here now mocking me that I owe Bob big for something in return. Thanks, Murch!

(The Mystic Writing set is actually an amazing find worthy of its own blog post--you scribble your name on the central pad, and the pressure of the pencil pushes a lever that drives the indicator around, arriving on your fortune. Ingenious little game!)

The man, the myth, the fullback: Allen B. Wilder, maker of the featured items.

It is hard not to get disheartened at the false hope and tugged-on heartstrings. As collectors, we stash the knowledge of these promising ads deep in our skulls, where they sit for just the right moment--that certain flash of recognition--to jump front and foremost in our minds again. Of course, once you drag those covetous thoughts back out again, they become hard to put away, and you can't even browse an antique shop without thinking every vintage ashtray and bookend is a glimpse of your hallowed prize.

It DOES exist! Wilder's Mystic Hand manifests in my inbox!

Luckily, I didn't have to suffer that indignity long. Weeks later, my inbox had an intriguing message: "Saw you needed a mystic hand. I have one." Sometimes, when you put something like that out into the world, it becomes a beacon. It retail we call it "putting your mojo" on something, a concept Mike Zohn of Obscura Antiques & Oddities recently discussed at a Parafest panel: you can have a piece of merchandise lay fallow in your shop for years, but the minute someone shows interest in it, everyone suddenly realizes it's there. It just happens that way.

Box detail: among the most beautiful planchette packages ever produced.

So, with a few emails back and forth and a fair price negotiated, the long saga to confirm the existence of Wilder's Mystic Hand Writing Planchette came to an end. It exists. They made it. And it is both beautiful and glorious, and one of the most finely-lithographed boxes in the planchette trade. An interesting observation was the previously unknown "YLDER" trademark you can see in the lower left--a clever sidestep to score a trademark for "Wilder" that someone else undoubtedly already held.

Topside and Bottom: the planchette puts a pencil where the leg should be!

The planchette itself is the exact same dimensions as the talking board indicator, which makes it a either a fantastic cross-promotional product making use of the same template to double-dip into the public's pocketbook, or a clever attempt to recycle leftover or excess stock of talking board pointers. Or neither. Or both. Either way, it is a fantastic find, and a really fantastic addition to my collection.  I know you'll enjoy checking it out!

Oh, Miley! NONONO!!! (Thanks, Mr. Rinker)