|A beautiful and complete box for the N. Bangs Williams Insulate Planchette from Michael McDowell's "Death|
Collection" housed at Northwestern University.
If you are familiar with my site, you should already know the Bangs Williams "Insulated Planchette." Besides the colorful character that produced it, it is one of the more elegant and unusual products of the First Great Craze, and went through several variations. There's what appears to be a standard model (at least, more commonly encountered model)--unadorned back, label underneath, and intricately-cast apertures and castors, which come in either single-post or double-post wheel housings. The "insulated" moniker comes from the sleeve of bright red rubber nestled between the castor and the plank, to insulate the wood, of course, presumably for purposed of channeling vital energy and animal magnetism. There's also a more rare variant, which includes a couple of cast metal tubes on the planchette's topside, possibly for further "insulation." Regardless of model, the shield-shaped device is well-constructed and really an incredible relic in its own right.
|The Burgum-Vespia N. Bangs Williams Insulated Planchette in its unrestored state, from the Hodge Collection. Note|
the broken posts and missing upper wheel housings.
I acquired the planchette from my good friend Andrew Vespia. Andrew and I go way back, and our meeting as fellow talking board enthusiasts and our subsequent bonding with Bob Murch helped spark a collaboration and unprecedented cooperation among collectors that persists to this day, and for that I will always be eternally grateful. It was, in fact, at a reunion of the 3 of us last year at Andrew's Houston home that we made the long-overdue trade, and I brought the Burgum planchette home to nest. Thank you, Andrew!
|Another Bangs Williams planchette variation with tubes that act either|
as insulators or to charge Odic force.
I already knew the Bangs Williams was rare. Andrew's was one of a few I had allowed to slip through my fingers at auction over the years before I got more serious about things, and, of course, the minute I got serious about acquiring one for my own, they stopped appearing. So, I had to be content with visiting Andrew's in Houston a few times a year for a while there. Knowing it would one day need a restoration in any case, I made notes of where those others might have wound up on the off chance I would have an opportunity to perhaps take a casting of the upper wheel housing so I might restore it on the chance I acquired it.
One possible source was the Strong Museum of Play, which houses one Bangs Williams. And, as luck would have it, Murch took a research trip there last year to document their catalog holdings. But as good of pals as we are, asking him to cast a mold in the middle of an important research trip wasn't reasonable, and I wasn't able to join him there as I usually do. I got lots of incredible photographs, though, and was able to note a few manufacturing differences (different label print, metal wheels) thanks to Murch's efforts. Thanks, Bob!
|The Bangs Williams planchette, with box, from Michael McDowell's "Death|
Collection" housed at Northwestern University.
Within a week of the discovery, I planned the trip for the following month. Once on the ground there, I spent the first day taking over 1,500 photographs of the collection's Spiritualism contents--primarily an amazing trove of spirit photography we'll soon be debuting on IAPSOP.com for research and comparative purposes. After the photographs were done, I started begging the amazingly accommodating curators--Benn and Scott--to allow me to take a mold of their specimen's wheel housing. Their preservationists were away at a conference, however, and an answer would have to wait until the following morning. So with dwindling hours on my second and final day there, I showed up to fantastic news--they would let me take the mold I needed!
|The goal! Would it be possible to take an exact mold of this wheel housing without disassembling it and restore|
the Burgum-Vespia specimen to its former glory?
|Taking the mold! Some index cards help me keep the apparatus balanced as each half of the compound was applied, |
creating a two-part mold, half of which can be seen, right.
|Casting the housing! Works in progress with drying molds, left. |
Center: a few attempts before and after cleanup. Right: a fresh casting right out of the mold!
Which brings up an important note. When undergoing restorations that are anything more intrusive than repairing separated veneer, my first consideration, always paramount, is to not modify the original device in any way just to make it work. It was the same consideration I took in restoring Haffner's Wanda Tipping Table last year, and this non-intrusive philosophy of restoration was the topic of my lecture to archivists at my Preserving the Historical Collections of Parapsychology conference in Utrecht. It's a simple philosophy: if you can't restore an item in such a way that it can quickly and easily be restored to its original, pre-restoration state, then simply don't do it. And that's the approach here--the goal was to have a set of replacement wheels and housings for display, that could be easily removed to restore the item to its original state--exactly like museum dinosaur skeletons have replacement bones to show complete specimens.
|Left: the cast wheels carefully separated from the housing. Center: the results! Perfect castings of the |
wheel housing in a hard and durable substance. Right: initial press fitting of the housings. Great fit!
|Anticipation swells! Left: the first couple of coats! Center: matching paint with Rub n'Buff and wargame hobby paint. |
Right: the final press-fit led to an incredibly strong fit that's difficult, but certainly not impossible, to remove.
Mounting the wheels to the wheel housings was a fairly easy affair as well. From the same frame where I'd harvested the wood, I gathered up a couple of slim mounting nails that had the perfect diameter and patina to match the original axles of the McDowell planchette. I used press-fitting again, snipping them off at just the right length, and the entire unit just came together so quickly once I had all the components that I forgot to stop and take pictures for posterity until I was done!
|The restoration COMPLETE!|