- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Let us all stand and salute the lard press. By golly, all’s well from sea to shining sea as long as there’s a lard press around. Yes indeedy.

How could we get by without the handy-dandy lard press? Not to mention a syllabub churner, kraut cutter, cherry stoner, raisin seeder, apple parer, carpet stretcher, pen ejector, revolving mousetrap, electric back belt and gold-filled fancy combination retractable toothpick and, uh, ear spoon.

Hail to the nifty gadget, the endearing whatchamacallit, the cunning contraption. Humans simply cannot do without that whirling, clicking, collapsible, double-ended thingamajig — what Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines as “any interesting but relatively useless or unnecessary object.”

Indeed. We have loved our useless objects for decades, appeasing an ongoing need for spectacle, bells and whistles, convenience and just plain whiz-bang.

The aforementioned parade of gadgetry counted the must-haves of 1902, according to that year’s Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, which supplied a majestic hand-rendered depiction of each item worthy of the U.S. Department of Engraving and Printing.

Even the gold-filled toothpick/ear spoon cleaner-outer received artistic treatment, reflecting its august status as the ultimate alarming-but-stylish personal hygienic device of its time.

These days, however, we have the battery-operated Ear Clean 3 Ear Vacuum. Yes, the ear vacuum, perhaps the apex of alarming-but-stylish personal hygienic devices introduced in Japan last year.

From our Lost in the Translation Desk comes this official manufacturer’s description: “Designed to fit in the hand comfortably, the Ear Clean 3 Ear Vacuum is suitable for use by pickers of all ages, from small children to senior citizens.”

Yes. Of course.

Suitable for pickers of all ages or not, the ear vacuum recently was nominated for the “What’s not hot” booby prize by gadgetmadness.com, an online compendium for gadget aficionados that reviews good, bad, ugly, curious, quirky, dopey and remarkable devices.

And there are many. The site has divided the devices into not one, not two, but 24 categories, including bizarre, old school, spy, office toys, robotics, wireless and household, among others. But gee. Our crack team over in the Gadget Discovery and Demolition Department couldn’t seem to find a good lard press anywhere, wireless or otherwise.

No matter. Gadgets already have developed quite the pedigree. Why, consider the Veg-o-Matic, Dial-o-Matic, Chop-o-Matic, Mince-o-Matic, Pocket Fisherman, Showtime Rotisserie, 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator and anything else inventor Samuel Popeil — and later, his son Ron — could fabricate in the Atomic Age.

The Popeil dynasty has sold $2 billion worth of those many ‘Matics, full of push-button charm and a kind of cheerful bravado that implies the world is not going to end after all, provided we have a Veg-o-Matic and an Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler, which might prove helpful for communication analysts at the Department of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, the American need for gadgets has matured. There’s always the automatic rotisserie marshmallow toaster, just $40 at Hammacher Schlemmer, which also boasts combination earmuff headphones, remote control golf balls, beard vacuums, roll-up electronic keyboards and egg-poaching toasters.

Not to be outdone, the Sharper Image brings us the Turbo-Groomer, 3D Globe Explorer and Soap Genie with Chime — all too complicated to explain here.

Brookstone, meanwhile, offers a panoply of curiosities such as the Ionic Hair Dryer, Cordless Talking Radar Detector and Automatic Watch Winder, to name a few. The ever-practical Herrington’s carries the indestructible Multi-Survival Module — certainly a swell addition to anyone’s go-bag in the event of terrorist attack.

It features emergency whistle, floating-dial compass, flashlight, thermometer, magnifier, and watertight compartment with a dozen safety matches — but alas, no lard press.

Just in case anyone longs for the olden days, though, the Chef’s Catalog offers everything short of a lard press: shrimp butler, pineapple slicer, garlic cleaner, garlic masher, onion roaster, parsley mincer, chili grinder and a formidable cherry stoner. It’s plastic, spring-loaded and goes through a pound of cherries in 75 seconds.

But when all is said and done, the old gadgets may get the last laugh. All those splendid whatnots that truly were manufactured by a company named Acme a century ago have become highly collectible — and worth more than their high-tech contemporary counterparts.

According to our antiques experts, Bill and Terry Kovel, a circa-1925 heart-shaped ice cream scoop commands $8,000, while the 23-inch Chas Parker Coffee Grinder No. 4000 is worth $4,000. No word — yet — on the current market value of the 1902 lard press. But we’re working on it.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and cheese graters for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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