The Design of Round Things, Part III

I have assembled a modest little collection of volvelles, those magical wonderful round charts of knowledge. I’m sorry the pictures aren’t great (I need to get some kind of studio-photo set up going), but I think you can see how sweet these wheel charts are. And by the way, there doesn’t seem to be a universal name for them–I’m partial to ‘volvelle’ myself, but wheel chart is also common, as are wheel of knowledge, info wheel, and even just calculator.

As I said before, these are kind of a natural for me, especially since they aren’t always so easy to track down. A research challenge on top of everything else? Count me in!

And there are so many other things to love about these. It’s kind of amazing how much information is packed into these little wheels—such efficiency! Nearly all of them have amazing amounts of facts on both front and back (the back of “40 Wonders of the World” is “40 Great Inventions of the World“). Some of the volvelles are somewhat general, but many of them are endearingly hyper-specific, like the Pennsylvania volvelle subtitled “An Instructive Compilation by Counties,” where I learned that the county of Bradford’s county seat is Towanda, the percentage of increase in population between 1920 and 1930 was –7.8, and its features and events of interest include the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute. Holy cow, where else could I learn all that?

More things to love include the way nearly all of them have eyelets at the center so they can be easily hung on a pin (which makes it easy to see both front and back), the frequency of really great arrows, and the fact that many of them are hand lettered with some of the best, clearest lettering I’ve seen, but still quirky and charming.

The only one I have that isn’t made of paper is the phenomenal Vernon Farm Calculator (copyright 1948), a tin volvelle with three separate spinning wheels, two on one side, one on the other.  So much information! Eggs, milk, tomatoes, peas, cows,  sows, information about all of those and more is packed in this handy, er, not quite pocket-sized wonder.

Thus ends this short series on round things of design distinction. We now return you to your regularly scheduled rectangles, parallelograms, and rhombi.



This entry was posted on Monday, May 3rd, 2010 and is filed under design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Bookmark and share this...



2 Responses to “The Design of Round Things, Part III”

  1. peter

    i encountered a local eccentric yesterday whose life’s work might be of interest. just don’t let him get you cornered, or you’ll be there for a very long time! web site here: be sure and check out the videos on the “media” page, particularly the second one; it’s only here that the full extent of his, um, eccentricity be comes fully apparent.


  2. Kirsten

    He certainly is a character. I bow down before the power of the circle of fifths!

    The flip chart is very cool, as is his giant volvelle.