3rd July 2009 at 01:00

It is a rare person who has never given in to the temptation to buy a gadget that, the adverts promise, will transform their lives, save them money or make a chore less onerous. An exhibition for all the family has opened at Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery which highlights some of the weird and wonderful gadgets produced in a 100-year period from 1850- 1950.

Wacky Machines, which runs until September 13, focuses on 70 fascinating objects from a collection of more than 1,500 amassed over the past 30 years by retired London businessman Maurice Collins. His criterion for collecting is: "The more eccentric and unusual, the better, and the more effort for less reward."

Among the gadgets on show are the "Little Miss Puff Sleeve Stretcher" from the 1950s, which promised a "no ironing needed" solution to the vexed problem of how to make a little girl's sleeves look perfectly puffed. A 1907 metal hot water bottle for shoes - shaped like a shoe - was just the thing to warm footwear before going out into the cold. And an "apparatus to prevent projecting ears" assured purchasers that it could be "worn with comfort during sleep."

All the objects on show were invented to deal with - some more successfully than others - a wide range of problems and needs; hence, early examples of burglar alarms; a tennis ball cleaner and a mini reading lamp kit for travellers in Victorian times, complete with candle and matches.

It is fascinating to see how gadgets such as automatic tea-makers have developed since their first appearance in 1902 and how others, such as eyelash curlers, have changed hardly at all. Real inspiration for inventors of all ages, complemented by quizzes and activities.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today