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Category: 'tools and instruments'

Long before periscopes became uniquely associated with submarines, they were widely used to peer over the trenches in WW1. Here are other uses from on board jet aircraft to golf courses, bank vaults and even to look underwater from dry land - the inverse of what we associate periscopes with.

There are some design classics here, from the John Russell Barlow, French Opinel and Laguiole, Japanese Higo no Kami and of course the Swiss Army knife, where we show the original 19th C version and the one actually issued to Swiss soldiers today. We have included a couple of multi-tool curiosities such as a surgeons knife with gruesome implements such as an abscess lance and a Veterinary blood letting pocket knife which we found in our attic. To demonstrate the history of pocket knives which go back to 500BC we have selected a modern looking Viking pocket knife and an amazing Roman Soldiers multi-tool which predates the Swiss Army by nearly 2000 years.

Last week we did a roundup of quirky and interesting toolboxes. In the process of searching for these we came across a variety of beautifully designed ones. Why toolboxes? Because there is a history of superior design surrounding tools, because of their inherently ergonomic and utilitarian nature and this extends to the boxes to put them in. Some of these units are kitchen cabinet-like, except that they are better made than any kitchen unit, and if I was designing a kitchen I would use high end tool containers.Here is a list of the best designed toolboxes money can buy.

Tool chests can provide perfect gadget porn - lots of beautifully crafted objects that fit intricately into a perfect container.Here are some of our favorites, including the stunning chest which resides in the Smithsonian and belonged to Organ and Piano maker, Henry O Studley at the other end of the scale is the garden variety, utilitarian tool box that saved the NASA Spacelab .

Although the term galvanometer is often used to refer to things other than devices which measure electrical current (such as charge or resistance), there are an amazing array of early designs for this instrument, considering their simplicity.Many of these design differences are to do with the cases that surround what is basically a twisting wire, however there is something definitively analog in their mechanism and 19th century amateur scientist in their variety. Early galvanometers represent the extreme opposite of todays high energy physics, which requires giant multi billion dollar apparatuses and extreme digital processing for measurement. A long way off a compass and a battery.

Pocket sundials can be over 1000 years old, arguably making them the world's first watches - and with no moving parts to break. Typically they were carried by shepherds, where there are a variety of designs, from the French Pillar Sundial to the Tibetan Time Stick.

Neutrinos are extremely small and fast, so much so that to detect them you have to build really amazing experiments, such as the ones shown here. Japans Super-K is a 50,000 ton tank of water, half a mile underground, so clear that divers get vertigo. The latest South Pole neutrino telescopes, which point into the earths core rather than at the sky, have arrays of detectors which are much larger than the Empire State building and are frozen deep in the Antarctic ice core.

Until very recently, people still used the same principal that Newton had proposed, to derive latitude from the angle of the sun or stars at known times. The sextant (or originally octant) allowed people to do this relative to the horizon, rather than the instrument itself.Later versions of the sextant included a very simple version for emergency use, called the Bris sextant (not a great name for a device to be used on a rolling ship) and until the advent of GPS systems, bubble sextants were used on aircraft.

Tube testers are machines to test the notoriously unreliable predecessor of the transistor - the vacuum tube, or valve. If you are a hi-fi nut with a tube amp you might actually even need one of these.What makes them special as vintage gadgets is that they have that particular density of retro buttons and switches that spells complicated and releases Serotonin in male humans.The link to the Catalog for the ‘Supreme' brand on Steven Johnson's site is particularly fine. Tube testers can be picked up on Ebay, fairly often, for reasonable prices.