This essay first appeared on the electronic mailing list Piporg-l

(This posting was started by another subscriber to the mailing list: 'If WurliTzer made toasters, they would come up from under the kitchen counter on a screw-lift and have beautiful black, white, red, and marble yellow tab controls. Unfortunately, they toast only croissants in keeping with their horseshoe shape. The variable trem does a wonderful job in spreading wobbly jams or curds. One machine can handle every size because of complete unification. English models may be ordered with colored neon light boxes for exterior housing. Preprogrammed music includes Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise and Sunset and Evening Star. Can be ordered through Williams-Sonoma catalogues.')


And if John Brombaugh made a toaster

It would be closely modelled after one in the Folk Museum at Sneek in Dutch Friesland, believed to have been made by the Hamburg master Jan van Kuchenbröd in 1609.

It would be made of quarter sawn fumed white oak, with inlay of centuries-old black bog oak and handles of cow bone, and a chimney of hand-beaten copper.

It would use as a heat source a cast-iron wood-burning furnace, stoked with seven-year dried selected Norwegian Silver Birch by a team of three genuine Friesian artisans and fanned with four double-acting horsehide forge bellows.

It would toast ONLY Friesian soda bread, made with stone-ground rye with the stalks left in it (and cooked in an oven heated by the surplus output recycled from the toaster furnace).


And if Cavaillé-Coll had built a toaster ...

It would have occupied a shelf on the armoire OPPOSITE the breakfast table. It would have been heated by a miniature spirit burner made of cast iron. It would have accepted slices of baguette about 2cm thick, and would have fired them HORIZONTALLY using a pneumatic mechanism. It would be reloaded from the kitchen behind by a servant communicating with the dining-room through a speaking tube. The exterior finish would be polished rosewood, with porcelain controls and gilt trim. By depressing an iron pedal near one leg of the table, the head of the household could bring into play a mechanism which spread garlic on the pain grillé as it was being fired towards the table.

Most of the originals would have been removed after the second world war and replaced with sandwich-making machines.


If Father Willis had made a toaster....

It would have been a sturdy little device with a built-in Primus stove. The entire mechanism would have been under the control and careful eye of papa, seated at the head of the table. In front of him, let into the polished mahogany of the table, would be a row of unlabelled buttons, each of machine-turned gilt brass. The link between papa and the toaster would have been through tubes running under the table, but the actual firing mechanism would have been clockwork.

The Willis Toaster would normally be supplied with the Willis 'parallel and even' slicing machine and Willis slice feed conveyor. These three machines would make a splendid sight, occupying some space at the family dining table. The machinery would be astonishingly reliable and all over the Empire Willis toasters would deliver two perfectly browned slices of white or brown bread every four and a half minutes.

The exaggerated accents affected by the middle and upper classes in Victorian and Edwardian England came about partly in an attempt to be heard over the noise of 'Willis' household appliances.

Note that the slice feed conveyor was actually invented by Vincent Willis and patented by him in 1886 no. 74929456738. Father Willis was obliged to pay him royalties on every one sold and this caused some friction within the family.


... and if Robert Hope-Jones had built a toaster ...

It would have been the first all-electric pop-up toaster in the world. It would have been of brass and mahogany. Inside would have been an intricate mass of cloth-covered wiring, tiny hairpin magnets with silk armatures and miniature cooling bellows covered with rubber cloth. It would have retailed for $99.99, and have cost Hope-Jones $134.87 to produce.

After a few weeks use the slice on one side would no longer pop, being reduced to a pathetic regular twicthing until it burnt to a frazzle and broke up. The slice on the other side would be ejected forcefully after only 14 seconds of cooking and disappear behind the dresser.

The Hope Jones toaster would have been made in two models. The 'Melba' would only cook slices of anorexic thinness and great fragility. The 'Countryman' would take fat wodgy doorsteps of white bread, each providing enough breakfast nourishment for a family of four. The toasting of ordinary bread would have been left to the ignorant and backward manufacturers of more conventional apparatus.


If D. A. Flentrop had built a toaster

it would look remarkably like a wooden bread-bin. It would arrive with a flurry of well-organised publicity and interior decorators from all over would come to marvel at its virtuous honesty.

If asked where the heating element was, Flentrop would retort that no such device was provided. 'Toast is foreign to the true nature of bread', he would say.