Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who can you believe?

A quick look through the published references to Atomics (and it has to be quick, because there are very few published references!) shows some very strange-looking Atomics, as well as some more conventional views. Ernest Bramah gets it pretty much right - he gets the dates right and here is his illustration...

Ian Bersten also produces a familiar image, but he attributes Robbiati's patent to 1956...

From here on, it gets weirder and weirder. Fumagalli sets the date at 1950, which is approximately right, but his illustration indicates some mix'n'match activities with the jug...

As does Bhaskaran...

The jugs in the latter two illustrations are certainly from the right period, but I'd bet money they were never designed by Robbiati.

For details of the books concerned, check out the Atomic Website References

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Aetna - a new Atomic Badge?

Rachel Greene just sent me this pic of an Atomic with one of the very few badges that does not mention the word "atomic" anywhere. (The others are La Sorrentina and Life-Ware.) The machine in question appears to be a 'B' type with a small, tall jug. Because there is no mention of the reseller's location and the patent statement is in Italian, I'd guess they were in Italy, possibly in the 1960s.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Atomic Patents

Paul Schilperoord reports the following patent numbers associated with the Atomic coffee maker, together with links to the original documents in some cases.
- IT 757219 (Italy)
- US 2549132 (USA)
- GB 633988 (UK)
- DE 838493 (Germany)
- FR 955982 (France)
- AT 167450B (Austria)
- BE 478076 (Belgium)
- NL 67725C (Holland)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Using the Atomic pressure gauge

Some of the Thos Cara Atomics were fitted with a pressure gauge and marketed as a "de luxe" model - probably the only time in history that "de luxe" denotes something less desirable than "standard"! If you have one of these machines, here are the instructions:

"For best results in frothing milk... wait until gauge reaches 3 kg. Do not overheat machine or plastic dial cover will melt. The plastic piece is replaceable (really?). If gauge indicator recedes to zero while machine is in operation, turn off the heat, this indicates that the water has been completely depleted."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A little bit of New Zealand Atomic history...

It seems that most of the Atomics brought into New Zealand arrived in the late 1980s. About 150 were brought in by R L Bowden Ltd, most of them in three shipments, sourced partly direct from Robbiati in Europe and partly from Bon Trading in Sydney. Spares were purchased as necessary. The machines were sold to Robert Harris coffee shops, Belaroma, and other boutique establishments over a three-year period. The retail price then was around $70. The folks from Robert Harris were still selling the machines as late as 1992 - I have an invoice from that era for an "Atomic body, clamp handle, basket and strainer", for a total of $92; no mention of a jug! Undoubtedly a few machines have also made their way to NZ with private owners, just as some have migrated back to Australia and the USA as interest in them has grown.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Atomic Google Group Started

Now there is an Atomic Google Group for people who don't like having their posts moderated. You can find it here . Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Atomic Manuals and Brochures

Just a few of the brochures that have been printed to promote or accompany the Atomic over the years...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Head Knobs vs Neck Knobs

Did you know the early steamer valve knobs (usually red, but occasionally blue) were not only a slightly lighter colour, but they are also 5mm smaller in diameter (30mm instead of 35mm)? Unlike the later knobs we all know and love, the early ones had a circular mounting hole (not square) recessed only partway into the knob (not right through) and were secured to the valve stem by a tiny grubscrew inserted at right angles to the stem (not in line with it). I guess Signor Robbiati got tired of his steamer knob coming loose.

Anyway, the above pic is something you won't see very often - 4 head-mount steamer knobs in a bulk pack, with grub screws.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Removing the Atomic's Boiler Plug

Here's some evidence that the early Atomics were designed to be cleaned from the front. This is from an early Sassoon manual, which suggests the boiler plug should be removed every six weeks and the neck tube cleaned with a wire (supplied). I guess in the 1950s the idea of dismantling your coffee maker was no scarier than servicing your own car. And yes, your Atomic came with a spanner for removing the boiler plug and a spare gasket for resealing it! I've put a picture of the spanner and a spare boiler plug on the home page at

Head Filters

I recently picked up a couple of spare head filters. I was just going to chuck them in my parts box when I noticed the hole patterns were different. That made me go and check all my machines to see what patterns were in the head filters. The results surprised me.

My early flat-top Gorrea has a filter with a regular hole pattern around a single, centered fixing screw. The next oldest machine, a Sassoon model with steamer wand in the head, also has a regular hole pattern, but with two fixing screws. The later machines, Robbiati, Bon Trading and La Sorrentina, all have star patterns in the head filter, as well as the two fixing screws.

What do we conclude from this? Well, when you find the star pattern in the filter basket, it generally indicates a "vintage" Atomic (anything from 1950s to 1980s), but when you find it in the head filter, it seems to indicate a later model.

Anyone else able to add to this mini-research-project? Like, for example, which came first - the five-pointed star or the six-pointed one?

Finally, the book....

The original two Guides have now been replaced with a book, Enduring Design: The Romance of the Atomic Coffee Maker, also available as an eBook. Chapters on the history (and legends), the evolution of the design, care and maintenance, valuation and even making coffee. The book is at and the eBook is on eBay, well sometimes anyway.

Initial reaction has been excellent, but this is no doubt because there is so little previously published. Keep an eye out here for corrections and revisions, because this is where you will see them first.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Want to discuss your Atomic?

Maybe you have an Atomic and you would like to know more about it. Or you would like to get an idea of what it is likely to fetch on eBay or TradeMe. Or it needs fixing. Bring your problems here. Someone will have an answer for you.