“When stress of weather, or the coming of long winter evenings, or any other reason gives the indoor part of life a larger importance, this indoor handy book will be found an invaluable companion.”

Just another indoor activities book, I thought, flicking through the pages of “Harper’s indoor book for boys” by Joseph H. Adams (1908.7.1025), but I was sorely mistaken. No egg boxes and pipe cleaners here, oh no, this is on an altogether grander scale. Projects include making a bird cage, a candelabra, a stereopticon (double magic lantern, in case you were wondering), a settle and “nooks for books,” not to mention trying a spot of pyrography (fire-etching on wood – is this wise?), bookbinding, bas-relief clay modelling, Venetian metalwork, even clock making, for goodness’ sake.

What a joy parenting must have been in 1908, when “the average boy” (as he is constantly referred to in this handy tome) would tackle “fitting up a boy’s room” at the drop of a hat, assembling “an indispensable clothes press” along the way, while constructing a “curved-back window seat” at a moment’s notice. Where have we gone wrong? To think that your sons could furnish your entire house for you if only they didn’t spend all their time sitting comatose in front of a screen.

An exercising weight

Heaven knows it’s easy enough to feel inadequate as a parent, but I can see that I have fallen lamentably short:

 “Nearly every boy has had, at one time or another, a desire to make scroll-brackets, fretwork-boxes, and filigree wood-work of various sorts.”

Oh dear. I failed to nurture this enthusiasm while my boys were growing up – neither of them could build a whatnot* I can assure you.


This book was originally published in America, and is a testament to the self-reliance and energetic spirit of our cousins across the water. Perhaps this explains the book’s assumption that one has sufficient space at home in which to construct what has to be the most ambitious project in this frankly daunting volume, a “house gymnasium,” featuring an “adjustable flying trapeze.” Yes, that’s right, a flying trapeze. If only we had “average boys” like these, James May could’ve put his feet up instead of making “Man Lab.”

* ”For trinkets, books, and the general assortment of odds and ends that a boy is sure to possess.”