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GREAT INVENTIONS/GOOD INTENTIONS: An Illustrated History of American Patent Designs by Eric Baker, text by Jane Martin (Chronicle: 16.95).

December 30, 1990|Charles Solomon

Although highly entertaining, "Great Inventions" is just a portfolio of patent drawings from the '30s and '40s, rather than a history of design. The influence of Modernism can be seen in the emphasis on streamlining and the illusion of speed in these drawings: Even the ashtrays have had their corners smoothed away until they resemble sleek dirigibles. A surprising number of these drawings look like something else: A radio becomes a miniature grand piano, and a hilarious design for an Americana restaurant combines a log cabin with a covered wagon. Only a few of these projects were ever realized--and no wonder.

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