Nova Toy Planetariums

                                                     Nova Home, Spitz Jr. and Sky Zoo

      Thomas Liversidge, the owner of Harmonic Reed and developer of the Spitz Jr. and Sky Zoo

      Home planetariums got their start at the dawn of the space age. With the start of post W.W.II development of rocketry, people like Dr. Wernher Von Braun, Dr Fred Wipple, Chelsey Bonestell and even Walt Disney were popularizing space flight.  By the mid 1950's public interest was running high with outer space, rockets and astronomy.  Spitz Model A Planetariums were popping up with installations in colleges and museums around the country.  It was in one of these planetariums that fate would join two people, Armand Spitz and Thomas Liversidge.  Both were small business men from the Philadelphia area. Armand was struggling to get his small planetarium business off and running and Tom was the owner of a musical toy instrument company called Harmonic Reed.  After attending a demonstration of Armand's newest Model B Planetarium, Tom stayed behind and waited for the crowd to thin out so he could have a moment talk to Armand about a toy planetarium idea he had.   Over the next several weeks the two men were able to work out a deal.  Harmonic Reed would design and build the toy Planetarium  and Armand would write the companion booklet and lend his name to the project.  The Spitz Jr. Planetarium was born!

(Left and Center) Tom Liversidge in late 1953 with two early proto-type Spitz Jr. (Right) Hanz Lingenfeld
     The grim task of designing the molding machine that would punch out more then 300 stars at once on a half of a hemisphere of plastic was given to the chief machinist at Hanz Lingenfeld.  Hanz had quite a job ahead of him.  In January of 1954, after a year of designing the machine,  the New York Toy Fair was upon them and the molding machine still wasn't working right!  Tom's workers did however get two units ready for the Toy Fair by hand drilling the 300 tiny star holes needed into each of the plastic star balls.  The two proto-type units were a real hit at the fair. They were taking orders and promising delivery on a product that at the moment they couldn't produce!  Ultimately Hanz did work out the bugs in the machinery and in it's twenty year run the company made over 1 million units.
     By 1955 the company was doing so well with the Spitz Jr. they designed a companion projector called the Sky Zoo.  The Sky Zoo projected 35 of the most recognized  mythological creatures in silhouette fashion onto your ceiling. When used with the Spitz Jr. the effect was stunning!  Both toys came with a wonderfully written booklet by Armand Spitz.  But the Sky Zoo sales were very disappointing.  In all, less than 2000 units were made and even less were sold.  I was told that many ended up in the local land fill. This is truly a very rare collectors item.
     The Spitz Jr. Planetarium sold until 1972.  It gave many children their first look at the universe and gave them the basic skills  needed to recognize the constellations.  The original selling price in 1954 was just $14.95, what a bargain!

I would like to thank Thomas Liversidge for the interview that made this article possible.

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