There’s the usual layer of nostalgia: you played an Atari game or two or perhaps owned a 2600 and some cartridges. Then there’s the layer below: you check on ebay for cartridges and collect them, maybe even pick up the occasional full-sized game to burn through some ready cash. And there’s a layer beyond that, where you pick up old vintage Atari posters or a t-shirt or maybe even the occasional obscure artifact like an Atari Asteroids Halloween costume.
Even there, you’d have nothing on Curt Vendel.
One of the things I do once I get my hands on a new subject to research is working my best to exhaust all the available data sources, then going after more obscure indirect sources that might reveal more: knocking up shareware CDs for sale on ebay to get additional versions of a BBS program, for example. Or finding a website that posts information that isn’t related to the subject, but mentions it indirectly, which gives me some vital name or event which I can search for and find even more interesting. Once I get into one of these runs it takes me pretty far, pretty fast. Naturally, this would occasionally put me into contact with Atari, which has not only a long history (Williams/Midway and Gottlieb do as well) but had such interesting amounts of employee and idea churn over its decades that people correlate all over the history of computer games and computers at large. And the thing is, wherever I went, Curt got there first.
I’d find what I thought were golden, obscure internal Atari VAX message postings, and Curt had been involved in the project. I’d find some neat old articles on bulletin boards and it was Curt had the original magazines. And it was Curt who had access to the golden stuff, the neatest of the items, the ones I thought didn’t exist. If the term “Atari 1450 XLD” has any meaning for you, Curt’s Ownership of one should come as a bit of a surprise. In fact, Curt has what seems on all fronts to be the largest private collection of Atari Memorabilia, information and documents in the world.
I interviewed Curt for my documentary because I wanted people representing as many of the major platforms of the early 1980’s as possible. (Atari, Commodore, Tandy, IBM, Texas Instruments, and so on.) Who better to discuss the draw of Atari than someone with so many examples of it?
(The interview went very well, by the way.)
It turns out that in fact I’d met Curt at the Vintage Computer Festival East, where he had a number of Atari artifacts I’d never seen or heard of, including oddly colored joysticks and a light pen. We talked a bit then, but the documentary wasn’t full in my mind then, just an idea being kicked around, and I was a pure tourist, someone delighted that so many interesting items were around so close to my home.
Curt is not just a mere warehouser of Atari; he is truly a curator. His website, Atarimuseum.com, is completely packed with information, pictures and documents covering pretty much all aspects of Atari. Curt understands more than most the magic this company built up in marketing, engineering, and all-around approach to the concept of “computing for the masses”. That’s a very etherial thing to grasp onto enough to present to folks, and I think he’s captured it.
So here’s what I’m getting at. Having collected nearly everything there is to find about Atari (although I’m sure Curt personally feels he hasn’t), having amassed a collection reaching into the thousands of individual items, Curt’s natural and distinct goal is to digitize and present as much of it for the public’s consumption as possible. To give it historical meaning, to get it saved for posterity, and, through his attendance of computer festivals and conventions, give people who grew up so influenced by Atari the chance to see how many incredible things this company had to offer. Instead of locking it away to covet on his personal time or show to a few arbitrary individuals, he’s opened it to the most folks he can on a physical level and provided (through his website) the opportunity for anyone who didn’t know until five seconds ago they needed to see it, the chance to see all of it.
I can’t think how it gets better than that.
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