With the internet containing more than 60 trillion individual pages, it stands to reason that just about anything—information and otherwise—can be found online. It has, in fact, become so easy to explore a subject with such thorough obsession that we’ve co-opted an otherwise unrelated term as a catch-all for that very act. “Falling down the rabbit hole” is no longer an illusory episode belonging to Alice in her Wonderland; it’s one of the literal pitfalls of the internet.
I am prone to falling down rabbit holes. And just this week, I took a nosedive into patent records, census reports and newspaper archives in an attempt to piece together the origins of our latest eBay purchase: a set of antique cocktail picks modeled after a miniature bar, charmingly named the “Wonder Bar.”
Buying the bar was an easy decision. We, as a society, love tiny things. Add to that the fact that the bar is labeled with a company name (the Harris Dunn Corp.) and patent number—two very Google-able items—and it seemed that it would be equipped with a backstory just waiting to be uncovered.
But start digging into the Harris Dunn Corp., and something unusual happens. There is nothing—and I mean, nothing—that comes up, other than a selection of purchase links for this one very specific item. It would seem that the company did very little else.
Venturing a little deeper unearths the fact that the latter “Mr. Dunn” was perhaps not a Dunn at all; rather, he was David W. Dunberg (as listed on the Wonder Bar patent), a New York City resident, purveyor of novelties, manager of the International Bead Co. (a company specializing in pearls, rhinestones and spangles, per an advertisement taken out in a 1917 trade journal) and the inventor of this mini bar.
He was also a prolific filer of patents: To his name, there are a number of cigarette dispensers (many of them Egyptian-themed, in keeping with one of the Deco movement’s more famous motifs), a cylindrical display device threaded with piano wire and a regrettably forgotten “sitting and braking device” that offered roller skaters a platform upon which to sit and coast while in motion.
None of his inventions took off, at least not to the same degree as his 1939 Harris Dunn Wonder Bar, which made an appearance in a variety of newspapers, from at least New York to Illinois, that holiday season. “There is . . . a miniature bar made of Philippine mahogany and chromium with cunning liquor bottles sitting on top,” wrote Dorothy Coburn that year in a Christmas buying guide in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “It looks very gadgety and decorative.”
So popular were the Wonder Bar cocktail picks that, in 1940, Dunberg patented yet another model, this time for a similarly designed set depicting a bartender holding a tray. It’s unclear, however, if this secondary design was ever manufactured (and if it was, it was certainly less popular). Nor is it clear whether Dunberg continued to produce the Wonder Bar in its original form at all in the decades to come. Lost, too, is the simple answer to the question of how Dunberg happened upon the ideas for his inventions, whether he was in any way committed to barware, with whom he partnered on his products and what the set of cocktail picks might have meant to his legacy (let alone his retirement fund).
All things that would likely not be lost today, in an age where everything is documented and codified, our information woefully accessible—which makes it hard not to wonder what mysteries we’re leaving behind. Even scarier: the notion that, perhaps, we’re leaving none.
After all, what’s the fun of a rabbit hole that guarantees a soft landing?