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As the nostalgia gap grows more and more narrow (coming any day now on VH1: “I Love the ’00s”), it stands to reason that there should be a growing collector’s market for the tech toys and gadgets of the prehistoric age known as the late 20th century. It’s that market that should prove to be a natural for Pepe Tozzo’s “Retro Electric: Collecting Technology from Atari to Walkman” (Universe Publishing, $29.95).

Tozzo’s book is a dizzying and often amusing ride through an era roughly spanning the mid-’50s through the mid-’90s. It was a period when most technology, at least by modern standards, was largely buggy and clunky, and therein lies the dewy-eyed appeal of these products in the collectors’ market. And really, the book is less a collector’s guide than a trip down memory lane, with color photos and loving descriptions of each item featured.

Flipping through the book, you’ll be reminded of some of your favorite old gadgets, and schooled on some that you missed the first time. Take the Amstrad PCW 8256 word processor, an item that in 1985 would have set you back $850. But in its day, it was a pretty nifty item: It had a reputation for reliability, and it included its own operating system and its own detachable dot-matrix printer. The fact that Amstrad has gone the way of Members Only jackets only adds to the product’s mystique.

The book is full of similarly ill-fated products (remember the Palitoy Talking K-9? What about Swatch’s line of cordless phones? No?). It also goes out on a bit of a limb by conferring collectible status on a few relatively current products, such as Casio’s Exilim Z3 digital camera. That seems to be jumping the gun a bit, but it’s interesting to read Tozzo’s speculation.

I’m probably with the rest of you: I had no inkling that this stuff would ever provide anyone with nostalgic warm fuzzies, let alone become valuable in only 20 years’ time. But after all, that prevailing lack of forethought is what makes anything collectible, isn’t it? –Dan Heilman

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