Custom keypunch plates for sale

eBay seller Surplusdealdude has a treasure-trove of magnificent customized keypunch card plates for sale. My mom helped put herself through university as a keypunch operator -- these things were the stuff of family legend when I was growing up.

The Great Industrial Garage Sale (via Making Light)


  1. Ugh. I hated keypunching those damned cards with every fiber of my being. Just seeing that picture is enough to give me flashbacks. Moving on to computer terminals was a high point in my life. The only reason I’d buy one of those plates would be for the chance to take a sledgehammer to it.

  2. Keypunch? That looks more like an IBM Selectric typeball sort of thing, or some kind of typesetting hardware. Keypunch machines punch square holes in punch cards.

    1. These are the plates used to print punch cards. Big organizations often used cards “branded” with their logos or other info.

  3. I’ve still got a bunch of cards. I think I still have a couple of boxes of punched cards. My printer is sitting on two boxes, and I’ve got about a third of a box sitting on the bookshelf behind me. They are over 30 years old. Still flat too. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife – after a couple of decades…) had her father give me a few boxes from his work. My college made me pay for them, and he went through so many a few boxes missing wouldn’t have been noticed. And one box probably cost me the same as what I paid for a couple of hundred at school.

  4. @7 I purchased one some time ago. The size is 3.25″ tall by 1.25″ in diameter. You would have to have very thin wrists. Perhaps the Coach bag model could wear it.

    Think of these as a typeset plate for punch cards. Ink is applied to the cylinder and it rolls as it prints on a 3.25″ by 7.375″ card. The Wikipedia entry on punch cards tells the whole story:

  5. That thing was the plate to print punched cards. This one shows 0-9 but I think others had 0-9 and A through F so you could do all the ASCII characters.

    Once printed and shipped to the few places that had computers (my university had precisely one -the IBM 360), the cards were put in a keypunch machine about the size of a meat freezer. You sat there and typed your lines of code and your data and the machine punched the right holes ion the card for each character you typed.

    You would assemble these cards in the right order (or your program wouldn’t run) and deliver them to a guy who, when it was your program’s turn, would put them in a card reader which input the data into the computer.

    And you’d wait.

    And wait…

    …and eventually get your cards back with a printout of the results of your run. Then you’d debug by figuring out what you did wrong, punching new cards to replace the ones with the bad code and bringing ’em back to the guy for more waiting.

    A week of late nights later, your program would run without a hitch and you could leave the friggin computer center hopped up on a week of cokes and vending machine food, bored stiff and contemplating a career in Modern European History.

  6. I’m the guy that has the punch card printing plates.

    Just thought I’d correct a few facts and let you know how far this went;

    1. The plates are 2 3/4″ in diameter, not 1 1/4″. If you have a VERY slim wrist, they might fit BUT most of them are lined with copper – I wouldn’t advise wearing them for long.

    2. The plates only have 1-9 on them. The ASCII characters for A-Z and other notations were made by punching 2 numbers in the same column.

    Uncle Geo has described what a pain they were to program with quite accurately, though – I remember those days.

    What he failed to mention was what would happen if one of the cards got bent. The card reader would shred the next 2-3″ of stacked cards and you’d get them back in a plastic garbage bag. Then you could type them all over.

    4. The plate shown is actually what was called an “optical read” card. Presumably, you could color in the little slots and the computer could read them.

    It sounded better than it worked. If we hated the keypunch card machine, we DETESTED these optical read cards.

    However, it was the fore-runner of today’s lottery tickets, so it wasn’t all wasted.

    The Effect

    This little single post got picked up on twitter and, as far as I can see, about a half-dozen other sites.

    In the space of 3 days, I had 11 THOUSAND views on my listings.

    I got 3,700 hits from this page alone and another 300+ from ‘Making Light’.

    You BROKE my traffic reports bar graph, LOL.

    I sold 40 of the keypunch card plates – it was like a feeding frenzy in my store.

    Someone from Google bought one.

    Someone from a well-known late-night talk show bought 3. I’m having nightmares about that.

    So you have more of a following than you realized. Good job and thank you for a very interesting week.

    By the way, I have partially restocked my store. The ‘special’ plates haven’t been added yet – they’ll take a week or so. But the steel plates, the regular plates and the optical read plates are back.

Comments are closed.