New adventures, courtesy of the box of "old aquarium stuff..."

So, I've been working on a new tank for the past few months, and not too long ago, I needed a specific part for some application that would work perfectly...Something I KNEW I still had...somewhere... You know that feeling?

Well, part of the process for me involves going through that big 'old box of "aquarium stuff"  that I've accumulated over a lifetime of fish-keeping...seeing if there is anything worth salvaging or repurposing for my new projects...Yeah, liquid test reagents and food samples from 2002 need not apply...

I was digging through one of my several 'boxes of fish junk" the other day, looking for some ridiculous thing I thought that I needed...and of course, it made me stop and reflect...

We all have that box, right? You know, the one that contains the parts for that 1982 model Eheim canister filter, or the diaphragm for that air pump you bought back in '93. Maybe you even have an old "Metaframe" aquarium from dad back in the day?


As aquarists, we love shiny new stuff..but I'd hazard a guess that most of us like to hold on to our old stuff, too! I'd like to think it's because we have a sentimental sense of history, and these things make us harken back to a gentler, more simpler aquarium-keeping era...

Perhaps, it's because experience tells us we're going to need some of this stuff again. Maybe for some new application that wasn't even imagined  back in the days when some of these items were brand new. Just like what I  was thinking recently. Or possibly, we need to cannibalize an old device to keep the one we have in operation running for an indefinite period of time. This is not a bad thing at all, right? I have reefer friends who, let's put it nicely- are hoarders...And I mean that in a good way...because if you need a part for a 2006 model AquaMedic protein skimmer or a vintage 2010 EcoTech Marine Vortech pump...they've got it!

No- that's not a bad thing at all. It's good to know aquarium equipment "hoarders!"

Of course, perhaps some of you out there don't have the slightest bit of sentimental attachment to your 30-year-old hang-on-the-back power filter. Maybe you feel no great sense of historical obligation to reflect upon that old pump and perhaps admire its durability. Maybe you chose to keep it for "other", less defined reasons.

Which brings us to the final set of reasons why we as fish geeks typically hang on to stuff, having absolutely nothing to do with sentimentality: Maybe, we're simply just too cheap/poor/busy to replace them?

That could be it..not sure. No shame in any of those reasons, by the way...

But keeping old equipment is sort of a validation of our culture, an homage- intended or unintended- to the hobby's progression and history.

I mean, there is something so appealing about taking a piece of damn-near antique aquarium equipment and employing it in a new, more-or-less "state of the art" system. Repurposing. Sort of like the way old factory buildings are turned into cool offices for high-tech startup companies- uses that no one could have ever conceived of "back in the day."

And let's face it, some stuff was- IS- still great, withstanding the test of time. Like Ehiem "Classic" filters. Sure, the materials might have changed a bit, but the filters are essentially unchanged from their original  1970's design- because they work so awesomely!


And of course, you've seen me rave on about my 1980-vinatge Tetra "Luft" air pump, which has been operating with me for so long that it's practically become a family heirloom!

Well, I do draw the line with aquarium heaters. I don't like old heaters. Don't trust them, for many reasons..An air pump is one thing- a heater, however, is another story. Old heaters are archaic, often undependable, and occasionally downright scary! Practicality and safety outweigh sentimentality with a critically important piece of gear.


Yet, in general, many pieces of older aquarium equipment, like the aforementioned Ehiem filters, are appealing because they're so well made. So "right" in their utility and practical elegance.

Maybe old aquarium equipment appeals to us because it has a bit of "soul" to it; like an old friend or pair of jeans, it's proven itself as a reliable, earnest partner over many years and many situations. That new high-tech Bluetooth-enabled LED light just doesn't offer that feature. Perhaps we have some psychological sense of "kinship" that we attach to old equipment?

Okay, perhaps I'm reading too much into this topic at 5:45 AM in Los Angeles...Perhaps the damn thing may be old, but it's what we've got right now, and we really need a three-way gang valve immediately, be it plastic or 19060's vintage brass! Yup.

Wow. That could be it.

I Like the "sentimental" explanations better, though.

Do you have that ONE fave piece of, shall we say..."vintage" aquatic gear that you hang on to? Does it still work well, or do just keep it because you feel some sentimental attachment to it? Or have you simply forgotten to toss it in the recycling bin?

What is it? What gems do you have in your "collection?"

Do tell! 

Because I know I'm not the ONLY one who's got that "aquarium junk hoarder" thing going on, right?

Until next time...

Hang on tightly to all of your old aquarium "stuff"..And your new ones. But give away your experience and time freely with other hobbyists.


Stay true to your roots. Stay focused o the future.

And of course...

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman
Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


4 Responses


April 23, 2023

I can’t argue on general principle in regards to old heaters with the notable exception of a 1970s Delta heater that was part of an auction I won a few years ago. Granted, there is a wee bit of uncertainty first plugging it in, but once you get it set its golden (so far anyways). Whether it’s aquarium equipment or appliances, I never cease to be amazed at the durability of older products when compared to the crap out there any more.


November 22, 2022

I also appreciate the generally better build and lifespan of older kit. I see so many cheap, poorly thought through filters on the shelves these days. So many are designed around disposable filter cartridges that need replacing when dirty, forcing users to buy new cartridges – until the manufacturer changes the design and the old cartridges aren’t available anymore, then a new filter is required even though the old one may still be working fine. Also changing cartridges means chucking away all your established biological filtering capacity! Or many of those that use washable foams have foams way too small to support a bacteria colony big enough to effectively filter the rated tank size. I love the original Eheim external filters too. In fact I have a bit if a collection going on, right back to the original 1060s design with a bolt-down canister lid before the clips came into use! And guess what? They all still work and get used on rotation.

Some pics:


July 23, 2018

Well … I was disappointed about the “Heater” issue: vintage NOT better than new? It may be so, but in search of a reliable heater (key element that means “life or death” for your aquarium inhabitants) I found NONE among the modern technology ones. I’ve been searching, unrealistically, for a lifetime “old, faithful. workhorse heater”. Remember the old, heavy, bulky, black, landline phones? I have one still going strong but discarded unfairly after 50 years, nostalgically sitting in the garage.

Anyway, I enjoyed “listening” to your thoughts.


February 17, 2018

Having a hard time with your descriptions of vintage. Some of my plants and fish are older than the equipment you describe. I wonder if they get nostalgic too? Plant cuttings from at least 1992. A synodontis that was large when I first met it in 1997ish. My “may need it one day” hoard includes an in tank sanders counter current protein skimmer that is about 30" tall! circa 1980’s? And, back in my retail days I sold the heck out of the Tetra Luft pumps to go with skimmers and such. There may be a few in my junk drawer too. Schego was also good, if you find them.

I have begun seeking out and hoarding the aquarium gear of my grandfather and father’s vintage. Not for usage, but for the history. Names like Metaframe, Sternco, Pemco, Delta, etc. are hard to find. Just now I found your page trying to find out info about a kmart branded heater. I came into a stack from a local fish hoarder’s widow. They might make an interesting display in their various colors. A few supremes like those in your picture, although the packaging and the metal rim clamps are missing.

It is interesting history. Albert Klees wrote a good book on the early history of the hobby. But, I think the mid-century history is one that is disappearing. All oddball aquatics is great source of pictures and info. Also, the owner of Zoo-med is said to have quite a collection. It is a hobby for some of us within the hobby!

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