Doug Boilesen 2018
collection began when I purchased a Victrola at age twelve with
money from my paper route. Auctions and garage sales were early
sources for adding to my collection but with budget constraints
I didn't pursue many machines and certainly not rare ones.
the years my collecting interests took some turns but collecting
always revolved around phonographs and its related ephemera.
why this fascination with talking machines, recorded sound and
are three possibilities.
the phonograph is based on a very simple technology yet what it
did was revolutionary and almost magical. It was revolutionary
because it changed human's perception of sound. It was a wonder
and magical because it was initially an early example of Arthur
C. Clark's adage known as his Third Law, i.e., "Any
sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
As the phonograph moved into the home, however, it became part
of everyday life and lost its magic.
Brochure 1906 - "Does daily experience yield anything
more wonderful than this?"
the phonograph is an interesting example of how one invention
can produce so many popular culture ripples and connections --
and not just for one generation. In fact, the phonograph has played
in every decade since its invention and still plays music from
its grooves today which are enjoyed by the vinyl enthusiasts of
the 21st century. The phonograph's advertising themes likewise
were repeated each decade up to the present. Descendent home entertainment
devices continued the phonograph's advertised promise of offering
personal entertainment to anyone, anytime and as often as you
third, early phonographs, such as morning-glory horn machines
and stately Victrolas, are icons of recorded sound and home entertainment.
As reminders of how recorded sound entered the home they are also
prototypes for how a technology was introduced, promoted, and
evolved leaving its story to be told by museums, social and cultural
historians, and collectors. (5A)
part of the "home is your castle" consumerism the phonograph
offered everyone in the family the "best seat in the house."
That theme has been in home entertainment ads since the mid-1890's
and has never stopped.
new home entertainment device since the phonograph has promoted
that "best seat" message in one way or another - the
phonograph with its multiple record speeds and hundreds of millions
of records; the radio; the television; the tape recorder; VCRs,
CDs, Laserdiscs and CED Video Discs, DVDs, audio books, music
streaming services, etc. -- each of these sound and entertainment
providers continued the phonograph's revolutionary promise
that your home could be your own "Stage of the World"
-- all entertainment experiences were available to you as if you
were a king, or a millionaire or the possessor of Aladdin's Lamp.
row, center. Forever."
what about collecting objects?
Tomerius wrote that some objects become different based on use
refutes Gertrude Stein's claim 'a rose is a rose is a rose': that
it has become a different object if Napoleon wore it on his uniform.
A key is no longer a key if it belonged to the Bastille. A knitting
needle is an object with a special aura if Marie Antoinette made
it rattle, and a shaving kit will evoke horrible associations
if it was once owned by Danton." Lorenze Tomerius, 'Das
Glück, zu finden, Die Lust, zu zeigen' (2)
My primary collecting
pursuits, however, have never been about any special provenance
related to ownership or use. Caruso didn't previously own the
Victrola in my collection and I don't own Andy Kaufman's record
player with its Mighty Mouse record that he used in the premier
episode of NBC Saturday Night Live, October 11, 1975.
Andy Kaufman's phonograph
playing the Mighty Mouse theme song. (Courtesy NBC and
Saturday Night Live.) (1975)
Instead, each object
is a "rose is a rose is a rose" in my collection of
Popular culture phonographia
such as phonograph related advertisements, postcards, greeting
cards, Valentine's cards, jokes, cartoons, art and record album
cover art each tell their story of how the phonograph's revolution
played out in daily life.
Ever since Edison's
invention was first reported in Scientific American on
December 22, 1877 the phonograph and recorded sound have been
part of popular culture and those aspects of its history are what
Caruso standing next
to his Victrola Queen Anne XIV
I believe phonographia
bridge time and that we can glimpse and hear fragments of other
eras because relevant objects and stories and sounds have been
Researchers tell us
that recognition, one of the two primary forms of accessing memory
"is a simpler and more reliable process" than recall.
"It is the association of a physical object with something
previously encountered or experienced. This could be because tangible
memories utilize all five senses, evoking emotional triggers and
transporting us back to a precise time, place or moment."
Although historical phonographs cannot be encountered by us in
their own time period, curated objects and stories and sounds
related to the phonograph can still transport us to a time that
we personally didn't experience.
In a 1995 Syracuse
University address about the Belfer Audio Archive, John Harvith
said that the Belfer Archive was important because it
"allows us to feel this sense of history even more vividly,
because we can hear what musicians, artists, authors, actors,
statesmen, politicians, and other historical figures actually
sounded like. This is emotional, visceral communication that goes
far beyond the power of the printed page. (3B)
Seeing a phonograph
in a period piece movie is another example of how time travelling
to the past can be triggered. If you are watching a movie that
takes place in 1903 and you see a gramophone with its open horn
sitting on the parlor room table then that time period is 'encountered'
and that experience becomes part of your memory. You associate
a gramophone to a time and place. Hearing music on that gramophone
further enhances that memory and as Harvith summarized in quoting
musicologist James Hepokoski,
"Music of the past tells us what it felt like to live during
the period when it was created." (3C)
But that interest
in talking clocks still begs the question: What resources and
how much attention do we give something because it is interesting?
In Marilynne Robinson's
"Gilead," her narrator says in a letter to his son, "This is an
interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give
"All the attention
you can give" contains the key word: "All."
I believe we must repeatedly
ask, like a broken record,
if what we are doing is harmful to ourselves and our planet. It
begins with a re-examination of our needs and our relationships
with the earth. The pursuit of a sustainable planet for every
sentient being and life-form is what the "all the attention
you can give" requires if the human experiment is going to
I also believe what
Emily St John Mandel wrote in her novel Station Eleven
that "survival is not sufficient."
will continue to be made, collected, conserved and preserved because
they are part of the human story and are themselves interesting
conservation and preservation in our world of 'things' needs to
always remember our relationship with planet Earth.
"In wildness is
the preservation of the world" wrote Henry David Thoreau.
is not merely a question of morality, but a question of our own
survival" wrote The Dalai Lama (9)