About This Site

 

Phonographia.com

I've been fascinated by the phonograph since I was a young boy.

Cultural questions related to the phonograph and how it was marketed to the home have always been of particular interest to me. But anything connected with the phonograph catches my attention: stories related to the phonograph, artwork, advertisements, cartoons, records and album covers, and stacks of other phonograph related ephemera; any of these can leave serendipidous tracks which go down other rabbit holes.

I chose Phonographia (think phonograph memorabilia) in 2001 as this site's domain name because it's meant to include any memory or connection with the phonograph.

The Phonograph started a cultural revolution with its entertainment recordings. But it also was literally a revolution of sound with records revolving at different rpms on a variety of talking machines playing "bottled up" sound waves.

Phonographia is my scrapbook of phonograph related images and connections. 'Galleries' are organized and named like any Friend of the Phonograph would expect, e.g., PhonoArt, PhonoToons, PhonoLinks, PhonoFood, PhonoDrinks, PhonoLyrics, Memories of the Phonograph, etc.

Phonographia is also a photo album and a record of Friends of the Phonograph related celebrations, lists and memories.

I believe the legacy of the Phonograph should be remembered and celebrated.

Hopefully, Phonographia makes a contribution to that intent and to the "prismatic recollection of history." (1)

Comments, questions or corrections can be sent to Doug@Phonographia.com. Thank-you!

 

A corner of my collection in my parent's basement 1966

 

 

 

As a Collector

I have spent countless hours collecting phonographia and thinking about phonograph related objects and connections. Why this fascination with talking machines and recorded sound and the ephemera that goes with it?

I think my answer is three-fold.

First, the phonograph is based on a very simple technology, yet what it does is magical and revolutionary.

Second, the phonograph is a great example of how one invention can produce so many pop culture connections and also have its advertising themes continue in descendent technologies.

And third, the phonograph and its morning-glory horn and the stately Victrola are icons in the history of recorded sound and home entertainment. When you see one of those machines you know it is from an earlier time and yet it's a bit of a mystery. Perhaps something like seeing the picture of a departed great grandparent who you never knew. There's a connection but you don't know exact details. The Grammy tapped into that relationship by chosing a small gold gramophone as its symbol to present as its award to celebrate the best in music.

Phonograph connections in popular culture are my focus and many of its connections live on in the 21st century. These themes revolve around the phonograph's relationship to consumerism, how this product was said to be a necessity for a happy home, how the goal was to bring the world into your home as real as life itself, and how advertisements continue to repeat those messages at each step in the evolution of home entertainment.

As part of the "home is your castle" advertising theme, the Phonograph offered everyone in the family the "best seat in the house." It's a message that resonates because it has never stopped. Each new home entertainment technology is based on this perfect seat opportunity in one way or another: the radio; the television; the tape recorder and its reel-to reel, cassette tapes, 8-Tracks formats; VCRs, CDs, Laserdiscs, CED Video Discs, DVDs, audio books, music streaming services, etc.

The performance, the music, "The Stage of the World" - all entertainment experiences are for you in your own home as if you were a king, or a millionaire or the possessor of Aladdin's Lamp.

"Seventh row, center. Forever."

 

 

 

 

Lorenz Tomerius wrote that some objects become different based on use and ownership:

"This 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 collection is primarily ephemera with no objects of special provenance related to ownership or use. Caruso didn't previously own my Victrola 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, October 11, 1975. (3) My collection is a "rose is a rose is a rose" and like a broken record it repeats phonograph connections over and over.

I have relied on popular culture objects like magazine advertisements and postcards, common talking machines from different eras, and phonofacts to tell the phonograph's story and how it has been seen and experienced in different eras.

 

Caruso standing next to his Victrola Queen Anne XIV

 

I believe Phonographia bridges time with selected 20th century pop culture objects and images and stories and that we get a glimpse of the social history of home entertainment because relevant objects have been collected, connected and displayed.

In reading Philipp Blom's book on the history of collecting, A.C. Grayling noted that collecting illuminates the "strangeness of the human mind and the wonder of the world." (4)

For better or worse I understand the "strangeness" of the collector's mind is and I find phonographs a wonder of the world that can be my connection to almost anything.

Clearly collectors can be obsessed and unbalanced and many of us justify what some would call our 'hoarding' by trying to explain the cultural significance or value of the collected objects. There is also the risk that our collected objects are our way of trying to keep an illusion "that we can forever embrace, and be embraced by, what is forever fading away." (5)

Nevertheless, I think objects that have stories should be collected, conserved, researched and made available.

I'm also grateful that museums, archives and libraries are adding their collections to the virtual world. Each year I see more and more on-line and I marvel at how much can now be found and enjoyed with only a few key strokes. (6)

Should there be limits or prioritization in what we preserve and conserve?

Perhaps.

But as a collector and a human on planet Earth I will make my statement for prioritzation from a different perspective: I believe the number one priority must be the preservation and conservation of Earth because without that nothing else will matter.

Collecting is interesting.

Understanding our social history is interesting.

But planet Earth is our home and our children's future.

We must urgently consider the impact of everything that we are doing to our planet that is harmful.

We must make personal changes and support policy changes to heal the earth, not exploit for personal gain.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world" wrote Henry David Thoreau.

"Conservation is not merely a question of morality, but a question of our own survival" wrote The Dalai Lama (7)

Preserve.

Conserve.

I think it really is that simple.