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
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
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
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.
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'
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."
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?
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
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
I think it really is that simple.