Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Heirloom of the Week - the Victrola

Not too long ago I was in an antique store eavesdropping on the conversation between a father and his little girl who were shopping nearby. The father had been flipping through a bin of old LP records and his daughter wanted to know what they were. He explained that in the "old days" you listened to music on the large vinyl discs before the invention of CDs and iPods.

Well, I was immediately reduced to elderly status. I have several boxes of those antiques in the back of my closet and they were prized possessions back in my teen years. The look of complete incomprehension on her face was comical. I wondered what she would have thought about the old 78s that were just going out of style when I was her age.

We had quite a pile of 78s when I was about 3-4 years old. They were old then and a lot of them bit the dust when my parents made popcorn bowls out of them for a church social by heating them until they could be shaped into bowls. I think the few that remained must have been in the box of records that got lost during the move from Smiley.

But one made it and I have it still. More about that in a minute.

One of the items that my grandmother Hodge passed along to me was a portable 78-rpm Brunswick victrola. You wind it with a crank and then release the turntable to spin until the mechanism runs down. One winding would last a record or two. In a little compartment at the front edge you kept extra needles handy, because they wore down quickly. I don't really know where the little phonograph came from, but I remember that my aunt Linda and I would get it out every so often and play a few 78s with their scratchy, old-fashioned sound.

By the time I acquired the phonograph, there were no 78 records in the storage area under the top lid. I scrounged an old Hank Williams 78 in an antique store so I would have one to display with my heirloom Victrola.

It was later that I remembered there was one 78 record that escaped the popcorn bowl craft project. For years it had been stored in Mother's Lane cedar chest to protect it from harm and later it had been displayed for awhile in the china closet. I relocated the old record and now it, too, resides in the storage area inside the Victrola.

What made this old record special enough to escape the craft project is the autograph of the singer that is faintly scratched into the label. It is really hard to see now, but if you hold it under the light just right, you can see the words "Sincerely, Jimmie Rodgers". I'm not sure who it was who saw Jimmie Rodgers in person, but the record has been around for as long as I can remember.

At one time Mother wrote to the Country Music Hall of Fame to inquire if the record had any value. Today I came across the letter she received in return, which prompted this little stroll down memory lane. Basically they told her that the record had no real intrinsic value except to a collector who just wanted an autographed Jimmie Rodgers 78, but the letter ended with a hint that items like this could always be donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Mother was not inclined to make such a donation.

The old 78 records run about $2-$10 in antique stores these days. The autograph is so faint it probably would not be that desirable to a collector, so I doubt this particular heirloom has much value. But somewhere in the past one of my relatives stood in a line to get an autographed copy of "Blue Yodel No. 6" by the Singing Brakeman, and that makes it special to me.

LSW