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Forty Years In Collecting - Part 1
Bas Ingrouille

After our secretary asked me to jot down some of my experiences as a phonograph collector, my memory went back to 1945. I had just returned from service in the R.C.A.F. and had my old job back as supervisor of service stations in the Toronto area. We lived in a large house on Millwood Avenue opposite Trace Manes park (where the society later began to hold its Toronto meetings.) After we moved into this house, I built a rec room in the basement. Earlier I had picked up a 5 cent slot machine which my teenage daughter had a ball playing. I left the back off so the coins could be used over and over again.

One day on my rounds of service stations, I noticed an outside horn phonograph in the front window of a used furniture store on King Street East near River Street. I stopped and walked in the store, eventually looking at the machine which was covered in dust. It turned out to be an Edison Model A Home 2 minute with large horn and crane. I asked the owner of the store if it was in running condition, but he apparently didn't know any more about the machine than I did. It had been brought in on consignment by an elderly lady in the area. I asked the price and he said the lady wanted $35.00 for it. I told him I didn't know if I could get it to play or if parts were available and that I wanted it as a nostalgia piece for my rec room. He told me it had been in the window for three months and no one had even enquired about it. He asked me how much I was prepared to pay for it and I told him $15.00, not expecting him to come down that much. But he telephoned the owner and told her that he had a customer who would pay $15.00 for the machine and that she either accept this or take the machine out of his store as it was taking up too much space. She eventually agreed and so I paid him and he helped me carry the machine, horn and crane to my car. I was on the point of driving away when he said just a minute, there's a box of cylinders that goes with it. He returned with a red metal trunk with eighty-five two minute cylinders in it, all in playing condition with no mould or cracks and all in their original boxes.

I didn't know anything about phonographs at that time except that I could recall my parents having an upright Victrola in the living room along with a player piano - and a coloured glass Tiffany lamp over the dining room table. Whatever happened to these collector's items I don't remember. They likely sold for a song when we moved to a larger and better home.

I couldn't get at my new phonograph fast enough. Being mechanically inclined I soon found out how it ran, but it turned so slowly that it wouldn't play. So I took it apart very carefully, laying out the parts and making drawings and notes on what parts went where. I carefully cleaned and lubricated the motor including the mandrel and gears and, lo and behold, it played. I then refinished the case and carefully cleaned and waxed the large flowered horn which was covered with dust and grime. Proudly I showed and played it to all my relatives, friends and neighbours.

I was curious - were there other makes and models? So I stopped at every old furniture store and antique store in the Toronto area. The next machine I found was an Amberola 30, complete and running for $12.00, which I bought and also refinished. The phonograph bug had bitten me. I bought all the books I could find on phonographs and especially books on Edison. Reading them I learned that I had only touched a piece of the iceberg.

I started looking further afield and found more machines outside the city. Apparently the country people and farmers had used the machines longer than the city folks who had electricity and who had been converted to the new craze, Radio. I also found that the farmers never threw anything away. If they discarded anything it was because it was broken or because they also had electricity (or had been converted to battery-operated radios). The phonograph usually found its way into the attic or the barn. Anyway I found more machines in the country antique stores than in the city.

I found more Amberolas than I wanted so I cleaned them up and sold them to antique stores. There was one in Markham that would take all I could sell her at $25.00 each.

I soon accumulated a large and varied collection of machines, like a pack rat. I wanted one of every model I could find - square box Edison Standards, round top Standards and Homes, 2 and 4 minute machines, 78 players, table models with inside and outside horns, keywind models, portables and cast iron machines. I had Operas, a Concert, Diamond Disc phonographs and all the line of Amberolas. I even had machines with a built in 35 mm projector which were used as advertising machines. I had school models and radio-phonograph combinations, etc. - the list could go on and on!