Granddad and the Victrola

When I look at old pictures, I sometimes see beyond the obvious subject matter and sort of re-imagine it. Or to be more accurate, I guess I should say that I combine what I see in the picture with selected memories, and throw in a touch of guesswork. The result can be interesting.

Recently I ran across an unusual old picture of my maternal grandfather, just sitting quietly by himself near a record player. I’m not sure exactly how old the picture is, but I recognize the record player as one my dad bought 45 to 50 years ago. I can also see that we’d granddadrpapparently had it long enough for us to accumulate quite a few LP records.

That’s about all the actual information available in the picture, but when I saw how granddad seemed to be almost pointedly ignoring the record player it made me reminisce a little. Although he was a wizard with mechanical things – farm machinery, motors, etc – he wouldn’t have had much interest in what he called ‘Victrolas’, or at least not the modern kind with electronic innards. However, I’m pretty sure that when I was very young he and grandma had an old-style Victrola at their house.

It wasn’t as old as the one in the famous trademark picture and it played records rather than cylinders, but it was enough of an antique that it had to be wound up before playing, and it had no electronic parts. What came through the steel needle and out the horn was all you got.

Although Nipper the dog became a famous symbol of the Victor company (which eventually became nipperRCA Victor) the picture actually originated around the turn of the century as a painting by a British artist. He later sold it to the Gramophone Company (later a part of EMI) and they in turn sold the US rights to the Victor Company. The picture became so well-known that even after all these years it’s still familiar to most of us.

As for me, I might be fooling myself but I’m pretty sure I can remember seeing that little picture on my grandparents’ Victrola, while we all listened to something like “Freight Train Blues,” by Woody Guthrie’s cousin Jack. And I think granddad was right there with us, tapping his toe to the music — and occasionally turning the crank.

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