The House is a Museum ...

Discussion in 'Your Vintage Home' started by St. Louis, Apr 4, 2017.

  1. St. Louis

    St. Louis Practically Family

    St. Louis, MO
    ... when people come to see 'em (theme from the Addams Family.)

    Here's a question for those of you who are trying to recreate a Golden Era home. I like to collect weird / creepy little things, like horrifying medicines, which I keep out on display in the bathroom. Over the years I've stopped in a lot of flea markets & have picked up lots of interesting 1930s and 1940s kitchen, household, medical, and decorative doodads. I love looking at them. but there's such a thing as "too much of a good thing."

    I don't want my house to look like a museum of Peculiar Golden Era Things. That is to say, I don't want it to look ironic. Instead, I want it to look like a nice, comfortable, 1930s bungalow. I want visitors (and of course me too) to feel as though we have stepped back in time when we come into the house.

    I do like it when people see my weird stuff and laugh, but I think the effect is damaged by a superfluity of strangeness. I'm not naturally ironic -- i.e., I'm not one of those people who is amused by "oh look how weird and dumb they were then" jokes.

    My most interesting "displays" are actually inside cupboards, shelves, drawers, and closets. When I have guests who appreciate this sort of thing I let them peek in the medicine cabinet, for example.

    I tend to rotate my little displays & try as much as possible to keep them looking natural, but I always regret the fact that I can't really enjoy all my peculiar little oddities all the time. I'm torn between museum & home.

    My question is -- do you folks have this issue? What are you views?
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  2. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Keep a lot of the weird stuff under your kitchen sink. If someone wants to see what a Flit gun looks like, for example, or a bottle of Larvex, just open the door and show them -- such products would have been kept there in the Era anyway, so it would be an added benefit of revealing them in their natural habitat. Old rubber goods would usually hang on the back of the bathroom door, so if you have an old hot water bottle with accessories complete, that would be a good place to put it. An old wrapped roll of Scottissue, a can of Sani-Flush, and a vintage Kotex box are on display on the back of my toilet, which is where all these items would have lived in the everyday bathrooms of the Era. In the medicine cabinet there's a bottle of Omega Oil liniment, an Alka-Seltzer bottle, and jars of Vaseline and Noxzema.

    I have a lot of old grocery products that I've accumulated over the years, and I'm lucky in that my upper kitchen cabinets have windows, so I store these items in those cabinets, so that a 1940s box of Kraft Dinner or can of Franco-American spaghetti or whatever can be seen. I don't lampshade these items in any way, and sometimes I'll change them around for the sake of variety, but they're visible if you happen to look in that direction.

    I also find practical uses for a lot of these things. My ground-up soap chips are stored in a large Miracle Whip jar on a shelf in the pantry. I keep pencils, screwdrivers, and other miscellaneous need-it items in a 1930's Havoline motor oil can on my desk. I keep my sewing supplies in an assortment of old containers -- small sewing tools live in a Chase & Sanborn Dated Coffee can, bobbins live in a Hellmann's Mayonnaise jar, spools of thread are stored in an A&P egg carton and a Krispy Crackers box, buttons are kept in a White Owl cigar box, and fabric is folded up and stored in a wooden Narragansett Ale case that sits on top of my electric ironer. The other sewing containers live on a shelf mounted to the wall in a corner of the kitchen. My garbage can, in a corner of the kitchen, is a small Texaco gear lubricant drum salvaged from the gas station.

    Long ago I made a rule for myself -- if I see an interesting item, I try to imagine a practical use for it. If I can't, I pass it up. Conversely, if I need something for some purpose around the house, I ask myself if there's an old item that can be used for, or adapted for, that purpose, and usually there is.

    I do have a small display in my home office of miscellaneous paper items that don't have much purpose other than as display, and I keep them in the Texaco Touring Service map rack from our gas station. Right now that rack contains a couple of New York City street maps from the early 1940s, a "WCSH International Radio News Map," a Socialist Labor Party pamphlet, a brochure promoting Maine potatoes, a Civilian Defense booklet describing the duties of air raid wardens, a brochure from the USSR exhibit at the New York World's Fair, and a "souvenir combination book" of tickets from that fair.

    I keep a selection of magazines out on my coffee table -- they range from Life and Look to Consumers Union Reports and New Masses, which gives my guests a taste of what they're in for if they get me going. I have a few other items lined up on the music shelf of my pump organ -- sheet music and a few theatre programs, mostly.

    Some other odd paper items are randomly magnetted to my refrigerator, including a "I Was Televised At The RCA Pavillion" card from the 1939 fair, a wax-paper packet that once contained Kraft Grated Cheese, and a Ladies Day pass to the Dodgers-Cardinals game at Ebbets Field on June 19, 1942. I tend to change this stuff around from time to time as well depending on how often I stumble into the refrigerator in the dark and knock it all off.
  3. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

    New York City
    We thought through all the issues you brought up when we were renovating our 1928 coop apartment which is not big (about 1300 square feet), so we had to make definitive decisions.

    As to displays, stuff, collections, showing it, etc., we are both - fortunately - anti-clutter people. We only collect a few things: old books (but not vintage or expensive ones and only ones that we want to read), tin toys (something my girlfriend has done since she was a kid) and the odd, neat Golden Era this or that.

    For the books, we made a decision to have extensive books shelves built (and for my office - I work from home - we bought several Globe Wernicke barrister bookcase) and keep all our books out. In a way, this solved two problems, (1) what to do with all our books - now they are out on shelves and (2) what to do with all our walls - most have book shelves on or cases up against them (not pictures or other "art").

    For the other things - the tin toys / Golden Era "stuff," we decided to have only a small amount of it out at one time, but to rotate it periodically. This way, each time we rotate, it feels "fresh" and "interesting" to us, as, otherwise, you kinda stop noticing even your cool stuff.

    This kept the place from getting at all cluttered and, also, obviated the "museum" effect you mention. That said, other than not doing something extreme, we made the decisions for the home we want and not what others would think. It's our home, guests should respect our choices as I do theirs when I go to their homes.

    I can't emphasize enough how much rotating really works for us - each time we put a few things away and take a few others out, the apartment feels fresh and new. That said, based on your post, if you want a museum look because you'll be happiest having all / most of your items out, then do it. Your home should be for you to enjoy.
    St. Louis likes this.
  4. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    I've gotten to the point that if a piece doesn't serve a practical purpose in my life... I don't tend to keep it. I have little kids, too much stuff, and too little time to arrange my collections. I still have a few, but they just aren't a priority now. I also grew up with hoarders, and I've noticed this tendency in myself... and no. Just not going to hoard, if I can help it.

    I think whatever you want to do with your things is fine. It's your space, and if you like living in a museum that's great! I do think, however, you need to reflect on what best fits how you want to live... and that may change. Years ago I had a great collection of country sheep décor that I kept on top of my kitchen cabinets. However, as time went on, I got too busy to keep it clean. It annoyed me rather than bringing me joy. I packed it away and later found I could let the vast majority of it go. It was no longer my style; and more importantly, it didn't make me happy.

    I find myself best served if every few years I ask myself if a piece makes me happy, and reevaluate it's purpose in my life. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it's no. I've learned that it's not a judgement against my self to say, "I used to like this, but now I'd like something different." I've started to adopt a "functional" approach to the space I live in... I like it to look nice, but it has to function how I need it.

    You can always pack some stuff away and see how it feels for a while. It's OK to change your tastes. It's OK to have collections, even if a bit odd-ball- those are the best kinds.
  5. Studebaker Driver

    Studebaker Driver One of the Regulars

    OMG Sheeplady -
    It is as if you are reading my mind and writing my thoughts. GET OUT OF MY HEAD! LOL
    I spent my life (so far, until recently) collecting, in an exhausting effort to save the early 20th Century from extinction. It's pointless to even summarize the shear bulk of what I hoarded and collected. Then, suddenly, I had the epiphany. And just like that I was cured of it. I started giving things away as fast as peoples' feet could carry it off. What I couldn't get people to take, I took to "new owners" and left it there when I started for home. When that failed, if it was cleanly flammable, the stuff became burnt offerings and disappeared up the chimney. If it was plastic or metal, it went in a 40 yard dumpster that was filled to lapping over when it was hauled away. Neighbors made fun of my "electing a new pope after pope after pope...", because of the alternating white and black smoke from the chimney. As the house got emptier, I felt better and better and better, until I felt like I could fly. There is still a lot to go and it will; but I can move again, now - so I don't have that same hysterical, hemmed-in feeling.

    Less is definitely more. More enjoyable, anyway.
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  6. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    I have a few collections now... I'll never be a minimalist. They include:
    -My hats (of which I wear about half, the other half I will keep because who the heck knows, I might wear them someday and they came with the ones I DO wear)
    -My fabric collection (I sew, but I cut that in half recently)
    -My "Victorian" salts (which I plan to put in a frame and stick up in the wall
    -The spoon collection my husband and I have collected on our travels (which are in a frame)
    -My china... of which I am ashamed I own about 14 sets; most of which I use. (I, cough, cough, entertain a lot and have a set for each month, but I do want to try to decrease my holdings on that too; some of that depends upon what type of house we buy, how much we entertain down here, who we entertain, etc.)

    I recently went through my collection of my grandmother's stuff and got rid of anything I couldn't use (she had glassware) or didn't have a place for. I felt really bad, but I had boxes and boxes of the stuff. She was a hoarder (jeez, I just realized I have hoarding on *both* sides of my family) and my parents hauled off anything my Aunt didn't take... because hoarders.

    I realized that likely my grandmother (if she was functioning as a normal person, and not a hoarder) would want me to keep what *I* liked and could use. So I looked at it and said, you know, she loved green depression glass, so do I... I will keep those pieces and *use them.* I've broken a small pitcher so far, which made me feel bad, but then I realized it could have broken in a box too. I seriously had like 12 huge boxes of stuff from her... which I reduced to half a china shelf and two small trunks... one small trunk contains (guess what... China!) that I will use for our Christmas Eve Dinner.

    I also came to the conclusion that to my children, my grandmother is going to be nothing but a ghost. None of her stuff will matter to them, unless I make memories for them with it. So I decided the best way to make memories was to *use* the stuff, tell them stories, and maybe they'll want it, maybe they won't. It does me a lot more good to use the darned stuff than keep it on a shelf or in a box.

    Also, we appear to collect refrigerators, but I'm putting that squarely on my husband. Which we are restoring to be used. And/or hold china. (Cough, cough, cough.)

    Seriously, I do plan to tackle the china and get it down to a reasonable... you know, 10 sets or so.
  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Minimalism isn't in my genes -- around here people like to have a lot of junk around to provide insulation in the winter. Books are my main weakness in this respect, and I can justify it by the fact that I tend to accumulate books I use as reference material in my writing. That covers an awful broad swath -- yeah, that box of 1930s millenarian religious pamphlets is going to come in handy -- but honestly, anything like that falls under the category of "providing social context." So, I take that box and put it in my closet, because you never know...

    I have one closet in my home office devoted entirely to such material, which not coincidentially is the best possible place to store old newsprint: it's dark, and the tight stacks keep the material away from oxygen and sunlight. If the time comes when I can't get the door shut, or it all falls out Fibber McGee style, I'll admit I have a problem.

    I inherited very little family stuff, because there was very little family stuff to inherit. I have my grandmother's "good china," which I use very rarely, I have my great-grandfather's chime clock, and I have a couple of minor pieces of furniture and some photos. Other than the gas station stuff, most of which I find practical uses for, that's about it. And there really isn't anything in my mother's house I'm going to want -- I'll leave that for my sister to hoard.
    Edward likes this.
  8. Kahuna

    Kahuna One of the Regulars

    Moscow, ID
    I had that exact vase that you've got on the right of your mantel. My father-in-law brought it back from Japan when he served there after WW2. It contained some dried silver dollar stems and one day I was walking by holding a large package and the stems got caught on it and it came crashing down and broke irreparably. I hated to tell my wife that I had broken this memento of her father and was very relieved when she mercifully let me off the hook. Be careful with those stems.
  9. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

    New York City
    You learn a lot about people when you see how they respond to accidents like yours. Your wife clearly shined through - kudos to her.
    vitanola likes this.
  10. Studebaker Driver

    Studebaker Driver One of the Regulars

    Hi, Kahuna -

    I need to tell the story of that vase.
    You are correct, it is Japanese, but it imitates Chinese art. About 10 or 15 years ago, Antiques Roadshow came to a nearby city and that vase is what I took. The appraiser who examined it was Lark or Larkin, but that's all I remember of his name. He was very nice and treated the vase kindly. He is the one who told me of its Japanese heritage and its Chinese mimicry.

    It is apparently from about 1910 or 1915 and worth, according to him, about $35 to $50. The REST of the story (yes, as a matter of fact I AM channeling Paul Harvey) is the vase's history within my family.

    This vase was a gift to my great grandmother (mother's mother's mother) and she promised it to my grandmother when my grandmother was young. Grandma was concerned for it (with five little kids at home) and left it, for safe keeping, at her mother's house.

    Grandma's sister coveted the vase and, at a time when no one was looking, spirited it out of their mother's house. Once inside her own house, my great-aunt semi-hid it in a bookcase. Decades later, after it has fallen from her conscious thinking, my sweet grandma spied the vase in the bookcase during a visit and she cornered her sister about it ("Mama gave that vase to me, why do you have it, how long have you had it, etc., etc....") The sticky-fingered sister wouldn't give it up, saying she had kept it safe for 40+ years and she had therefore "earned" it.

    Grandma positively fumed over her sister's perfidy, but she could not bring herself to make a scene with her last living relative (they were both in their 70s at the time), so she gritted her teeth and let the matter drop. In my mind's eye I can still see the tightness in one corner of her mouth when she thought of it.

    Then one fine day as my mother and grandma were headed to my great aunt's house for a visit, they were passed by none other than my great aunt herself, going the other way. My mother immediately slowed to turn around and abort the visit, but grandma, cords standing out in her neck, yelled, "NO! DRIVE ON! GO TO HER HOUSE!". Once at her sister's house, grandma circled it until she found an unlocked window which she eased open. Recruiting my mother to make like a stirrup, grandma was boosted through the window. She did not hesitate, she made straight for the bookcase and grabbed the vase. She handed it out the window to my waiting mother, who then helped her down to the ground. Laughing, they rushed to the car and started for home. As they drove toward town, who would they pass going the other way but my great aunt on her way home.

    Grandma kept the vase hidden for many years in, of all things, a plastic garbage can full of crumpled newspapers. She would rarely take it out (she was by then quite elderly), but when she did, it never failed to bring a smile to her face. She gave the vase to me and, since her sister has since shrugged off her mortal coil, I don't have to hide it from anybody. 20161125_071640_resized.jpg
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  11. Studebaker Driver

    Studebaker Driver One of the Regulars

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  12. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    That vase story reminds me of how my mother and grandmother had a decades long fight over which way the toilet paper faced, which involved turning the roll on each other's bathrooms when visiting. Repeatedly, as the host would turn the roll back to the hosts way throughout the visit.

    It was not as fun as it sounds. In fact, it was much, much less.
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  13. Edward

    Edward Bartender

    London, UK
    I have, alas, inherited the hoarding gene from my mother's side of the family, incorporating a heavy dose of a taste for tat. Let's put it this way: whenever I'm visiting a new place, I like to buy the local equivalent of a straw donkey (my favourite souvenir to date is either the "bit of the Berlin wall, honest, guv!" (they've sold that wall many times over by this point), or the Statue of Liberty cigarette lighter, where the flame, of course, pops out of her torch. Unfortunately, a heady combination of ebay and clinical depression got my little flat to the point where it has enough in it for a five bedroom house, and with help from Herself I'm now in the long, slow process of clearing it out. She subscribes to the theory that if we're going to give anything houseroom it should either be beautiful or useful. I claim to, but we have..... occasional difference on the parameters of those criteria, let's say. ;)

    It'll all be worth it when the place is cleared out, and we're mostly sticking to a mid-century modern aesthetic as we redecorate, in sympathy with the building, which was opened in 1951. I've reached a point where I'm good at not accumulating stuff mindlessly, but there's still so much to clear out...
  14. Studebaker Driver

    Studebaker Driver One of the Regulars

    Edward –

    Far be it from me to tell another man his business but, as it happens, I can tell you MY business…

    I think somewhere else here I described the house in some detail, but I don’t remember if I admitted to filling it to the ceilings with stuff. Several rooms in the house were so full of stuff the door would no longer open wider than a couple of feet and entry was out of the question. A narrow trip-hazard of a trail led from the front door, through the living room and dining room. Only a tiny corner of the kitchen was accessible, but I had not been able to reach the kitchen sink for more than 15 years.

    I am a recovering hoarder, this is not in dispute. My only defense is that I was stocking pretty good stuff, just way, way too much of it. I imagined I needed a good black & nickel typewriter, so I bought a nice one. Then I found a nicer one. Then an earlier one. Then I found an even better, earlier, more intricate one. Soon I had an accidental typewriter collection. I don’t want a typewriter collection and I didn’t set out to collect them, but there they inarguably are. I did the same with furniture. And with vases. And books, tables, hats (!), clothes, cast iron cookware, lamps – electric and kerosene, stoves, clocks, beds, etc.

    Everything I “needed” to restore the house was salted away. I dragged home everything from early hinges, locksets, ceiling light fixtures, sconces, sash locks, early electric doorbells (honestly, how many of those do you need?), manual twist bells, cabinet and cupboard latches, curtain rods... well, you get the idea, right?

    One day a couple of years ago I had the privilege of having my sight fade to black in one eye as my retina fell off and landed on the bottom of my eyeball. The fine folks at the eye hospital were able to do a pretty good job of replacing it and saving my sight, but the episode involved long weeks of convalescence and lots of time off work. I had been making serious headway in the house, but this was a truly unique opportunity for me to get some stuff DONE and so I did. I gave stuff away to people I knew and gave stuff to strangers. I put stuff on the sidewalk and waited for it to vanish (it always did). I made repairs I had postponed for years (or decades) and stuff I didn’t feel like repairing went into the fireplace and found eternal liberty up the chimney. After my eye was better, I had a 40 yard dumpster delivered and filled it. 40 yards. FORTY YARDS and it was filled to the brim. Did I throw away some good things? You bet I did. I threw away, burned and gave away many thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff. I washed, dried and hung up or folded garbage bags filled with clothing. I gave away hats to anyone whose head was big enough to hold them up. The bags of clothing went straight to homeless camps, not to stores or donation bins. “Hi, I have some stuff I hope to share with you guys if you’re interested.” Seems nearly everyone at a homeless camp is interested in more socks, jackets, sweaters, thick long sleeve shirts, shoes, etc. Everything was clean and smelled good. They loved it. I loved it. My house loved it.

    So now, after all these years (full disclosure; I did not live in the house during this time, only in the year and a half from the time of the detached retina ‘til the present day), the house is a pleasure to walk through. The kitchen is bright and spacious again. The living room is a fun space in which to invite guests. We have little parties almost every Friday or Saturday night.

    There is still too much in the house and honestly, it feels better to get rid of the stuff as it felt good to bring it in. I only wish I had been able to connect with someone – anyone – who would appreciate the stuff I discarded (or burned). But the sad fact is the stuff I worriedly tried to save is just worthless trash (literally, trash) to the vast majority of people today.
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  15. Studebaker Driver

    Studebaker Driver One of the Regulars

    Sheeplady -
    My solution to your dilemma was more prosaic; I put the paper roll on the toilet tank and unscrewed the toilet paper holder from the wall and threw it away.
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  16. tuppence

    tuppence Practically Family

    Hellbourne Australia
    My house is a doll museum; everything from the 1890s to the early 1960s. Unfortunately I am attracted to the larger dolls. I tried collecting Nancy Ann story book dolls, and dolls house furniture they could feel at home amongst , but once they seemed fairly comfortable I went back to collecting large dolls again. I like composition baby dolls the best, anything over 22 inches I also like the almost lifesize plaster dogs . I have HMVs Nipper a German Shepard a Dacshund and a spaniel, I also like the plaster lamps in the shape of crinoline ladies (7 of them ) and I seriously need therapy/ HELP , because I could go on for days, I no longer have enough cabinets and am now resorting to putting up wall to wall shelves.
    vitanola likes this.
  17. vitanola

    vitanola I'll Lock Up

    Gopher Prairie, MI
    I am going through the same process just now. I restored the big house about fifteen years ago. All 5500 square feet of it. A few years later, during the depths of the Global Financial Crisis I purchased a charming bungalow in the county seat. I began restoring THAT house, but of course had to accumulate the necessary bits, which were "temporarily" stored in the big house. Then the carriage house in the back yard burned, and I brought what could be salvaged in to the big house. Since I ran my business out of the carriage house, THAT came in, too, until the house was so choked we were living in two rooms upstairs. Then my mother had her fall, and we pretty much moved to my natal home and let the two places in Michigan sit and fester.

    Now, Mom is in a rehabilitation center, dad is getting a little respite, and I am clearing out the house once and for all to prepare it for their arrival ( the elevator is supposed to go in in early July). I've hauled literally two and a half tons of 1920's radio chassis to the scrap yard, have given away complete radios, radio cabinets, a dozen tatty Victrolas, coffee pots, early televisions (never bothered with anything which did not have a round picture tube 12" or smaller), coffee pots (where did I find so many Coffee Robots?), Toasters (yes, toasters), records ( I've sent tens of thousands to the booth in the antique mall, and have consigned tens of thousands more to the driveway as a pavement binder), tubes (getting rid of all TV types, and any radio tubes which post-date about 1933) . The first 20 yard dumpster full of junk is going to be hauled away on Friday.

    For all of this progress, I am still swamped by little, valuable items which clog every flatt surface in every room. I cannot figure out where to store them until we can properly evaluate them, and dispair of ever getting the job completed in a reasonable time scale.

    Reading Studebaker Driver's account has greatly encouraged me. Thanks so much for posting it.
    Last edited: May 23, 2017
    tonyb likes this.
  18. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    I think the one thing with de-hoarding is to take it easy on yourself. It's ok to make a little mental progress at a time.

    My parents, for a significant period of time, were using my house as a hoarding space. They'd show up with a pickup truck full of junk... almost every month to stuff into our 3-bedroom cape because they had filled their three large barns, 2 medium outbuildings, 5 sheds, and a 4,000 sq foot house. I had my own problems, mostly with collecting crafting materials, china (duh), and Christmas crafting stuff. When the kids came along, they needed a lot of stuff. (We're actually on the minimalist side when it came to the kids compared to most people, but dear god they still require stuff.) We're not sure if we'll be having more kids so the stuff that's decent might have another go-around, so it needs to be saved for now.

    I found I was spending my time managing stuff. Time I could spend on a million other things I enjoy, like my family, my hobbies, or heck, even my work. What's worse is that some of the stuff that was actually important to me was getting lost or damaged.

    My exodus was a 20 foot trailer of stuff that went to auction, 50 33 gallon trash bags of stuff to the thrift store, and perhaps half a dumpster. We condensed our stuff from an overflowing house, basement, and garage (with loft) to a realistically furnished house (not overly cluttered), a garage that's actually a workshop (gasp), and a half-filled storage barn that's 10x20. I easily cut the amount of stuff we own by at least half- if not 2/3rds.

    Eventually I will need to get rid of the storage barn. But for now, I am happy because I did something that at one time I thought was impossible. I can actually clean my house now (every week!) because I can see the floor and some of the baseboard.
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  19. vitanola

    vitanola I'll Lock Up

    Gopher Prairie, MI
    View attachment 75425
    I know what you mean. I just counted nine Edison Triumph phonographs, sixteen Standards and five Home machines in the cellar stock. In addition to five Amberola 75, three Amberola 50, and eight Amberola 30 machines. This is not my collection, just extra machines picked up "because they were cheap." I won't even get in to the Diamond Disc phonographs and the unnecessary lateral inside horn machines...

    Oh, and by the way, Mr. Studebaker Driver, a nice Orthophonic Victrola 8-9 would be simply stunning beside your fireplace. That Cheney is a fine machine, but the Orthophonics sound SO nice! (And I have two extra despite their scarcity.) ;)
    Last edited: May 26, 2017
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  20. Sidney Southwick

    Sidney Southwick New in Town

    Naperville, IL
    I love the arrangement as well as the lighting.
    vitanola likes this.

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