When I was in junior high I would ride my bicycle around the little town of Forbing where my family lived on the outskirts of Shreveport. The deep woods, the railroad track dropping from the town to the cypress-filled lake, the old warehouse complex, and other places kids are no longer allowed to explore were my stomping grounds each summer day. There wasn’t much in Forbing, but I one place I found was a small library only open part time. It was a one room log cabin built as a Civilian Conservation Corp project back in the 1930s.
What drew me there was a little bookcase in the corner that was stacked with National Geographics spanning the 1920s. The librarian who oversaw this little-used institution was happy to check out these old periodicals—as many as you cared to carry away. I would take as many as I could balance on my bike and spend the next week pouring over the advertised consumer products and marketed culture of the 1920s.
There was one ad from the Victor Talking Machine Company that I found striking, and remember its message even today. It was printed in 1923. It has a picture of Victor’s hump-back Model 300 Victrola along with a few books and a freshly opened Victor record. That Model 300 was not well loved.
Victor’s founder, Eldridge Johnson liked to market his phonographs as musical instruments. As such he felt the Victrola should have a recognizable shape, as a harp or grand piano has a recognisable form.
The famous shape of Eldridge Johnson’s Victrola–
The distinctive Victrola lid was part of that shape. When other manufactorurs made more furniture-like phonos (read long and low), Victor responded with the strange hump-back Model 300 sporting a curved top rising to the familiar lid.
I understand women didn’t like this particular Victrola since an accent piece wouldn’t fit on that strangely shaped top.
I am well off subject. What struck me about this ad was that it made an extraordinary claim which at the time was pretty much true. My kids, my generation, as well as my parents cannot remember a time when we couldn’t hear the most gifted artists alive perform in nearly any style desired. One hasn’t had to travel to a major city to be exposed to art in a long time. In the early 1920s Victor was speaking to a world in which that privilege was still relatively new. A generation earlier the middle class bought pianos and usually proded a daughter into taking lessons not just for her edification, but to provide a musical distraction for the household. By the early 1920s individuals and families were building record collections of noteworthy artists most of whom the listeners would never hear live in their lifetimes.
Victor was also speaking to a middle class who, they hoped, was becoming curious about more serious music and also saw exposure to fine music as an enriching activity for their children.
Victor’s appeal is only three sentences long, but the point certainly gets across–