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Collectormania!

COLLECTORMANIA!

The Sound of Swinging London: Collecting Dansette Phonographs

by Chuck Miller

 

Collecting phonographs and turntables can be as exciting and rewarding as collecting vinyl. Imagine a room full of classic Victrolas, their horns raised high in preparation for a 21-tone salute. Or racks of modern turntables with names like Technics, Gemini, Aiwa, Kenwood, Close n' Play, etc.

Julie Lambert knows that feeling. For the past five years, she and her boyfriend John search through the thrift shops and antique stores of London, looking for Dansette record players - one of England's most popular phonographs. "The Dansette to us is the Rolls Royce of 1960s record players," says Lambert. "The excitement of finding another one to add to our collection is undescribable. When we get it home I set to work on cleaning it and John sets about reviving the turntable ready to blast out one of his 45s!"

Lambert owns over 150 Dansettes, with more than 15 different distinctive models in her collection. "In addition to that they also come in various colours. Red was by far the most popular colour. There are also Dansette transistor radios and reel-to-reels."

Lambert's boyfriend started the collection, when he brought a dingy Dansette RG-31 phonograph to Lambert's house. "He has a large collection of records and is always on the look-out for suitable containers for his 45s. I must admit that my reaction when he bought the RG 31 Dansette wasn't quite the same as it is today - It certainly wasn't coming into my house in that dirty state!"

But after John explained that the shell of the Dansette could be recycled into a decorative 45 holder, Lambert became curious. "I remained somewhat anxious when he decided to take it with us to a venue in Nottingham where he was booked to DJ. It certainly attracted some attention! We arrived late and all the seats had been taken - or so we thought! Since that evening 4 years ago the Dansette has provided guaranteed seating and even doubles up as somewhere to put drinks if there isn't a table!

Dansette manufactured transistor radios and car stereos as well as phonographs, but it was their durable turntables that appeared in every British teenager's bedroom. Dansette phonographs achieved their greatest popularity during the 1960's, when music lovers ran home from their local HMV with a bag full of Rolling Stones or Animals or Herman's Hermits 45's and stacked them on the Dansette's drop-changer spindle. "Many songwriters including John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Elton John produced their work from listening to records on their Dansettes," said Lambert. "They were influenced by sounds from the USA by artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis. At the time they could not write music themselves so would play records time and time again to copy the styles."

"To the new generation of teenagers," said Lambert, "the Dansette became as much a part of life as the music itself. They had more money to spend on records, and the greater the demand for hit records the bigger the demand was for something to play them on. No respectable home in the 1960s would be without one. I receive e-mails almost daily from all over the world enquiring about where to buy one from. Obviously they will have increasing difficulty finding one as most of them are now in our house, and we will not be parting with any in a hurry!"

Every collector has experienced that one moment - the time when they find that special jewel for their collection, an Elvis Sun 78 or an autographed Y Kant Tori Read CD. For Lambert, the event occurred five years ago when she came home from work. "I came home from work one day to be greeted by John falling over himself to tell me about his good fortune that evening. He had a call from someone in nearby Nottingham who had a red Dansette to sell. He certainly got much more than he had bargained for. This guy had a Dansette Major his parents had bought for him as a Christmas present back in 1959. It was obviously a disappointing present as far as he was concerned because the Dansette was still in the factory cardboard box and had never been played! It was probably a last minute stocking-filler as the guarantee was dated 24th December! As the excited John was about to leave with this amazing find this guy suddenly remembered he had another one in his attic. He returned a while later with a Dansette Junior in matching condition! This was certainly no record-collector!"

But the Lamberts have also had to deal with defeat - being unable to purchase or acquire collector's pieces that were just an arm's-length away. "With our enthusiasm now fueled to almost an obsession, we started hunting around second-hand shops in nearby towns. The story unfortunately does not have such a fairy-tale ending. On entering a fairly small shop we approached the owner to find out if he ever came across Dansette record players. His cool reply sent our hearts racing. Apparently his brother had bought every Dansette model produced in the 1960s and had them all stashed above our heads in his attic. He claimed to have over 40 up there, but made it quite clear they were saying there. Perhaps we could have a look at them? Do swaps maybe? Not a chance, no one was allowed up there and he had every model so wouldn't need to consider any we had more than one of! Several weeks later, with this conversation still eating away inside both of us, we made a return visit with a change of tactics! To our horror they had sold the shop, taking all the contents with them and had left no forwarding address!"

One of Lambert's greatest Dansette-related memories occurred when she met Samuel Margolin, the main influence behind the design of that phonograph. "Without him our collection would never have been possible. The Margolins had a tremendous influence on the ▒pop music' culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Morris Margolin came to England from Russia and started a small family business in a furniture factory as cabinet makers. He had 8 children and the majority of them started work in this family business at premises they purchased in London's Old Street. They also had an interest in musical instruments which they imported from the continent to sell. The Margolins decided to combine their interests in cabinet making and music to produce the "Plus~a~Gram." This was a basic turntable which plugs into the back of a wireless set to convert it into a radiogram. It was the 1st electric player in this country and was produced from 1934 until 1950. By the late 40s it was all they produced, and became the forerunner of the ▒Dansette.' In the early 1950s the Birmingham Sound Reproducers (BSR) introduced a British made autochanger at a realistic price. The company offered this to the Margolins as a basis for a new portable record player and suggested the name for it -- Dansette -- which was registered as a trademark in October 1952. This 1st Dansette was called the Dansette Senior. In the 1st year the company had profits of ё4,000. The Dansette surpassed all the Margolins' wildest dreams by becoming a top selling product. The business became "Dansette Products Ltd" with a workforce of several hundred with people queueing up outside the warehouse waiting for their orders to be made."

At the time of their meeting, Lambert asked Margolin if he was aware of other Dansette phonograph collectors. "He knew of a few, and his son has about 15. He thought this was the biggest collection until of course we proved it not to be the case. To discover that we owned over 150 left him quite speechless but obviously delighted as well! We have several friends who are now the proud owners of maybe 2-3 and searching for more. They are mainly record-collectors who have copied John's initial idea of converting a Dansette RG31 into an ideal record box. It contains some of his northern soul 45s and he takes it out with him when he is DJing. It will accommodate 2 rows of 45s perfectly, and doubles up as a seat or drinks table when not in use at the venue! The number of collectors, as with anything from the 1960s, is steadily growing, and I get mail daily from those who have "got the bug" sometimes after a visit to the website. http://www.dansettes.co.uk/"

Lambert's boyfriend John has also become an expert in Dansette repair. "He had some experience with maintaining his own decks that he often used for DJing at Northern Soul venues. Other than this tinkering around with Dansettes was something new to him. If all the parts are still there he usually manages to them. As he says, the grease applied in the factory maybe 45 years ago will have now turned to glue especially if the record player has been idle in someone's attic for most of that time. WD40 works a treat on putting life back into them!"

By the mid-1970's, the Dansette era was on the wane. By that time, people wanted high-fidelity systems with built-in or attachable tape decks, and the boxy Dansette was left behind for cheaper Japanese imports. But Lambert still scours the British countryside looking for new additions to her collection. "The first model, the ▒Dansette Senior', is probably rare as we have never seen one. Besides this it is quite unique to find a ▒Dansette Junior' in reasonable condition. The reason for this is because it was sold as a record player for children and consequently got the same respect as the rest of their toys! We have maybe 4-5 and 3 of those are quite shabby."

For more information on Dansette phonographs, as well as the history of the company, feel free to visit Julie Lambert's Dansette website (http://www.dansettes.co.uk/).

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