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Play Me: 1921

Play Me: 1921

New York circa 1921. A lady and her phonograph. The name looks like Farnum or Farmer. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.


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Half the picture

One thing you don't get is the smell of those times. All the natural fibers, wood and wood polish, and heavy oil based paints tinged the air with a musty, organic aroma that just isn't present in these days of plastics and synthetics. It's the faint whiff you can still get visiting places like Teddy Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill.

Not a Victrola or even a Phonograph

As the first poster mentioned, it is a Grafonola.

Tiny Dancer

Those may indeed be some type of dancing shoe but they are most certainly not "toe shoes" or "point shoes" as typically worn by ballerinas.
However, more importantly - the mirror. Windex really not needed here - just some good ol' fashioned vinegar and elbow grease would do wonders. Where the heck is that charwoman!

Glass Cleaner

For all those who were wondering, Windex first hit the market in 1933. I understand it was in much more concentrated back then, and flammable! Before this product, glass and windows were probably cleaned with a mixture of ammonia and water. When I worked for a retail store with big picture windows back in the early 1970s, that's the way we washed them, along with a bucket and squeegee.

Dancing Shoes

They appear to be soft dancing shoes, something akin to ballet slippers. They would be worn when toe dancing. Also, I found a listing for a Sally J. Farnum at the Internet Broadway Database. She was a collaborator with Cole Porter for a 1919 Broadway show entitled "Hitchy-Koo." If this photo is of her. Her posing on a phonograph wearing dancing shoes would be appropriate.

Two things in this picture

have bothered me for days: 1) Her shoes. They just don't fit her classy look; 2) she is sitting on the Victrola. No decent girl in those days would do that sort of thing. Oh, and look at the cigarette ashes on the left side. I bet she just smoked a cigarette!!!

On the Looking-Glass

One look at that mirror tells me that non-streaking Windex has not been invented yet.

Unclear glass?

Why does the glass look so dusty, or muddy, or ... well, unclear?

Often we see a lot of dust and dirt on the furniture, floors, clothes/boots. Did people not care about the cleanness back then, or is this some kind of visual artifact common for all century-old photo shots?

[Because it's being illuminated by an extremely bright cloud of magnesium flash powder. - Dave]

Play me

There appears to be a power cord snaking down in back of the cabinet,so this looks like an electric machine as well as a nice piece of strong furniture.

Not Farnum

I see the spelling a little different. Anyone else see a M at the beginning and a a at the end?

[You're confusing the name of the phonograph (Garrard?) with the name of the lady. - Dave]


Surely, on a fancy model like this the crank would be removable when the machine was not in use. We had a much plainer model that did just that. Crank it up, pull the handle back out, play a couple records, repeat. The crank would be on the right hand end of the machine, just under the model's, ah, seat.

You rang, madam?

Is that the butler lurching into the backgroud?


Once again I am reminded to Google class cleaners to see when Windex was invented. I never seem to get around to doing that.

Stylish in Every Way

This is a great pose and the attractive young lady is of model quality -- I would love to dance with her for many a tune. Everything here is very stylish, her hair and dress, the expensive phonograph and I especially like that mirror surrounded with caning -- never saw one like that before -- and the reflection in the mirror adds an intriguing dimension to this professional shot.

Left side of that baby

What a surprise if there was a Singer sewing machine flipped upside down and stowed in there.

"Grafonola" sounds a little like a breakfast health food. "Billy, you're putting too much Karo on your Grafonola."
"Aw, gee whiz, Mom, Tom Mix says all his ranch hands do that and it helps build up their muscles real good!"

Twelve Years Later

a product will come along from the good folks at S. C. Johnson & Son that will take care of that grimy mirror. Windex!

Good looking

Except for that horn of hair sticking out of the middle of her forehead.

Expensive seating

While I don't know the identity of the lovely lass, the phonograph was a Columbia Grafonola----and it's one of their pricey Art Case/Period Model offerings. The years leading up to WW-I and immediately after into the 1920s saw the major phonograph companies offering just such machines to appeal to the tastes of a well-off clientele, where the phonograph would blend in the home decor and not be immediately visible as a "phonograph" or "Victrola". Unlike Columbia's more prosaic Grafonolas, with visible louvers to cover the speaker and control the sound, this model (likely called something like the "Tudor" "Jacobean" or "William and Mary" model) had the speaker tastefully concealed behind a drop-down door, with a wooden grill backed with pleated silk to prevent seeing into the dark void of the speaker box. When closed up, this Grafonola would appear no different than any fine console or sideboard of the day, particularly so if it was an electric-motor model (thus no crank sticking out of the right side of the case).

Have been informed by those in the know, this was Columbia's model P-2 "Early English" Grafonola.

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