Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Magnificent Magnavox

To paraphrase Allen Ginsberg: Is my sister holy? Is baseball holy? Is alligators holy?

Is this Magnificent Magnavox holy?

The living room has finally fallen into place like perfect puzzle pieces, and all due to the to-the-beat-the-band purchase of the 1958 Magnificent Magnavox console record player you see just under the front window.

Helllllooooooo. DARLIN'.

On my weekly estate sales soujourn, I was led through the classifieds to an otherwise unlisted sale in Donelson. The parameter of the place was semi-finished basement only...deep red 70's Ruby Tuesday shag carpeting, a few scattered pieces of furniture....and lighthouses. Lighthouses. LIGHTHOUSES. There were wall hangings of lighthouses. There were lighthouse Christmas ornaments, lighthouse decorative throws, lighthouse small ceramic figurines... there was a small stuffed bear, dressed in a yellow mac, holding a lighthouse. No other nautical items, just lighthouses, as if when the world burned, you wanted to make sure you had a nuclear fall out stockpile of lighthouses to remind you of what was really important in life. Which was lighthouses.

More than slightly disappointed, I continued through a maze of improvised-in-late-life-construction rooms until I reached a dimly lit den/kitchenette area, in which, in the far corner, unplugged... was the greatest console record player I had ever seen in person. Doing my best "And I don't care" looksee, I walked around the piece, practicing controlled breathing exercises. The wood console casing. The sliding panels. The lettering on the face of the tuner (reminding you that what you're looking at is a "High Fidelity Magnificent Magnavox" in pretty white cursive and gold deco lettering). The automatic record changer feature. Tiny, hair pin, brass plated legs. And to put a maraschino cherry at the tip of the cake... the sliding door and stereo speaker covers were not made of a woven, gold threaded material, as most models, but solid metal/possibly brass grating!

"Isn't that neat?" one of the estate sale running women (of which there were, uncharacteristically, three or four, possibly children of the woman who was seated outside the sale in a lawnchair, in massive sunglasses, and who was, in her eightieth year, moving to retirement just down the street).

"Oh, totally. Totally," I said, still a little winded. "Does it work?"

That woman and two others descended upon the record player, sliding the upper and lower panels, finding a working outlet, clicking knobs. The record player was spinning, the back of the tuner was illuminated, but no sound. We clicked the FM setting. Crackling, creaking sound as the vacuum tubes (!!) that powered the tuner slowly warmed, putting off a strong smell of heated dust into the air. The radio was go! A Harry Belafonte recording of "Shenandoah", on 45, matted to the platter of the record player side with dust and grime, rotated smoothly on the right hand side. As needle met groove, only the tinny, unamplified sound of a non-working speaker set up came out. The phono side, while functioning, wasn't feeding through to the speakers. As I know, oh, less than nothing about the wiring and technical configuration of any vintage electronic, much less a vaccum tubed one, things were looking grim.

COME. ON. I thought. COME. ON. HowcanIlivewithoutthis?

Another ten minutes of tinkering. Dubious circlings of the unit as I knelt near the tuner side, still flipping knobs. "BASS", "TREBLE"..."LOUDNESS"...changing the setting of one from "CONCERT" TO "MOOD"...still no dice. Finally, in a fit of sensibility, I flipped the "PHONO" setting to the previously untested "TAPE". Suddenly, and bold as a brass section, the top volume warbling of the King of Calypso!!!!!!!!!!!! It works! It works! It works!

"Um, how much...uh....what price do you guys have on this thing?" I said. (Articulate, right?)

The same woman from before, smooth toned, reasonable, without missing a beat. "Oh, it's two hundred dollars."

Heart sank. Ship sank. ((pause)) Lighthouse sank.

Nodding in that way I always do when viciously disappointed, I managed: "It sure is beautiful." or some similarly inane pronouncement. Now that she knew I wanted it, and that it worked, I seriously doubted the possibility of dickering the price down to the bite size sixty dollar figure I'd had in my head as the absolute largest figure I could spend this week on retro detrius.
Nevertheless, I ventured, "Well, um, it's really, really great. Um. I don't know if... listen, could you guys take a bid on this for me? I mean, if you don't have any takers on it for two hundred dollars, which, you probably will, I mean, it's really great... um, I just thought I could give you my number and if you don't end up selling it, you could call me." Good job, Woody Allen. Brimming with confidence.

"What price were you thinking of?"

"Uh...I've got about sixty dollars."

From previous estate sale experiences, I felt a flicker of preemptive shame. More than once, I've tried to bargain with a dealer and been met with a firm look that always reminds me of that scene in the grocery store in Terms of Endearment, when Debra Winger's entirely Damien-like offspring says to her, at the check out, loud as Jesus: "What do you MEAN you don't have enough money?!" I fidgeted as she took it under consideration.

"No, sure! That's a great idea! It would be nice to have a buyer if we don't end up selling it by the time we need to leave... yeah, yeah, let me go get a pen to write down your information."

I stood for a moment, protectively, next to my still-possible-kill, and the woman re-emerged from the front entrance of the basement.
"She said she'll take it."

Lisa: "Do what?" (I am the Henry James of my generation, just bursting with bon mots and wit)

"My mom said she'll take sixty dollars for it."

Jubilation! Ju.....BILATION. Judy, could you please tell the people how I felt at the time?

Replace "Judy" with "Lisa"...no change needed to expression and accoutrement.

Anyway, I trucked the beauty home, where the reddish brown and gold of the console matches well with the reddish brown of the flooring in my living room, the gold of the couches, and even the waistcoats of the tiny Revolutionary men and their tiny Revolutionary roof tiles in my new pinch pleat curtains (six panels, estate sale, stuffed in a cedar closet in the basement, third day, $2 a piece).

Though I already have around 300 records floating around the house, I recently added these, which are in rotation now in the living room:

Dino, you little scamp. Two girls? A chalet? Your mother would blush.

Anyway, I'm totally pleased, finally, with both the look of the living room and my (hopefully last for awhile at least) vintage hi-fi purchase. Must have people over for a platter spinning dance party very soon!
To see a video of the magic in action, you can see user uploaded videos of the same model Magnavox on youtube HERE and HERE, though be forewarned, one of them managed to inadvertantly scrub off the lettering on the face of the tuner during cleaning (OUCH, poor guy). It's so cool to see there are others out there being used!!


  1. GRRRRRRRRREAT Caesars Ghost! Nice find, lately I've been watching for a console phonograph, so I'm thrilled for you. Like your storytelling too. Now I need to find that Judy Garland album (you won't question my male gender status with that remark, will you?)

  2. Tak sa mycket..! That record player is just the apple of my eye right now, I breeze by it in my front room and just sigh a living sigh.

    I found the Judy record at a thrift store that usually has nothing but evangelical records...someone named "Jeanelle", who had addressed labeled all her records in case there was any doubt to ownership, turned in a stack of MINT, MINT, MINT late 50's and early 60's music, and they were a dollar apiece. All the ones in the pictures save the Tom Jones one were hers. Wherever you are, Jeanelle, thanks!

  3. Do you still have this? I have one like it but I cant figure out what happend to the power cord, mine is not there and I cand figure out where it attached.

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