New Portable Phonographs

Two new portables are fixed and ready to leave the house of Phonogray!

This portable suitcase phonograph has been completely cleaned, restored and tested to work. Made by Vanity Fair and dating to the late 1940s or early 1950s, the unit operates with a standard electrical plug that is in excellent condition. It is a child’s phonograph, and was originally intended as a toy.

The unit operates with the red on/off switch, located beneath the arm. The turntable is original red flocked material. Included is an antique Victrola needle tin, featuring Nipper the dog listening to a phonograph. The needle tin has been secured to the motor board so that you may carry needles with you. 50 needles are included, so this unit is ready to play on arrival.

The outside has been completely restored, cleaned and clear coated. Reproduction vintage luggage stickers have been hand-cut and securely affixed to the outside of the unit. Interested? This phonograph is listed on etsy.

Oh, goodness. Are you ready for the next little beauty? I think Reese and I spend about 10 hours of combined work reviving this record player. It had sat in an attic for 40 or so years, but now it’s put back together and sounds amazing!

This portable phonograph was made by Birch in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It is very cute with lots of character. It has been gone through and been completely restored. It is a hand-cranked model, so it requires no electricity – making it perfect for parties, picnics, and electrical blackouts.

The motor has been completely disassembled, cleaned, lubricated and adjusted. The motor runs very quiet and appears to have little wear. The soundbox was adjusted, and plays at a very loud volume, even with medium tone needles.

All hardware has been polished, and the hinges on the back have been replaced. The stop bar is fixed, and the turntable fabric has been replaced with red felt. The record box on the inside cover latches to transport & store records. An antique Victor needle box featuring Nipper the dog listening to a Victrola has been securely installed under the arm to store needles. There is also a second needle cup with a hinged top that may be used to store used needles. This unit includes 50 needles.

The inside motorboard and outside has been cleaned and clear coated. All loose fabric has been glued down and clear coated over. Reproduction vintage luggage stickers have been securely glued and clear coated on the outside of the portable.

This record player plays 78 RPM records only. The crank threads into the hole near the handle, and the unit must be cranked 20-30 times to play a record. Unit stops with stop bar near the arm. Interested? This record player is available on etsy.

Hand-painted & Funny Phonographs


Hand painted floral phonographs from ebay sellers.

This machine has baby heads in it. BABY HEADS!!!! I told some friends recently that I would consider getting married just so I could request a machine like this on my registry. I already have mismatched antique dishes & linens, why not request heirlooms and strange sculptures, instead?

Laugh laugh phonograph record, taken by my friend Sam on her trips this summer.

Men singing through tiny megaphones on stage.

My sister, Shannon, models with my pretend-a-phone a few years back. When I first got interested in these machines, I ordered a replica one off of ebay (They are produced in Pakistan). I think it was around $150, and I was thrilled to death with it at first. It never worked very well, and the springs broke entirely only a year after I had it. It’s been sitting in my bedroom as a sculpture ever since. Sometimes I would stick my iPhone in the horn and let the speakers sing out through the bell. Reese and I took apart the reproducer last week, and it was made of tinfoil inside!! TINFOIL!! No wonder it sounded so bad!

Phonograph Player – Dancing Feet from Amelia Raley on Vimeo. In this video from a two years ago, you can see the pretend-a-phone at work. Notice how loud it is when I’m cranking it? The surface noise is pretty severe, and the crank makes a squeaking noise when wound. I had to keep winding it because the speed wouldn’t stay constant. Hope you enjoy my silly dancing 🙂
Anyway, the pretend-a-phone is off to greener pastures. I’ve constructed an Elizabethan style ruff out of the horn, and it awaits a long-anticipated photoshoot with Darla Teagarden!

Driskill Hotel Photoshoot

 Photographer John Leach took our portrait for the front of The Chronicle this fall for the “Best Of Austin” edition. The out takes from the photoshoot at the historic Driskill Hotel downtown were just too good not to share!
Here’s our cover, and our award, “Best Reason to Learn the Charleston” took us by surprise! The Austin Chronicle is very secretive about covers… we were both under the impression that we were doing a shoot for John’s portfolio for a photo contest. Imagine my surprise when I went to get coffee on Thursday morning and saw us grinning from the cover!

The Driskill Hotel was built in 1886 and is one of the most gorgeous places in Austin. Marble floors, elegant antique furniture, and a glass domed ceiling create a perfect backdrop for a vintage photoshoot.

The Driskill is rumored to be haunted, and a naughty ghost paid us a visit during the shoot. While we were posing at this window, a glass flew off an antique wooden hutch and loudly smashed into a million pieces on the floor. Spooky!

Come play with us… forever and ever and ever…

Iris Morning Glory Horn


I’ve returned from the flea market with a fresh horn! I’m a sucker for floral motifs on horns, but most hand-painted ones run in the $600 price range. This iris design isn’t hand painted, but is some sort of decal. (I think!)
My original intention was to put an Edison bulb in it and hang it as a lamp, but since it’s so dull on the outside, the alternative plan is to find a cheap Edison machine to attach it to so that it may yawn in decorative glory in my living room.

The Chief Portable Phonograph


Meet the Chief! Before his recent trip to Vancouver, Reese and I looked up portable phonographs on Craigslist in Canada. We found a machine being offered up by the first owner, a man in this 90s who had bought it early in his life from a department store in Vancouver.
The potmetal on the reproducer is cracked and shot from so many years of being kept by the ocean, but other than replacing it, the machine is in perfect condition! Look at how beautiful and vibrant the felt is, and the only cosmetic flaw in the inside is on the figure’s headdress where the nub on the turntable has rubbed.

Look closely. What an incredible design! At first we were alarmed, but determined that this machine was very late 20s or early 30s, and would therefore most likely be a Native American sacred symbol.

Swastika’s as decoration or good luck emblems: Clara Bow in a cloche; Native American basketball team jerseys

From Wikipedia:
The swastika shape was used by some Native Americans. It has been found in excavations of Mississippian-era sites in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. It is frequently used as a motif on objects associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (S.E.C.C.). It was also widely used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. Among various tribes, the swastika carried different meanings. To the Hopi it represented the wandering Hopi clan; to the Navajo it was one symbol for a whirling log (tsil no’oli), a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals ).A brightly colored First Nations saddle featuring swastika designs is on display at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.

Femme et Velo


A few weeks ago, I spent a day with Shari from Charm School Vintage along with Zachary Hunt and Mike Andrick, two local photographers who have a blog called Femme et Velo.
Femme et vélo is a photography project that brings together women, style and bicycles. Started by Austin, Texas-based photographers and cyclists Zachary Hunt and Mike Andrick, we were inspired by vintage images of ladies on two wheels, as well as our love for bicycles. With the help of stylist Shari Gerstenberger of Charm School Vintage, we work with different models and bikes for each shoot. We also combine film and digital for a blend of traditional and contemporary portrait photography. The goal of the project is to celebrate the liberating relationship that exists between a woman and a bicycle, as well as the style that goes along with it.
Styling in these photos by Shari, and photographs by Zachary and Mike.
We chose the hill country for the shoot. The summer drought left the grasses dry and soft. Perfect for lounging in! This floral 1930s dress is now mine, and I paired it with an embroidered cloche I’ve had since I was twenty.I rode merrily on the bicycle while the boys photographed me from the back of a moving truck. It’s not quite chilly enough for beret weather, but I couldn’t resist bringing a stash along for the shoot.The impending thunderclouds made for some incredible colors, and a bit of tension on our end for fear of ruining clothing & equipment. Of all of the days to rain!

We hopped barbed wire fences into cattle pastures, where I narrowly avoided ruining my Remix shoes in cow pies! These flowers were electric green after the sudden thundershower.After the shoot we had dinner at an area vineyard, and I played a windup portable phonograph in the entry way & we danced with full bellies.
Thanks to Femme et Velo and Charm School Vintage!

My Portable Phonograph


BEFORE!!!
My phonograph is finally finished! In July, I drove to San Antonio to a fleamarket booth that sells phonographs exclusively in order to pick up some rusty phonograph morning glory horns to use as light fixtures for my old fashioned ice cream parlor. This darling hand crank portable was an afterthought compulsion purchase.
So, it worked (okay) and made noise (okay) and I thought, “Well, Reese can fix this in a jiffy!” so I bought it, no second thoughts. Reese’s initial reactions to the machine were comical, at best. “This has been beat to shit!” he kept marveling. “WOW!” and then hunks of it started falling off!! Built in or around 1925, it looks as if my little portable had been around the block, cranking out tunes on picnics, parties, and dinner nights at home.
Problems: The main springs were worn out entirely, the turntable felt was shabby, needle cup rusted and broken, the reproducer’s pot metal was corroded and breaking off in big hunks, and the electrical tape some crafty person had used to affix the reproducer to the arm kept melting in the Texas heat and wiggling the needle on the record. The record holder was beat up and unsafe to hold records. Plus, the machine was quiet. REALLY quiet.

AFTER!!!
Reese dismantled the machine, oiled the motor, cleaned it from top to bottom, and clear coated it to seal in the original patina. He cut out the turntable felt BY HAND and put an orthophonic reproducer on the machine. Now it really screams, and reproduces bass and high vocals nearly as well as his Victor credenza model. The leather strap on the front is taped over securely, and the needle box has been removed and replaced by a Victor needle tin.

The clear coating on the outside helps to preserve the age of the machine, and showcases the wooden ribbed joints. The latches are still rusted, but I quite like them! Also, who can beat Nipper listening to His Master’s Voice on the needle tin!?
Since the springs in the Thorens motor were shot, we scoured our phonograph supply friends and eventually found new/old stock from a man in Michigan who has a barn full of accoutrements. Now the motor runs soundlessly.
Two of the three governor weights had broken off in places, and had to be sent off to be soldered & replaced.
In these machines, the sound comes out of the machine in a few different ways. Some portables are “dumpers,” meaning the sound shoots directly from the arm, out of a cavern in the machine. Other machines have large “horns” in the inside, which can be made out of different materials, including paper mache or burlap. My machine has a burlap horn, which Reese removed and covered with 27 coats of clear coat, making it as hard as plastic. This helped to strengthen the sound of the machine, sending the sound up and out in the smooth walls, instead of trapping it in the peaks of burlap.

With the clear coating, the green swirly design on the inside of the box and soundboard stands out more. It reminds me of algae or some other kind of botany design.

The outside is a bit difficult to photograph accurately. I’m so happy with the turnout!