[Taking A Close Look At...]

Household Recreation

"MUSIC The subscriber has on sale a first class CABINET ORGAN, made by Mason and Hamlin, which he will sell at a great bargain if applied for soon. T.M. King, Antigonish, June 4th, 1873" [Casket, 5 June 1873]

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Date:late 19th century
Dimensions: approx. 30.5 cm x 17.8 cm x 7.6 cm

Comments:The stereoscope was perfected in 1838 by Sir David Brewster. In its day, stereoscopic photography was hailed as "The Optical Wonder of the Age". In fact, by the 1860s, "stereomania" had seized most of Great Britain and the United States. It became the "first visual mass medium", "the first universal system of visual communication before cinema and television." Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., author and physician, was an enthusiastic exponent of this new scientific toy. In fact, he refined it into a light-weight, hand-held viewer that was designed to show three dimensional images derived from two almost identical photographs juxtaposed on a stiff card called a stereoscopic slide. The "Holmes Stereoscope" became the most popular model in the United States; in England it was commonly known as the "American Stereoscope". Between 1870 and 1910, stereopticons were a popular North American amusement, especially in upper- and middle-class homes. Massive numbers of slides were produced to keep up with the insatiable demand. They were sold in general merchandise stores and through catalogues. By 1900, New York's Underwood and Underwood manufactured 10,000,000 stereograph cards a year. Landmark views, particularly scenes of Niagara Falls or the Holy Land, were the most popular. By 1930, stereoscopes had lost their appeal as a form of household recreation. Photography was a pervasive amateur activity, so people could now view their own personal picture collections.

This particular model is made of polished wood. Patent dates (1895 United States, 1896 Canada) are impressed on the underside. According to the 1901 T. Eaton Company catalogue, similar models sold for 25 cents to 50 cents while the slides retailed for 4 cents each.

April Miller

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Date:c. 1905
Dimensions:2 m x 1 m

Comments:During the 19th century, the pump organ was the prized possession in many rural Canadian homes. However, it never acquired the status of the piano among upper- and middle-class families. As one of the most treasured pieces of furniture, the piano signified leisure, affluence and cultural refinement and retained its central place in the middle-class parlour into the 20th century. The pump organ did not have the same mystique as object or symbol. The price differential was significant: in the mid-19th century a medium-sized piano cost $400, while the parlour organ retailed for $75. This explains the organ's popularity in rural Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Few farmers could resist the allure of a light-weight, attractively priced organ, especially as Canadian and American organ manufacturers embraced mass advertising to reach consumers via local newspaper advertisements, mail order catalogues, almanacs and farmer's magazines. The organ was closely associated with the female members of the household. However, the music--whether favourite hymns or parlour songs--was a popular form of home entertainment that reinforced the solidarity of the family circle.

This particular pump organ was donated to the Antigonish Heritage Museum by Doris Flikke who purchased it in Lunenburg County. With its walnut finish, this instrument must have been a grand-looking showpiece in a late Victorian Nova Scotian parlour. It was manufactured by the Thomas Organ Company of Woodstock, Ontario. The organ features an ornamental floral motif and curvilinear design as well as a mantle piece with shelves and a bevelled mirror. The Thomas Organ Company actually had a separate magazine advertising mantle pieces for their organs. The organ has eleven stops, five octaves and two knee pumps and the name "Thomas Organ Co." is embossed on the foot pumps.

April Miller

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Date: c. 1920
Dimensions: approx. 17.8 cm x 30.5 cm x 35.5 cm

Comments: The phonograph is an early version of the record player. The design was originally patented in the United States in February 1878, and in Canada in October 1878, by the American inventor Thomas Edison. By 1889, he had begun marketing his "talking machine", first through the North American Phonograph Company and, after 1896, through his own National Phonograph Company. The early phonographs were designed to play cylinder records or flat disc records. Their most distinctive feature was the large sound horn (sometimes there were two), the equivalent of today's speaker. Around 1906, the horn was relocated inside the main case. The phonograph quickly gained popularity as the dominant form of home entertainment. By the 1920s, there were at least two hundred phonograph companies producing about two million phonographs a year. Amherst Pianos, Limited, based in Amherst, Nova Scotia, manufactured the "Cremonaphone", which boasted a beautiful piano finish and a tone "well nigh perfect". It could be acquired for as little as $5.00 down, the balance payable in easy installments. With the phonograph, people could now hear their favorite music when and as often as they wished. The disc records offered a wide range of choices such as "Whistling and Laughing Songs", speeches and orations, orchestral and band selections. It has been argued that this device "contributed greatly to the demise of piano-playing as a symbol of accomplishment, particularly by females, in the home" and undermined the communal tradition of playing music and singing as a family. Sales declined sharply in the early 1930s as the phonograph encountered stiff competition from the radio.

The phonograph in the Antigonish Museum was made by the PAL Standard Company based in New York. It closely resembles the cheaper portable models which emerged in the 1920s. Unlike the traditional bulky cabinets, these small tabletop phonographs were popular for outdoor use. The machine even has a hinged shelf in the lid to store records. According to the 1901 T. Eaton Company catalogue, a standard phonograph cost $20; the records ran 50 cents each to $5 per dozen.

April Miller

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