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Victrola Museum Dover DE Hidden Gem in The Diamond State Dover, DE

Posted on: March 12, 2012


Tags: 78 rpm, 78s, DE, Delaware, Dover, Downtowns, E.R. Johnson, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, Museum, record player, talking machine, Victor, Victrola, Volunteer


It wouldn’t be “Vintage Technology Time” here at Retro Roadmap, without me singing the praises and generally getting some attention for the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover, DE.Exterior Though this unassuming brick building has been housing the museum since 1967, I’m ashamed to say that I did not even know about this place until a few years ago. THEN it took me that many years to stop by the state’s capitol to go there.

Don’t be a foot dragger like me – put this place on the top of your list when you’re in the Diamond State, and just go! You’ll be glad you did. (And get there soon – as The National Geographic Channel is doing an America’s Lost Treasures spot on the museum! After that airs the place will be packed!)

Eldridge R. JohnsonOpen on Wednesday – Friday and the First Saturday of Every Month  this volunteer run museum is a tribute to Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901, and was born and grew up in the small state.
Now, you know me and museums, I’m not about to give you the entire story of the place, then what would you learn from your FREE tour? I was lucky enough to have the informative Jackie Collins as my tour guide, and I learned “a wicked lot” from her (says the Bostonian in my head).
Here’s Jackie who is playing one of  – get this – the museum’s approximately 55 THOUSAND vintage Victor Brand 78 rpm records, thought to be one of the largest, if not THE largest collections in the world!

Many of these 78s were donated to the museum when the – big surprise- technology was replaced. Sometimes just dropped off at the door, and left there!

During my visit volunteer and visitor John Bolig was meticulously entering information about each record into their online database. He’s the man to do it too, as the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient from ARASC  the Association for Recorded Sound Collections for his work in documenting these important historical recordings. Much like the museum he works in, he’s humble and unassuming, with a wealth of knowledge within.

VictrolaWhen you visit you’ll learn about and  see all sorts of talking machines and grammaphones, and you’ll learn the difference between the two, too! There are some wonderful old machines on display, many still in working condition, and all sorts of memorabilia having to do with the Victor and RCA Victor company. Like Nipper for example!
His Masters Voice - Nipper

Wait until you see the collection of Nipper dogs that they have – from diminutive to gargantuan (or small to big, in “use simple terms” lingo) 😉 But I’m not showing a photo because I don’t want to ruin the surprise of seeing it all for yourself!
Victor Victrola Memorabilia
Now here are some things that I can tell you about the museum.

The door to the museum is on the back of the building, accessed from the FREE parking lot adjacent to it. It is FREE to get into the museum, as it is run by a volunteer staff, and if you’ve got a group of 5 or more people you can call to arrange a special group tour. There are special activities planned on each First Saturday of the month, and while this info will be out of date when this article is archived, the list below gives you an idea of what you can expect:

      • Every Saturday in June 2012 June 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30  “Celebrate Black Music Month” 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.Some of the Victor Records Company’s earliest and most successful recording artists were African-American singers and musicians.  The Johnson Victrola Museum will salute Each Saturday the Johnson Victrola Museum will salute a featured artist. Come hear music from Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson and many more that captured the hearts of music lovers all over the world. Visitors will enjoy the timeless music of these pioneers in the recording industry, played on authentic talking machines.
      • Wednesday, July 4, 2012  “A Day with E.R. Johnson11:30 am and 3:30 pmThe Johnson Victrola Museum will present “A Day with Eldridge Reeves Johnson” a program in which historical interpreter Bill Sparke will take on the persona of Eldridge Reeves Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions and talk with Johnson who will remain in character throughout his appearances.
      • Wednesday, July 4, 2012“Stars and Stripes”9:00a.m. to 4:30 p.m.In celebration of Independence Day guests will enjoy the patriotic music recorded by Victor Records. Visitors will have anopportunity to hear original 78-inch patriotic recordings, played on authentic Victrola machines.
      • Saturday, July 7, 2012 “A Day with E.R. Johnson10:00 am and 2:00 pmThe Johnson Victrola Museum will present “A Day with Eldridge Reeves Johnson” a program in which historical interpreter Bill Sparke will take on the persona of Eldridge Reeves Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions and talk with Johnson who will remain in character throughout his appearances.
      • Saturday, July 7, 2012 “Stars and Stripes”9:00a.m. to 4:30 p.m.In celebration of Independence Day guests will enjoy the patriotic music recorded by Victor Records. Visitors will have an opportunity to hear original 78-inch patriotic recordings, played on authentic Victrola machines.
      • Saturdays in August 2012 –  August 4, 11, 18, and 25 “National Inventors Month”9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.To celebrate National Inventors Month, we will be focusing on a different important inventor each Saturday during the month of August.  Come learn about E.R. Johnson, Emile Berliner, Thomas Edison, and other famous inventors new and old.

You should always check the Events & Activities link on their website to see what is planned for your visit.

Retro Roadhusband really missed out when he opted to sleep in late instead of heading to Dover with me, so you just might see the both of us there one Saturday. Heck if there’s interest we’ll do a Retro Roadmap meetup! But even if you don’t go when we go – do yourself an the museum a favor, and visit!

“Like” The Johnson Victrola Museum on Facebook

PS – if you look up the address in Google and it says Delaware Lottery Offices and that they’re closed, it’s WRONG! I’ve emailed to have them correct it.

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