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Object Timeline

1935

  • Work on this object began.

2016

2021

RCA Victor Special Phonograph Phonograph

This is a phonograph. It was designed by John Vassos, Alfred Weiland and Selden T. Williams and manufactured by RCA Manufacturing Company, Incorporated. It is dated ca. 1935 and we acquired it in 2016. Its medium is aluminum, chromium-plated steel, metal, plastic, felt, leather, velvet. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

In 1933 designer John Vassos met a visiting RCA executive while he was working for WCAU, a flagship CBS radio station in Philadelphia. Vassos was hired to work on RCA’s radio lines but his contributions quickly expanded and he executed graphic design assignments including a new corporate logo and sales displays, transmitter architecture, and produced a range of other consumer products such as this phonograph, one of his most well-known designs. In addition to radios, phonographs were new electronic appliances that facilitated entertainment in the 1930s. This phonograph’s novelty derived from its potential for portability, allowing music to travel where electrical cords could not reach. Vassos’s choice of aluminum for the case was both practical and stylistic; the metal’s lightweight quality made it easier to transport while its sheen and gentle curves, offset with touches of smooth colored velvet, recalled automotive styling. The mirror located on the back of the player offered a visual as well as an audible musical experience; even those positioned away from the phonograph could have marveled at the power of the appliance as they watched a record spin around and around. Vassos intense interest in the psychology of consumers set him apart from other industrial designers of the period. Rather than alienating the consumer from the mechanical world, a fate that Vassos feared, here the designer has made the phonograph into an interactive experience that invites the user to engage with the machinery and watch its operation.

This object was donated by George R. Kravis II. It is credited Gift of George R. Kravis II.

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Its dimensions are

H x W x D (Closed): 20.3 × 41.9 × 45.7 cm (8 in. × 16 1/2 in. × 18 in.) H x W x D (Open): 58.4 × 41.9 × 52.1 cm (23 in. × 16 1/2 in. × 20 1/2 in.)

It has the following markings

Stamped on back hinge: 16 Stamped on inner hinge: Presto Lock Corp. NY Patent 1779.281

Cite this object as

RCA Victor Special Phonograph Phonograph; Designed by John Vassos, Alfred Weiland and Selden T. Williams; aluminum, chromium-plated steel, metal, plastic, felt, leather, velvet; H x W x D (Closed): 20.3 × 41.9 × 45.7 cm (8 in. × 16 1/2 in. × 18 in.) H x W x D (Open): 58.4 × 41.9 × 52.1 cm (23 in. × 16 1/2 in. × 20 1/2 in.); Gift of George R. Kravis II; 2016-5-11

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Energizing the Everyday: Gifts From the George R. Kravis II Collection.

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://www-4.collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/404734417/ |title=RCA Victor Special Phonograph Phonograph |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=6 December 2021 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>