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Archive for Sunday, August 11, 2013

Collection of antique record players, ‘94 years in the making,’ on display in Blue Rapids

August 11, 2013

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Record player collection on display in Blue Rapids

"Fib's Collection of Record Proportions" is on display at the Blue Rapids Museum at No. 36 Public Square, Blue Rapids, about 50 miles north of Manhattan. The exhibit is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.

For information, call 785-363-7949 or send email to brhissoc@yahoo.com.

Fib's Collection of Record Proportions

Floyd "Fib" Sutton collected and repaired hundreds of antique Gramophones and phonographs in the decades before he died earlier this year. As wife, Martha, demonstrates, the record players still work just fine. Enlarge video

— The collection looks something like what you'd have found in an expensive department store in an earlier century, dropped into our world through a time warp.

Carefully arranged on the showroom floor are dozens of finely polished cabinet Gramophones and spring-powered Edison phonographs, including a Model A record player that sold for $20 in 1901. Like all of them, it looks brand new, and plays music if you know how to work it.

Elsewhere in the inventory are older, stranger musical machines: hand-cranked contraptions that play songs on wax cylinders, phonographs with giant, multi-colored horns, player harmonicas, and rare stringed instruments such as pianolas, harpanolas, and pianoharps. There are hundreds more.

The truth is, a store carrying this particular inventory never existed. This is “Fib’s Collection of Record Proportions: 94 Years in the Making,” at the Blue Rapids Museum, a public exhibit that will be open through September. It is the collection of one man, a retired mechanic living in Blue Rapids, about 50 miles north of Manhattan, who spent the last few decades of his life acquiring, repairing, and refurbishing mechanical curiosities from the dawn of electricity. The exhibit draws on more than 200 antique record players, which the family believes is one of the most extensive such collections in the country.

'He wasn't fond of music at all'

The collector, Floyd Sutton, died earlier this year at the age of 94, and it is his wife, Martha, who shows a visitor around the showroom floor in a storefront behind the local historical museum. Martha can operate, and offer detailed descriptions of, many of the Gramphones and phonographs. Some of the other items she can’t even begin to identify. Many are tagged with coded inventory numbers that no one alive could decipher now.

Why did Sutton devote so much of his life to this? The question is laughable to Martha and their son, Speedy. “If you can figure that out, you’ve got us all beat,” Speedy says. It wasn’t because of a love of music, they agree. “He wasn’t fond of music at all,” said Martha, who was married to Sutton for 65 years. “He never was.”

Sutton was a collector all of his life, picking up toys, steam engines, and clocks to tinker with and repair. He filled the house with them, and then dug a basement and built sheds and filled those. Martha never fully undersood it, she said, but Sutton didn’t drink or smoke or tell lies, and she accepted his hobby as healthy occupation. His nickname, “Fib,” came from his unwillingness as a child to go along with stories that other children would tell their parents, she said.

But after Sutton retired, his collecting became a full-time job, and antique record players became his number one pursuit. It started like a lot of his other diversions, which ran to antique clocks and lanterns, Speedy said. “He had gone to an auction and got the first one, and there was no looking back.”

For about the next 40 years, Sutton was busy. He got up early in the morning and headed down to his basement workshop, where several record players and clocks would be in various states of reconstruction. His day was spent working on each one in turn, studying the inner workings, replacing broken parts, refinishing the exteriors. When he had one looking new again, he listened to it play only long enough to be sure it was working properly.

“And then he was on to the next one,” Speedy said. “He was focused all the time. It’s just inconceivable the amount of time he worked on those. He was consumed by the mechanics of it.”

On the weekends, Sutton went to auctions and flea markets, seeking another machine and the tiny, old-fashioned parts he needed to fix the record players he already had. He was the first buyer at the auction and the last to be outbid, his family said, and he developed a sharp eye over time. “He could spot a part for one of those things from 1,000 yards,” Speedy said.

'On to the next one'

One after the other, year after year, Sutton returned the record players to working condition and then set them aside. Most range in value from a few hundred dollars to $1,000, but he wasn’t interested in money, Speedy said. Sutton asked his children to put them on display when he was gone and then sell them. He didn’t want his collection to sit in a museum forever.

Honoring that wish, the family will put the record players on sale along with other items later this year, except for some pieces the family is keeping. Speedy has set aside for himself a cuckoo clock, the only machine to defy his father forever.

Sutton took up the broken cuckoo clock years ago for repairs, seemingly no different from the others, Speedy said. And Sutton did make it work again, but with one flaw: it always cuckoo-ed one extra time — that is, 13 times — at the 12 o’clock hour. Sutton spent years working on it, but even with all of his powers he could not make the cuckoo behave correctly. “That used to just aggravate him to death,” Speedy joked. “So, I’m keeping that one.”

But the rest will be available for purchase after “Fib’s Collection of Record Proportions” finishes its run in late September or October.

For her part, Martha said she won’t be sad to see the collection go. "I’ve been living with that junk for 65 years,” she said. “I don’t need it anymore.”

For information about the exhibit, contact the Blue Rapids Museum call 785-363-7949 or send email to brhissoc@yahoo.com.

Comments

Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 4 months ago

This is a wonderful collection. It should never be sold individually, but only to a museum which would take care of these as has Floyd and Martha Sutton.

He has done wonderful work creating this collection, and she has done more than her share, too. These SHOULD BE SAVED FOR THE FUTURE so that young people of the future can look at and experience these things. Some may now be one of a kind.

And - many other women and men should collect and repair things which are valuable to them, and which will make a difference for future generations.

asutton 1 year, 4 months ago

This is actually my grandfather. I am 22 years old and have seen the great value in sharing these items. Although he left many pieces for all his grandchildren and even great grandchildren, many of us have still chosen to purchase these items to help sustain my grandmother. In fact, my husband and I will be purchasing their home to keep in our family since it has so much history. Even though we have taken great lengths to keep many of these pieces in the family, there are still hundreds of duplicates that we can share with the rest of the world. We are keeping a lot of things in Kansas, but we can't teach others about our history if we don't share. And the entire collection is just too much up keep for my grandmother anymore. We are saving this for the future....but one family can only do so much!

Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 4 months ago

And I should add that this collection should stay in Kansas - rather than be purchased and sent to another state.

This is one of the many things that makes Kansas so special. Don't throw it away!

geoismeo 1 year, 4 months ago

You heard the lady, she's tired of living with that "junk". Great article. I was expecting him to be a music lover and her honesty is amusing. And the son decides only to keep the object his father couldn't fix, hmmm.

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