Seeburg Stereo Showcase - January 16th, 2019

I always love consignment auctions, because they almost always have this effortless ability to just take you back to a different time. It might be the Watling “How Much Do You Weigh” coin operated scale that was created around 1940. I can just imagine the wheat pennies, buffalo nickels, and mercury dimes these people wrapped their knuckles around and slid out of their pockets just to place down the slotted hole to see how much they really weighed, and then laugh about it with their friends as they trotted off to the next venue that would take their excitement, and of course their money.


It also might be the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company which was known as the first true tool for the At-Home Knitter. Looking at the contraption, I can’t imagine making anything on it, but if you’re so inclined to try, ours comes with a 1924 manual, and instructions on making your own socks.


It could also be the old hand-crank multigraph created by the American Multigraph Company. The Company itself was founded by Harry Gammeter and Henry Osborn in 1902 and was located on E. 40th St. at Kelley Avenue in Cleveland Ohio, however this piece here, this was meant to go anywhere and everywhere. In fact, there is even one somewhere in the Smithsonian, however where you’d find it I don’t know.


This machine was an office printing machine invented by Gammeter who was a typewriter salesman, and the machine printed using these little tiny metal letters that could be slid into place on the wheel, which was then cranked and printed. The impression of these little letters was made with printing ink, or for some, through a ribbon. It has drawers, and drawers of little letters, and all I can think is that if 140 characters had to be sorted through, and placed in a slot the way these are, that we would have much more constructed tweets to scan through. These things however don’t take me back the way that music does, and there is no item in our sale that plays music the same way as the Seeburg Stereo Showcase.

When you’re looking at the history of jukeboxes or automated musical equipment you can’t skip the J.P. Seeburg and Company name. In fact, the classic M100C, which was produced in the late 1950’s was featured early in the opening of “Happy Days”. Now, before you get too upset, I know the actual spinning 45 rpm record infamously shown is being played on a Rock-Ola but still, being in the show that arguably made the Jukebox what it is today is still not anything to laugh at.


The Seeburg company starts much earlier than the M100C. It goes back to 1907 when Justice P. Seeburg started his own musical career by creating the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co. He was born in Sweden in 1871, came to the United States at 16, and settled in Chicago which at the times was one of the hotbeds of the American Music Industry.


His pianos were selling all around the country because of the number of instruments they had inside of them, which if played right could sound like an entire band. While he was successful with this line of automatic pianos, he wanted to stay right on the cutting edge of what was next in the music industry. In 1927 he discontinued the manufacturing of pianos and retooled his factories for making the new coin-operated phonograph.


Seeburg would continue to change, and develop their inventory and in 1928 he was one of the first manufacturers of the multi-select jukebox which was known as the “Audiophone”. The jukebox was a heavy 8-selection box that had pneumatic control valves which made it half nickelodeon and half phonograph. The sales of this never reached astronomical numbers, however they were enough to let Seeburg realize that he was onto something: The more music the machine could play, the better. By the 1930’s Seeburg was in his late 60’s and handed the company over to his son Noel, who reorganized the business to better compete against Wurlitzer and Rock-ola. If you ever get to see the Jukeboxes the Seeburg Co. created from 1940, to World War II, you’ll understand why these are such collector’s items still today.


Even through all that success, it wasn’t until 1949 when the Seeburg company would change everything we knew about the Jukebox history. Up until this time, with 78 rpm records the standard, only 10 to 24 selections could be played on one machine. That is, until Seeburg debuted the Select-O-Matic jukebox which held up to 50 records front and back, meaning that it could play 100 different songs. For those of you doing math at home that’s four-times greater than previously available. They weren’t done there however, because in 1950 they introduced the first commercial jukebox designed to play the then-new 45 rpm records. 5 years later they increased the number of records from 50 to 100, eventually settling on 50 or 80 per machine after 1958.


The machine for sale today, is the Seeburg Stereo Showcase which was created in 1966 and 1967, and features the same mechanism it did back then which stores the records in a linear magazine and plays them vertically clamped to a flywheel turntable. The record that you selected is then pushed forward from behind, clamped in place, and played. In the 1950’s the user could see all this magic or science, whichever you prefer, however in the later years they decided to add visuals and graphics that covered up what was happening inside the machine.


As the years moved on, and music became much easier to access at home Seeburg was faced with debt and a declining market. The company went bankrupt in 1979, and was completely dissolved by 1980. The name Seeburg found its way throughout the music industry several more times, including CD Jukeboxes, however those never took off. Today however, I think that Justice P. Seeburg could find some solace. I mentioned that his later motto was the more music the better, and I mention that because as of 2017 the Seeburg 1000 website continually livestreams the best of the Seeburg 1000 Background Music Library recordings. I’m listening to it now, January 2019, and let me tell you…it takes you back.