"White Goods" Found in Music Stores

Among the interesting items in the NAMM Archival Collection are advertisements like this one that echo of a bygone era.

When the radio became popular in the 1920's, it made sense that the local music store in a small town would choose to sell radios as a way to supplement their income and provide a service for their customers.  Later on, when records and record players were popular, it was also the local music store that would carry these items as well.  Products varied from store to store and from town to town, but in general, the music store owner looked and found opportunities to add to his offerings if it helped keep the doors open.  This was especially true during the Great Depression, when some stores offered "white goods" appliances such as washing machines and even refrigerators.  Any product that helped keep the lights on and was a hit in town became part of the local music stores inventory.  

Over the years, while interviewing some old timers, I had heard of "white goods", and even heard of htem being displayed on the NAMM Show floor, although proof of this is limited.  In the NAMM archival collection there is record of Magnavox displaying televisions and stereo cabinets at NAMM Shows as recently as the early 1970's. 

Our friend Brian Majeski, the Editor of Music Trades Magazine, provided the following perspective on the subject:

"At the turn of the last century, piano stores were the natural outlet, first for Edison's talking machine, and later the radio. By the 50s, many were also stocking TVs. Magnavox, Fisher, RCA, HH Scott, and other audio firms were regular advertisers with Music Trades Magazine. That changed abruptly in 1974 when the Supreme Court overturned a "Fair Trade" doctrine--part of Roosevelt's National Industrial Recovery Act (Part of the New Deal)--that had allowed manufacturers to dictate retail selling prices. Once K-Mart and other discounters could drop prices on consumer electrics, piano & organ stores could no longer compete. Within a year, consumer electronics were all but gone from the m.i. channel."

There have always been some unusual product pairings in music retail including a few guns and guitar stores that are still in operation today.  In the past there were, shockingly, a few piano & organ/mortuaries, and even an archery & fishing tackle supply/ice cream parlor in Wild Rose, Wisconsin. 

Our research on the subject brought out a few additional thoughts from Paul Murphy of M. Steinert & Sons in Boston:

"I think the only music store still selling ‘white goods’ when I entered the business was Werlein’s in New Orleans.  However, I’m told that these products were not uncommon offerings in music stores in prior generations.  During the depression, I expect music retailers would take on and sell any products that could keep the door open.  I don’t believe M. Steinert & Sons ever sold white goods at retail. But shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Steinert was big in Victrolas. In fact, the family started a wholesale company to distribute RCA Victor and called it the Eastern Talking Machine Company. This was later shortened to Eastco.  As time went on, Eastco took on other lines and became the New England distributor for Whirlpool and other major appliances."

On a final note, regarding unrelated products carried by music stores, you may know that several piano companies also sold caskets! Watkins Brothers in Hartford, Connecticut who was a very early Steinway dealer also doubled as the towns local casket dealer. I’ve always wondered about this and surmise that a casket’s size and finish would be easy for a piano dealer to handle, but still, what an odd pairing.

Dan Del Fiorentino
NAMM Music Historian
dand@namm.org