When room runs out for the collection, the collection gets another room


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An outside view of Johnson's antique phonograph collection building. The building is built into a mountainside. Photos by Richard Kelsey.

What collector at one time or another hasn’t dreamed of having a separate building or structure for the collection? Just imagine owning a place big and roomy enough for displaying and storing all of your antiques and rarities and where you can play and work with them or just sit back and enjoy the view, history, scarcity, value and memories.

What if you could have your own place devoted to your collection? What would it look like? How would you lay out the inside?

How would you use it?

Find out that and more as we visit with some collectors who have their own collection buildings.

Bob Johnson – Phonographs

When his collection of antique phonographs filled up the basement, Bob Johnson spread out to other areas of his Oregon home.
“And as time went on, the home filled up. So I decided to build a building specifically to house the collection of phonographs,” Johnson said.

Built into the mountainside where he and his wife live, his collection building, a 1,000-square-foot structure that he calls his “museum,” has almost 250 antique phonographs. Edisons, Victors, Columbias, Brunswicks, Herzogs, Sonoras, Modernolas and others lined up in rows on the floor or on counters fill up the place. The collection dates from an 1896 Berliner Leverwind to various ones from 1929.

Johnson spends a lot of time in the museum as it also has his office where he works. But when the time comes to relax, he’ll often get a glass of wine, sit in the museum and “crank up the tunes” on the antique phonographs. With more than 5,000 discs and 3,000 cylinder records that he can play, Johnson has plenty to choose from for listening pleasure.

He loves old songs and novelty tunes like “Thing-A-Ma-Jig” by Peter Lind Hayes, the “Laughing Song” by Henry Klauser and “Huggin’ and Chalkin’” by Kay Kyser and His Orchestra – one of his all-time favorites.

“‘Gee but ain’t it grand to have a girl so big and fat, that when you go to hug her, you don’t know where you at. You gotta have a piece of chalk in your hand to hug a while and chalk a mark to see where you began. One night I was a hugging and a chalking and a chalking and a hugging away when I met another fellow with some chalk in his hand, coming around the other way,’” Johnson recited with a laugh.

It makes you think that he has heard “Huggin’ and Chalkin’” more than a few times!

“My dad used to sing it when I was a young boy. It’s kind of funny that after I got into collecting that I actually ran across that record,” he said.

A Victor Orthophonic Credenza phonograph from the middle to late 1920s that he owns often gets used a lot to play that favorite song and other music, as does a one-of-a-kind Victrola XVIII with hand-painted flowers and birds on the cabinet.

“Not only is it gorgeous, it also sounds beautiful for that era,” he said.

Johnson sometimes has get-togethers or parties in the place and about a half-dozen times a year, phonograph collectors and fans contact him and ask if they can visit and see his collection. “Absolutely,” Johnson responds and opens up his museum and gives a tour.

“I feel very, very fortunate to be able to have this. We live up on a mountaintop, 42 acres, no neighbors, nearest neighbor is a mile away. We can see in several directions, up to a hundred miles. And so it’s a lot of fun to able to just walk around and see all of the beautiful phonographs,” he said.

If you decide to build your own place for your collection, Johnson recommends careful planning on the dimensions and space. He spent a lot of time measuring his antique phonographs so that he could determine how much room he needed for rows, between those rows and shelving. He also made sure that his museum had adequate lighting.

“You have to sit down and measure the width and depth of your collectibles and then design the building accordingly,” he said. “I spaced everything out so that I knew exactly what I had to have for enough room for each walking area and on the shelves to put the table models on.”

And now that he has this museum for his antique phonographs, did that free up a lot of room in the basement? Yes and no.
“We dedicated the basement to my wife’s hobby, which is Hallmark ornaments. She has in excess of five or six thousand ornaments. And then we also made a little wine cellar out of one end of the basement,” Johnson said.

Geoff Dunaway – Fans

Geoff Dunaway immediately thought of “fan barn” as a description and name for the structure housing his collection of almost 3,000 electric fans dating from the late 1800s to the 1950s.

“Well it’s a big 60 by 80 foot metal building and it has never been anything but a fan barn. It just seemed natural to call it that. That’s what it is,” Dunaway said.

Built in three months with wrought iron, I-frames and sheet metal panels, the fan barn has bays, a shop, water, electricity and heat and stands just a short walk away from Dunaway’s house on his 24-acre spread in Arkansas.

Dunaway displays and stores his fans on shelves and on the floor and even hangs them up in the fan barn. Some areas have fans sorted by manufacturer and by year and other areas have fans stored away waiting for display or in scrap piles so that Dunaway can fix or tinker with them. When he finds the time, Dunaway often works on various projects in his fan barn shop.

“Sometimes I work on putting the parts together to make a fan or if I sold something, I’ve got to box it up and crate it and ship it out. There are a lot of projects that are incomplete,” he said with a laugh. “I have enough room for what I need. I have probably more stuff than what I need out there. And there’s still room for more.”

Besides storing and working on his collection in the building, he also uses the place as the site for “fan meets,” gatherings of fan collectors from across the country. Fans of fans living anywhere from south Texas to all the way up north in Minneapolis, Minn., make the trip to Arkansas for these meets. Dunaway has hosted them, usually one in the fall and one in the spring, for more than 10 years.

“Fan collectors from here and yon come and bring their projects and they use the shop and work on stuff in the shop, they bring stuff to sell and they hound me for parts. We swap stuff and stories and who knows what. And we have a big get-together. Anybody who wants to bring a project up can bring it and we’ll work on it. Kind of like a fan play day,” he said.

And in all those meets he has held, all of the conventions he has attended and all of the other collectors he has met, Dunaway has seen a few other fan collection buildings.

“Some are bare bones sheet metal and iron like this one while others are well built structures that tie in to the architecture of the main house. Some are garage/shop two-story buildings and a few folks have gone the extra mile to renovate older buildings and display their collections,” he said.

Dunaway advises thinking about durability and protection when you build a structure for your collection.

“A wooden structure is cheaper but it burns a lot faster. That was part of the reason I built the fan barn out of metal. I wanted my collection to be as protected as much as it could be. When I built the shop and when I built the shelving, it was all sprayed with a fire retardant. So if there ever was a fire, it would have a hard time burning out the shop,” he said.

George Kroll – Toys

Walk up to the porch in front of George Kroll’s collection building located next to his Maryland home and you’ll see a brick engraved with “Marx Toy Plant, 1933-1980, Glendale, W. VA.”

Including an actual brick from one of the Marx Toy Company’s long gone manufacturing plants adds a special touch to Kroll’s collection house. Kroll grew up in the early 1960s and played with and owned many toys made by Marx, the leading toy maker of the day.

That led to his collecting passion – toys, especially Marx toys. And while he collects all things Marx, Kroll especially likes the Marx playsets, a boxed set of toy structures, figures and accessories designed around a certain theme and one of the company’s most popular toys in the 1950s and 1960s. He remembers his first playsets ever as a kid – Rin Tin Tin and Captain Gallant, hand-me-downs from his older brother; a Blue and the Gray set that he got for Christmas 1963; and then a Strategic Air Command playset that he received the next Christmas.

“Back in the 1960s and during the Cold War, the Strategic Air Command policed our skies. There were B-52s in the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In 1964, we had a B-52 bomber crash near the town where I lived. I have a vivid memory of going with my dad and watching as the Marines came in to search for survivors. It was then I wanted a Marx Strategic Air Command playset, and Christmas of 1964 I got it,” he said.

He started seriously collecting Marx toys in the 1990s and now owns a bunch including many actual toy store displays and many playset store demonstrator display boards, the actual display versions of Marx’s playsets.

All of his toys and Marx products eventually filled several rooms of his home. Thinking that the collection had outgrown the house and wanting to make the toy rooms back into bedrooms now that he had grandchildren, Kroll decided to construct a collection building.

Nicknamed the “Toy Box” by his family, Kroll built a two-story, 1,680 square foot structure with the help of his brother and a friend. He designed it not only for storing and displaying his toy collection but also for entertaining “anyone who is interested in taking a step back in time.”

Kroll made the upstairs look like a retail store as much as possible with all of his toys displayed in cases and 23-inch wide gondola shelving that goes all the way around the room and in aisles in the center floor. His Marx playset store demonstrator display boards get angled and hung from the ceiling. “Much like they were displayed in the department stores back then,” Kroll noted.

Plus he has televisions showing toy films and a Coca-Cola diner booth complete with a working wall mount juke box.

The downstairs has antiques that have been in the family and passed down through the generations. Kroll has arcades games there too, such as a Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine, an Alley Cat Scuffle Bowl machine, a mechanical riding horse, a 25-cent slot machine, a pool table and a Rockola Juke Box.

“I should be able to house my entire collection in the building, but whether I can display everything the way that I would like is questionable. I have been blessed! I am very fortunate to be financially secure enough at this time in my life to be able to make a dream come true. This would not have been possible without the encouragement of my family and friends,” he said.

Kroll urges careful planning to anyone wanting to build a separate place for a collection.

“Be prepared to spend a lot of time and money. There are always unforeseen things that occur no matter how well you think things out and plan your project. Even after we started to build, I was always trying to think ahead and some changes had to be made along the way. Then there are always the little things to think about such as putting receptacles in the floor for display case lighting and making sure the alarm system is installed correctly,” he said.

More Images:

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Johnson and his wife pose in front of the some of the antique phonographs in his collection building.
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A rare, one-of-a-kind Victrola XVIII with hand-painted flowers and birds on the cabinet is one of Johnson's favorite old phonographs to play records on.
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Some of the shelves of antique fans inside Dunaway's Fan Barn
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Some of the shelves of antique fans inside Dunaway's fan barn.
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Outside view of Dunaway's Fan Barn.
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Kroll holding a rare Marx Alamo playset store demonstrator display board, the actual display version of the playset, while standing in front of his toy collection building.
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A Coca-Cola diner booth, complete with a working wall mount juke box that Kroll has in toy collection building.
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An actual brick from one of the Marx Toy Company's long gone manufacturing plants which will be put in the porch part of Kroll's toy collection building.
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Kroll holding a rare Johnny Ringo Marx Playset while standing in front of his toy collection building.

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