John Fechino’s Antique Music Collection

John Fechino is one of my favorite types of collectors. He has an amazing story for just about every single item in his special collection. He told me about some of his unique items over an email and I felt that this interview deserved more than a Q&A…this interview deserved a house call!

A True Love for the Arts

John’s passion for the music and arts was inspired from his childhood, growing up in a family full of musicians, singers and artists. When he was a young child, his father had a box of 78’s that included favorite tunes such as Jo Stafford’s hit “Shrimp Boats” and the Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford’s duet which was their take on the Hank William’s tune  “Hey Good Lookin’”. Though John’s Dad was a hifi  enthusiast who built his own stereo system (the kind of system with exposed tubes that glowed when the set was warmed up) and speakers, it was the times that his Dad played those lo-fi 78s that John remembers most fondly.

When John was around 12 years old, his Dad got a bonus that he shared with everyone in the family. Each child got $50 to spend however they wanted. For years John had wanted to purchase a wind up phonograph after seeing on the Captain Kangaroo morning television show. So after scouring the newspaper classifieds, John finally spotted a 1917 Edison record player listed for $35 dollars that came with a cabinet full of records. This old music machine would spawn a lifetime of music appreciation and collecting.

Love at first sight...John's 1917 Edison record player

John would add his second antique phonograph to his collection at age 14. To thank John for helping plant the lawn in their newly built home, his parents bought him a 1912 Victor phonograph tabletop model that played 78s that he had spotted while out raiding antique shops with his mom.

John's 1912 Victor phonograph

Just before John entered James Madison University, he finally purchased a modern stereo system of his own, one that didn’t need to be cranked and could actually play new records. While he still played his 78s, now he was able to purchase modern recordings. At the mall from stores like Gary’s (who’s got the “Good Time Sound” according to their slogan). When John was living in Harrisonburg, he frequented a used record store called The Record Museum.  John still purchases vinyl today and will always try to find record shops whenever he travels.

You Spin Me Right Round Baby

John’s collection does not feature this 1984 hit single from Dead or Alive, but what he does have is pretty amazing! Some of his other antique phonographs are almost like sculptural works of art!

One of my favorite phonographs in his collection is this 1903 Edison Standard Phonograph cylinder record player. This was another special find while John was attending college.

1903 Edison Standard Phonograph

Another special gem is this beautiful mid-century modern buffet. Wait! That’s not a buffet! It’s a gorgeous console record player called a Huldra that featured a Tandberg radio and a Garrard turntable. Simply slide the wooden panel back to reveal a radio, record player and shelving space for your favorite vinyl! Can you say SUPER COOL! Kinda makes me want to wear a gold lame cocktail dress and sip on a martini!

Is that a piece of mid-century modern furniture?

Yes! But the Huldra also plays music!

More Than Machines

There’s more than meets the eye to John’s music collection. If the talking machines weren’t cool enough for you, how about a fantastic record collection of predominately jazz and vocalists from the 1950’s. John had all my favorites such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald (whom he wrote a letter to in 1990 and got response from!), Tony Bennett and other big names. But to sit with John and look through his vinyl collection, you start to realize that it’s not just about the music of this era, it’s about the album artwork as well.

Just a few highlights from John's unique album collection...LOVE the cover designs!

From unique color combinations, odd lighting and stylized illustrations, these albums could easily hang on your wall as small masterpieces and compliment any mid century décor. As we thumbed through records by other artists such as Kay Star, Julie London, Chris Conner and Margaret Whiting, John introduced me to Alex Steinweiss. As a graphic artist, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know about this designer, especially since he is attributed for inventing the album cover. Not only was Steinweiss the first art director for Columbia records, he also invented the modern album jacket.

John’s record collection also comes in many shapes and sizes. The bulk of his collection is made up of 78’s and 33 1/3 albums. Other special records to note include his collection of 7-inch  Berliner  and Zonophone records which were produced as early as1895. These single-sided records made out of shellac were obtained from a 90 year-old woman’s home near Farmville, VA. My personal favorite records, or shall I say recordings, are these very early wax cylinder recordings made for Edison phonographs. These early recordings very fragile and would quickly wear out, so years later they produced them in plastic. Though the sound of the actual recording was not very clear, I still fell in love with its’ quirkiness.

An early wax cylinder recordings made for Edison phonographs...Look at that beautiful label!

After spending hours immersed in a real history lesson with John in the development of recorded sound in America, I walked away wanting my own antique “talking machine.” Can you imagine how divine it would be to play an early Billie Holiday recording on a Victor Victrola, with your farmhouse window open on a cool summer night, sipping a sweet tea? Heavenly.

Be sure to check out John’s blog at

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

4 thoughts on “John Fechino’s Antique Music Collection

  1. Wonderful entry, as always! I wonder how many others in the blogosphere have unusual collections that began in childhood and have continued and enriched their whole lives. And one more thing: be sure and invite me to that country porch when you get it!

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