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"P lu s ~ a ~ G r a m" Its whats in the grooves that count!

History of the "Dansette" with Samuel Margolin.

 

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For those of you interested in how and why the Dansette became a household name during the 50s and 60s in England, then look no further! This explanation of the Dansettes rise to fame includes part of an interview with Samuel Margolin. The Margolin family headed by his grandfather Morris Margolin owned the company which launched the Dansette. Samuel Margolin was the main influence behind the design and sales of this record player throughout its entire production. Without him this site would never have been possible. The entire website must be tribute to his influence on the "pop music" culture of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Dansette!

No respectable home in the 60s would dare to admit being without one.Music and records   were an essential part of life and when Rock & Roll was in its infancy everybody had to have one! It was a symbol of the time. Ask anyone who was a teenager from this era! They can all recall the 1st time they listened to a record, and it was almost certainly on a Dansette. If they did not have one then you can be sure they knew someone who did!

The dansette played a large part in the formation of the new generation of the 50s and 60s known as "the teenager." The bedroom was no longer just a place to sleep it was the place where pop music established its place in most family homes. Downstairs was for parents to watch TV and upstairs was for playing records! For teenagers it was not just a necessity but a way of life. It was all part of getting ready to go out, make-up, outrageous hairstyles, parties and friends -lipstick, powder and paint! It was as much a part of the 1950s & 60s as the music itself.

The Dansette  was the size of a small suitcase with a handle making it relatively portable, so with a Dansette, a pile of records and a mains outlet it meant it was possible to have music wherever you went! They were the envy of anyone unfortunate enough not to own one.

To own a Dansette did not come cheap either. Despite this the majority of teenagers managed to acquire one! The very first model available in 1950/51 was the "Plus~a ~Gram" and was very expensive. It retailed at 33 guineas which today would be the equivalent of 800 pounds! In 1962 a Dansette Popular 4 speed record player could be yours for 11 guineas and for another 2 guineas you could opt for the Bermuda with a 4 speed autochanger with legs! How did they manage it! Well many Dansettes were sold in December as Christmas presents, but the majority would be purchased with the now readily available "hire purchase"

THE MARGOLIN FAMILY

Morris Margolin came to England from Russia and started a small family business in a furniture factory as cabinet makers. He had 8 children and the majority of them started work in this family business at premises they purchased in London's Old Street. They also had an interest in musical instruments which they imported from the continent to sell.

On the musical front,many homes had both a gramophone and a wireless. In 1924 one manufacturer introduced a combination of both. HMV -Hayes- made the 1st radiogram. It was a prototype which never sold, it was heavy and bulky and very expensive. The Margolins decided to combine their interests in cabinet making and music to produce the "Plus~a~Gram." This was a basic turntable which plugs into the back of a wireless set to convert it into a radiogram. It was the 1st electric player in this country and was produced from 1934 until 1950. By the late 40s it was all they produced, and became the forerunner of the "Dansette" In the early 1950s the Birmingham Sound Reproducers (BSR) introduced a British made autochanger at a realistic price. The company offered this to the Margolins as a basis for a new portable record player and suggested the name for it --Dansette-- which was registered as a trademark in October 1952. This 1st Dansette was called the Dansette Senior. In the 1st year the company had profits of 4,000 pounds.

Samuel Margolin then aged 20 years, (the grandson of Morris Margolin) was appointed initially as salesman.

--------" I went round retailers on the South coast.I found it very easy to sell.I approached "Curry's" with one Dansette and a pile of records to demonstrate it. They bought it immediately and put it in their warehouses for distribution nationally. The high Street chain stores emerged after the war; Curry's, Broadmead, Stones, Dixons. Many outlets were not able to buy the Dansette as they were appointed dealers for the more "upmarket" models by Bush, Decca, HMV and Murphy. This meant that we had the whole market at the cheaper end selling to the large chainstores. Initially we sold thePlus~a~ Gram to furniture shops as a piece of household equipment. The dansette started to gain the interest of music shops selling gramophones. The company was making lots of money and saw no end to it. In the 1960s it felt like business would go on for ever and ever, getting better and better.-----"

The Dansette surpassed all the Margolins wildest dreams by becoming a top selling product. The business became "Dansette Products Ltd" with a workforce of several hundred.

----" People were queing up outside the warehouse waiting for their orders to be made. We had to bring in outworkers and Old Street became the assembly centre."----

Profits rose over 10 years to half a million pounds by 1962 with the biggest boost

still to come...

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Pop music and Rock and Roll had a significant impact on the success of the Dansette.

Many songwriters including John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Elton John produced their work from listening to records on their Dansettes. They were influenced by sounds from the USA by artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis. At the time they could not write music themselves so would play records time and time again to copy the styles.

The introduction of the 7inch 45 record as a rival to the LP came at a time when demand was high for a format to mass produce hit records. By the mid 1950s records were available at 3 speeds- 33, 78 and 45, and also in three sizes 7", 10" and 12". A separate stylus was required for playing 78s, making this a nightmare for designers. The Dansette however was sophisticated enough to cope with all formats. Samuel Margolin improved the design and style of the record player. Until now the electrical industry had classed goods as either "white" (washing machines, refridgerators) or "brown" (TVs, radios and gramophones.) The Dansette which came in vivid bright leatherettes of various shades of red, blue, green, pink, cream were absolutely outrageous at the time! But they sold in their thousands. Samuel Margolin listened to teenagers and designed what they wanted. The autochanger was a very important feature. The 3 minute 45 was able to be stacked in a pile with other selections ready to be dropped automatically on the turntable. In 1958 "Jailhouse Rock" sold 500,000 copies. Improvement to the 45 record were standardised solving earlier "slipping" problems encountered when stacking records. They now stuck together thanks to these modifications. Success by groups such as the Beatles led to more records made and purchased and this went hand in hand with the increased demand for something to play them on. The market for the 7 inch record soared. Record shops were bursting at the seams every Saturday morning with teenagers eager to spend their cash on the latest hit records.

"Dansette Products" had to move to larger premises at Stanmore in Middlesex with Singer supplying plywood and leatherette coming from ICI. The Dansettes were assembled by their thousand and the company could sell as many as they could make. Dozens of new designs were marketed in as many different colours. Transistor Radios were added to the selection along with a very successful car radio. A battery-operated model was an excellent idea but at the time batteries were extremely expensive and proved to be very heavy.

So what finally happened to the Dansette? By the late 1960s recording techniques were becoming more sophisticated. Stereo had been virtually ignored until now and there was a change of direction from the 45 to the LP. The customers were wanting modern cassette recorders and Hi-Fi systems.

Samuel Margolin----"Inevitably the market dried up for record players. Imports from Japan took over the market with cut-throat competition and the company went into liquidation.   During the years 1950-1970 over one million Dansettes were sold.

I believe it was the Rolls-Royce of record-players"----

Article written by Julie Lambert April 18th 2000 with kind permission from Mr. Samuel Margolin


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