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Needle Tin Bonanza in Turkey

In the summer of 1997, while working in Turkey, I had an opportunity to explore the antique shops of Ankara for phonographs, records and other musical items. I was particularly interested in small, portable items, such as phonograph accessories and ephemera, since I didn't relish the prospect of lugging a large, heavy machine home on the plane.

Since October 14, 1923 Ankara has been the capital of the Turkish Republic. It is a large, modern city in the heart of the country with a population approaching four million, second largest after Istanbul, and a decidedly European atmosphere. Its major historical attraction is the citadel or castle ("kale"), built around the 3rd century B.C, that sits prominently atop a central hill with a commanding view of the city and surrounding countryside. Ottoman houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries line the narrow streets leading up to and inside the castle. There is no antique market in Ankara, but many of these old houses are now shops, catering to both residents and tourists, selling metalwork, ceramics, carpets and antiques. It was to this area that I headed in search of phonograph items.

I wasn't disappointed. Although, curiously, I didn't come across a single disc or cylinder recording, I did inspect a number of machines - a couple of Edison Standards, several portables (mostly Columbia) and two uprights of unknown make. I was struck by the miserable condition of most of these machines - dusty, dirty, rusted and missing tone arms and reproducers. In almost all cases the woodwork would have to be refinished and the mechanism restored to make an acceptable machine.

Sadly, the largest number of outside horn gramophones, in a similar shabby state, were of the "fake" variety. All showed many of the distinguishing features of these fake talking machines that seem to proliferate in today's antique market - odd-shaped and over-decorated cabinets, some with glass panels, suspect back brackets and the inevitable "His Master's Voice" decal. I asked in one of the antique shops the provenance of these machines and the dealer readily admitted that they were being assembled in Turkey.

Fortunately, in one of the last shops I visited, I came across a veritable treasure trove of gramophone needle containers. Since this is one of my interests, I was hopeful of finding some unusual Eastern European makes to add to my predominantly North American collection. Instead I found stacks of English "His Master's Voice" gramophone needle tins from The Gramophone Company Limited. Some tins were loose but an overwhelming number were shrink wrapped in clear plastic packages of fifteen tins labeled "HISTORICAL BOX 15 Pcs". All of the tins were identical - the "Trademark" picture in white and gold on a blue background, approximately 200 needles, extra loud tone variety. All of the tins were empty and moderately rusted. I initially suspected that I had stumbled upon a hitherto unknown area of antique phonograph fakery, especially after the shop owner showed me a back closet room where I saw hundreds of identical packages stacked from floor to ceiling. I decided to buy one package of fifteen tins as an oddity. I recall he wanted $10.00 U.S. for it and we eventually settled on $6.00.

Back home I e-mailed Ruth Lambert, British specialist collector and authority on gramophone needle tins from around the world (www.btinternet.com/~gram.needletins/). Her response was an eye-opener: "These are original. They're turning up everywhere - in UK and I've seen them in Germany. I think they're from Turkey. Made in England for export. There seem to be 1000's about, so they're cheap. As regards date, I think they may be late, probably 1940s."

So, if you're planning a trip to Turkey, be sure to stop in at needle tin heaven in Ankara. I don't recall the owner's name but you can't miss the shop. It's at the foot of the "kale". And if, back home, you're offered an empty, blue, somewhat rusted tin of 200 extra loud tone "His Master's Voice" needles for $25.00, you'll know the price is much too high.