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Ever heard of a Discavox?

One thing that fascinates me is how technology comes into fashion one day, cruises high on a technological wave, then suddenly, something different comes along and… wipeout! Almost overnight, it’s a dead duck, only to be used or mentioned again by people with fond memories of ‘once upon a time’.

It’s a timeless phenomenon. Stone gave way to Bronze, which in turn was superseded by iron. And what about MySpace or Friends Reunited? For years they reigned supreme before new upstarts like Facebook and Twitter arrived. Websites that were once worth millions could suddenly be snapped up for less money than a second-hand family car. A mention of outdated technology brings a furrowed brow to a younger someone’s brow, and you suddenly realise that your teenage years have been consigned to the halls of history.

When transcribing Denis Grant King’s diaries, I often come across some long-forgotten gizmo or gadget. I get a bit of a thrill from researching exactly what the now obsolete technology was.

Alexander Keiller was a bit of a one for modern devices, happy to spend some of his fortune on the latest thing on the market. One example of this is that he regularly took photographs in colour [some of which can be seen on the Historic England website]. This was a time when many traditionalists saw colour photographs as a passing fad, and that black and white images would remain the top choice for any photographer with any dignity or pride.

Denis Grant King’s diaries detail the technology used during excavations, but he also writes about his day to day life, visits to the cinema, and friends and acquaintances. It was with some delight that I came upon a mention of something called a Discavox.

Wednesday, October 5th 1938
Washed pottery in the work-in-progress room. Stuart Piggott returned from London in afternoon. Told him about the mysterious young woman who enquired after him.
Visited Mrs Carter in the evening; She showed me how the ‘Discavox’ works, and I listened to one record.

From Denis Grant King, ‘Journal of my Visit to Avebury’, 1732623-001, page 79b.
The double page spread of Denis Grant King’s, ‘Journal of my Visit to Avebury’, 1732623-001, page 79a-79b.

Ever heard of the Discavox? Me neither. A quick search revealed this was some sort of recording device aimed at the busy businessman who could dictate his letters into it. The machine would record his voice onto a disc, which was then passed onto a secretary to type up. Discavox also offered a service where the disc could be sent to them and one of their own typists would do the work. Think of it as the 1930s version of the voice recorder on your phone.

Normally, that’s as far as I will go looking up trivia encountered in King’s diaries. A light is shone on to an oddity I’ve never heard of, and I move on.

But imagine my delight when I found someone on eBay was selling an original advert for a Discavox from May 1938. It was too good to be true; talk about a niche listing. I parted with a couple of quid and it arrived a few of days later. I’ll leave it to you to enjoy it in all its glory.

‘Discavox’ advert, kindly shared by Michael.

By Michael Boyton

Michael is a digitisation volunteer for the Avebury Papers project.

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