Dansette record players

Dansette Conquest Auto
Dansette Conquest Auto (image irus18352)

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Introduction

Dansette is one of the most collectable 1950s to 1960s record players. Restored sets in top condition can sell for up to £500. But you can still pick up reasonable sets, some in working order and good cosmetic condition, for less then £100. As with all electrical items, you must have it checked by a qualified electrician before using.

Short history

Just as rock'n'roll began, J & A Margolin launched a colourful new record player, the Dansette.  It quickly became the teenagers' most desirable item.  The Margolins had an eye for what sold and combined the new BSR autochanger, which could play several singles one after the other, with bright automotive styling. They kept the style fresh with a succession of new models.

Dansettes were not the design establishment's favourite though. The design awards went to Murphy and Bush.  Dansettes were more about fun and fashion than good design.

In spite of their eye for popular style, the Margolins could not compete with growing imports from the Far East in the late 1960s. Sales plummeted and sadly Dansette called in the receiver in 1969.

The Rank Organisation bought the name and continued to make record players branded Dansette in the early 1970s.

Today Dansettes are highly prized by collectors and enthusiasts of 1950s' and 1960s' music. The models which command the highest prices are those that most evoke Dansette's heyday -  the two-tone models from the late 1950s to the early 1960s.

Values

Value is driven more by condition, both cosmetic and mechanical, than the specific model.

Players which have been professionally restored and serviced will command high prices. Examples that are working and in good cosmetic condition are cheaper, with tatty examples and restoration projects coming in at the bottom of the price range.

The most desirable models are those from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. Models which had an autochanger turntable are more desirable than those that do not. It is great to watch the mechanical ingenuity of the autochanger as it spins another single onto the record deck.

Desirable models

Dansette Bermuda with optional legs (image Ian, Norwich Restore)
Dansette Bermuda with optional legs (image Ian, Norwich Restore)

The current market loves players that evoke the style of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Earlier Dansettes are a little less desirable, as are those made after 1965 when the style started to change. Look for features such as two-tone covering, BSR or Garrard autochangers, automotive-inspired speaker grills, boxes with a sloping front and sometimes reverse sloping and optional splayed legs.

The most popular models are:

There are many other models and the precise model is not as important as the styling. Dansette made a huge range of players from very cheap to high quality. Today's market does not attach extra value to the best quality players, such as the HiFi and Stereophonic which were at the top of the Dansette range.  However, entry-level models such as the Junior and Popular, without autochangers are not as desirable.

Later Dansettes, with a more late 1960s' look with features such as polished aluminium trim, are also less desirable.

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Price guide

I have based this guide on eBay achieved values.  I use eBay as a guide as it reflects what you could sell your Dansette for.  You may need to pay a little more if you buy directly from a dealer, but often your purchase will come with a guarantee.

£300 to £600 For top money you will get a desirable model (see above) fitted with an autochanger in first-class condition, cosmetically, electronically and mechanically. Top eBay sellers may also offer a guarantee.  If you are looking to purchase a top model, you will need to establish that a top-quality restoration has been done. 

£150 to £300 You will find some of the less desirable models in excellent condition and working order, together with some desirable models that are fully serviced, but not cosmetically perfect. You will also find some good original record players that have not been serviced.

£100 to £150 In this price range expect to see cosmetically-good players which are described as working, but may not be serviced or restored. There is a huge difference between a player that works and has not been touched for fifty years and a completely overhauled one, so be wary. 

There will also be some cosmetically-good players in non-working condition.

Up to £100 For up to £100 you will get restoration projects. They vary greatly from failed restorations, tatty players in need of complete refurbishment and some cosmetically- good but non-functional players.  It is possible to buy similar material to cover the case and the speaker grill and thus very tatty examples can be restored.

In this price range you will also see 'collection only' items. These are a great bargain if you live nearby.

Dansette model guide

Dansette produced a huge range of models throughout its fairly short history. I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but I may have missed a few.

Standard size range players

These are Dansette's mid-range range of record players.

Compact players and/or cheaper (mains-operated)

These are mainly smaller, but cheaper Dansette players.

Compact players (battery)

More expensive players

Starting with the Conquest, Dansette produced some better quality players, eventually offering stereo sound and HiFi quality. Towards the end Dansette's Board saw that they could not compete in the low to medium price market and launched a number of more expensive players.

Dansette radiograms

These looked similar to the Dansette record players, but had a radio tuner and a tuning dial on the front of the case.

(*) Legs were available as an extra cost option

The date information is derived from The Electrical & Electronic Trader Year Book (1962-69), The Consumers' Association (Which?) reports and the dates on which circuit diagrammes were published.  I have tried to make it as accurate as possible.  Where there is some doubt about the date, I have prefixed it with 'c' for circa.

Detailed history

Foundation of J & A Margolin

Morris Margolin came to England from Russia in the 1890s. Like many Jewish immigrants he was a cabinet maker and he set up business in London. He also had a keen interest in musical instruments and imported accordions and banjos to sell in the UK.

In the 1930s he had the idea of making a cabinet containing a turntable. A contemporary radio set sat on top of the cabinet or next to it. The customer connected them together and the radio provided the amplifier for the turntable. Margolin created a do-it-yourself radiogram which he marketed as the plus-o-gram. The company, J & A Margolin, made these from the 1930s to the 1950s. 

BSR autochanger

In the early 1950s, 45s replaced the old shellac 78s and three-minute singles were the way to enjoy pop music. Going to the record player to put on a new single every three minutes was tedious. Birmingham Sound Reproducers (BSR) made an inexpensive autochanger that could play several singles one after the other from a stack sitting above the turntable.  BSR offered their turntable and autochanger to the Margolin company.

The Margolins designed a new cabinet to house the turntable and provided a built-in amplifier. They brought this to market in 1952. It had a new brand name, the Dansette Senior.

Success

Dansette filled a gap in the market for a reasonably-priced record player in fashionable colours. Initially aimed at the adult market, they became the player of choice for the 1950s' teenager.  Dansette introduced a large number of models to keep up with contemporary taste and to cover a wide section of the market.

The Dansettes were mainly designed in-house. The Margolins had an eye for fashion and contemporary interiors and regularly introduced new models. Dansette never won any design awards though. Their products were fashionable rather than good design in the eyes' of Britain's design establishment. However, this was not a barrier to them from selling well.

In 1961, following a decade of success, the company floated on the stock exchange and changed its name from J & A Margolin Ltd to Dansette Products Ltd. 

The final years

Dansette's run of success came to an end in 1965 when the company posted a profit of just £8,000 compared with £118,000 for 1964. The Dansette Board fought back when they acquired Perdio radio in December 1965 and briefly returned to better profits.

Like many home-grown electrical companies, Dansette was unable to compete with cheaper imports from Japan.  They attempted to move the product range more up-market in a last ditch attempt to save the business, but it came too late and the company called in the receiver in 1969.

The Rank Organisation bought Dansette in 1970 and added it to their list of brands, which already included Bush Murphy.  The Dansette brand continued into the 1970s, but was merely a label on a Rank product; there was no connection with the original Dansette products or factory.

Resources

This Dutch website has a huge amount of information about Dansettes, start with this page www.gramofoon.com - Dansette index.

This site offers Dansette record players for sale, as well as spares and restoration services - dansette.com.

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