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Jukebox Collector: Anthony Ballato, The Jukebox Counsellor

As featured in the 2006 edition of Jukebox Collector

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Attorney Anthony Ballato does not appear to be suffering from any compulsions. A typical day at the office finds him in earth-toned slacks and sweaters; a suite appears on his medium build whenever a Court appearance is required. He speaks neither too quickly nor too slowly, readily engages in amiable conversation with people from all walks of life and shies away only from the lunatic fringe. From all outward appearances, you wouldn’t suspect him of anything more manic than say, eating pizza every Friday. Truth is, Ballato is a fanatic about some things – like jukeboxes, or anything associated with them. The acts of finding, buying, restoring, and owning are tantalizing pursuits, as far as he’s concerned.

He tried to stop. Canceling his subscription to The Jukebox Collector with its tempting classified ads helped. Staying off the internet except for business purposes proved successful, for a time. Then, after two years of abstinence, someone left the family computer on with a warm, beckoning seat in front of it, and he thought, “just one glimpse at ebay, just to see what’s there…”. Of course, a i 945 Wurlitzer he’d been after for years was now available for purchase, and the asking price was too low to ignore. Damn! He was back in the game.

They don’t call Ballato “The Jukebox Counsellor ” (courtesy of an editor at the Jukebox Collector) for nothing. His home has long been filled with assortment of jukeboxes, wind-up phonographs, records, music boxes, antique radios and related odds and ends collected over the past 20 years since his law school days- so much so that the surplus had to be moved to his office, at the urging of his wife, Sarah. “It all started with the cover of the November 1986 Sharper Image catalog, which depicted a rendering of the beautiful Marilyn Monroe and a jukebox,” Ballato explained. He still has the catalog in sealed plastic, and vividly recalls being struck with an immense desire to own one. As many collectors will attest, when the collecting bug bites hard, one purchase blossoms into several, and like a virus that multiplies itself within the body of the collector, there is little one can do other than let it run its course. After twenty years of letting the bug have its way with him, Ballato still can’t resist a good find at a great price. And prices do vary greatly – from $5,000 to around $35,000 for rare finds, with an average price of about $12,000 for 1940’s-era machines, Ballato’s favorites.

Trying to explain his long­ running fascination, Ballato spoke of himself as part of a group “Most of the collectors I know, if they like one thing, and they find out there are several different variations to be had, they have to have one of each, until the · set is complete…the set isn’t complete if you only have one.” More than one company made jukeboxes in the 1940’s and 50’s, so the collection includes pieces from Wurlitzer, Seeburg and Rock-Ola, as well as reproductions.

Recalling an article he once read entitled “A Beer Tastes Better in a Bar” Ballato remarked that to aficionados like him, music is just better from a jukebox or phonograph. ”The visual effects of the jukebox and the apparatus itself-the stylus, the records, the amplifiers, and the machinations of the jukebox – all do their part to produce a listening experience more satisfying than that of more expensive stereo systems.” As proof of his devotion, Ballato submits that the main sound system in his Massapequa, New York home is hooked up to his favorite Antique Apparatus 100-CD reproduction jukebox, model 91 (a reproduction of a Wurlitzer 71) manufactured in the 1990’s, for listening everywhere, including poolside.

Even his sons, have developed an appreciation for the recordings of the 1940’s that make up the bulk of his record collection – a time when popular music told a story. Ballato explains that he enjoys visualizing whatever scenario is being vocalized by the singers of that era, reminding him of a simpler, more peaceful time. “Some of my friends say I’m stuck in the 40’s. Of course, I wasn’t around then, but the music brings you back to a time when life was more simple…at least that’s how we feel today.”

His sons also enjoy “juking” – going to antique shows and meeting their father’s fellow collectors. Nowadays, with a house chock full of jukes, phonographs and accessories, they concentrate on finding smaller items which can be put on the walls, in the machines or in the “back of time” room, which houses many antique finds from over the years. “Initially, (things) were pretty much all over. Now I have a jukebox in the den with an antique radio on top of it. But the “back in time” room, which is 24 square feet, everything in that room has to be from that era. The telephone is a working 1940 Bakelite model. The magazine on the table is from the 40’s. The wall decor, everything…plus the bulk of the jukes are in there, now.”

While juking has brought him much peace and good feelings, there has been some stressful moments, for sure. Ballato has many times used long-haul truckers to transport the heavyweight music-makers, grizzled men who drive cross-country and give only approximate arrival times such as “sometime Thursday or Friday”, as happened a few years ago. For the Jukebox Counsellor, waiting for that delivery meant losing up to two workdays at his law practice. Constant telephone contact with his secretary took care of any immediate problems at the office while he awaited the arrival of the 400 lb. machine, a 1945 Wurlitzer purchased from a retired bodybuilder of considerable fame who now lived in Texas. At mid-day Friday, Ballato got antsy and decided to call the company with whom he contracted to deliver the piece. He was told that the driver was located, via satellite, a mere half-mile from his Massapeque home. When the truck didn’t arrive within the hour, Ballato called again and was told, after a pause, that the driver had had an accident on the north shore of Long Island, some 50 miles away. At that point, he had lost a day and a half at his law practice and was convinced the truckers were trying to skip out with his long-sought Wurlitzer. “The freight industry has a lot of lousy stuff going on because items like this are shipped heavily insu ed for loss or damage” Ballato explained, “and lots of times things will fall off the back of a truck when someone isn’t looking, wink wink”. Ballato quickly blasted off a strongly- worded fax to the freight company via his secretary, letting them know in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t receive delivery of the piece that day before 4:00 p.m., he would promptly call the police and report it stolen. “The piece was delivered by about 4:00″, he recalled at which point he took a good look at the truck and determined that no accident or other mishap had befallen the vehicle. Ballato was apparently right – the jukebox almost ”fell off the truck”. Not that such incidents would prevent him from purchasing items at great distances in the future, but at the moment, the house is pretty much full. “If I sell a piece, then I can justify a new purchase, the cost and the space in the house”, he explained.

And what about his wife Sarah, and her feelings on his obsession? “Sarah’s been great, but, there’s limits. I know from representing a number of divorce clients, I see a lot of the vices some men have. My only vice is collecting these antique machines. So I say to my wife, which vice do you want?”

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