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The home in 50 objects: #2: the audio cassette holder

If you have been watching the 1970s schmooze-fest that is Mrs America, the BBC drama about women’s-liberation politics starring Cate Blanchett, the decade’s exuberant aesthetic will be fresh in your mind.

And if you are old enough to have known it IRL, you may have come across one of these beauties: the Cass Bar carousel cassette holder. 

With its orange-and-black plastic architecture reminiscent of a Brutalist-era car park, it held 24 tapes and was the epitome of groovy. The revolving marvel was manufactured — somewhat enigmatically — by Crown Merton, an English cookware brand.

The model pictured was bought in 1974 at Harrods for £16, a birthday gift for Paul, of Bromley, south London, from his girlfriend Behnaz, whom he later married. It held pride of place next to the hifi for more than a decade.

Whether you were into the Sex Pistols or the Carpenters, cassette tapes were as ubiquitous as flares, Space Hoppers and miners’ strikes in the 1970s.

Storing sound on a magnetic tape wound around two reels, they were cheap, easy to copy and, 40 years before Spotify, enabled personalised playlists. 

Along with the 83m tapes sold in Britain by 1989 came the devices to play them on: boom boxes, ghetto blasters and in 1979 the Sony Walkman which, combining portability and privacy, was adopted by joggers, helping to fuel the 1980s fitness cult. 

Aiding the emergence of underground music such as punk, the cassette also spawned a subclass of teenage technical wizards adept at respooling the tapes with a pencil when they unravelled, which they frequently did.

Its social impact did not stop there. The cassette helped introduce western music behind the Iron Curtain, disseminate sermons urging revolution by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and spread blacklisted music in Chile during its military dictatorship.

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But with the arrival of the technically superior CD, then digital music, its demise was sealed, and the last cassettes were produced in 2002.

It was not quite the end, though. The irresistible charm of the analogue has led to a niche resurgence. Artists from Coldplay to Madonna offer cassettes alongside their vinyl and digital output. Billie Eilish’s “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” was the biggest-selling cassette hit of 2019. UK cassette sales were up 94 per cent in the first half of 2019 and demand is growing.

So if you have got one of these vintage Cass Barr cassette holders lurking in the attic, do not throw it out.

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