Moses Znaimer Unveils the MZ Museum of Television

Mike Crisolago | May 23rd, 2014

Philco Predicta “Pedestal”, 1958

Montreal. 1955. A 13-year-old boy scrounges together the money he’s earned from various jobs – making pharmacy deliveries, educational tutoring, setting pins at the bowling alley – and his bar mitzvah and purchases a $200 Admiral television set for his family. On the first night he stays up late watching it, his eyes fixed to the moving pictures that, until then, were only accessible at the local movie theatre.

“I had this really crisp realization that this was revolutionary because it was coming to me,” says Moses Znaimer, Canadian media mogul and Founder and CEO of ZoomerMedia (which encompasses multiple platforms including Vision TV and Zoomer magazine) when recalling that childhood moment. “I didn’t have to go to it…and it was in perpetual flow.”

On Thursday, nearly six decades after purchasing his first TV, Znaimer unveiled the MZ Museum of Television – a massive display of some of the more than 400 pre- and post-war television sets he’s collected since the mid-1960s.

“What Moses has put together here is a world-beater,” notes Jan Leman, a filmmaker who directed the documentary TV is King. “No amount of money could recreate what he’s done here … There are more surviving violins and cellos built by Antonio Stradivari that survive in the world today than there are surviving televisions from 1939. That’s how rare these pieces are.”

Situated within the Zoomerplex in Toronto’s Liberty Village, the MZ Museum of Television boasts treasures such as television pioneer John Logie Baird’s first commercial set, Marilyn Monroe’s TV, and even Felix the Cat – “the first electronically televised image.” The Phantom Teleceiver – built with translucent Lucite to prove to skeptics at the 1939 World’s Fair that there was nothing devilish behind its fantastic moving pictures – resides there, across the room from the original Speaker’s Corner booth.

“If Moses only had the [pre-war TV’s] in the museum, he’d have probably the world’s finest collection,” television historian Michael Bennett-Levy says. “But he’s also got [duplicates]. It’s extraordinary. There’s nowhere else in the world that’s got it like this.”

The museum’s opening ceremonies included a ribbon-cutting, speeches from dignitaries – including Znaimer, Leman, and Bennett-Levy – documentary screenings, the Ontario debut of the Cinémathèque québécoise exhibition Aspects of the Global Village: The Television Era in Canada, 1950-2000, and a reception.

The seeds of Znaimer’s passion for collecting televisions began after he spotted a Philco Predicta “Pedestal” in the office of CBS Labs President Peter Goldmark in the mid-1960s.

Interior, MZ Museum of Television
Interior, MZ Museum of Television

“I thought it was beautiful,” he recalls, “So as soon as I got back to Toronto I decided to go get my own. And it was because I found it difficult to find that I began to realize something, and that was that … TVs had so rapidly become so ubiquitous, that the construction in the public mind was this was not the family silverware, this was the toaster. As soon as the new toaster came out, you dumped the old one.”

It took Znaimer nearly a year to track down a Philco Predicta of his own, during which time he, “developed this conviction that it was worth trying to find them, preserve them, and eventually make them available to the public.”

In 1992, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of CityTV, which he founded, Znaimer held the first exhibition of his collection, which numbered around three to four dozen. Around this time he also began getting more serious about examining the history of the medium and purchasing other people’s collections.

“No one else was [collecting televisions],” Leman says when discussing Znaimer’s collection. “And having done it, everybody thinks it was obvious. Well, it wasn’t obvious 20 years ago because everybody said ‘Why waste your time?’ It wasn’t a waste of time.”

In fact, he suggests, “you can link some of the artifacts that are next door to things that we still haven’t quite achieved today.”

RCA, TRK-12 Phantom Teleceiver 1939
RCA, TRK-12 Phantom Teleceiver
1939

Standing near Samsung’s latest, ultra high-definition 4K televisions, he notes, “This is something that was achieved in a laboratory by John Logie Baird in 1943, and we have now reached where he got with that technology. Those are the patents he left. He died in 1946 [and] he left behind 178 patents critical to television, and the ideas contained in those patents are now being realized, and we’re looking at them right now.”

As far as his TV collection, Znaimer points out, “It’s a rare piece that pops up that we don’t have.” As a result, the collecting has also turned to historical publications and books related to television, as well as “original papers from the work and the lives of [television pioneers] whose names and reputations I’m trying to resurrect.

“I have incorporated documents where John Logie Baird comes to Canada looking for capital because he can’t raise the money in the U.K., sets up a Canadian company, and this could have been the world’s epicenter for radical television innovation. But he couldn’t raise the money there and he couldn’t raise the money here.”

And while the scope and contents of the collection make it one of a kind, Znaimer says the best moments in the museum occur, “when a younger person, a child, steps into it. You should see their face. Because they have no concept of a television set. All they have is a screen – all they’ve ever seen is a screen.”

And that inspiration, an idea planted in a young visitor for possible future innovations, is what Bennett-Levy says could prove one of the MZ Museum of Television’s greatest legacies.

“And who knows? One [of those visitors] might take it a long way.”

The museum is open to the public during the Doors Open festival this weekend. Summer visiting hours begin July 2nd. For more information, click here.