GLASSBORO Hundreds of Rowan University students flock each day to the sunlit reading room atop Campbell Library to read on tablets, crouch over laptops, or bop their ear-budded heads to a Droid or iPhone tune.
Yet few of them know that the room next door is a tiny museum devoted to the ancestors of their digital tools and toys.
Here are phonographs from the 19th century, cabinet-size home radios from the 1920s, a Vietnam-era Army field radio, a 1940s oscilloscope, a secure telephone like those used by the White House in the event of a missile launch, video cameras from the 1960s, batteries from a TIROS weather satellite of the same era, a generator part from a Trident submarine, and bookshelves filled with RCA Victor records from long ago.
Radio Corp. of America's "contributions to South Jersey were enormous," said Joseph Pane, deputy director of the RCA Heritage Program at Rowan, which he helped create two years ago.
"At its peak in the 1960s it employed 12,000 people; 4,500 were engineers."
Yet presiding over this display of technological wonder is a pooch from the Victorian age.
On a wall sits a large, carved sign of a white dog peering into a gilded phonograph megaphone. Beneath him are the words "His Master's Voice."
He is Nipper, for decades RCA Victor's iconic, world-famous trademark, whose likeness Pane has collected for decades.
It is an elegant sign that conspicuously outclasses all of the Nipper cuff links, ashtrays, paintings, framed advertisements, plastic and ceramic statues, photographs - even a pewter belt buckle - in Pane's collection of Nipperbilia.
And so it might have remained, had Pane (pronounced "PAH-nay") not gotten a surprise phone call in July.
On the line that day was Pennsylvania State University's Palmer Museum of Art, calling to say it had in storage one of the four famous 14-foot stained-glass images of Nipper that dominated Camden's skyline from 1916 to 1969.
Illuminated at night, the round windows had topped a brick tower at RCA Victor's vast manufacturing plant on the Delaware River waterfront - a proud symbol of Camden and RCA in their prime.
Palmer Museum had no plans to mount the window, the caller said. Might Rowan like to have it?
"I thought I was going to faint," Pane recalled recently. "After 44 years. . . ." His voice trailed off in wonder.
The window arrived in October in segments packed in two very large wooden crates, which now sit in a locked storage room in Campbell Library.
"There's a little damage at the base," Pane said during a visit to the stored crates, which remain sealed in a locked room at Campbell. He estimates it will cost about $100,000 to repair and mount the nine pieces. "This is 98 years old," marveled Pane, who is 85.
Where best to display it remains unanswered, however.
Two years ago, Pane, an engineer and retired RCA vice president, persuaded Rowan's president, Ali Houshmand, to create archival and museum space to preserve the legacy of RCA, a onetime manufacturing giant whose consumer electronics were once found in nearly every American home.
A courtly man in jacket and tie, with a white mustache and a wisp of a beard, he speaks in an accent with traces of his native Italy as he points out the collection.
"I wrote up a paper, we met for lunch, and he [Houshmand] said yes," Pane recalled with a shake of his head.
Among the memorabilia he has donated to the university is a Victor Talking Machine, likely built in Camden in about 1908. RCA acquired Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1929.
Pane opened the cabinet's lid to reveal a circle of bright-green felt.
He then laid a wide, black disc onto the green felt, cranked a steel handle on the cabinet's side, then swung a bulbous metal arm onto the now-spinning disc.
Suddenly the room was filled with a man's voice, singing in Italian.
Cielo e mar!
un santo altar.
It was a thin sound, as if the man were calling across a century.
It was the voice of the great operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, emanating from a hand-cranked Victor Talking Machine whose vibrating steel needle was transmitting sound directly from a recording of Ponchielli's La Gioconda pressed 105 years ago.
"It's an original," Pane said as he tucked the disc into its tattered paper sleeve.
There is ample room in his little museum for 14-inch records like this one. Finding the right home for a 14-foot stained-glass window is another matter.
The university fully intends to mount the window, said Scout Muir, deputy provost of Rowan, during a recent to the museum. "But it's quite large, and we want it somewhere where it will be seen."
Among the sites under consideration, Muir said, is the School of Engineering, which is now under construction. "If that's where it's going," he added, "we have to decide soon."
The Camden County Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington each possesses a window but have mounted theirs horizontally, Muir said. "We'd like to see ours upright," as it appeared above Camden for 64 years.
Pane says he is trying to be patient. The university's administration "has a thousand things more on its mind than Nipper," he said. "But this is where it belongs."