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- Vintage phonographs
- Phonographs a big draw for Canadian
- By Mike Bryan
As a Wayback Times reader, you probably appreciate the fun that
can be had from collecting antiques.
- It often starts with one item that takes our fancy. Then
we do a bit of research on it, finding some interesting history
and learning there are many models and different styles of our
prized item out there somewhere.
- Although we are not really looking for another - we are -
and when we find it, we have to buy it. From that point on, there's
no turning back.
- And so it is with antique phonographs and records. The sight
and sound of an elegant antique phonograph with its morning glory
horn, playing music recorded 100 years ago, evokes feelings of
those times and makes us smile.
- Perhaps that is what draws all kinds of people, over 200
of them, to the Canadian Antique Phonograph Society. More on
this later, but first let's look at the origins of the phonograph
and its evolution.
- Life Before Recorded Sound
Imagine your life without hearing any recorded sound. It's hard
to do, because recorded music, film, TV, radio and messages surround
us every day. Before Thomas Edisons phonograph invention
made sound recording possible, the only way to hear the band,
the singer or the announcement was to be there listening to it
- So in the grand scheme of things, the phonograph or talking
machine was a pretty significant invention. Few homes today
in Canada are untouched by recorded sound playing through some
form of successor to the antique phonograph.
- The Big Three
phonograph was invented in 1877 by an American, Thomas Edison.
His first machines are known as Tin-Foil Phonographs, because
the sound was recorded and played back on tin foil (not unlike
aluminum kitchen foil) wrapped around a metal cylinder.
- Telephone inventor and two-time Canadian resident, Alexander
Graham Bell, was another driving force in recorded sound development.
He funded his cousin, Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter,
to work on improving Edisons invention.
- They created a cardboard cylinder coated with wax as a more
permanent recording medium. Bell and Tainter also designed phonographs
that they named graphophones to distinguish them
from Edisons machines. Later their American Graphophone
Company reorganized to become the Columbia Phonograph Company.
- A third inventor, who influenced the future of recorded sound,
was Emile Berliner, a German immigrant to the USA. Berliner followed
the same principles as Edison and Bell and Tainter, but chose
a flat disc as the format for recording. This proved to be a
wise choice, as it soon became clear that mass production, storage
and transportation of disc records were far easier than for fragile,
bulky wax cylinders.
- Berliner developed a machine to play his flat discs and named
it the gramophone. By the way, in North America today
Edison, Victor and Columbia disc and cylinder machines would
all be described generically as phonographs.
The company that had manufactured Berliners gramophones
for him in Camden, NJ, changed its name in 1901 to the Victor
Talking Machine Company and soon became the worlds leading
manufacturer of gramophones and records. Berliner had got himself
into a legal tangle that resulted in him being prohibited from
selling his gramophones in the USA.
- So he came to Canada and set up his Berliner Gram-o-Phone
Company in Montreal. On a visit to England in 1899, Emile Berliner
acquired a painting of a dog listening to one of his gramophones.
He registered the image of Nipper cocking its ear
at the sound coming from the gramophones horn, listening
to His Masters Voice. This enduring image is
still one of the worlds most widely recognized trademarks.
- Cylinder vs Disc Format
By 1903, it became clear that the disc format would win out over
the cylinder format for the reasons stated earlier. Nevertheless,
Edison battled on with improvements in cylinder technology, from
two-minute wax cylinders to four-minute
Amberol wax and later Blue Amberol celluloid cylinders, which
are the only ones that can be played on most Edison Amberola
phonographs. Edison cylinder machines remained available until
around 1920 and cylinders were sold until the demise of his phonograph
business in 1929.
- Recognizing the growing preference for disc phonographs,
Edison did, however, introduce a disc phonograph line with special
thick records, known as Diamond Discs. These could only be played
on an Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph.
- Columbia launched disc graphophones in 1901 and by around
1910 had abandoned its cylinder phonograph business. It continued
successfully with disc machines, some named Grafonola.
- Victor never strayed from its roots, manufacturing only disc
phonographs and records throughout its history.
and Identifying Phonographs
Early cylinder phonographs that can still be found quite easily
today are the Edison Standard, Fireside, Home, Gem, Triumph models
and the popular internal horn Amberola 30. The name can be found
on a metal plates fixed to the top surface of the phonograph.
- Columbias cylinder models are less easily identified
by name, because unlike Edison and Victor machines, they did
not carry name plates. This applies to both Columbia disc and
- Victor phonographs, and the Canadian-made Berliner models,
carry a metal plate that shows model and serial numbers. A model
number example is VI for Victor 1, an external horn phonograph.
- Internal horn models were known as Victor Victrolas with
VV before the Roman or Arabic model number, e.g. VV IX and VV
- The term Victrola is sometimes mistakenly used to describe
any internal horn phonograph, but of course, Victrolas were only
made by the Victor Talking Machine Company.
- After about 1910, internal horn table top and floor model
phonographs became the preferred modern style.
- As the Big Threes patents expired, other companies,
such as Brunswick and Sonora, entered the market. Many companies
in the musical instrument or furniture-making business jumped
on the bandwagon, too, selling mainly floor model phonographs
often with Phono
ola in their names.
- By the 1920s, the availability of electricity and the introduction
of commercial radio spelled the end of the acoustic phonograph
era, except in niche markets for portable and toy machines. A
new era of radio/phonograph combination models with far superior
sound was unfolding, and it was one in which the 78rpm disc record
survived right through to the 1950s.
- Canadian Antique Phonograph Society
There's a sizable community of antique phonograph and record
lovers who have fun collecting and restoring phonographs, learning
about the history, the pop stars of the day and of course, the
great music. They can help and guide novice collectors on buying
a phonograph, spotting bad repairs and avoiding fake machines,
commonly known among disdainful collectors as Crapophones
and which are assembled in Asia from junk parts.
- 1 - Victor VI disc phonograph c 1904
- 2 - Tin foil phonograph
- 3 - Berliner's trademark Nipper the Dog
- 4 - Edison Amberola 30 cylinder phonograph c 1915
- Mike Bryan, past president of the Canadian
Antique Phonograph Society (CAPS), can be reached at 905-727-2979,
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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