The Phonograph Overview The invention of the phonograph and other sound reproduction machines began a new way of producing historical archives. Expressions of the human voice were no longer limited to their abstraction as words on the page, and the artistry and passion of a musical performance could be preserved outside human memory. People could bring the sounds of the world into their homes, and a global culture began to arise out of the mixture of influences that a broad diversity of recordings could provide. Before radio and sound motion pictures, the phonograph and other "talking machines" reigned for several decades as the great modern innovation in audio culture and entertainment.
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Share Paul Edie talks about collecting antique Victor Victrola phonographs , including inside and outside horn models, the history of the company, and the evolution of the phonograph machines in general. When I was around 10, my grandfather passed away, and my dad brought home his Victrola and stuck it under the stairs in the basement.
It was a — my grandfather bought it right before World War I. One day I was messing around and opened it up and started playing with it. It intrigued me. It just was fascinating to get music out of such a crude, mechanical-type system.
When you turn on the radio, you get punk and everything else now. A few weeks ago, I was in my storage area with a friend and saw some stuff that I had completely forgotten about. Most of them are pretty nicely restored. Edie: Yes. No specific reason; that was just what I got started with.
There are a lot of other very fine brands out there — the Edisons and Columbias and so on — and there are a lot of collectors that use those. I just never really got into that. Victor VI, produced until The Victor Talking Machine Company was the largest and most successful manufacturer, which is good from a restoration standpoint because parts are still readily available, there were so many made.
The company later became RCA. It was rich in entrepreneurial ideas and was always successful, unlike a lot of other brands.
The quality of their materials and hardware was heads and tails above most. Victor really was a prime, quality company. Victor was founded around after some fits and starts. Eldridge Johnson was the founder of the company, and he puttered around with different ideas and designs. RCA bought them in October , right before the crash. Victor made at least a hundred different phonograph model variations and probably lots more. I used to go buy anything. I would snap up anything if the price was right, but now I want things that are either rare or unusual or in exceptional, original condition.
Those I still buy. The economy is certainly a factor. And secondly eBay has put a lot of machines in front of millions of people that were previously not seen often. Collectors Weekly: Do you restore all of your phonographs? Edie: No. Most of the restorations I do now are for others. Sometimes you replace bearings and bushings and little things in the motor that are worn. Normally the motors are pretty good, and I would say that nine out of 10 times, all you need to do is clean and lubricate them.
The big work is the woodwork, the veneer restoration of the woods. You want it to look like it did when it came off the line. It takes a years of experience and a lot of equipment to do it right. Collectors Weekly: What types of materials are the phonographs made out of? Edie: Victor used a whole slew of different finishes.
Solid woods warp, so they used a particleboard core for the actual body of the phonograph, and then covered that with a thin sheet of veneer of the type of wood finish you ordered — walnut or mahogany or oak. But the veneer is good enough that you can usually repair them or sand them out and clean them up and get them looking good.
They made around seven million Victrolas and we estimate about six to eight percent survived. Because they used varnish as the finish coat, a lot of times the varnish becomes alligatored crackly and rough if the phonograph was stuck up in an attic where it could get real hot or cold. That needs to be stripped off completely in most cases and then the wood needs to be cleaned up and reshot with lacquer or varnish.
The vast majority of Victrolas were made of mahogany, 70 or 80 percent of them. The oaks would be second, and they made some high-end finishes in circassian walnut and other special woods that are very collectible.
Collectors Weekly: Besides the wood and the finish, what else makes a phonograph rare? When they started making early electric phonographs around , it was the first time they used electronic amplifiers, and Victor was very involved in that product line. Victor was very involved in the transition to electric, which made a huge difference in the sound quality.
Collectors Weekly: What are some of the major models? The outside horn machines — the ones that you see on the dog logo with the horn sticking out — are not Victrolas; those are Victors. When the horn went inside, those are Victrolas. In , Victor invented the inside horn machine. The outside horn machines were considered clunky because they took up a lot of space. And they got dusty.
For the inside horn machine, they just put the horn going down instead of coming out, down near the cabinet. You could control the volume with the doors in the front and you had storage for all your records right in the cabinet.
So that was a real convenience, and it was huge hit. It was very expensive, but as it grew in popularity, they came out with scores of different models for different markets, everything from dollar cheap ones to really high-end deluxe gold-trim ones. The most popular model over all the years was the Victrola XI and they made almost a million of those up through the s.
It was hand-carved and had inlaid wood veneers. It was for wealthier people. They also made variations inlaid with silver and ebony, special-order ones. The outside horn machines faded out when the Victrolas came, but they overlapped. The outside horn phonographs were a novelty. So the inside horn models were more accessible and user friendly for people, easier to maintain, easier to keep. Also, quite frankly, people were getting more affluent. As we got into the s in this country, the economy was doing a lot better.
Collectors Weekly: Why is there a dog in the Victor logo? The painting was commissioned by one of the people who developed the flat disc record. It started in England, I believe. Some entrepreneurs were trying to come up with logos that were clever for the phonograph brands and a painter in England actually painted the dog listening to a cylinder record, an Edison-type record originally, and some executive liked it.
The company liked the concept, but they asked the artist to change it to a disc machine, so he did and sold it to them for a hundred pounds, and that became their logo. It was considered a very humanistic logo. It was a warm, fuzzy feeling as opposed to just having an emblem of a name. The logo was later licensed by a variety of companies globally, so although RCA Victor no longer exists, the logo is still in use. Everybody recognizes it.
Collectors Weekly: Do most phonograph collectors specialize in one company? It varies greatly. There are a lot of collectors out there. Retired people seem to be more into it than younger people, although there certainly are some younger people coming into it. There are some very wealthy collectors, billionaires, and they keep the prices up. They buy whatever they want without batting an eye.
So if you believe that, there are , or so still remaining. Some are just junk. Craigslist is another one. There are always tons on Craigslist. Collectors Weekly: What are some of the big clubs and events? Those are the biggest ones. A lot of them will charter organizations in other states, which basically are subsidiaries of the home organization. The big show is in Union, Illinois the second weekend of every June. There are swap meets and shows and all kinds of things going on.
There are also a number of smaller shows throughout the country, including some in Ohio and New Jersey. Each one of these clubs organizations holds a meet of their own at different times of the year. There are a number of companies that specialize in auctions for phonographs and music machines. There are lots of events. Some of them are social, and some are purely business. Collectors Weekly: What are some key things you look for when collecting phonographs?
There are a lot of forgeries coming from India and China. So knowledge is key. I want the original shine.
1878 first-ever captured Edison audio recording unveiled
Problems playing this file? See media help. In , Thomas B Lambert was granted a patent that described a process for mass-producing cylinders made from celluloid , an early hard plastic Henri Lioret of France was producing celluloid cylinders as early as , but they were individually recorded rather than molded. That same year, the Lambert Company of Chicago began selling cylinder records made of the material. They would not break if dropped and could be played thousands of times without wearing out, although the choice of the bright pink color of early cylinders was arguably a marketing error. The color was changed to black in , but brown and blue cylinders were also produced.
From Tin Foil To Stereo : Evolution Of The Phonograph
The modern masses can now listen to what experts say is the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the first-ever capturing of a musical performance, thanks to digital advances that allowed the sound to be transferred from flimsy tinfoil to computer. The recording was originally made on a Thomas Edison-invented phonograph in St. Louis in But that dinosaur opens a key window into the development of recorded sound. When the recording is played using modern technology during a presentation Thursday at a nearby theater, it likely will be the first time it has been played at a public event since it was created during an Edison phonograph demonstration held June 22, , in St. Louis, museum officials said.