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Antique Phonograph News
Canadian Antique Phonograph Society


Mar-Apr 2015

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The Bettini Phonograph in Court
by Robert Feinstein


Dr. J. Mount Bleyer, ca. 1892
From its inception, Thomas A. Edison recognized the possibility of phonograph use in stenography, and he wrote about that in "The Phonograph and its Future," published in THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW of May-June, 1878. Unfortunately, in the years immediately after he first intoned "Mary had a little lamb" into the horn of his tinfoil machine, Edison believed that his favorite invention would replace, rather than assist, shorthand reporters. This resulted in considerable hostility to talking machines by stenographers through much of the 1880s and 1890s. Indeed, during the initial Meeting of the Local Phonograph Companies, held in Chicago in 1890, the problem of how to overcome the fear of many stenographers was a prime topic. During that conference, a number of prominent figures in the history of recorded sound, most notably Edward Easton, founder of both the American Graphophone Company and

Nelson R. Butcher, ca. 1910
Columbia Phonograph Company, and himself a former court reporter, gave assurances to stenographers that phonographs would not endanger their jobs.

And in 1892, as attitudes were beginning to change, Lieutenant Bettini’s close friend, Dr. J. Mount Bleyer, wrote a widely quoted article for JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, "The Edison Phonograph and the Bettini Micro- Phonograph," which declared:

"The phonograph has come much into use as an assistant in dispatching correspondence, and it is not used in lieu of, but in connection with the stenographer."

Nelson R. Butcher, official reporter for the Toronto court system, variously president of the International Association of Shorthand Writers (for Canada) and the Canadian Shorthand Society, who was certainly one of the most well-known stenographers of his time, eagerly embraced phonographs early on. And he especially liked Bettini machines. Relatively little is known about Butcher’s early life, or how and why he happened to enter the profession. He was born in Canada about 1858 and married Lilllian A. Tile in Hamilton City, on February 7, 1880. The couple had a son and daughter, the latter of whom was tragically killed in an accident at Niagara Falls in 1912. Butcher lived until April 6, 1935, and he died in York, Ontario, at the approximate age of seventy-six.


Butcher’s CANADIAN ALMANAC AND DIRECTORY advertisement of 1897
THE WINDSOR EVENING RECORD of April 15, 1903 and THE CUMBERLAND NEWS of September 15, 1903 published nearly identical articles about Butcher’s use of the Bettini Microphonograph in the Gamey Case, hearings in which a politician named R. R. Gamey unsuccessfully claimed that he was bribed to change political parties. According to THE CUMBERLAND NEWS:

"Mr. Nelson Butcher, the official stenographer of the Gamey investigation, has 16 copies of a verbatim report of each day’s proceedings in the hands of the Court at 10 o’clock of the following day…To reproduce them in the required time, Mr. Butcher has a staff of 10 or 12 experts, with other professional operators in reserve. Mr. Butcher himself remains in court during the proceedings and takes most of the shorthand…To extend his notes he uses a Bettini instrument. This is an electrical appliance which works on something of the same principle as the [Edison] phonograph…The Bettini attachment while Mr. Butcher is speaking into it is connected to successive rollers which reproduce his words… to two operators on typewriting machines…A few minutes after these two start working, another relay begins making copies of their sheets and in this way 16 copies are completed before midnight. Mr. Butcher has one or two Bettini instruments and several typewriting machines in reserve, as a breakdown with such limited time to work would be disastrous…"

In all probability, Butcher obtained his Bettini gear directly from the Lieutenant’s New York City laboratory, as Nelson R. Butcher and Co. was known to be selling phonographs by 1897. Another possibility is that he obtained the Bettini machines from the music dealer, W. R. Stevens and Sons Co., also of Toronto, which is known to have sold Bettini products.

In 1907, the last of the Bettini Phonograph companies, no longer owned by either Bettini, his wife, or his in-laws, went out of business. Butcher may have stopped using Bettini machines around that time.