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Pathé: "I Sing Loud and Clear"

After the "big three" - Edison, Columbia and Victor - Pathé is the most important name in the development of the phonograph or gramophone and of sound recordings on either cylinder or disc.

Charles Pathé's interest in the phonograph was roused in August 1894 while visiting a fair in Vineenes. He was fascinated by an Edison phonograph on display and watched as 20 or so people listened to it with tubes to their ears. Each had paid 2 francs "per performance" and it was soon evident to Pathé that there was money to be made in this new invention. He quit his job and went about raising the necessary capital to buy a machine: 1,000 francs for the phonograph and 800 francs for the cylinders.

In September 1894 Pathé set up his first booth at a fair just outside of Paris. It brought in 200 francs and soon the young entrepreneur was turning a profit. Unable to keep up with public demand, he started selling phonographs and cylinders. And to keep his customers coming back for more he manufactured cylinders at his home, recording popular opera singers and vaudeville artists of the day. Pathé further increased sales by offering credit.

Charles Pathé and his brother, Emile, established the Original Pathé Frères Company in 1896. In the beginning, Pathé offered phonographs imported from America: the Columbia Graphophone in the lower price range, Edison's for people willing to pay more for quality. When the company expanded enough to start manufacturing its own machines they produced one that was almost identical to the Columbia "Eagle", the "Le Coq". The first Pathé machines lacked originality in design but gradually took on the "European look" that is typical throughout other lesser known manufacturers. The company's slogan was "Je chant haut et clair" - "I sing loud and clear". Pathé was soon a market leader in France and neighbouring countries.

The Pathé Machines

Pathé's first "range" of five machines were identified by numbers: the smallest being "No. 0", the largest "No. 4". The only difference between them was their motor size and cabinet style. Phonographs "No. 0" to "No. 3" played both standard and Salon cylinders, "No. 4" played these and the 5 inch concert cylinders. All cabinets were made of walnut except "No. 0" which was of oak. The interesting thing about all of these machines is they all use the same horn and black ebonite composition reproducer; a "No. 0" did not sound any better than a "No. 4"! The latter just looked better. Pathé offered a wide range of horns, however, made from either sheet metal, cardboard, brass or aluminum, and even glass.

Pathéphone modèle F

Most machines incorporated the same principles of the "Puck" machine where the reproducer is connected right onto the horn. The horn is critically balanced and the reproducer sits on top of the cylinder. Pathé went one step further than this by taking the horn assembly and attaching it to a metal rod frame that is moved with a feedscrew. They also have a spring clip that holds the horn and stylus in a non-playing position to facilitate record changes. The entire attachment was known as the "Orpheus attachment" or "Vérité system". When this was introduced it was realized that it could be bought as a separate unit and used in the early "Columbia" and "Edison" type Pathé machines.

The first disc machines were known as the model "A", followed by the model "B". They used a ball-shaped sapphire stylus and the reproducers for these machines were used on virtually all the company's machines, unchanged in design until about 1915-18. The model "A" machine was the only front-mount disc machine made by Pathé.

The first concealed horn machine was introduced in 1910. It was actually the open-horned model "B" in a gigantic cabinet with the mouth of the horn being exposed to the outside of the case. The company also came up with a bizarre machine that had two separate tone arms and reproducers which played the record at the same time. This gives an interesting effect when the styli are not in sync.

All Pathé machines can easily be recognized by the company's trademark - a rooster listening to a phonograph. The only machines that did not carry this were those sold on credit. These models had their own names: "Le charte claire", "Le Menestral", etc. They were basically Pathé machines with a lot more ornamentation on the cases but no manufacturer's name.

Pathé phonograph Coq modèle 1

Pathé cylinders and discs

Pathé was one of the pioneers in the cylinder molding process and also the only company to ever mould in wax cylinders larger than standard. The company produced four different sizes: the standard cylinder, 5" concert cylinders, its own "Salon" cylinder which was approximately 3 1/4" in diameter, and the 8" long "Le Celeste". The "Le Celeste" cylinders are extremely rare today, the machines that played them more so; only one was made.

In 1906 Pathé entered the disc market. These were recorded by the hill-and-dale method and transferred from cylinders. They play beginning at the centre of the disc rather than the outside edge. This was done because the peripheral speed of any disc slows as the needle gets to the centre of the record. Because most music reaches its climax at its end and, therefore, at the point on the disc when sound quality may begin to deteriorate, reversing the starting point, it was thought, would correct this.

Pathé discs were made available in 8", 10", 14" and 20" sizes. All had the same length of playing time. Because of the problem of size with the large discs most Pathé machines have an ingenious instant start lever on the front of the case which, when pulled, instantly brought the turntable up to 90 rpm, the speed used on all the company's early discs.

The early discs did not use paper labels. The information was engraved into the surface and the etched lettering, etc., filled with paint to make the words legible. Paper labels were introduced in about 1908.

Pathé abandoned the hill-and-dale records in 1929 and from then on produced needle cut records under the name "Actuelle". Not long after this the company was taken over by Marconi to become Société Pathé Marconi. This enterprise was later bought by the Gramophone Company and Columbia to become the EMI Corporation.