Rare "Talking Machines" from the Collections of CAPS Members
by Mike Bryan
Chicago Talking Machine
Chicago Talking Machine ca. 1896 (Owner: Donald Scafe)
This cylinder phonograph was made by
the Chicago Talking
Chicago, which was
formed in 1894 and
which survived just
three short years
before being taken
over by Columbia.
The company assembled and sold generic
machines. In 1896 it
introduced the "Chicago" motor which was a close copy
of the 3-spring Capps motor used by Edison. Including
the one in this machine, there are only five of these
motors known to exist today.
The top mechanism is one
of the rarely found graphophones
of the original type that played wax
coated 2-minute cardboard sleeves. The motor frame,
the first spring barrel, the governor speed control and
the ratchet are made of aluminum, as is the crank
which has internal threads to screw onto the winding
shaft. A very unusual feature is the crossed belt and the
gear arrangement which causes the cylinders or sleeves
to be played from right to left.
Edison Standard Suitcase Model A
The exploitation of these
graphophones for hire
as office dictating machines has led to a low survival
Edison Standard Suitcase Model A 1898 (Owner: Donald Scafe)
We rightly think of
the Standard as
Edison's most common machine, but
this first Model A is
not often seen. It was
produced in this style
from 1898 to 1900
and is distinguished
by its suitcase clip at
each end. Both this
and the 4-clip version
introduced in 1900
are referred to, not
surprisingly, as the "Square Top Standard". This survived
only until 1901 when it was replaced by the "New Style"
cabinet with its familiar rounded lid.
Berliner B ca. 1901 (Owner: John Vanderjagt)
This Canadian machine is remarkable for its unusual 5-
cornered spring barrel. The decal (not plate) shows a
patent date of February 24, 1897.
Emile Berliner enjoyed great success with his first
motor-driven disc machines, but became involved in
legal battles, trying to protect his machines and records.
His U.S. company passed into the hands of Eldridge
Johnson who developed the spring motor for Berliner’s
machines. Johnson continued to develop the machines,
changed the company name to The Victor Talking
Machine Company and went on to produce the huge
range of gramophones under the banners of Victor and
Victrola which remain household names to this day.
Emile Berliner came north from New Jersey and over
the border to Montreal where his Berliner Gramophone
Company continued to make "Canadian"
Berliners. Although he made many machines of the type on
display here, no other examples of 5-cornered spring
barrels are known.
Girard Menestrel 1902 (Owner: Mike Bryan)
The French company, Girard, specialized in selling goods
on credit. In 1899 it sold its first phonograph, the
"Thunder", a machine based on the Columbia Eagle.
It followed with the "Omega" and in 1900 it offered a
new machine, the Pathé Gaulois, which it sold as the
"Menestrel". This first wooden-cased
model was replaced in 1902 by the model
presented here, the all
metal Louis XV style machine in blue with gold filigree.
Later that year the colour was changed to green. Pathé
did not market a machine under its own name in this
Louis XV style.
By 1903 Girard was marketing "undisguised" Pathé
machines and sold them successfully on credit until the
approach of war in 1914.
Maestrophone 1905-1910(?) (Owner: Ken Donovan)
This unusual gramophone was
at first thought to be a
Swiss Maestrophone, but the "Made in England"
inscription on the motor suggested that this was not so.
Surely the Swiss did not need to go to England for
clockwork motors! The glass panels in the sides of the
case might indicate
that it was a salesman’s sample, but it
could just as easily be
a design feature such
as that seen in some
This was an
interesting and attractive machine to have
on display, but we
in our inability to identify it and know how it came to
be. Can any member shed any light on this?
U-S Phonograph Junior 1912 (Owner: John Peel)
In 1906 some
entrepreneurs recognised the
potential of the record
market and of celluloid
as durable substance
for making cylinders.
The Cleveland Phonograph record company
that they formed in
1908, became the U-S
in 1909. The following
year saw the introduction
of its U-S Everlasting 2 and 4-minute records and its first phonographs.
The company’s "Phonola A" and "B" were the
earliest inside horn cylinder phonographs. By 1912
there were nine machines in the range, including the
"Junior" seen here. Notable design features are the
parallel 2 and 4-minute feed screws, the shifting side
by side reproducers and the flexible tapered tone arm.
U-S Phonograph Junior
The machines did not sell as well as the records,
and in a phonograph/cylinder market that was past its
peak, U-S struggled against the entrenched Edison.
Serial numbers would indicate that less than 2,000
examples of any U-S model were built. Another difficulty was caused by Edison, who tied up the company
in litigation for years. He didn’t win a single case, but
U-S was able to enjoy the minor victory of winning a
lawsuit preventing Edison from using the name, "Opera".
It was for this reason that Edison’s machine was renamed
as "Concert". This was of little consequence, since by
1914 the Cleveland entrepreneurs had pulled out and
the U-S Phonograph Company was out of business.
Edison Opera 1911-1912 (Owner: Bill Tarling)
Edison set out to
models to suit every
pocket. By 1911 the
range spread from the
$15 "Gem" to the magnificent state-of-the-art "Opera" at $90.
The rich, clear sound
emanating from the
machine was a cut
above the sound of
the other machines
on display. The "Opera" is a 4-minute only machine
and it has a reproducer which remains stationary while
the mandrel traverses. The machine on display bears
the serial #45.
Introduced in November 1911, the "Opera" name
only survived until October 1912, when it was renamed
"Concert" for the legal reason mentioned above.
Carmen "Table" Model ca. 1915 (Owner: Horst Weggler)
By 1915 the gramophone was no longer
the status symbol
that it had been earlier when its ostentatious horn was
helpful in ensuring maximum visibility. By now there
was a demand for talking machines to blend in with the
decor and furniture makers were able to meet this need.
The fact that this machine has a Swiss motor
(Thorens) suggests that Carmen was indeed a furniture
maker which bought generic gramophone parts to install
in its own cabinets. Other "disguises" for gramophones
used by furniture makers of the time were lamps, pianos,
desks and even barrels.
By presenting these eight machines in chronological
order the audience was able to follow the corresponding
improvements in sound quality from the earliest to the
latest. Its excellent reproducer and its resonant "sound
box" cabinet gave the "Carmen" a remarkable sound
quality which effortlessly filled the meeting room.
I would like to thank all those who took the trouble
to bring their machines to the meeting and provide
background information for this report. The high level
of interest from the audience suggested that their
efforts were worthwhile and much appreciated.