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Rare "Talking Machines" from the Collections of CAPS Members
Chicago Talking Machine

Chicago Talking Machine ca. 1896 (Owner: Donald Scafe)

This cylinder phonograph was made by the Chicago Talking Machine Co., 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 rate today.

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.

Berliner B

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.

Girard Menestrel

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 Zonophone and Parlophone machines.

This was an interesting and attractive machine to have on display, but we remained frustrated 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 Cleveland 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 Phonograph Company 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 produce phonograph 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 mahogany Music Master horn of this 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.

Edison Opera

Carmen "Table" Model ca. 1915 (Owner: Horst Weggler)
(not pictured)

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.