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At The Auction
United States Talking Machine

I watched with great interest two items sell that really validated that anything can happen on Ebay. Every so often someone comes to me with an account of the great deal that their friend snapped up that everyone else seemed to have missed. I always reserve the same kind of skepticism for this as I do when I hear my father-in-law recount about the one that got away on his most recent fishing excursion.

Canadian Berliner ID plate

It turns out that at least one urban legend is authentic. One very astute and fortunate bidder managed to snap up a United States Talking Machine for $1,025.00 (all prices in $US). This may sound like a large sum of money, but this machine is of particular rarity, having been manufactured for only a brief time in 1897 in the early pioneer days of the phonograph disc. This device was designed to play Berliner disc records, which were rotated on a turntable by hand while a steel needle vibrating a wooden arm was used to transfer the sound vibrations to a set of eartubes. As one of only 5 or 6 known to exist it would normally command a price roughly ten times the selling price. For better photos, check out page 59 of the book The Talking Machine, An Illustrated Compendium by Tim Fabrizio and George Paul. Congratulations to the bidder who proved that perseverance can pay off.

Sir Elton John's Pathé phonograph
Parlograph cylinder-shaving machine

The other item I followed with great fascination was the sale of a Canadian Berliner ID tag that can be found on all Victor machines sold in Canada. In the closing days of the 19th century, Emile Berliner, the inventor of the disc record, sold his gramophone patents to Eldridge Johnson who then founded the Victor Talking Machine Company. Keeping his Canadian patents, Emile Berliner then moved his business to Montreal, Canada where he began manufacturing Berliner Gram-O-Phones for the Canadian market in addition to being the sole importer of Victor Talking Machines into Canada. As a result, all Victor machines sold in Canada including the Victrola line had an ID plate added below the Victor ID plate, with the Berliner name on it (simple, right). These ID plates can be found in great abundance in Canada and I have several of them myself gathering dust on my workshop wall. I was thus a little perplexed to see that one of these garnered so much attention when it was made available to the bidding world of Ebay. You can see why I was so bewildered after seeing the bidding end at $127.59.

Stereo card of Thomas Edison

Something new that I have not seen before was a phonograph owned by a famous celebrity. The celebrity in question, Sir Elton John, is evidently not well respected enough in antique phonograph circles to translate into an abundance of cold cash. This very nice Pathé phonograph with an attractive green horn went for a reasonably high $875.51 from a seller in England who can trace it to a sale of Elton John items sold at Sotheby's.

The most exciting item I found recently was an unusual Parlograph cylinder-shaving machine from Germany, which sold to well known Canadian collector Jean-Paul Agnard. The most marvelous addition to this machine was the set of 4 different pastel coloured cylinders in blue, orange, pink and purple. Although the cylinders were in rough shape with cracks and pieces missing they are so extraordinary that even in this condition they would make a great addition to Jean-Paul's museum.

My last submission for your amusement is a stereo card of the "Great Man" himself, Thomas Alva Edison, taken from an original set of negatives apparently from a photographer who once worked at the Eastman Kodak archival facility. This card, although not pictured very clearly here, was a first rate high quality rare photo which after some spirited bidding went to one lucky collector for $240.49.