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Stewart Phonographs and Beyond: W.H. Banfield & Sons

Symcophonic console with hardware labelled W.H. Banfield and Sons, which started this research.
(Image courtesy Raquel Schubert)

What did we ever do without e-mail? Well, besides all that.

I received the following e-mail in March, 2014, from someone in Montreal:

"Hi Keith,

"I trust all is well. My husband just recently purchased a phonograph from a neighbor that only knew one thing about it: it belonged to their mother [who] seems to have gotten it from her mother, back in Toronto. That’s it.

"Now my husband is a musician and music lover and for him, so long as it played, he was happy! Which it does and the sound is just so nostalgic. We are not collectors of any sort, nor connoisseurs of antiques.

"That being said, there really isn’t much history on this phonograph (Can’t find anything on the Internet) and I was hoping that someone could help us know more about it. Perhaps its history, who made it, and even where it comes from.

"Could you help us with something like that? If not, do you know someone that could?

"Thank you in advance."

Detail of letterhead from collection of Bill and Betty Pratt showing exaggerated Banfield factory and noting manufacture of "phonograph motors". (Image courtesy Betty Pratt)

Attached pictures showed a typical console gramophone labelled as a "Symcophonic". Pictures in follow-up e-mails showed the back of an "orthophonic" style soundbox which read: "Alethophonic, Reg. True Tone 1927, W.H. Banfield and Sons Ltd., Toronto, Canada".

Photograph showing factory more modest than letterhead above of W.H. Banfield and Sons Ltd., "Manufacturers to the British and United States Governments since December, 1914", 370 Pope Avenue [obviously, should read "Pape"], Toronto. Established 1885.
(Image courtesy Canada’s Aid to the Allies and Peace Memorial, pg. 56)

"W.H. Banfield" sounded familiar, and it should have. The first two hits, doing the obligatory Google search for ‘Banfield phonograph’, turned out to be what I should have already remembered—Betty and Bill Pratt’s APN article on portables "Portable Pastimes" in Antique Phonograph News, Nov-Dec 2007 and my own CAPP page on the Stewart Phonograph, both linking the Banfield Company to that round, metallic machine. Clearly Banfield had been up to more phonographic activities than making Stewarts.

According to the Canadian Orange Historical Site, William Henry (commonly referred to as "W.H.") Banfield was born in Quebec City July 7, 1843, he served with #2 Company, Montreal Engineers during the Fenian Raids and moved to Toronto in 1876.

Industries Canada (1888) said W.H. was born in Quebec City in 1844. "While in Quebec he occupied the position of foreman of the North Shore Railway shops while under construction… After he came to Toronto he was also the special commissioner appointed by the Australian Government to inspect the cars built under contract by the Ontario Car Co., of London, Ont." He began working in Toronto as a foreman die maker for the Dominion Tin Works and started his own business in 1883. "Here he has all the latest improved machinery, including the new rope transmission, and is prepared to promptly fill all orders for the cutting of every description of dies of the highest artistic excellence…and those of his design and manufacture are in use all over the Dominion and the United States…He now has a large order for the famous Kirkwood Grate Bar, and is placing them under the whole of Gooderham & Worts Boilers…Mr. Banfield has over $10,000 worth of contracts on hand at present…"

Drawing from Canadian patent CA209156 issued March 1, 1921, showing Stewart design. Inventor is the same as the US patent, Leslie McArthur, but the owner is Harry Sommerville Banfield.
(Courtesy Canadian Intellectual Property Office)

The premises grew over the years, with Industries Canada (1888) marking the initial establishment on Front Street East, and moving to 90 York, "but the steady growth of this trade compelled fresh enlargements, and Mr. Banfield has just completed the erection of a new factory on Wellington Street". Might’s City Directory of 1913 lists "120 Adelaide W. W.H. Banfield & Sons, machinists., Banfield Edwin J. mfrs agt". Then in 1918 and 1919 lists, "370-4 Pape Ave. Banfield, Wm H & Sons" and finally in 1922 lists, "370-86 Pape Ave. Banfield Wm H & Sons, machs" which is the address as shown in the letterhead from the collection of Bill and Betty Pratt.

In "Canada’s Aid to the Allies and Peace Memorial", published in 1918, which focused on what the various provinces, people, and companies had done to help the Allied cause during World War I, W.H. Banfield has a page including a Roll of Honor. On that page, Banfield is listed as "Manufacturers to the British and United States Governments since December, 1914…Established 1885… Principal Lines of Manufacture During Peace and Reconstruction Times, Special Machinery, Sheet Metal Stampings, Power Presses, Pressed Steel Parts, Spun and Stamped Brass Goods, Electric Fixtures Parts and Fittings".

Issues of "Motor Boating" between 1914 and 1919 have adverts for "McQuay-Norris Leak Proof Piston Rings" ("No other piston ring is made with the mechanical perfection…"), "Canadian Factory, W.H. Banfield & Sons, Ltd., 372 Pape Ave., Toronto." I have also discovered an abbreviated advert for a "Canadian Highland Broadsword" that in part states, "Maker: W.H. Banfield & Sons, Toronto. Banfield was one of only 2 or 3 sword makers known to have made swords in Canada. His Company was primarily a tool and die company and were tinsmiths as well. They operated from 1877-1919."

Nothing phonographic so far. Now what is the connection to Stewart?

According to the Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog, "The Stewart Phonograph, with its distinctive round metal case, caused a brief flurry in the market when it was introduced in 1916. It was manufactured by the Stewart Phonograph Company of Chicago, an offshoot of the Stewart-Warner Corporation, and was headed by industrialist J. K. Stewart.

Toronto Daily Star, June 22, 1920, pg. 9.

"Stewart filed a trademark application on May 13, 1916, claiming use of the script trademark on phonographs since February 15, 1916. The machines were prominently advertised beginning in the spring of that year, and a special pitch was made to drug-store owners."

Being not much larger than a 10" record, the Stewart must have been very convenient for travel. One advert calls it a "small Phonograph for campers, picknickers, summer cottagers or anyone wishing a small, light-weight Phonograph." I have no idea how I missed this for my article on "Canoedling With a Gramophone" in Antique Phonograph News, Jul-Aug 2013.

Can you imagine a Stewart looking like this? The circle was Stewart’s first design but before that patent was approved, they also applied for these 3 other designs. (Courtesy US Patent Office and Trademark Office)

A search through the US patent database actually shows Stewart trying out a few…novel designs for phonograph-bodies (all disc machines), applying for patents on June 8, 1916, which were all approved on August 15, 1916. Patented were phonographs shaped as triangles, pentagons and ovals. The circular shape that we know as the "Stewart Phonograph" was applied for earlier, on January 5, 1916, but not approved until September 5 of that year, by which time Stewart had possibly hedged their bets by applying for the other novel shapes. During their production run, there were two designs for the reproducer/ tonearm assemblies: straight, shown early and a second, a bent one shown later.

Eaton’s catalog 1926

We know that many of the plates on the Stewart machines say "Improved Stewart Phonograph, Stewart Phonograph Corporation Limited, Toronto, Canada", so where is that connection?

As noted by Betty Pratt, a corporate file at the Ontario Provincial Companies Branch indicates there was a separate Canadian company established in Ontario. The pamphlet included with this shows a Toronto address, probably for the showrooms at 1110 Temple Building, erected in 1896 at Richmond and Bay Street, one of the first large skyscrapers built for the Independent Order of Foresters. There are ads for Stewart in Eaton’s catalogues of 1919, 1920, and 1921.

Further noted by Betty, the 1920 Might’s City Directory shows Stewart Phonographs as distributors, on Pape Ave. Theodore Vatcher was manager in 1922, and Earl M. Jones, manager in 1923. "During these years the firm used the premises of W. H. Banfield & Sons Ltd., manufacturers of lighting fixtures and phonograph motors, 370-386 Pape Ave." (Letter from Toronto City Clerk answering George Wonch, Aug. 30, 1966; courtesy Horst Weggler). The Globe, Sept. 1, 1920, p. 11 stated that Banfield purchased an entire plant from the U.S. and moved it to Toronto.

I found in the Might’s Toronto Directory of 1921 a listing of, "STEWART PHONOGRAPH CORPoration, Carl Reimers Manager, Distributors of The Improved Stewart Phonographs, 8 Colborne" (currently the site of the Cosmopolitan Hotel).

Toronto-branded Stewart in the collection of Domenic DiBernardo. (Image courtesy Cheryl Wright)

A search through the Canadian patent database shows CA 209156, issued 1921-03-01, which has identical drawings to the Stewart USD 1,249,791 patent. This Canadian patent shows the same inventor as the US one (Leslie McArthur) but is owned by none other than Harry Sommerville Banfield, one of W.H.’s sons, who was the Secretary-Treasurer of the company. The Banfields had moved in the nick of time as the US Stewart Phonograph went under shortly thereafter. There is an article in "Presto" dated December, 1922, that states, "John W. Kingsbury, Binghampton, N.Y., has purchased, subject to liens, the assets of the Stewart Phonograph Co., according to the announcement of William H. Riley trustee." The article goes on to say that an attorney representing W.H. Mansfield [sic] objected to the sale of patents held by the Stewart Phonograph Co., claiming the Canadian firm was owner of the patents. The trustee said he was selling only the tangible holdings. So, Stewart Phonograph after this point is owned by and is solely produced by W.H. Banfield & Sons of Toronto, Canada. (What’s the constant joke about reporters getting names right?)

The chicken-and-egg question remained, for me, as to whether Banfield started into phonograph parts before making Stewarts or started with an order for Stewarts. My most recent find was from The Globe, November 29, 1919, where page 23 is devoted to "phonographs", pianos and music in general. In an article titled "World Market is Entered by Canadian Firm" it is reported that W.H. Banfield & Sons, "finding themselves possess of a big munitions plant" is now "working at top speed on phonograph motors and phonographs." Also in Canadian Machinery and Metalworking, Jan- Jun 1921, there is a Banfield advert (listing the address 370- 386 Pape) that states, "Have You Need for a Factory to Make Special Machinery for You? We make exceptionally high-grade phonograph motor [sic] requiring skillful workman, working to close limits. They are considered standard in the Phonograph Trade. We can manufacture complete or parts for anything you may need."

An attempt to grow the Stewart brand away from the round phonograph? Toronto Daily Star, April 2, 1923, pg. 15.

An advert for Hughes Music and Sales, in the Toronto Star in 1922 mentions, "Large Double-Spring Banfield Motor" and "Large Parlor Size [talking machine], Brand New, Plays all Records, Genuine Banfield Motor." If they started with Stewarts, they had or were branching out.

Banfield may have also tried to grow the Stewart brand out of the round metal machines as, a Simpson’s advert from 1923 lists "The ‘Stewart’ Phonograph" showing a "cabinet-size Stewart".

The Toronto Daily Star has 33 references to Stewart Phonographs from Oct. 3, 1919 to Apr. 2, 1923.

The only picture of old W.H. the author could find, accompanied his obituary. The Globe and Mail, December 8, 1925, page 9.

Old W.H. passed away December 7, 1925 but the company continued to thrive.

Fortunately for them, Banfield was not limited to the Stewart Phonograph or even phonographs in general. An advert in the Canadian Jewish Review, Sept. 14, 1928 shows the main Pape address in Toronto, 4 branch offices (Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary) as well as a plethora of electrical fittings, stampings, dies, tools and goods along with phonograph motors, tonearm and reproducers.

So far, I have been able to determine that Banfield marketed one of their own non-Stewart machines but their parts did end up in at least three others. As noted in the original e-mail that started this research, Banfield made parts labelled "Alethophonic" which ended up in "Symcophonic" gramophones. I have seen pictures of one portable machine that was very similar to a Victor VV-50 portable with a plate which reads, "’Companion’ made in Canada, W.H. Banfield & Sons Limited, Toronto. Canada". The Musée des ondes Emile Berliner in Montreal displays a portable they label "Alethophonic", presumably based on its Banfield parts. Moogk does make reference to a portable gramophone built and sold by Banfield billed as, "A High-Grade Portable Phonograph with Tone Quality and Volume equal to most full cabinet instruments." I have also documented a number of uprights for sale in Tweed and Barrie, Ontario, and in Bromhead, Saskatchewan, labelled "Golden Throated International" that have Banfield parts. One example has to be carefully compared against a Victor Credenza before you are satisfied that it is not one—carpenter’s notes on the machine indicate it was made in 1928. (In private correspondence, Bob Baumbach volunteered that Victor never properly protected the Credenza and many manufacturers mimicked it as close as they were able.)

"Portable Alethophonic gramophone circa 1927" from Banfield & Son in the collection of the Musée des ondes Emile Berliner, Montreal. (Image courtesy Maurice McDuff and Musée des ondes Emile Berliner)

On April 3, 1929 a new stock issue was announced for the Amalgamated Electric Corporation Limited. Part of the text states, "Mr. W.I. Banfield, President of the Company, summarizes his letter to us [presumably to the underwriters] as follows:--Amalgamated Electric Corporation, Limited has been incorporated… to acquire the assets and undertakings of: W.H. Banfield and Sons, Limited…" (plus 2 other companies). Old Banfield’s company had clearly made the transition to a new era. But presumably they soldiered on a bit longer in the phonograph business as there is a 1930 Simpson’s advert that tried to persuade you to, "Give New Life and Tone to Your Phonograph! Install the "Alethophonic" Tone Arm and Reproducer". In 1955 the General Electric Company, Limited, of England purchased over 99 per cent of the shares of Amalgamated Electric Corporation, Limited, of Toronto.

Previously unknown to me, for years I have been driving over the land once occupied by W.H. Banfield. It is now part of the Riverdale Shopping Centre complex and I regularly enter the parking lot via Pape Avenue, passing Carlaw Tire & Auto Service where the next existing street number is 388 Pape. I’m sure old W.H. would have been amazed to hear hot jazz blaring from my vehicle using nothing like a "Large Double- Spring Banfield Motor".


  1. Raquel Schubert, personal correspondence with KW.
  2. Brock Centenary (1812-1912), Alexander Fraser (Editor), printed and published for the Committee by W. Briggs, 1913.
  3. "Portable Pastimes" by Betty Minaker Pratt and Bill Pratt, Antique Phonograph News, Nov-Dec 2007.
  4. Stewart Phonograph-Canadian Antique Phonograph Project
  5. Canadian Orange Historical Site
  6. Industries Canada, Historical and Commercial Sketches of Toronto and Environs, M.G. Bixby & Co. Publishers, Toronto, 1888.
  7. Motor Boating, January 1917, New York, pg. 93.
  8. Canada's Aid to the Allies and Peace Memorial, ed. Frederic Yorston, published by Montreal Standard Publishing Company, Montreal, 1919, pg. 56.
  9. Might's City Directory, Toronto, years 1913, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1922.
  10. Mainspring Press Record Collector's Blog page on Stewart
  11. Canadian Machinery and Metalworking, January-June, volume 23, 1921, Toronto, pg. 7.
  12. United States Patent and Trademark Office, documents USD 49,524 S; USD 49,525 S; USD 49,526 S; USD 49,629 S and USD 1,249,791.
  13. Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Canadian Patents Database
  14. Toronto Daily Star, September 29, 1922, pg. 2.
  15. Ibid, April 2, 1923, pg. 15.
  16. Ibid, December 8, 1925, pg. 30.
  17. Ibid, April 4, 1930, pg. 20.
  18. Canadian Jewish Review, Sept. 14, 1928.
  19. Ottawa Citizen, May 4, 1955, pg. 45.
  20. Roll Back the Years, Edward B.Moogk, National Library of Canada, Ottawa, 1975, pg. 110.
  21. The Globe, Sept. 1, 1920, p. 11.
  22. The Globe and Mail, December 8, 1925, pg. 9.
  23. Robert B. Bumbach, personal correspondence with KW.