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Made in Canada:
Imperial Phonograph Co.
Cabinet label
Owen Sound "Imperial" phonograph
Made by National Table Co.

During the brief period between the mid-1910s and early 1920s, when internal-horn cabinet talking machines proliferated, several popular names were adopted simultaneously by multiple unrelated phonograph manufacturers. One such name was "Imperial".

No fewer than seven companies, and possibly more, operated under the trade name "Imperial". Three in the United States were mentioned in Talking Machine World:

Owen Sound "Imperial" phonograph

TMW - February 1914, p. 51: "The Imperial Phonograph Co. has been organized at Portland, Maine with a capital of $50,000, for the purpose of manufacturing and dealing in phonographs, records, etc."

TMW - June 1914, p. 19: "The Imperial Phonograph Co. is the name of a new concern which is now open for business in Boston. The company has established offices at 9 Doane Street, in the downtown section of the city, where it has a suite of offices on the third floor. The machines and records are being manufactured in the city, and already the first invoice is ready for the trade."

TMW - September 1915, p. 3: "Among the incorporations filed with the Secretary of State at Albany during the first week of September was that of the Imperial Phonograph Co., Poughkeepsie, N. Y., to manufacture and deal in phonographs, records, cabinets and accessories. Capital stock, $10,000."

There was also an "Imperial Talking Machine Company" in Wilmington, Delaware.

A fifth company, this one in Canada, was announced in Canadian Music Trades Journal:

CMTJ - April 1919, p. 87: "The Imperial Piano and Phonograph Company (Montreal) has registered."

This article focuses on two additional phonograph manufacturers who used the name Imperial Phonograph Co. to market their product. Both of these companies launched in Canada in 1917.

The most well known "Imperial" phonograph in Canada was manufactured by the Imperial Phonograph Corporation, a division of the National Table Co. Ltd., 1882 Third Avenue East, Owen Sound, Ontario. The National Table Co. Ltd was established in 1900 by W.H. Merritt who purchased land and built a three-storey factory between the shore of Georgian Bay and the C.P.R. rail line. The building was destroyed by fire, twice, but by 1909 the company had fifty employees. During the first few years of its existence, the Company manufactured principally tables. By 1917, dining-room furniture and phonographs were manufactured exclusively. The Imperial phonograph was marketed to some of the largest and best dealers in Canada from coast to coast as well as in other British Possessions such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to which large quantities were exported. The same year, 1917, this company began promoting its line of Knapp phonographs.

Early manufacturer's ID plate
Later more common ID plate

In June, 1919, the Grafton & Company Limited store in Owen Sound published a display ad in the Owen Sound Times: "To Returned Soldiers - Welcome Home, Boys - Our Hats are Off, Our Hands are Out - Shake! This store is at your disposal, make it your headquarters - Come in, you're welcome whether you buy or not ...hundreds of your comrades have changed to civies in our store and they were mighty well pleased with our treatment of them. We're giving away on June 30th a fine Imperial Phonograph (made in Owen Sound) absolutely free, and we want you to come in and get a ticket for nothing."

Received from the factory at Owen Sound
The Province, November 11, 1920, p. 3
"The Phonograph of Distinction"
The Province, October 21, 1920, p. 3

The Imperial phonograph was advertised extensively by The Victoria Talking Machine Co., Limited, 315 Portage Ave., Winnipeg as early as September 1917. By 1924 it was also sold at Kent's Phonograph and Radiola Store, 641 Yates Street and at Woodwards's department store. Advertising was especially strong in British Columbia in 1919 and 1920 where it was widely promoted by Townley & Ward, 443 Hastings Street West, Vancouver, "The Most Central Music House in the City ... Next Door to the World".

Because phonograph brand names were duplicated across Canada and the United States and generic ads almost never provided the source of the machine, the researcher is faced with the uncertainty of knowing for sure who the manufacturer was for an advertised phonograph. This was the case with the multiple display ads for Imperial, "The Phonograph of Distinction", exclusive agent in B.C. Conveniently, Townley & Ward's November 1920 ad left no doubt: "A Carload of "Imperial" Phonographs just received from the factory at Owen Sound for your Christmas selection".

The Province, February 3, 1928, p. 7
Imperial Audaphonic cabinet label

After the launch of the Victor Orthophonic phonograph in late 1925, many companies followed suit with their own "phonic" talking machine. Imperial introduced their "Audaphonic" (in ads, sometimes spelled "Audophonic") in 1926.

On November 19, 1927 The Owen Sound Sun Times newspaper reported the erection of a new major extension on the north end of the spacious factory building of the National Table Co., Limited in order to be better equipped to take care of its ever increasing business. "Just at the present time the National Table Co. is enjoying a busy season in the manufacture of all kinds of dining room furniture of a high grade while the manufacture of Imperial phonographs also keeps a large number of men employed."

The Owen Sound National Table Company was clearly a very successful business, producing a line of phonographs through its Imperial Phonograph Corporation from 1917 through 1929.

Official announcement
of the Imperial Phonograph Co.,
136 Seventh Ave. E., Calgary, Alberta
Calgary Herald, October 31, 1917, p. 13
First ad for the 'Meritone', Calgary Herald, November 10, 1917, p. 19

The second Canadian company using the name "Imperial" was not as successful in the marketing of its phonograph. On September 13, 1917, a classified ad appeared on page 5 of the Calgary Herald newspaper: "Wanted first class salesmen for splendid proposition. Also one capable of taking charge of other salesmen. Apply to Imperial Phonograph Co." A further ad on October 1, p. 3, solicited a salesman "to go out on the road. Only first class need apply". This was followed on October 31 by an official announcement of the Imperial Phonograph Co., 136 7th Avenue East, Calgary, Alberta.

Top: Meritone table model
Bottom: Columbia Grafonola
Calgary Herald, December 18, 1917, p. 17
First ad for the upright model
Velvet Toned Meritone
Calgary Herald, February 2, 1918, p. 6

On November 10, 1917, the company launched an introductory offer for its new brand of phonograph, "100 Superb New "Meritone" Phonographs, "Sold on Its Merits", for ten days at $59.50 complete with records, simultaneously in both the Calgary Herald and Calgary Albertan newspapers. Although the ad stated that this model regularly sold for $75.00, I have not been able to find any Meritone advertising prior to this date to justify the special reduction to $59.50.

The company showed imagination in its advertising promotions. Later that month, they posted a Canadian Pacific Railway Company Telegraph announcing "to Music Lovers Everywhere" that they have "agreed to continue [the] big gramophone sale 15 days longer", (presumably because of massive interest!). Now the "beautiful Meritone machine" is shown as regularly selling for $80.00, reduced to $59.50.

The Imperial Phonograph Co., Calgary, advertised itself as "Calgary's only exclusive phonograph and record store" and the "Headquarters for the famous Columbia Grafonolas" carrying "the largest stock of Columbia records in Western Canada". On December 18, 1917, they ran an ad in the Calgary Herald for a different style table-model Meritone, which looks suspiciously like a Columbia Grafonola, along with an upright Columbia which was their bread-and-butter line of talking machines.

Third table model Meritone
Calgary Herald, December 18, 1918, p. 7
Fourth table model Meritone?
Calgary Herald, March 7, 1919, p. 17

In February 1918, they introduced a high-grade Meritone upright model at "War Time Prices and War Time Terms". In a later ad it was described as "The Velvet Toned Meritone". Later in February the company slashed the prices on all of their Meritone phonographs and in April placed their "entire stock on the altar of sacrifice"! In the same April display ad they announced that the Imperial Phonograph Co., 136 7th Ave. E. was "now in the hands of an independent sales service to raise $10,000 quickly regardless of the sacrifice".

In July, Imperial announced that "There is only one phonograph manufactured in Alberta and that is to be seen at the Imperial Phonograph booth in the Industrial building. There is a display made covering all lines of instruments of this kind and a wide assortment is shown ranging in prices from $16.50 to $50.00 and in cases of mahogany and fumed and golden oak. Named the "Meritone", they are of the velvet-tone variety and are particularly adapted for home use." [At those low prices they would seem to have all been table model machines.]

On December 18, 1918, a third table model style was offered "with double oil tempered muffled springs that does away with all vibration", along with a record cabinet, at a cut-rate price. The reason for the low price: "We manufactured heavily, expecting a bumper crop. Now we must reduce our stock to normal." The offer was to last for five days only and they ran a countdown for the next four days using the identical ad. This was Imperial's last display ad in which they mentioned the "Meritone" name, little more than a year after launching the Meritone in November 1917.

Final sale of the third style
table model Meritone
Calgary Herald, November 28, 1919, p. 29
The name change from Imperial
to Recorderia is complete
Calgary Herald, November 17, 1919, p. 9

In March 1919, they offered yet another table-model machine, this time almost a toy, for $9.95, without disclosing the brand name. Then in November 1919, they announced that they had discontinued making the Table Phonograph (the third style which was introduced just one year earlier in December 1918) in a display ad for "The Greatest Phonograph Sale Ever Offered the Public". The ad offered a significant discount on the last remaining table models (without the record cabinet).

This was the last ad for a Meritone and I think we can safely assume that the manufacture of the Meritone ended at this time. Unlike the Owen Sound "Imperial", the Calgary firm seems to have been in business with its Meritone phonographs for only three years, 1917-1919.

Several months earlier, beginning in August 1919, Imperial made two announcements: "We are the only firm in Canada to adopt the self-serving system in Record selling, the system that makes record selecting easy. Thousands of Columbia records to choose from. Sound proof parlors at your disposal." Also, "our new premises (they have moved to 129 Eighth Ave. E.) will in future be known as The Recorderia ["The House of Records"]. It is our intention to make a specialty of Phonographs and Records only. Our Columbia, British Penn Records and Phonographs is the largest in western Canada. To advertise our new premises and method of selling, we have organized a GUESSING COMPETITION. We are giving away FREE, three Phonographs - the value of $245.00 - to the three persons guessing nearest to the number of needles in the bottle which is now on exhibition in our window." Shades of "needle in a haystack" and about as easy.

The story of the Calgary Imperial Phonograph Co. ends here with its name change to "Recorderia" and its new focus as the largest distributor of Columbia Grafonolas and records in the West.

A coincidence, perhaps, although the timing is interesting: in April and May, 1920, a newly-formed company in Newark, New Jersey, The Meritone Phonograph Co., ran ads in Talking Machine World for their mahogany phonograph cabinets. In September 1920, TMW reported that the Meritone Phonograph Co. opened a showroom and salesroom in Newark to exhibit and sell their full line of Meritone machines.

Mystery Canadian Imperial phonograph
Mystery Canadian Imperial phonograph

The Canadian Imperial saga, however, doesn't end here. In 2023, Facebook Marketplace offered a table model phonograph from Victoriaville, Quebec and an upright phonograph from Montreal, both with a distinctive label on the cabinet lid showing a crown and the words "Toronto Montreal Winnipeg Vancouver". The table model also included the word "Imperial" while the upright included an id plate that read "International Piano & Gramophone Co. Montreal". The font choice for the word "Imperial" on the table machine is virtually identical to that of the Owen Sound Imperial label but the rest of the design is completely different. Although I have not found any information on an "International Piano & Gramophone Co. Montreal", Canadian Furniture World and the Undertaker, May 1919, p. 40, reported "The Imperial Piano & Phonograph Company has been registered at Montreal"! So this is yet another phonograph using the popular brand name "Imperial"? The mystery continues.