A FEW PHONOGRAPHS AND GRAMOPHONES
The sound extracts on this page have been recorded electrically with modern equipment. For further info on electrical playback of old discs and cylinders see my special pages.
The songs can be heard by clicking on the Nipper logo.
Bettini N°4 (1900) : This high-end phonograph allowed playing standard and "concert" cylinders (known in France as Stentors). The horn was made by myself according to a document of the time. The unique reproducer has a large diaphragm and the stylus is fixed on a kind of metallic spider which was supposed to eliminate distortion and give a very clear sound. The cylinder that we'll hear, in spite of its poor condition, gives an idea of Bettini's brilliant recording technique.
Deauville Polka is performed by M. H.Paradis, clarinet soloist of the Garde Républicaine and the Paris Opera House.
Edison Home Phonograph (1910) : This impressive machine with a large cygnet horn allowed playing both the standard 2 minute cylinders and the "new" celluloïd 4 minute ones, known as "amberols". By using a thinner groove, they could indeed hold a bit more than 4 minutes of music and they were also practically indestructible. Edison produced those cylinders until 1929 when all manufacturers had adopted the flat disc for a long time. Let us listen to an extract of Silver Bell sung by Billy Murray & Ada Jones on a blue amberol cylinder.
The phonograph for learning foreign languages : Although the phonograph soon became an entertainment machine, the earliest pronouncements by Edison on his newly invented phonograph and its uses included very serious applications such as foreign languages tuition. As an example of those early language courses, here is a French lesson from an I.C.S. (International Correspondance School) blue amberol cylinder. This recording, made around 1914, with charming obsolete French phrases is good fun to listen to !
Le Ménestrel (1902) : Sold by the mail order company J. Girard, this magnificent phonograph contains a small key-wound Pathé motor. Blue and gold Louis XV style cast iron case. Rex reproducer and aluminium horn. The Pathé cylinder we'll now hear, Le pendu, written by Mac Nab is a small masterpiece of humour and derision. See text and English translation.
Pathé Royal (1904) : A phonograph of good quality featuring the "Orpheus System" known here as "Système Vérité". The reproducer is fixed to a floating aluminium horn through a rubber connector, which is supposed to eliminate all metallic vibration. This machine has an intermediate mandrel for playing the Inter cylinders, a new creation of Pathé. We are going to hear a rare Inter cylinder : Caruso, in person, recorded in Milan in 1903, before the famous tenor signed with Victor. Let's have a look at the lid and at the lettering on the wax before listening to : Tu non mi vuoi piu bene (Romanza)
More cylinders ! Due to general demand from two and a half visitors, here is an antique cylinder jukebox in MP3.
Cylinders in good condition are getting so scarce that I could not resist presenting 6 more of them on this new page. Some of the greatest Pathé cylinder stars are featured in this selection. You will also find some hunting horn soli, a "musical" genre that was often recorded on old wax and whose only merit was to make loud noise !
Warning ! This selection includes two licentious songs by Charlus. Click at your own risk !
"Trade Mark Model" Gramophone (1901) : This is the gramophone of the world famous painting with the dog Nipper. This painting has been used as a trade mark by the Gramophone Company.(See the Records section for more info on Nipper) And it is also one of the first disc machines to meet commercial success. The flat disc, developped by Berliner had a difficult start because of the necessity to change needles after each play. Note the vertical winding handle which was not really easy to...handle ! Let us listen to a 1898 seven inch single-sided record. The sound is not perfect but remember this was recorded more than ONE CENTURY ago !
Va petit mousse ! (Go sailing, little ship's boy !) sung by par M. Delacroix des Minstrels parisiens. This is an extract from the very popular operetta "Les cloches de Corneville".
Gramophone N°9 (1904) : Labeled "Compagnie Française du Gramophone". The case is made of solid oak with decorative carved leaves. The large flowered horn is painted black with gold stripes . Of foremost importance was the famous "tapering tone arm" which allowed ease of operation, adjustable orientation of the horn and superior tone quality. The double-spring motor is powerful but easy to wind up. The "Exhibition" reproducer has a mica diaphragm. Let us play a 1921 "Gramofono" Benjamino Gigli record : Santa Lucia Luntana
Pathéphone N°8 (1912) : This Pathé phonograph has a very decorative walnut case and a rare "twisted" aluminium horn. It is designed for playing hill-and-dale discs. This "new" system eliminated the need to change needles after each play. The reproducer has a permanent ball-shaped sapphire. The early Pathé discs start from the center and have various diameters. Their speed ranged from 90 to 120 rpm, until an 80 rpm standard was adopted. Now, hark to Aurore, mazurka for accordion by A. de Benedetto ! This is a 35 cm 90 rpm center-start Pathé disc, probably recorded around 1910.
Pathé Night and Day (1920) : So called because of its two horns : the large external one for the day and the small soft-tone internal one for the night. This machine was originally designed to play the hill-and-dale Pathé discs but a regular needle reproducer is easily adaptable. At this time the large decorative Morning Glory horns are gradually disappearing. Listen to a Pathé hill-and-dale 25 cm. disc of the mid- twenties: La Violettera, sung par Emma Liebel , a long- forgotten singer with an unforgettable voice...
"Stereo" Pathé Duplex (early Twenties) : This very unusual machine with two horns is one of the first attempts to produce 3-D sound. The two reproducers read the groove with a slight delay, giving a curious echo, which I re-created by delaying the right channel by 50 ms. Although I never had the chance to possess such a machine, I believe it would have sounded like that ! Listen to Tyrol Valse (stereo) by Charlesky, the famous French yodler of that time !
Victrola-like Gilbert (1925) : This British-made gramophone has a large saxophone-shaped internal horn and a bugle shaped tone arm !! The soundbox is expertly designed and has a mother-of-pearl decoration. The doors allow to reduce the impressive acoustic power ! The Gilbert Company from Sheffield was in activity from 1925 to 1929, hence the rarity of their gramophones. The bugle shaped tone arm and the "Tone Reflector" soundbox with mother-of-pearl facing were patented by Mr C.G. Hibbard in 1926 and 1927. In 1929 the address of the company was : C.Gilbert & Co.Ltd, 75 Arundel St.Sheffield, and 23 South St. Hull. You can see another Gilbert gramophone on Peter Medley's web site, to whom I am indebted for the information above.
Listen to Smoke gets in your eyes, foxtrot by Tommy Dorsey on a Gramophone record # K-8745.
Bonus : a nice needle tin for free !
Columbia de luxe portable gramophone (ca. 1925) : Portable gramophones are the most usual kind to be found nowadays. From 1920 until 1950 they have been sold by large quantities. Although generally despised by collectors, some of them are worthy of attention for their high quality. Such is this "lizard skin" and gold Columbia. The acoustic quality is also excellent : nearly HI FI ! Let us listen to Maurice Chevalier : Livin' in the sunshine... (thirties) Enjoy !
Small phonographic glossary : Don't say old record player with a large trumpet but horn gramophone. Don't say head but soundbox or reproducer. Here are the correct names (in French and in English) of the main parts of a typical disc machine. Learn them by heart if you want to appear as a genuine phonomaniac *
* Phonomania : serious behaviour disturbance consisting in collecting phonographs. Usually incurable !
Beware the crapophone !
You can see lots of gramophones with brass horns around these days. Those shiny "things" have been made recently in India or China where labour is cheap. Basically a crapophone is made by taking a cheap suitcase/portable gramophone (these were still manufactured until recently, as many places in India were without electricity) The motor is removed as is the arm and control bits. A fancy looking box is built for the motor, a horn is hand-hammered from brass, and a back bracket is cast (not very well). The tone arm is then connected upside down. And you have a genuine crapophone !
For more details, have a look at this very good page on the subject.
Anyway, if you don't want to waste your money, you should only buy a gramophone from a specialised dealer who can guarantee that the machine is genuine. A real vintage machine will certainly cost more than a fake but it will be a "sound investment " !
Last updated january 11th 2012