Announcing the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine (1899)

We recently ran across this announcement of the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine in The Music Trade Review for June 17, 1899 — truly a machine to make collectors salivate! Instrument manufacturer G. G. Conn was the face of the operation, with entrepreneur Albert T. Armstrong working largely behind the scenes. (Armstrong’s colorful career culminated in 1904, after being sued by Victor for record piracy in connection with his American Vitaphone operation [Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Armstrong, et al. Circuit Court, Southern District of New York, October 4, 1904]. Judge Lacombe granted a preliminary injunction in the case, and Armstrong died several months later.)


The double-horn idea soon resurfaced in the Kalamazoo Duplex machines, which ultimately suffered a legal defeat in federal court over patent infringement (Victor Talking Machine Co., et al., v. Duplex Phonograph Co., 177 F. 248, May 1909). Several European manufacturers also produced twin-horn machines, at least one of which was exported — See our posting on the Simp phonograph from Italy, which was advertised in the U.S. in 1908.

For a long time it was uncertain whether discs were ever manufactured showing the Wonder trademark. But eventually a specimen did surface, which was reported by researcher George Paul in Antique Phonograph Monthly (Vol. V, #1). Another example is pictured below, in a photo that was supplied to Kurt Nauck for his ARLIE compilation (a new version of which is in the works, by the way). Like other early Armstrong-related  brands, these are pressed in a fibrous, brick-red material.

wonder-red-nauck(Courtesy of Kurt Nauck, from a supplied photo)

It’s not known whether these two examples are pirated pressings. As George observed in his APM article, Conn’s Wonder catalog contained a large listing of discs that are simply Berliner numbers with the digit “1” preceding the Berliner catalog numbers. The two examples reported here, however, have numbers not corresponding to Berliner. Both titles were recorded for Berliner by groups of the same type (a vocal quartet on George Paul’s copy, a brass quartet on the item pictured here), but so far as we know, aural comparisons haven’t been made.


(For more on Armstrong and early record piracy, be sure to check out A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.)

More on the Paramount – Ed Kirkeby – Bobolink Connection

Our Paramount – Kirkeby – Bobolink posting got so many hits that we decided to delve a little deeper into Ed Kirkeby’s logs, and had some luck. More about that below, but first — Some of you asked for more information on the records, which are fairly scarce and are popular with kiddie-record and vintage-toy collectors alike (if in their original packaging, that is), so here’s a brief summary:

First advertised in the autumn of 1921, Bobolink records and phonographs were an attempt by toymaker A. C. Gilbert to compete with Columbia’s popular Bubble Book sets. The phonographs were perfectly scaled versions of the “grown-up” machines. The 7″ Bobolink discs originally were sold in sets of two, specially packaged along with Bobolink books that were illustrated by Willy Pogany and Maud and Miska Petersham. Initially they retailed for $1 per set.

gilbert-bobo-tmwBobolink ad from the October 1921 Talking Machine World

In early 1922 A. C. Gilbert sold the Bobolink business to brother F. W.’s newly incorporated La Velle Manufacturing Company (New Haven), and the label credits were changed accordingly. La Velle specialized in girls’ toys, so the company introduced new phonograph designs that were more decorative than the earlier A. C. Gilbert products. The La Velle discs could be purchased individually, in paper sleeves.

lavellebobo F. W. later had new  6″ Bobolink masters made, which appear to have pressed by the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company. At least one 6″ disc  is known that was pressed from one of the original 7″ masters and thus is missing its outer rim and first few grooves!

Here’s another Bobolink session we found in Kirkeby’s logs, again with the New York Recording Laboratories (Paramount). This entry is not marked for Gilbert, suggesting it might have taken place shortly after the business passed to La Velle. These recordings are # 562 and # 563 on the sleeve listing (so far we haven’t found an entry for the “John Brown” title on # 563). As with most of his other early vocal bookings, Kirkeby supplied only the singer, not the accompanists.

New York Recording Laboratories — February 27, 1922
Arthur Fields:

“Farmer in the Dell”
“London Bridge”
“Mulberry Bush”

More Early Okeh “Race” Talent Ads (and a Note on the Identity of “Milo Rega”)

A couple more early Okeh race-artist ads, from 1921 editions of The Talking Machine World. Okeh spared no expense for these ads, which were specially printed as single-sided color inserts.

Incidentally, “Milo Rega,” the purported composer of “Sax-o-Phoney Blues,” was not a real person, contrary to some discographies. He was a fictional character, created by cobbling-together two other pseudonyms — “F. Wallace Rega” (actually Fred Hager) and “Justin Milo” (actually Justin Ring). The poor fellow sometimes suffered a split personality, appearing in some Okeh composer credits as “Milo – Rega.” (For more on these and 6,200 other aliases, be sure to check out the new expanded edition of Pseudonyms on American Records.)

These pseudonyms were used in Hager’s publishing business as well as in his and Ring’s work for Okeh. The actual identities of both are confirmed in multiple early-’20s listings in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, the official federal registry of copyright filings.