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.)

wonderbell-MTR

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.

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(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.)