Princess Records and the Sapphire Record & Talking Machine Company (1910 – 1911)
By Allan Sutton
The Sapphire Record and Talking Machine Company was among the earliest U.S. producers of vertical-cut discs, preceded only by the Sonora Phonograph Company. * (The Boston Talking Machine – Phono-Cut Record operation, previously thought to have been the first, was in fact the third to go into production). The company was incorporated in June 1910 by P. B. Verblanck, M. Wagner, and Dezso Tauber, with capital stock of $100,000. Tauber, who had recently resigned as manager of R. H. Macy’s phonograph department, served as the company’s general manager.
Within a short time of its launch, Sapphire was taken over by George Otis Draper, the well-connected son of General William F. Draper (a U.S. ambassador to Italy) and nephew of a former Massachusetts governor. Draper was an inventor, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed financial expert who was involved with various manufacturing, textile, lumber, quarrying, and real-estate ventures. Between 1909 and 1911, he authored More: A Study of Financial Conditions Now Prevalent, lost the better part of a $1.15-million inheritance, presided over the failure of Sapphire, and was petitioned into personal bankruptcy.
(Left) A Princess popular-series release, possibly pressed from Sonora masters. (Right) A Princess Grand Opera release, confirmed as using Sonora masters by the Record Research group. (Kurt Nauck collection)
Sapphire’s mailing address had been changed to that of Draper’s personal office in New York’s Metropolitan Tower by the time the company became fully operational. Of the original investors, only Tauber appears to have retained any hand in the company’s management following Draper’s takeover. Sapphire’s trademark application of August 13, 1910, claimed use of the Princess brand on phonographs and records since August 1 of that year, although no Princess records are known to have been released that early.
In January 1911, The Talking Machine World announced that Sapphire’s records were finally “ready to come into the market.” The same article reported that the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company’s Frederick W. Matthews was serving as studio manager. (Thus far, Indestructible had been involved only in the production of cylinders.) By then, the company was also marketing Sonora universal-type phonographs, re-branded as Princess, which were manufactured by Paillard in Switzerland.
The rarely seen Empire Sapphire Record (not connected with the better-known Empire label of 1917–1921) used material from the Princess catalog and might have been produced after the Indestructible takeover. Catalog numbers were the same as on Princess, minus the “S” prefix. (Kurt Nauck collection)
Many Princess recordings are original to the label and quite likely were made in the Indestructible studio, given Matthews’ involvement with the company. The Record Research associates also discovered many instances of Sapphire releases using masters obtained from Sonora, which had taken over the former American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) studio and was in the early stages of financial failure.
Sapphire’s popular-series releases retailed for 75¢ each, and early issues used a separate catalog number on each side; single numbers with -A/-B side designation appeared on late issues. There was also a Sonora-derived Princess Grand Opera Record series, retailing for $1, which did not feature any particularly noteworthy performers. Some of the same material was issued on the obscure Empire Sapphire Record label, which has no known connection to the Empire label of 1917–1921.
A December 1912 Indestructible ad for remaindered Princess phonographs and records. The model shown is a re-branded Sonora machine, manufactured by Paillard in Switzerland.
In April 1911, TMW reported that the Sapphire Record and Talking Machine Company’s owners “concluded they better quit than go ahead, as the enterprise required more capital than was anticipated.” In the same month, the company was sold to Indestructible, which marketed surplus Princess phonographs and records at deep discounts for the next two years but did not continue production of the Princess line. Indestructible would later re-enter the disc market with their own Federal label, the impending arrival of which was announced quite prematurely in July 1917.
Several claims filed against Sapphire by Metropolitan Life, the Merchant’s Exchange National Bank, and others, were finally settled in the autumn of 1911. Draper himself was petitioned into bankruptcy on December 30, 1911, which he attributed to having made poor investments.
* Columbia produced vertical-cut wax discs in the late 1890s, for use with the short-lived Toy Graphophone, and recorded experimental vertical disc masters in the early 1900s that were not issued commercially, but the company was not a regular producer of vertical-cut discs.
“Absorbs the Sapphire Co.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1911), p. 25.
“An Ideal Xmas Gift—The Princess Talking Machine” (ad). Hicksville [OH] Tribune (Dec 12, 1912), p. 11.
Blacker, George, Carl Kendziora, et al. “Princess Record Discography” (unpublished). William R. Bryant papers, Mainspring Press.
“Business Troubles. Judgements.” New York Times (Sep 1, 1911), p. 14.
Directory of Directors in the City of New York. New York: The Audit Company (1911).
“George Otis Draper Fails; Solver of Money Problems.” Chicago Tribune (Dec 31, 1911), p. 2.
“Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (Jul 15, 1910), p. 45.
“New Incorporations.” The American Machinist (Aug 4, 1910), p. 237.
Sapphire Record & Talking Machine Co. “Princess.” U.S. trademark filing #51,385 (Aug 13, 1910).
“To Make Records and Machines.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1911), p. 61.
© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.