New Discography: Sonora Vertical-Cut Records (Free Download for Personal Use)

Free to Download for Personal Use

SONORA VERTICAL-CUT RECORDS
A Preliminary Discography

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The newest addition to Mainspring Press’ free Online Reference Library explores the Sonora Phonograph Company’s rare and obscure 1910 vertical-cut discs.

Sonora’s attempts to enter the phonograph and record market were stymied from the start by attorneys for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Having been legally enjoined from making standard lateral-cut recordings (although they went so far as to advertise a lateral disc under the Crown label), Sonora took a bold but ill-advised step, becoming the first American producer to reach the market with vertical-cut discs.

Unfortunately, no significant market yet existed for such records in the United States, nor was Sonora able to create one. The company failed in 1911, and its masters were taken over by the producers of the newly launched Princess label, which was equally unsuccessful in winning over converts to the vertical cut. The Sonora name and “Clear as a Bell” trademark subsequently passed through a long succession of other owners.

Sonora Vertical-Cut Records is the only in-depth study of these records, compiled from first-hand inspection of the original discs and ancillary materials. It is a preliminary discography, and we will be updating it online as needed; information on submitting data will be found in the file. Also included is a timeline summarizing the Sonora Phonograph Company’s history, adapted from American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950 (the very few remaining copies are available from Mainspring Press).

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Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (< 1 mb)

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Sonora Vetical-Cut Records is a part of the free
Record Collectors’ Online Reference Library,
courtesy of Mainspring Press, the leader in forensic discography.

This copyrighted publication is intended for personal, non-commercial use only. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution by any means, including but not limited to e-book or online database conversion, is prohibited. Please read, and be sure to observe, our terms of use as outlined in the file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

 

 

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Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography


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Custom-Pressed Standard Talking Machine Discs, and an Odd Standard Style X Arm Support

Custom-Produced Standard Talking Machine Discs, and an
Odd Standard Style X Arm Support

 

A couple of interesting pieces from the Standard Talking Machine Company of Chicago have arrived recently that are worth sharing. (For the full story of Standard and related businesses, see our posting on the Chicago Premium Scheme Labels.)

The first is a 1909 letter, from Standard to a retailer who had requested Hungarian records that Standard did not stock. Standard’s reply was that they could make special arrangements  with Columbia to customize existing records for Standard machines, raising the possibility that special Standard-labeled discs might exist that don’t appear in the Standard catalogs:

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Customizing would not come cheaply. A later message from Standard to the same dealer noted that dealer cost would be 65¢ per disc for the foreign-series titles (in other words, close to full retail), rather than the 50¢ charged for regular releases. Add the shipping charges, which Standard passed on to its dealers, and there would have been little profit in the custom pressings.

Presumably, Columbia would have been willing to make the same accommodation for other foreign-catalog (E-series) records, although we’ve yet to see any E-series discs, Hungarian or otherwise, with Standard labels. It seems far less likely that Columbia would have been willing to customize any domestic (A-series) material not already in Standard’s catalog, especially since much of its higher-priced talent was off-limits to Standard.

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The next item is a 1911 envelope picturing the Standard Style X machine, put out by a photographic firm that offered the machine for free (most likely in exchange for credits or coupons that would have been given out with each purchase of specified goods or services, a common giveaway scheme). What’s unusual — aside from the substitution of a cheaper horn for the usual morning-glory — is the rather klutzy bent-rod arm support, replacing the normal, more graceful, cast-aluminum support.

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The illustration on the envelope has been reproduced from a photograph, so clearly this bent-rod support existed; but we’ve yet to see one, or even a modern photo of one, on any Standard front-mount. Anyone have an actual example of this support, or information on when or why it was used?

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The Antique Phonograph Gallery • Victor Junior (1906 Advertisement & 1907 Grace Wiederseim Illustration)

Introduced in 1906, the Junior was Victor’s cheapest talking machine at the time, originally retailing for $10. The ad below announced its impending arrival on July 1 of that year.

Six months later the Junior was featured on the cover of the Victor Records supplement. Although the illustration is unsigned, a note in the catalog confirms it is by Grace Wiederseim, creator of the Campbell’s Soup Kids (Campbell’s Soup being Victor’s Camden neighbor; its factory whistle spoiled a few masters in the early days).

Although the Junior reputedly was used in some premium schemes, we’ve not yet tracked down any specifics in that regard. The machine remained available until 1920, by which time it was retailing for $12. The Junior is uncommon today.

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MSP_victor-jr_composite

Original catalog courtesy of John R. Bolig

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Vintage Phonograph Gallery • The Kraemer (Hawthorne & Sheble) Spring-Loaded Tone Arm (1907)

Thomas Kraemer’s spring-loaded tone arm was featured on Hawthorne & Sheble’s Star phonographs beginning in 1907. A key feature was a small coiled spring that was said to propel the reproducer, thus supposedly skirting Victor’s Berliner patent, which specified that the record groove served that purpose. The courts weren’t swayed by that argument, finding the spring was too weak to serve any real purpose. Victor eventually forced Hawthorne & Sheble into bankruptcy, over unrelated patent-infringement claims in the Starola enclosed-horn machines, in 1909. There’s much more on Hawthorne & Sheble in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

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MSP_H&S-kraemer_1907

Clinton Repp’s Vitaphone Phonograph

Clinton B. Repp’s Vitaphone* machine was an oddity for its day, dispensing with the usual reproducer and hollow tone-arm assembly. Instead, the sound vibrations were transmitted by a solid wooden tone-arm to a stationery reproducer positioned at the horn linkage. Edward Amet had employed a similar idea in his glass-arm Echophone (U.S. patent #562,693, filed in November 1895), but Repp’s was a much more sophisticated design. It was also a universal phonograph, able to play lateral- or vertical-cut discs at a time when the latter were first appearing in the American market:
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VITAPHONE-1912.
Repp’s patent #1,003,655, filed on June 24, 1909, used a cylinder machine for illustrative purposes. We don’t know of any Repp cylinder machines having been produced, but the same basic design was incorporated in the Vitaphone disc machine:
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VITAPHONE_patent The Vitaphone Company launched a nationwide ad campaign in 1911, which naturally caught the attention of Victor’s patent attorneys.  On October 6, 1911, Victor applied for an  injunction, claiming infringement of its Berliner patent. On November 13, Judge Lacombe ruled in Victor’s favor and ordered issuance of a temporary injunction. Vitaphone appealed and continued to operate. The company advertised heavily during 1912, assuring dealers that its unique product infringed no patents (although it actually did):
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VITAPHONE-patent-letter The company even arranged to have Columbia press Vitaphone records, which were sold in Canada. More legal wrangling ensued, but in the end the legal issues became largely moot, as there apparently was too little demand for the product to keep Vitaphone afloat.

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* Of no relation to the earlier American Vitaphone Company (although Repp had sold their products in Cuba and Mexico), the Warner Brothers’ sound-film system, or any of the various other ventures using the Vitaphone name.

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.)

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