Leeds & Catlin Data Now Available Online at DAHR

Leeds & Catlin Data Now Available Online at DAHR

 

As part of Mainspring Press’ ongoing transition to digital data distribution, we’re happy to announce that our Leeds & Catlin discography has now been incorporated into the University of California-Santa Barbara’s free online Discography of American Historical Recordings.

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The listings were expertly adapted from Leeds & Catlin Records: A History and Discography (William R. Bryant & Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and include the latest revisions to that work. All brands are covered, from the well-known Leeds, Imperial, and Sun labels to such truly obscure items as 20th Century and Duquesne.

The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) and International Record Company databases are currently in preparation for DAHR. Mainspring’s American Zonophone data, including the previously unpublished volume covering 7″, 9″, and 11″ issues, was transferred to DAHR last year.

The James A. Drake Interviews • Rosa Ponselle Discusses Her Recordings

ROSA PONSELLE ON HER RECORDINGS
An Interview by James A. Drake

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(G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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Do you recall when you made your very first recording?

Don’t ask me about dates because I’m terrible at them, but I remember being given a contract by the Columbia company around the time I made my Met debut.  No, it was before my debut—I’m pretty sure it was before it because I made the recording in the spring, and my debut with Caruso in Forza del destino was in the fall, in November [1918].

 

So you were still in vaudeville with [your sister] Carmela when you made the recording?

No, we were “on strike” from the Keith Circuit in 1917, or that’s what we told [Keith Circuit booker] Eddie Darling at the time.  But Romano Romani, whom I credit with “discovering” me, was an arranger and conductor for Columbia, and he and my so-called manager, [William] Thorner, convinced me to accept a contract from Columbia rather than Victor.  What I didn’t know until a few years later, when I did go with Victor, was that they had wanted me from the time I made my Met debut.  After my debut was a sensation, as the critics called it, Victor wanted to offer me a big contract and have me record arias and duets from Forza with Caruso.

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Before the name change: Rosa and Carmela Ponzillo in vaudeville
(New York Clipper, August 8, 1917).

Carmela (left) and Rosa Ponselle (center) with Rosa’s secretary, Edith Prilik.
(G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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Were you at all aware of Victor’s interest when Columbia wanted you to sign with them?

No, but I should’ve been because [Columbia] really rushed the contract through, and then had me make this test record.  Some of my friends said I should have Thorner try to see if Victor would take me, but he gave me this song and dance about how if I went with Victor I would just be a “beginner” and wouldn’t get much to record, but that at Columbia I would be “the queen” and would be their big star.

 

Do you remember the title of your test recording for Columbia?

Sure.  “Pace, pace mio Dio,” with Romani accompanying me at the piano.  That would have been in the spring of 1918, maybe March or April.

 

Where were the Columbia studios in New York City, where you made your recordings?

It was on the top floor of a new building, the Gotham, near Central Park.  It was a beautiful new building, and the studios obviously were brand-new, too.  I think there were four studios that took up that whole top floor.  I know it was at least twenty-four stories, that building, and the studios were on the top floor.

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Watch Ponselle and Romani recording in the Columbia studio
(from the Library of Congress):
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Describe the process that making those recordings involved.

Well, there was just a small orchestra for accompaniment—mainly brasses and reeds, and these special [Stroh] violins that had a nickeled horn, like a curved megaphone, instead of a wooden body.  Those odd-looking violins were made just for recording purposes because their horns were fastened to a metal bridge, which made them very loud compared to a real violin—but they sounded awful!

 

How many were in the accompanying band, if you recall?

Maybe ten or a dozen players at most for vocal recordings.  They were on bleachers, I guess you could call them, a few feet above the floor.  The bleachers were shaped like a half-moon, so that the instruments were pointing toward the horn.  I remember that there was no player right behind me when I was singing.  The players were at my left and right, but with no one behind me because the sound of their instrument would have been right in back of my head.

 

When you were making a recording, could you see the recording machinery and the person who was running the equipment?

No.  All of that was behind a wall.  There was a little window in the wall so that the man directing the recording where the singer and the orchestra was could communicate with the people running the equipment.

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Ponselle with Romano Romani (G. G. Bain Collection,
Library of Congress)

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Was there a signal that someone gave to start the recording?

At Columbia, that was Romani’s job.  He would get a hand signal through the little window that I was just describing, and he would raise his baton and the recording would begin.  Now at Victor, I remember a buzzer that was used as a signal to start the recording.  That was before the microphone came in, of course.  After that, there was a system of lights, kind of like traffic lights.  The red light meant “stand by,” and the green one meant that the recording machine was already going.

 

Do you remember any directions you were given about how to sing into the recording horn?

Oh, that damned horn!  It was a real ordeal having to make a record with that horn, especially if you had a good-sized voice like mine.  You had to sing every note at almost the same volume—so if the score called for a pianissimo, you couldn’t sing it because the recording machine would barely pick it up.  You couldn’t sing too loud, either.  If you did, they [i.e., the recording engineers] said that it would “blast” the groove and ruin the record.  So anything forte, especially fortissimo, had to be sung by looking upward so that some of the sound wouldn’t do directly into the middle of the horn.  Or they would tell you to take a step back from the horn right before you would sing a note fortissimo.

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“[Thorner] gave me this song and dance about how…at Columbia I would be ‘the queen’ and would be their big star.”

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Both you and your sister Carmela were offered Columbia contracts, correct?

Yes, they wanted to capitalize on our reputation in vaudeville.  We were one of the top acts on the Keith Circuit before I went to the Met, and our act consisted of fifteen minutes of mainly duets that I had done the arrangements for.  Three that always got us huge ovations were our duets of the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann, “’O sole mio,” and “Comin’ thro’ the Rye.”  We recorded those for Columbia, and they sold well.

 

What is your opinion of your Columbia recordings?  Are there any that you remember especially well?

Well, those duets with Carmela, and another one from our vaudeville act, “Kiss Me Again,” which was my solo.  That record turned out pretty well.  One that didn’t like was the “Casta diva,” which I had to sing at a horrible tempo and with none of the dynamics that I used in the opera house.  I just thought of another duet recording that I liked:  the Trovatore “Mira d’acerbe lagrime” and “Vivrà! contende il giubilo!” which I made with Riccardo Stracciari.  My God, what a voice he had—just like a shower of diamonds!  Now, of all of the solo opera arias I made for Columbia, I consider the “Selva opaca” from William Tell to be the best one.

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The Ponselle sisters’ early Columbia output included selections they had featured in their vaudeville and concert performances.

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Was it hard for you to leave Columbia after being so successful with them, and go to Victor?

It was bittersweet, I would say.  The men at Columbia were so nice to me—they really did treat me like “the queen,” just as Romani and Thorner said they would.  And it was bittersweet because although I made a lot more money at Victor, Caruso had died two or three years earlier, so I never got to record with him.

 

Did Carmela audition for Victor with you?

No, she stayed with Columbia.  And by the way, I didn’t “audition” for Victor.  I was at the Met by then, and Victor did everything they could to get me to sign with them.

 

What do you remember about your first Victor recording sessions?

Well, the ones that were done with the horn and the small orchestra for accompaniment were made in their Manhattan studios.  When the microphone came along and everything was electrical, I made a lot of my records at this church that Victor had converted into a recording studio in Camden, New Jersey.  The acoustics of that church were ideal.

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From the “1930” Victor catalog (published November 1, 1929). Of Ponselle’s acoustically recorded issues, all but #6437 had been deleted by the time this catalog appeared.

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When the electrical-recording process was introduced in 1925, do you recall how different it felt to make a recording with the new technology?

Oh, yes!  It was like night and day.  The orchestra was much, much larger, and they used regular instruments—real violins, in other words—and you could have a good-sized chorus and a pipe organ if the music you were recording called for them.

 

You made a number of recordings with a chorus, and one of your fan’s favorites is “La vergine degli angeli” with [Ezio] Pinza.  Do you consider that one of your best electrical Victor records?

No—it’s one of my least favorites.  My part, that is, not Pinza’s.  He sings beautifully on that record.  What I don’t like about it is that somebody in the control room turned up the volume on my microphone.  It’s a prayer, so it’s supposed to be sung piano—but because of the way they turned up the volume on the microphone when I was singing my part, it’s way too loud, nothing like a prayer would be sung.

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Ponselle made her radio debut on the first Victor Hour broadcast of the 1927 season. (Radio Digest Illustrated, January 1927)

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How about your Forza trio recordings with Martinelli and Pinza?  Do you like those Victors?

Yes, they’re all right.  The blend of the voices turned out well.

 

Of all the duet recordings you made for Victor, the “Tomb Scene” discs from Aida with Giovanni Martinelli are prized by everyone who has heard them.  Is it true that you didn’t like them and that Martinelli had to convince you to allow them to be released?

That’s true, yes.  There again, the balance between our voices was wrong.  We recorded those duets twice, you know.  The first time was with the horn, and I wouldn’t let those be released because we were both too loud and the pace was too fast.  It’s like one of the Columbias that I made with that damned horn, the “Vergine degli angeli” with Charles Hackett.  He was an excellent singer—not the most beautiful voice, but a real artist—yet the recording was just awful.  It was all too loud, no subtlety at all.  The same with those first “Tomb Scene” recordings that I made with Martinelli and that damned horn.

When Victor persuaded us to re-record those duets after the microphone came in, the sound was much better, of course, but I thought the balance between our voices was still off, so I said I wouldn’t go along with putting them out.  Finally, Martinelli persuaded me to okay them.  He said, “Look, Rosa, the public will understand.  You sing so beautifully and your voice sounds just like it does on the stage.”  I could never say no to Martinelli, so I went along with him and let them be released.  When I hear them now, I’m glad I did.

 

What is your opinion of your Norma recordings, both the “Casta diva” and the “Mira, o Norma” with Marion Telva?

I’m fine with them, especially the “Mira, o Norma.”  Telva and I were in synch on every note.  We did that in the studio the way we did it onstage.  We held hands, and I would squeeze her hand gently a fraction of a second before I would begin a note.  Every time we did that duet, we were completely in synch because of the way we held hands.

 

Were any of your Victor Red Seals of older ballads like “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” conducted by Nathaniel Shilkret, who conducted most of Victor’s popular-music recordings?

No, never.  I don’t remember him—I mean, I must have been introduced to him, but I wouldn’t know him if he walked into this room right now.  Rosario Bourdon conducted my Victor recordings.

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An early 1950s promotional photo for RCA’s
Treasury of Immortal Performances reissues.

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As you hardly need me to tell you, you are one of the very few opera stars who made acoustical recordings, electrical recordings, and modern long-playing recordings.  You’ve talked about the day-and-night difference between making acoustical and electrical recordings, but what was it like by comparison to make high-fidelity long-playing recordings for your old company, RCA Victor?

What I wouldn’t have given to have had that recording system when I was in the prime of my career!  It was so easy making recordings that way!

 

Those LPs were made right here at Villa Pace, correct?

Yes, in the foyer, where the high ceiling and the walls and tile floor give the voice such resonance.  They set up the microphones there.  They brought in a seven-foot piano for [accompanist] Igor Chichagov, because it would have been too much trouble to move my concert Baldwin piano into the foyer.  And do you know that the man who oversaw those recordings was one of the men I worked with at Victor in Camden?  His name was Mr. Maitsch.  It was such a happy moment when he came here and we got to work together again.

 

The master recordings for those LPs were made on magnetic tape.  You had had some experience with having your singing tape-recorded by Lloyd Garrison, who recorded private albums that you sent to friends.  How different was it working the RCA’s technicians and their state-of-the-art equipment?

Well, the sound quality of the RCA equipment was leagues ahead of what Lloyd had used.  He had an ordinary [Webcor] tape recorder, but he did have a very good microphone that he bought for our private recordings.  But the RCA microphones were the ones they used in their studios, so of course they were the top microphones.

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Ponselle records at home (July 4, 1954)

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How many “takes” did you do of each of the songs you recorded for your LPs?

Well, if I liked the way it sounded, I just sang a song once.  Sometimes, they would ask me to do a second “take” just as a back-up—and sometimes I didn’t like the way I did a number, so I recorded it a second or maybe even a third time.  Now, that I didn’t realize until later, when I heard them on the discs for the first time, was that they [i.e., the sound engineers] had spliced different portions from different “takes.”  Now, that was something else I wish we’d have had in the old days.  I have a good ear, though, and when I listen closely I can sometimes tell where they did the splicing.  I can tell because the resonance changes just enough for my ear to detect it.

 

Did you rehearse a lot before you began recording the selections for those LPs each afternoon and evening?

Oh, hardly at all.  I just picked what I wanted to sing, and I handed the score to Igor [Chichagov] to play it while I sang it.  Now, he will tell you that he’s not happy with some of his playing because I didn’t want to rehearse.  I just wanted to keep going, and record as many songs as I could in one long day.  On a couple of the songs, I played my own accompaniment because it was easier for me to pace my phrasing.

 

Is there any one of the songs on which you played your own accompaniment that you remember especially well?

Yes, yes—“Amuri, amuri,” which is a Sicilian folk song.  It’s such an emotional song!  It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check while we were recording it.  Afterward, I was a wreck and we had to stop for quite a while until I could get my heart out of my throat and back where it belonged.

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© James A. Drake. All rights are reserved. Short excerpts may be quoted without permission, provided the source and a link to this posting are cited. All other use requires prior written consent of the copyright holder. Please e-mail Mainspring Press with questions, comments, or reproduction requests for the author.

The Bain Collection (Library of Congress) photographs are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

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Antique Phonograph Ephemera • 1904 Zonophone Gatefold Card

From the 1904 transitional period, soon after the Universal Talking Machine had been purchased by Victor’s Eldridge R. Johnson but was still marketing its own (pre-Victor) phonographs. The “Zonophone Company” name on the inner panel was used only briefly, dating this piece to fairly early in the year. (Many thanks, Jorge – I owe you a finder’s fee!)

Mainspring’s American Zonophone discographical data — now including all general-catalog 7″, 9″, 10″, 11″, and 12″ pressings — can be found on the free Discography of American Historical Recordings website, hosted by the University of California–Santa Barbara. If you prefer books, Bill Bryant’s 10″ / 12″ American Zonophone discography is still available on the  Mainspring Press website at special close-out pricing (but quantities are very limited).

Some Early Record-Pressing Plants

AUBURN BUTTON WORKS (Auburn, NY) — Founded in 1876  by John Hermon Woodruff, as Woodruff’s Button Factory, this  company was renamed Auburn Button Works in the late 1880s. It moved into the Washington Street buildings shown here in 1900. Auburn pressed the 7″ and 9″ brown-shellac Zonophone discs at an auxiliary plant in New York City.

The relationship was severed after Zonophone switched to Duranoid pressings in 1904, and the pressing equipment was moved to Auburn, where the International Record Company (producers of Excelsior, Lyric, et al.) was set up as a recording subsidiary. The company was forced to suspend production of its own records after losing a 1907 patent-infringement suit to Columbia. In the early 1920s the pressing plant was leased to Brunswick, then was sold to the Scranton Record Company in November 1924.

Auburn continued to manufacture other goods after spinning off the pressing business. Its final incarnation was as Auburn Plastics, Inc., which was incorporated on July 1, 1957, and dissolved (after many years of inactivity) on March 24, 1993.

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COLUMBIA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY (Bridgeport, CT) — Columbia’s sprawling Bridgeport complex housed most production operations other than recording. Acquired by the American Record Corporation in 1934, it continued to produce high-quality laminated pressings for ARC’s more expensive labels (Brunswick, Columbia, Liberty Music Shops, et al.), while pressing of ARC’s budget labels remained in Scranton. Conditions in the Bridgeport pressing plant were so bad by the mid-1930s that record producer John Hammond published a scathing exposé and attempted to unionize the workforce.

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VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY (Camden, NJ) — The largest record-production facility in the United States at the time, the Victor complex was a city unto itself, with its own printing plant, fire department, infirmary, auditorium, police force, docks, and rail line. The view above is from 1916; just twenty years earlier, future Victor founder Eldridge Johnson was building motors for Emile Berliner in a rented shack. The sole surviving structure now houses luxury apartments.

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LEEDS & CATLIN COMPANY (Middletown, CT) — In September 1905, Leeds & Catlin opened this pressing plant in the former Worcester Cycle Company factory, replacing its New York City plant. The move coincided with Leeds’ phase-out of its foil-labeled discs. Three months later, the company announced it had installed fifty additional presses to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for its new paper-labeled Imperial records. By the end of 1905, the Middletown plant was said to have an annual capacity of 150 million discs. This view appeared in a 1906 ad for Radium cylinders, Leeds’ short-lived attempt to re-enter the cylinder market.

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AMERICAN RECORD COMPANY / DOMESTIC / OKEH  (Springfield, MA) — The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) pressed their blue-shellac discs in this building during 1904–1906. Horace Sheble later pressed his Domestic discs here, using the same sort of blue shellac.

Following the demise of Domestic, Otto Heineman took over the plant in early 1918 for his newly launched Okeh label. Unable to keep up with orders for the first several years, Heineman contracted his overflow pressing to at least two outside plants.

In this view, Okeh is sharing space with the International Insulating Corporation, one of Heineman’s many other business ventures. This pressing plant was closed after Heineman opened a more modern facility in Newark, NJ, in 1921.

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BRUNSWICK-BALKE-COLLENDER COMPANY (Jersey City, NJ) — This was Brunswick’s second pressing plant; initially, it used a facility in Long Island City, NY. Brunswick also used the Auburn Button Works facility as an auxiliary pressing plant until November 1924, when the Scranton Button Company acquired Auburn’s pressing plant. Brunswick’s main pressing plant, in Muskegon, MI, opened in 1922. Vocalion’s masters were transferred there in March 1925. The Muskegon pressing plant was closed after the Brunswick and Vocalion labels were licensed to American Record Corporation, and in 1934 Decca Records purchased the largely obsolete equipment, much to its regret.

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STANDARD MUSIC ROLL COMPANY / THE ARTO COMPANY (Orange, NJ) — Employees assemble for a company photo in 1918 at the Standard Music Roll plant, before production of Arto records began (above). The photo was presented to president George Howlett Davis as a Christmas gift.

The Arto pressing plant was housed in a new structure, shown here in a 1919 architect’s sketch (below). Only the two-story structure on the right was actually built. In addition to the pressing plant, it housed Standard’s piano-roll flange factory. Although Arto claimed to operate its own studio, the vast majority of its masters were commissioned from outside sources, including Jones Recording Laboratories, Independent Recording Laboratories, New York Recording Laboratories, and Harry Marker’s H&M Laboratories (see Bell and Arto Records: A History and Discography, 1920–1928, available from Mainspring Press).

SCRANTON BUTTON COMPANY (Scranton, PA) — The largest independent American pressing plant for several decades, Scranton was closely affiliated with the Plaza Music Company / Regal Record Company group beginning in the early 1920s. Some accounts refer to this company in error as the Scranton Button Works.

Scranton sometimes invested in its clients (including National Music Lovers, in which it held a 49% stake) as a means of ensuring their continued business. At the time this view was published in 1924, the company has just acquired the Emerson recording division, which had been split from the radio division (the latter being the ancestor of the present-day Emerson corporation).

The plant was included in the 1929 merger that created the American Record Corporation. It continued to press budget labels for ARC until that company was sold to CBS, which had no use for the facility. Reorganized as the Scranton Record Company in 1939, it barely survived an entanglement with Eli Oberstein’s failed United States Record Corporation before re-emerging as a major independent plant. Capitol Records began purchasing  Scranton stock in 1944, and on March 26, 1946, it bought the company outright.

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NEW YORK RECORDING LABORATORIES (Grafton, Wisconsin) — Owned by the Wisconsin Chair Company (Port Washington, WI), this converted knitting mill on the Milwaukee River housed the pressing plant for Paramount and its many associated labels. It was a relatively primitive operation, and its pressings tend to reflect that. The pressing plant occupied the large structure on the left. Paramount’s now-legendary (and equally primitive) recording studio opened in late 1929, in the smaller building on the right. The studio building was demolished in 1938, the pressing-plant building in the mid-1940s.

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The Kaufman Brothers: Highlights from Jack Kaufman’s Scrapbooks (1910 – 1927)

A few years ago, Phil (“Road Mangler”) Kaufman kindly loaned us his grand-dad Jack’s scrapbooks, a treasure-trove of clippings and memorabilia relating to the Kaufman brothers’ time in vaudeville, as well as Jack’s family life. Here are some highlights, along with a few additional nuggets we recently found among Bill Bryant’s papers.

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Kaufman Brothers banner from the scrapbook’s inside back cover, c. 1910. The original act comprised Jack and Phil; Irving came in after the latter’s death in the late ‘teens.

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The Kaufman Brothers on the road (1910)

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Telegram sent to Jack Kaufman while appearing in Toronto, announcing the birth of his son. (1910)

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(Left, seated above arrow) Jack Kaufman’s wife, Rosina Carson Kaufman (a.k.a. Olive York), as an English showgirl. (Right) Jack Kaufman’s son Jules, c. late 1910.

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In the early days of their act, the Kaufmans regularly toured from coast to coast, but as the itinerary on the left shows, they later stayed close to home. Both pieces probably date to 1914, based on their position in the scrapbook. The misspelling “Kauffman” was not uncommon in newspapers.

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A telegram to the “Kuffman” brothers, November 1911. Bender, Coombs, Morgan, Pearl & Robinson was a vaudeville act comprising three Boston Athletics pitchers, the Pearl Sisters (Kathryn & Violet), and theatrical manager John Robinson. They toured together briefly after the 1911 World Series.

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An early ad for the Kaufman Brothers picturing Jack (left) and Phil (right), c. 1910. Before signing with Orpheum, they toured on the Pantages circuit.

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The Kaufmans were a favorite of newspaper caricaturists. These examples date from c. 1912–1914, when they sometimes  performed in blackface. “Palestine” refers to the town in Texas where the brothers claimed they picked up their “Southern” accents.

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Phil and Jack Kaufman in blackface with unidentified others, c. 1912. This unfortunate component of the act was mostly mothballed after Irving replaced Phil in the late ‘teens.

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After Phil’s death, Jack teamed with younger brother Irving, who had recently left the Avon Comedy Four. Irving and Jack were in  high demand by the recording studios. They worked cheap, weren’t picky about repertoire, and cranked out recordings by the hundreds, using so many aliases that new ones are still be discovered. Their cover of Gallagher & Shean’s Victor hit (“Absolutely, Mr. Gallagher?” “Positively, Mr. Shean!”) appeared on many minor labels. Regal’s ad pictured the actual Gallagher and Shean. (1923)

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Work is where you find it — in this case as an “added attraction” at a Philadelphia movie house. (1922)

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A hodge-podge of a concert at the Chicago Theatre, with selections ranging from a pipe-organ transcription of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture to a selection of current Tin Pan Alley hits by the Kaufmans.

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This Chicago handbill probably dates from 1923–1924. Note the mention of Jimmy Wade, a popular black Chicago band leader who recorded some fine sides for Paramount at about this time.

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The Kaufmans in a Vitaphone short (1927)

Black Swan Carusos, and Other Pirate Tales (1898 – 1951)

Black Swan Carusos, and Other Pirate Tales
(1898 – 1951)
By Allan Sutton

 

 

Record piracy — the unauthorized copying and selling of sound recordings — is a problem as old as the recording industry itself. Charges of cylinder piracy first surfaced in the early 1890s and became increasingly common as the decade progressed. Legal recourse was limited; sound recordings were not protected under copyright law at the time, and would not be for many more decades.

Pirating the early wax cylinders was simplicity in itself, requiring only a couple of phonographs, an inexpensive recording head, a cylinder to copy, and some blanks upon which to copy it. Disc records were not immune to piracy, either, although the process was more complicated. The earliest discs sold for use with the new Zonophone machines used masters that were electroplated from Berliner pressings, with the Berliner name and patent notice buffed out.

At about the same time, the Standard Talking Machine Company (comprising Albert T. Armstrong, Joseph W. Jones  Joseph A. Vincent, Emory Foster, and musical instrument manufacturer Charles G. Conn)  [1] began selling pirated Berliner discs under the Wonder brand, for sale with the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine, a two-horned phonograph apparently inspired by Conn’s line of double-belled band instruments. Standard issued a substantial disc catalog made up entirely of Berliner recordings that retained their original catalog numbers, with a “1” prefix added. The company quickly failed.

Armstrong’s next venture, the American Talking Machine Company, offered a new disc line, pressed in the same distinctive red fibrous material as the Wonder records. Berliner also claimed  these were pirated, although some known examples are not. American Talking Machine countered with the offer of a $1000 reward for the arrest and conviction of “parties circulating false and malicious statements” about their products. The manager of Berliner’s Philadelphia office was arrested, but little more came of the scuffle. The company failed in 1900, after the American Graphophone Company (Columbia) withdrew patent protection. [2]

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.(Top) The Wonder Record catalog was made up entirely of pirated Berliner Gramophone recordings; catalog numbers were Berliner’s, prefixed by a 1. (Bottom) Albert Armstrong’s American Talking Machine discs used some non-Berliner masters that are believed to have been original. His later American Vitaphone records used pirated Victor and Columbia recordings. The example shown here is a Columbia title by Billy Murray.

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The arrival in the early 1900s of molded cylinders, which required expensive equipment and a high degree of technical expertise to produce, put an end to cylinder piracy. Discs were another story.

By 1902, Armstrong and some former associates were back in business, as the American Vitaphone Company. [3] They  launched the earliest known “record club,” which amounted to an exchange program under which members could turn in their old records for partial credit toward new Columbia, Victor, or Zonophone discs. [4] For a time, Armstrong even offered to take in old Berliner machines, which he would refurbish for $12 and return to the customer with a new Concert Grand nameplate. Such record-exchange arrangements, however, were frowned upon by the major suppliers (which considered them to be illegal price-cutting), and Vitaphone’s “club” appears to have been short-lived. [5]

But what landed Armstrong and company in serious legal trouble was their introduction in 1902 of American Vitaphone discs, which were clearly pirated from Columbia and Victor recordings. Masters, again made by electroplating commercial pressings, often showed the original markings, and Armstrong even retained the Columbia and Victor catalog numbers. Shoddily pressed and barely advertised, the records did little if anything to undermine Victor or Columbia sales.

Victor finally took action in 1904, suing American Vitaphone for unfair competition as well as infringing its “red circular label applied to the center of a disc,” [6] for which it had recently been granted a U.S. trademark. [7] U.S. Circuit Court Judge Lacombe dismissed the red-label argument but ruled that American Vitaphone’s “re-duplication” of Victor recordings did indeed constitute unfair competition. [8] He granted an injunction on October 4 of that year, effectively ending the American Vitaphone operation. Armstrong died in early 1905, and in  November of that year, the American Express Company served notice that it would auction all unclaimed American Vitaphone property in its possession.

The Vitaphone decision had a temporary chilling effect on would-be pirates. Victor and Columbia instead turned their attention to vanquishing upstart companies, like Leeds & Catlin and Talk-O-Phone, that infringed their patents. The latter was still manufacturing phonographs, although it had not produced its own records since late 1903. [9] But in October 1908, Talk-O-Phone founder Winant Van Zant Pearce Bradley resurfaced in pirate mode with the Continental Record Company of New Baltimore, New York. Officially, the company was incorporated by Benjamin I. Carhart, E.O. Goodell, and J. C. Cady, Jr., none of whom were known entities in the recording industry. [10] In reality, as later testimony would reveal, the company was just a front for Bradley.

Following the now-familiar procedure, Continental obtained its stampers by electroplating commercial pressings of Victor and Fonotipia celebrity recordings. The stampers were sent to an undisclosed foreign location, widely suspected to be Japan, where a factory had recently opened that supposedly pressed  and exported “re-duplicated” records. Although the original markings were generally effaced from the stampers, Continental’s sales literature and labels openly acknowledged that the discs were “duplicates” of original records.”

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(Left) A Continental pressing from a pirated Fonotipia master, with the disclaimer, “This record is a duplicate of an original recording.” (Right) A Luxus pressing from a pirated Caruso Victor. Possibly of foreign origin, specimens turn up in the U.S. on occasion. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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In August 1909, following motions for preliminary injunctions, Victor and Fonotipia Ltd. brought separate actions against Bradley, which were tried together by Judge Chatfield. [11] Investigation revealed that the Continental Record Company, which claimed in its incorporation papers to be headquartered in New Baltimore (a rural village south of Albany, New York), had no verifiable office or plant there; its only confirmed employee was a local attorney. The company’s New York billing address, at 147 West Thirty-Fifth Street, turned out be occupied by an apparently unrelated storage company. Bradley claimed to have no connection with the company, except as its sales agent, but he was unable to produce witnesses who would testify to that effect.

During the trial, it was established beyond doubt that Bradley’s pressings were pirated from commercial releases. Despite his  claim that the records were equal in quality to the originals, examination revealed that the Continental pressings used inferior material, were less durable and more prone to warping than the originals, and exhibited  “a dulling or far-away effect” in playback.

Waldo G. Morse (the attorney who had represented Bradley’s Talk-O-Phone Company several years earlier) contended that Victor’s and Columbia’s licensing agreements and price controls amounted to restraint of trade, and that the artists whose work had been taken were necessary parties to the suit. Judge Chatfield rejected both arguments, holding that Bradley’s operation amounted to unfair competition, and granted an injunction. [12]

In his ruling, the judge opined, “The education of the public by the dissemination of good music is an object worthy of protection, and it is apparent that such results could not be attained if the production of the original records was stopped by the wrongful taking of both product and profit by anyone who could produce sound discs free from the expense of obtaining the original record.” Bradley moved on to other, non-phonographic endeavors, although his brothers remained involved in some legally questionable enterprises, including the patent-infringing International Record Company.

Little more was heard of illegal record operations, at least in the U.S., until 1921. In early April, the Opera Disc Company burst on the scene with an extensive catalog featuring Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, and many other exclusive Victor Red Seal artists. [13] The company had been incorporated several months earlier by New York securities broker Max Hesslein, in partnership with C. G. Galston and C. Rose. [14] Although the company named its label Musica, the public called them “Opera Discs” from the start. [15]

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.(Left) An early Opera disc issue, with the company’s label pasted over a DGG original. (Right) The more familiar version of the label, applied directly to the pressings.

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Manufactured in Germany by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (DGG) and exported by DGG’s Polyphonwerke branch, Opera Discs were not technically pirated. DGG’s predecessor, Deutschen Grammophon Aktiegescheellschaft (DGA), was the Gramophone Company’s German branch and as such held a vast number of Gramophone and Victor masters at its Hannover pressing plant. The masters were seized as spoils of war at the outbreak of German hostilities in 1914. Following the war’s end, DGA was reorganized as DGG, an independent entity. Although it no longer had corporate ties to the Gramophone or Victor companies, DGG claimed rights to any of those companies’ masters that had been in their possession at the time of the seizure.

What DGG did not possess were rights to distribute those recordings outside of Germany. Victor and the Gramophone Company immediately demanded that distribution be halted, to no avail. [16] The records continued to be sold into 1922, when the matter was finally referred to the Anglo-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal in London. Although sales of the recordings in Germany were ruled to be legal and allowed to continue, DGG and Polyphonwerke were enjoined from exporting the records. [17] In the U.S., Victor sought but initially failed to obtain a permanent  injunction. [18] A definitive American ruling was not issued until March 31, 1923, when the  U.S. District Court in Brooklyn granted the injunction and ordered the Opera Disc Company to turn over all pressings, catalogs, and advertising material to Victor. [19]

American customers, it turned out, liked Opera Discs. The records were pressed in better material than their Victor counterparts, some dealers offered them below list price (which was roughly comparable to that of the corresponding Red Seals), and the catalog included European recordings by the likes of Battistini and Chaliapin that were not otherwise available in the U.S. They sold well overall; even today, many issues are still fairly easy to find.

A strong market for Victor knock-offs clearly existed, and record producer John Fletcher stepped in to fill the void that Opera Disc’s forced departure created. Fletcher, in partnership Harry Pace, had launched the Fletcher Record Company in April 1922, primarily to serve as the pressing plant for Pace’s Black Swan records. Fletcher had already failed with his earlier Operaphone and Olympic operations, and things would not go much better for his latest venture. His newly relaunched Olympic label attracted little interest, and sales of Black Swan’s race records were declining in the face of stepped-up competition from Okeh and others. As production faltered, Fletcher began making the same sort of bad decisions that had doomed his previous companies.

In late December 1922, an unnamed party approached Harry Pace with a proposition that the Fletcher plant press records from “masters made by Caruso himself in Germany.” (Since Caruso never recorded in Germany, the reference almost certainly was to the Victor and Gramophone Company masters being held by DGG in Germany.) Pace wisely declined, writing to Black Swan investor W. E. B. Du Bois that he did so “for fear of legal entanglements with the Victor Company who are too powerful to start any scrap with.” [20]

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.Fletcher Record Company pressings from pirated Victor recordings, 1923. Harry Pace opposed the idea but was overruled by Fletcher.

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But Fletcher, who controlled the manufacturing end of the partnership, overruled him. The Fletcher Record Company would manufacture the illegal pressings, which featured Caruso and other exclusive Victor artists. They were marketed by one or more shadowy entities whose backers probably will never be known, under the Pan American and Symphony Concert labels. [21] The labels showed no manufacturer’s name, but the records exhibited all the tell-tale characteristics of Fletcher’s pressings and label typography. Some appear to use the original DGG stampers; many others used stampers that had obviously been electroplated from commercial pressings, and not very expertly. Efforts to efface the original markings weren’t entirely successful, some small pits and other surface irregularities appear that are not present on the originals, and in one case, what appears to have been a stray hair was electroplated right along with the disc.

If Victor had any response to the new pirates, it was never reported in the trade papers. It would prove to be a moot point, anyway. By the spring of 1923 (probably the soonest the records could have made it to market), the Fletcher Record Company was failing. Pace pulled out in June, transferring his Black Swan pressing business to the New York Recording Laboratories’ plant, and Fletcher was bankrupt by year’s end. By then, the Symphony Concert records were being remaindered by one New York dealer for 19¢ each.

Record piracy did not resurface in any significant way until the later 1940s, with the sudden proliferation of small independent pressing plants eager for business of any kind, no questions asked. These tended to be full-fledged counterfeiting operations, copying not just the recordings, but the actual labels as well. The problem became so widespread that in the autumn of 1947 the Treasury Department launched an investigation that soon expanded to include the FBI and any number of state and local agencies. Initially, only small independent labels were targeted (particularly those specializing in race records), but it was not long before counterfeit Deccas began to surface.

In early April 1948, officials of Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor agreed to help underwrite the investigation, which by then had become national in scope. [22] A few minor offenders were caught, but the counterfeiting continued unabated. With no major culprits apprehended, the investigation eventually wound down, leaving the problem to worsen considerably. In September 1951, Billboard reported that one operation based in the New York area, which had so far eluded all efforts at detection, was believed to be pressing more than 50,000 counterfeit discs weekly. [23]

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References

 

[1] Unrelated to the later Standard Talking Machine Company of Chicago, a premium-scheme operation that sold legally rebranded Columbia products.

[2] Details of this rather complicated arrangement can be found in the author’s A Phonograph in Every Home (Mainspring Press).

[3] Unrelated to Clinton Repp’s 1911 Vitaphone company, which manufactured a unique reproducerless phonograph, nor to the much Vitaphone sound-film system.

[4] “Rates for Exchanging Records to Club Members… How to Secure Free Life Membership in Exchange Club” (American Vitaphone Company bulletin, December 1, 1902).

[5] “Our Proposition Of You Are the Owner of an Old Style Gramophone Just Like This One.” ” (American Vitaphone Company bulletin, December 1, 1902).

[6] Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Armstrong et al., 132 F. 711

[7] Victor Talking Machine Company. U.S. trademark application #42,962 (filed June 9, 1904).

[8]  “Decision on Re-Duplication.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1905), p. 11.

[9] Talk-O-Phone’s corporate predecessor, the Ohio Talking Machine Company, made original recordings in its Toledo studio during 1902–1903, employing Strobel’s Band (Charles J. Strobel being  president of the Toledo Baseball Club and the band’s financial backer, but not its director) and other local talent. In late 1903, at about the time of its reorganization as the Talk-O-Phone Company, it discontinued recording and instead began marketing the new Leeds & Catlin discs for use with its phonographs.

[10] “Recently Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1908), p. 19, repeated in an untitled notice on p. 32). The former gave the location as New Baltimore, Maryland, in error.

[11] Fonotipia et al. v. Bradley, 171 F. 951; Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Same, 171 F.951.

[12] Signs Decree in ‘Dubbing’ Case.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 45.

[13] “Phonograph Discs “Made in Germany.’” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (May 18, 1921), p. 16.

[14] “Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921), p. 54.

[15] Opera Disc Co. “Musica G.D.” U.S. trademark filing #145,643 (filed April 2, 1921). The filing claimed use of the Musica name on records since March 25, 1921.

[16] “Asks Record Injunction.” New York Times (December 10, 1921), p. 19.

[17]  “German Record Concerns Enjoined.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1922), p. 61.

[18] “Hearing Held in the Victor Company–Opera Disc Company Suit.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1922), p. 82.

[19] “Victor Co. Secures Injunction in Opera Disc Suit.” Talking Machine World (April 15, 1923), p. 106.

[20] Pace, Harry H. Letter to W. E. B. Du Bois (December 23, 1922). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Largely forgotten today is the fact that Du Bois, perhaps as much as Pace, was a driving force in Black Swan’s creation. A major investor in the company, he was frequently consulted by Pace on matters ranging from financial and legal issues to artists and repertoire. Their correspondence, which survives but has been largely overlooked by researchers, presents a far more accurate picture of Black Swan’s inner workings than most modern texts.

[21] The Symphony Concert label was used earlier for legitimate pressings from Earle W. Jones’ masters, as well as being pasted over other companies’ surplus pressings. Examples are known of Symphony Concert labels pasted onto Opera Disc pressings, but other (presumably later) examples are clearly Fletcher’s work.

[22] “Major Diskers Crack Down on Coast Bootlegging of Hit Recordings.” Variety (April 7, 1948), p. 42.

[23]  Martin, Joe. “‘Disklegger’” Is Plague to Record Mfrs.” Billboard (September 1, 1951), p. 1.

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©2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Recollections of the New Jersey Phonograph Company by Victor Emerson and John Bieling

Recollections of the New Jersey Phonograph Company
By Victor Emerson and John Bieling
Introduction by Allan Sutton

 

Chartered on February 19, 1889, as a licensee of the North American Phonograph Company, Newark-based New Jersey Phonograph was one of the earliest producers of cylinder recordings for entertainment purposes. Officers at the time of its founding included George G. Frelinghuysen (president), N. M. Butler (vice-president), and William L. Smith (general manager). In 1892, Smith was replaced by Victor Hugo Emerson (later of Emerson Records fame), who also served as the company’s recording engineer.

At the time of the company’s launch, the phonograph was being marketed primarily as a dictation machine, with music an afterthought; Edison didn’t begin making musical records for sale on a regular basis until May 24, 1889. New Jersey officials, however, reported difficulties in placing the machines with businesses. In May 1890, William Smith noted that the company was encountering organized opposition from stenographers (who feared losing their jobs to a mechanical contraption), and that many business leases were not being renewed.

The company would prove to be far more successful in the nascent entertainment field. The Phonogram for June–July 1891 listed New Jersey as one of the concerns “active in the securing of musical selections,” and the company itself confirmed in 1892 that it was making original recordings. The Phonogram for December of that year devoted a full page to portraits of New Jersey Phonograph recording artists, who included Will F. Denny, George J. Gaskin, John P. Hogan, Russell Hunting, Len Spencer, and George Washington Johnson.

Following a disastrous fire in the winter of 1892, New Jersey Phonograph moved its offices and studio to more picturesque quarters in a loft above the Armour meat-packing plant at 87–89 Orange Street in Newark. Banjoist Fred Van Eps, who made his earliest known recordings there, recalled, “They had the hams and carcasses downstairs and the records upstairs.”

On February 16, 1893, New Jersey Phonograph was reorganized as the United States Phonograph Company, although it continued to advertise under the New Jersey banner well into the year. [1] Frelinghuysen and Emerson retained their positions and were soon joined by George E. Tewksbury and Simon S. Ott, who had previously been associated with the Kansas and Nebraska Phonograph companies.

Detailed histories of these and all the other North American Phonograph sub-companies, and their successors, will appear in American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950, coming in 2018. In the meantime, here are the recollections of two men who were there — recording engineer Emerson, and singer John Bieling.

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Victor Emerson
Speech at the American Graphophone Company’s 25th Anniversary Celebration (Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York – May 15, 1912)

.The real birth of the musical record business took place in New Jersey. The promoters of the enterprise, in those early days, believed the real commercial value of the phonograph or graphophone lay in its commercial features. [2] I know I was hired by a concern to take charge of the dictaphones [3] they had out at that time, and I was asked by Mr. Charles Cheever to make a report upon the subject, and take a week to do it and not to be afraid to tell the truth about the situation. I thought that with a week’s practice I would be able to tell the truth about it and make my report to Lippincott and Cheever. It was an adverse one, and I know that I lost my job the next day. [4]

I then went to work for the New Jersey Phonograph Company and, with my fair exper­ience with the dictaphone, I  thought that to keep my 15 dollars a week coming in I had better try to get them started on musical features. I was very busy “jollying” capitalists for about a week and figured it would cost about 15 dollars to try the stunt.

The Board of Directors consisted of Nicholas M. Butler (now President of Columbia College), S.S. Batten, President of the First National Bank in Newark, N.J., and George Frelinghuysen. They held a Directors’ Meeting and held that a 15 dollars risk was too great! I told them I would pay the 15 dollars if we lost. They asked me to put up the 15 dollars. I didn’t have 15 dollars, but told them they could take it out of my pay if things went wrong! That was a sure bet because. If it went wrong, I’m sure I would have lost my Job and I would have been in 15 dollars anyway!

They finally consented and I set up ten machines on Market Street, beside the Prudential Building, which they were about to tear down at that time. Just as I had finished setting up the ten machines I heard the most lovely music playing out in the street. The tune was “The Boulanger Patrol.” It was being played by a “mud-gutter band” of four pieces.

I asked the “orchestra leader” to come up in my office as I wanted to talk business with him. He had, evidently, never talked with a real businessman before and was very much embarrassed, but he finally said that he did not want to do that kind of business as he was making money in “the legitimate field” and he did not think it would be worth his while, but I told him that we were “sports,” and he could play sitting down on chairs instead of kicking the “bouquets” in the streets! And he finally said he would play for 3 dollars a day for four men.

All phonograph men are economists — if they were not, they would not be in this business, and so I “Jewed” him down to 50 cents and closed the contract! He played all day, and we made about 2,000 records. These cost us nothing because we got the “blanks,” on credit, from the Edison Works, and we never paid our bills — neither did anybody else — it was merely a habit at that time! I’m sure that the people who bought them from me never paid for them! To my knowledge, there never was a musical record sold before that time, [5] and so we held many “conflabs” and figured out what profits we had to make on those 2,000 records, consi­dering the large investment of 3 dollars!

As I said, they were about to tear down the Prudential Building and a man came over and said it would be a good scheme if I could exhibit a Phonograph over in the Prudential place. He was sure I would make some money out of it. I told him it was an expensive thing to do and he acknowledged it. But finally we rented the place at a cost of about 60 dollars. “Now,” he said, “What about records?” I told him we had some “John Philip Sousa Band” records, that we had made at a very large expense, and that we could sell them at 2 dollars, meaning 2 dollars per dozen. And he said, “All right, here is 24 dollars for twelve!” Well we sold all those records at, practically, 2 dollars and now the great question that concerned us was how to stock them.

I got the Manager to consent to give me 5 dollars of that 24 dollars and let me buy a cabinet. I went to a junk store and bought a second-hand kitchen closet. It had a nice, large, fat chop in it, which quite considerably increased the assets of the Company! At the same time gave us something to eat — if the worst came to the worst! The only other expense was 10 cents for chloride of lime; and we stocked those records. I thought it was fun to have a “Grand Concert” up in my office, and when the stock got low, I said to Mr. Smith we had better make some more. He asked “How many have you got left?” and I said “Six.” He said, “Well, gracious me, wait till we sell them all!”

The next great artist we had was George W. Johnson, the composer of “The Whist­ling Coon” and “The Laughing Song,” and I think that the phonograph companies have made more money on those two records than on any other two records in their catalogues. [6] I con­tracted with Johnson to sing at 25 cents a song and kept him busy all day and all night. But the price of whiskey went up at about that time, as you will remember, and it was the same problem then as now, you must give a man sufficient money so that he can live and have the necessities of life. So George “struck,” and I had to bow to the yoke!

Our next artist was [George] J. Gaskin. He was the leader of the Manhattan [sic: Manhansett] Quartet. He, very fortunately, broke his contract just as we were perfecting our duplicating machine. I want to say, by way of diversion, that this duplicating machine was originally invented by Frank Capps. He used to go in a shop parlor, in Chicago, borrow a record, take it home and duplicate it, and would return the other record, but in another color! That looked sus­picious to us and we traced him up, and found him climbing telegraph poles near Pretoria, Illinois! We bought him out and started him manufacturing duplicating machines for us.

But what I want to say about Gaskin is that he told me, one day, that he had a new quartet and that he was going to put it on the market and bust our business. Says he, “The very name will do it!” And I asked, “What name?” and he said, “The Mozart Quartet.” “Mozart, you know,” he added, “was a great musical “‘moke.’”

Well, gentlemen, from that beginning we ran into a business of probably 500,000 records per year in a short time, and I  would have done a large and profitable business were it not for the fact that Mr. Easton [president of the Columbia Phonograph Company] started in about that time and used to buy records from me and scooped up all my new customers with my own records. [7] The only thing that kept us alive was that the Columbia Phonograph Company actually did pay its bills and, at that time, it was about the only company that did.

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John Bieling
From “Reminiscences of Early Talking Machine Days” (The Talking Machine World, April 15, 1914)

Some twenty-two years ago I belonged down in the old Fourteenth Ward — born and raised there; around Spring Street and the Bowery. Four of us fellows used to “barber shop” on a Saturday night and Sunday, and by constant practice our voices blended in great shape in the real thing — good, old fashioned melodies and sentimental ballads. The quartet at that time was George J. Gaskin, Joe Riley, Walter Snow and myself. We called it the Manhansset Quartet. In 1892 we had been working together about a year, when one day Gaskin told us about a man named Emerson who was manager of a concern over in Newark, N. J., called the United States Phono Co., [8] who wanted a good quartet to make some records for him.

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1892

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All of us fellows worked in the day time and did our quartet work evenings. I was making stained glass windows at the time and never thought of making a regular profession of singing. Gaskin had to do some tall talking to persuade us to go over to Newark and work till all hours making these records. I assure you we were a pretty nervous quartet. The first time we went there we knew nothing of what was expected of us, but we took a chance.

Over the ferry, the train brought  us into Newark and Gaskin steered us into a loft over some meat packing house about 50 by 100 and 20 feet, littered with machine boxes and barrels in every state of shipping and handling piled up everywhere. [9]

We at last got ready to make our first record, and I assure you a funny sensation came over all of us. They had about nine horns all grouped together, each one leading to a separate machine connected with a piece of rubber hose. The operator then put the soft wax cylinders on the machines and let the recorder down and then said “All right, go ahead.” I assure you I almost forgot to sing when I heard the sizzling noise coming out of the horns. However, we got through with that round fairly well, considering our nervous state, and after that we began to make some records and they sounded pretty good. Well, that was the first time I got real money for singing and I felt like a millionaire going home that night.

We worked contentedly along these lines for about a year, in the meantime holding down my job at my trade during the day. All was serene. When — crash — someone invented a dubbing machine, which meant that they could make any amount of records from a master record, and we could see fewer engagements coming our way with this new scheme.

It certainly gave us a shock when we discovered that this new idea meant that one “master record” could be used to make duplicates until the wax wore out. This is how it was done: They built a machine with two mandrels, one under the other; on one they would put the cylinder with the song on, and on the other a blank cylinder; then start the machine and throw the sound from one to the other without the services of the quartet. It was tragic, but, like all labor-saving devices, it gave birth to a greater field of work to develop records in. Where we formerly sang the same song forty times, now we sang forty different selections, satisfying the rapidly growing market for “canned music.”

By this time our success as a quartet was quite famous, and we worked for all the record making companies then doing business. About this time, say 1895, we used to go over to Philadelphia and sing about once a month for a man named Berliner, a quiet, modest little German, who had us work in his little attic workshop and register our selections on a flat matrix…

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[1] Not to be confused with the much later U.S. Phonograph Company (Cleveland), the manufacturers of U-S Everlasting cylinders.

[2] Emerson here is referring to the phonograph’s use as a dictating machine, rather than as entertainment device. Each use  had its advocates, who often worked at cross-purposes during this period. The Texas Phonograph Company went so far as to ban any demonstrations of the machine’s musical capabilities in its Dallas offices and show-room, for fear of driving away potential business clients. Those wishing to hear a tune (for a fee) were directed to the company’s separate phonograph gallery, in an adjacent building.

[3] This is a generic reference to phonographs intended for business dictation, rather than the actual Dictaphone machine. “Dictaphone,” with a capital “D,” was not registered as a trademark until September 1907, by Columbia.

[4] The events referred to in the opening paragraphs occurred during early-to-mid 1892. Emerson resigned from United States Phonograph (New Jersey’s successor) in January 1897 to accept a recording engineer’s position with Columbia. Several associates followed him, helping themselves to some U.S. masters on their way out.

[5] Emerson is mistaken here. Edison had been selling musical cylinders since the late spring of 1889, followed by Columbia in early 1890. The reference to “2,000 records” is to individual copies, not the number of titles recorded.

[6] A pioneering African-American recording artist, George Washington Johnson’s main recorded repertoire consisted of approximately a half-dozen songs, which he repeated for numerous companies well into the early 1900s. Although Johnson’s records were very popular, it is unlikely that sales ever approached this level, given their relative scarcity today as compared to other surviving records of the period. Unfortunately, sales figures do not exist that could prove or disprove Emerson’s claim. Johnson didn’t compose “The Whistling Coon” as Emerson states, but he recorded it so often that the song became inextricably linked to him in the public’s mind.

[7] Emerson is referring here to master recordings, which Columbia purchased and duplicated for sale under its own brand. The copying of other companies’ recordings (done legally in this case, but not always in others) was a common practice during the brown-wax era.

[8] Successor to the New Jersey Phonograph Company. At the time the Manhansett first recorded, the company was still operating under the original New Jersey name.

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VICTOR EMERSON went on to serve long and well as Columbia’s chief recording engineer and a key figure in the development of the Little Wonder record. He resigned from Columbia in 1914 to launch the Emerson Phonograph Company, which despite its initial success, was bankrupt by 1921. Forced out in the reorganization that followed, Emerson retired to California, where he died on June 22, 1926.

JOHN BIELING, although he never attained any great popularity as a soloist, continued to record prolifically as a member of various studio ensembles, including the Haydn (a.k.a. Edison Male) and American (a.k.a. Premier) quartets. After experiencing throat problems in 1913, he gave up singing to work as a traveling Victor salesman, then opened his own record store. Beginning in 1946, he hosted an annual reunion of pioneer recording artists. He died on March 29, 1948.

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Annotations ©2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved. The Emerson and Beiling excerpts are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.

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Boston Talking Machine Company and the Little Wonder Phonograph (1910 – 1913)

 Boston Talking Machine Company and the Little Wonder Phonograph (1910 – 1913)
By Allan Sutton

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When the Boston Talking Machine Company introduced its Little Wonder phonograph in 1911, Little Wonder records were still three years in the future. Little Wonder phonographs and discs were unrelated, the products of two entirely different companies.

Boston Talking Machine was launched in the spring of 1910 by  Josiah B. Millet (an acoustic engineer, inventor, and publisher of The American Business Encyclopaedia and Legal Advisor) and was financed largely by Henry and Henrietta Whitney. Millet assembled a stellar staff, including George Cheney, formerly of Zonophone and Sonora (recording engineer); Louis Valiquet, formerly of Zonophone (consulting engineer); Loring Leeds, formerly of Leeds & Catlin (general manager); and Fred Hager, formerly of Zonophone (musical director). Isaac W. Norcross was also briefly associated with the venture but severed the relationship in August or September 1910. The company produced Phono-Cut discs, the third American vertical-cut label to be introduced (preceded only by Sonora and Sapphire).

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Boston Talking Machine’s records were marketed by the Phono-Cut Record Company beginning in early 1911. The Colonial Phono-Cut, a short-lived (and now quite rare) single-sided variant, used Phono-Cut’s master numbers for its catalog numbers. It was no bargain, at just a nickel less than its double-sided sibling.

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Boston Talking Machine’s Little Wonder phonograph was a compact device with cast-iron base and a reproducer that could be rotated to play either vertical- or lateral-cut discs. The tonearm terminated within a small pivoting external horn, from which the sound was reflected.

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Boston Talking Machine’s Little Wonder phonograph, with the reproducer in vertical-cut position (from Tim Brooks & Merle Sprinzen’s Little Wonder Records and Bubble Books, Mainspring Press). The ads are from 1912 (middle) and 1913 (bottom), the latter just before the name was changed to Wondrola.

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Around June 1913, for reasons that remain undiscovered, the Little Wonder phonograph was renamed Wondrola. The change had nothing to do with Little Wonder discs (a Columbia product that would not be introduced or trademarked for another year) but coincided with Boston Talking Machine’s growing  financial troubles. The company had discontinued recording in early 1913, and during the summer it lost its largest retailer with the closing of Chicago’s O’Neill-James Company. On October 2, Boston Talking Machine  was placed in receivership. According to Henry Whitney, the company was “financially embarrassed and unable to meet its obligations.”

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Around June 1913, the Little Wonder machines began to be marketed under the Wondrola name. By then, Boston Talking Machine was failing financially and just a few months away from being placed in receivership.

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Charles E. Whitman purchased Boston Talking Machine’s assets in January 1915, for $30,000. The Phono-Cut masters were sold to the Starr Piano Company’s Fred Gennett, who reissued selected titles on Remington, a short-lived, inexpensive side-line to Gennett’s Starr label. Contrary to some hobbyists’ accounts, the Keen-O-Phone Company did not acquire or reissue Phono-Cut masters.

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A c. 1915 Remington disc pressed by the Starr Piano Company (Gennett) from Phono-Cut masters. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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In November 1915, the remaining Phono-Cut pressings were sold to the Wonder Talking Machine Company (New York), a newly formed venture headed by former U-S Everlasting executive Harry B. McNulty. The company issued a catalog of long-deleted Phono-Cut discs in April 1916, which retailed for just 25¢ each (40¢ less than the original list price), but its main offering was a new line of  Wondertone lateral-cut phonographs:

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References

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Blacker, George, et al. Phono-Cut research materials and discographical data (unpublished; Mainspring Press collection).

“Boston Concern in Trouble.” Music Trade Review (Oct 11, 1913), p. 48

Boston Talking Machine Co. “Sales Bulletin” (1913).

“Boston Talking Machine Co. Affairs.” Talking Machine World (Dec 15, 1913), p. 18.

“Boston Talking Machine Co. in Hands of Receiver.” Louisville Courier-Journal (Oct 3, 1913), p. 6.

“Buys Boston T.M. Co. Assets.” Music Trade Review (Nov 13, 1915), p. 49.

“Court Confirms Sale.” Music Trade Review (Feb 1915), p. 74.

“Geo. K. Cheney to Boston.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1910), p. 14.

“Issue an Interesting Catalog.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1916), p. 60.

“L. L. Leeds Resigns as Manager.” Talking Machine World (Sep 15, 1913), p. 19.

“New Company being Organized.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1910), p. 14.

“Pioneer in the ‘Talker’ Field—The Achievements of L. P. Valiquet Constitute a Veritable History of the Industry.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1920), p. 155.

“Represent New Line.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1913), p. 21.

_________________

© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Princess Records and the Sapphire Record & Talking Machine Company (1910 – 1911)

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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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.

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References

 

“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.

Forgotten American Record Producers: Earle W. Jones

Forgotten American Record Producers:
Earle W. Jones
By Allan Sutton

 

Earle W. Jones isn’t a name that sparks instant recognition among many modern record collectors. Jones wasn’t even mentioned in Brian Rust’s problematic American Record Label Book; some more recent works mention him in passing but misspell his name “Earl.” And yet, he was one of the most prolific of the small independent record producers that operated during the postwar phonograph boom of 1919–1922.

In March 1955, record researcher Dan Mahony ran across Jones in the Alicat Book Shop in Yonkers. A series of interview ensued, which unfortunately were not taped. Mahony instead jotted down some notes and summarized what he considered the salient points in a private report to members of the Record Research group. [1] Jones’ memory, assuming Mahony reported his recollections accurately, proved to be wildly unreliable. The few credible portions of Jones’ interviews are cited throughout this article, but his account is riddled with demonstrable errors.

Jones reportedly got his start as an employee of the Columbia Graphophone Company in the early 1900s. In August 1916, he and Edward R. Harris filed a patent on a process of recording masters on coated glass, which they referred to as “phonoautograms,” the term first used a half-century earlier for Leon Scott’s phonographic tracings. The masters could then be copied to film, from which a photographically sensitized copper stamper could be produced. It was not an original idea; Emile Berliner had patented a similar process in the late 1880s. The patent (#1,461,849) was not approved until late 1923, and there is no evidence that Jones ever used the process commercially. Jones, in his 1955 interview, also claimed to have made electrical recordings with Victor Emerson as early as 1915–1916. However, no evidence of any such activity has been found. [2]

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Jones’ first known display ad (April 1917)

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Jones did not produce any labels of his own, but he recorded masters for many small companies, Lyric being his primary customer. The Jones Central Recording Laboratories (“Central” was soon dropped from the name) were first listed in the 1917 Talking Machine World “Trade Directory,” with the notation that the company “manufactures records in any quantity.” Jones’  studio was at 662 6th Avenue in New York. He also claimed to operate studios at 104 6th Avenue (New York), Madison Avenue at 59th Street (New York), and 76 Court Street (Brooklyn) at various times, although these might have been leased from other companies, based upon a statement he made in 1955. The company also installed its own master-plating plant in the spring of 1917. Jones reported, “Our laboratories are now complete, from the making of the wax to the manufacture of the finished product. We have just affiliated ourselves with a very large concern, who will press all our records.” [3]

The Talking Machine World for April 1917 reported that Jones Laboratories had greatly expanded its facilities over the past few months. “Arrangements are now being completed whereby this concern will manufacture records for several additional houses, TMW stated. “ Its capacity has been augmented considerably, and with its present equipment, records of all sizes up to twelve inches (hill and dale cut), can be produced by these laboratories in any quantity. The company has already signed large contracts with a number of companies for the coming year.” [4] Jones encouraged clients to submit their lists of desired titles, to which he would match the appropriate artists and accompaniments, make the recordings, and deliver finished masters and stampers (and pressings, if desired) to the client.

 

Jones as full-service provider (1917)

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It has long been suspected that Jones recorded the original fine-groove vertical-cut masters for Jacques M. Kohner’s Lyric label (some later fine-grooves masters were dubbed for Lyric by Pathé, from their own masters). A hint appears in a 1919 report that Jones had invented a ten-inch disc with playing time approaching five minutes, [5] just like the fine-groove Lyrics. In addition, Jones later supplied many lateral-cut masters to Lyric and other labels associated with Kohner.

On February 21, 1919, the Piqua (Ohio) Daily Call made the remarkable announcement that the Meteor Motor Car company was “taking over” the Jones Recording Laboratories’ studio at 662 Fifth Avenue in New York. Meteor, a manufacturer of ambulances and hearses, had recently introduced a line of phonographs, manufactured in its Piqua factory, and the company had decided to add a matching line of records. They were to be pressed “temporarily” in an unnamed Pennsylvania factory, which almost certainly would have been the Scranton Button Company. The Record Research group confirmed the existence of fine-groove vertical-cut Meteor discs (now quite rare) with 1919 song titles. However, the “takeover” appears to have been short-lived.

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(Left) A later Jones-produced Meteor pressing, using masters from his main 41000 series (not to be confused with a similarly numbered Emerson series). “Dear Old Girl,” on the reverse side, was also issued on Arto and affiliated labels. The label shows Victor Emerson’s universal-cut patent. (Right) A lateral-cut Lyric pressing using Jones’ 41000-series masters.

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By early 1920, Jones was producing lateral-cut masters that he made available to independent labels. [6]  A large number were produced for Lyric, but Jones also accepted commissions from outside companies. According to Jones, he always cut multiple takes of commissioned selections, giving the contracting party their choice of one take. He retained rights to the unused takes, which he then parceled out to other labels, [7] an arrangement that probably explains the frequent use of artist pseudonyms on  Jones’ recordings.

Jones employed numerous disjointed blocks of matrix numbers, some of which contain only a few known recordings. The largest and most widely circulated block was the 41000 series (not to be confused with Emerson’s identically numbered series of the same period). It was allocated to Lyric, but the recordings also appeared widely on labels marketed by the Arto Company and Clarion Record Company, among others. The series was begun before July 1920, as proven by the existence of several 41000 masters by Billy Murray, who became exclusive to Victor in that month.

Jones actively solicited clients. He traveled to Saint Louis, probably in early 1920, to sell Shapleigh Hardware on the idea of adding records to its Harmograph line. [8] However, he supplied Harmograph only with old “standards” from his backlist; Harmograph’s later pop releases were supplied by several other companies.

In July 1921 Jones entered into a reciprocal agreement with the Siemon Hard Rubber Company, an independent pressing plant in which he was an investor. He would provide masters to Siemon’s pressing customers, including original commissioned recordings. One of the first takers was the newly formed Gaelic Record Company, a small label that specialized in Irish music. Jones recalled that the bagpipes and drums used during one session caused such severe vibration in the studio that he had to pack his recording equipment in sand. [9] He was also commissioned by Alexander Maloof, a prominent Syrian-born composer and musician who launched his Maloof label in 1920.

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(Left) Jones produced the first version of Harmograph, supplying it with “standards” from his extensive master pool. The same recordings could be had on many other labels, often for less than the dollar that Harmograph charged. (Right) An early Cameo release, minus its trademark, produced during Jones’ brief tenure as vice-president. This example was a new recording, but some early Cameo releases were just recyclings of old Jones masters.

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Such arrangements were to be short lived, however. In late 1921, the Jones Recording Laboratories were acquired by the newly formed Cameo Record Corporation, of which Jones was awarded a vice-presidency. He moved his recording equipment to the new Cameo studio, and in an act of true cronyism, contracted pressing to the ill-equipped Siemon Hard Rubber Company.

On Jones’ brief watch, Cameo launched as a rather shoddy 50¢ label whose early offerings included reissues of old Jones masters in mediocre Siemon pressings. In March 1922, Jones resigned his vice-presidency for reasons that went unexplained in the trade press, and for which Jones himself offered no explanation in 1955. His place was taken by Henry Waterson’s son, Henry Jr. With Jones gone, Cameo flourished.

Following his departure from Cameo, Jones launched Standard Records, Inc., a master-brokering operation unrelated to the earlier Standard Talking Machine Company of Chicago. The company acted as clearinghouse for obsolete masters to which Jones held the rights.  Marked with “J” or “S” indicators in the wax (the latter not to be confused with Okeh’s S-prefixed master numbers) the masters were parceled out to Bell, Cleartone, and other minor labels looking to pad out their catalogs during 1922–1923. Most were old Jones Laboratories recordings (sometimes assigned new master numbers) that had already appeared on Arto, Lyric, and other failing or defunct labels.

Jones returned to Cameo later in 1923, as a recording engineer. No longer holding an executive title, he resigned on July 1, 1924, to pursue “important plans in the industry.” [10] A short time later, he was listed as an incorporator (along with M. M. Nassau and J. J. Hanrahan) of the Moon Record Corporation, which had recently been chartered in New York to produce phonographs and records. What Moon produced, if anything, has not been discovered.

By 1931, Earle W. Jones was operating as Jones Research Sound Products, which acquired the patent of Hobart Simpson and Thomas Burhans (#1,928,935) for use in its production of 16mm sound-on-film motion pictures. He claimed to have set up Commodore’s pressing plant in the 1940s for Milt Gabler, whom he described as a “robber.” Gabler, Jones claimed in 1955, still owed him “plenty dough.” [11]

After that misadventure, Jones’ reappeared in the Patent Office records in 1949, with a filing on an improved electrical recording head. At the time of the Mahony interviews, Jones was in the process of suing RCA for infringing his patent, which he claimed was being successfully employed by at least two small companies. Unfortunately for posterity, Mahony “retained bloody little” of Jones’ lengthy discussion of the patent and lawsuit, and after that, Jones’ trail grow cold.

 

© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

________

Notes

[1] Mahony, Dan. Notes on Earle W. Jones interviews (March 23–April 22, 1955, unpublished). William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press Collection.

[2] Mahony, op. cit.

[3] “Install Large Plating Plant.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1917), p. 120.

[4] “Expand Laboratory Facilities.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1917), p. 30.

[5] “Manufacture Records Soon.” Piqua [OH] Daily Call (Feb 21, 1919), p. 1.

[6] Some labels show Victor Emerson’s universal-cut patent, but auditioned examples are standard lateral-cut recordings.

[7] Mahony, op. cit.

[8] In the Mahony interview, Jones gave the date as “about 1919,” but the Harmograph trademark filing claims the name was first used on records on September 4, 1920. Poorly pressed by the Siemon Hard Rubber Company, their labels bear the ironic slogan, “Quality Counts.”

[9] Mahony. op. cit.

[10] “Earle W. Jones Resigns as Recording Engineer.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1924), p. 18. Jones gave the date as 1925, in error, in his 1955 interview.

[11] Mahony, op. cit.

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The Final Days of Edison Record Production (Oct-Dec 1929)


T
he Final Days of Edison Record Production

From Original Documentation at the
Edison National Historic Site

__________________

 

The following documents from Blue Folder No. 40 (Edison National Historic Site archives) offer a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at operations during the final days of Edison’s Phonograph Division.


Subject: Discontinuing the Record Business

Arthur Walsh to Charles Edison
(October 12, 1929)

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On or about 1912 the Edison Industries began to manufacture and sell the disc type of record and from that date to this, as far as I can estimate, it has always been a losing business. Without going too far back into history, I have looked over the financial statements of the past five years. The five years show a loss on account of records, as follows:.

Statement of net book loss on disc records according to the financial statements during the past five years:
1924
150,477
1925
102,345
1926
367,443
1927
322,228
1928
390,535
Total
$1,332,928

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In 1929 the estimated net book loss will exceed $500,000….In July 1929 we announced the Edison Lateral Cut Record, which was ultimately to supersede the Hill & Dale Record, previously sold. At the present time we are making both types. The sales in September ran 29,766 for Lateral Cut and 8,479 for Hill and Dale.

Below an attempt has been made to recapitulate the advantages and disadvantages of continuing in the record business…

ADVANTAGES:

1. Help to sell more [radio-phonograph] Combinations.

2. Possible idle equipment and plant.

3. Keeping faith with old owners.

4. Avoid possible embarrassment to trade in discontinuing project just started [lateral-cut discs], which might cause trade to feel we might cut out radio just as abruptly.

5. Possibility of Record Business being reborn, if Combinations become increasingly popular.

6. As Mr. Thomas A. Edison is the inventor of the Phonograph & Record, there is possibility of loss of prestige, if abandoned.

7. Absorbs portion of Thomas A. Edison Industries overhead, which would increase other costs unless something else is found for factory and space.

8. Eliminate loss thru voiding contracts with recording artists, which would be small in comparison with potential losses if business does not succeed.

DISADVANTAGES:

1. Heavy losses, as indicated above.

2. Export situation — Cannot sell Records in Continental Europe, Dependencies or Colonies of a European Country.

3. Unfavorable situation regarding portables, which we do not manufacture but buy and sell at a book loss merely to help sales of records.

4. Increasingly high recording costs due largely to excessive fees demanded by popular artists whose reputations aid in selling records.

5. Necessity for investing large sums for promotion and advertising to increase sales.

6. It is a dying business and without sales of Phonographs it may be merely a question of time until the Phonographs now in hands of public will be discarded.

7. Cheap competition makes sales increasingly difficult. The public is interested chiefly in jazz music and buy cheaper grades of records which can be discarded in few weeks at little loss when popularity wanes.

8. To become world power in record business it will be necessary to establish recording units with plating a pressing factories in Chicago, and the West Coast, in Europe, South America, Australia and the Orient; the question being, can money so invested have the potential profit as money invested in other things.

9. Mr. Walsh and co-workers spending time on record sales and production out of proportion to return.

10. Possibility that present type of record may become obsolete. Mr. Sarnoff of R.C.A. announced at meeting few weeks ago that home talking pictures would play large part in future home entertainment which may be subtle warning that Victor is going into film recording.


Discontinuing Recording

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Stop all recording at once. … [Note: The last Edison recording session was a private one for Margaret Rogge Becker, held on the morning of October 19. Subsequent “Edison” sessions, for the Ediphone training cylinders, were contracted to Western Electric.]

Prepare list of Recording Equipment to be retained for recording Broadcast Records.

Retain Electrical Recording Agreements — if they won’t cost us anything. …


Negotiating Release of Contracts with Artists

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Discontinue — at once — all recording.

Contact artists at once — advise them of decision and ask them to cancel contracts; also, to treat confidentially until announcement is made public. This is particularly important in the case of Martinelli who should be given opportunity of making new arrangement with another company before an announcement is made.

In cases of refusal to cancel — negotiate cash release always bearing in mind, artists’ expenses, etc. to obtain consent and endeavor to sell their contracts. No arrangement is to be consummated without approval.

All contracts are to be disposed of in one way or another by December 31, 1929.


Sale of Finished Stock

R. R. March and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Liquidate inventories of finished stocks, wherever located, by December 31st.Prepare estimated liquidation value of stocks as compared with inventory value.

Consideration to be given to plan to sell entire stocks thru regular jobbers and dealers, piecemeal, and/or entire stocks as job lots to one source of distribution, the question being, can we dump such records to one jobber because of other jobbers’ stocks that they may not want to sell at reduced prices.

Be prepared to sell Needle [lateral-cut] Reproducers at cost to disgruntled Hill and Dale [vertical-cut] users.

All records to be sold by December 31st.All Schuberts and Beethovens [phonographs]… are to be sold with needle [lateral-cut] attachments by December 31st, even if these must be sold for as low a price as $10.00 each.Inventories on hand December 15th to be turned over to Mr. Clark for salvage.

Contact F. R. Schell and set aside records of both types to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes.


Disposition of Master Moulds

W. H. Miller and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Contact Messrs Buchanan and Schell to ascertain moulds to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes and after setting these aside, Mr. Miller will endeavor to sell needle type [lateral-cut] moulds to other companies, provided this can be done without obligation on our part to artists who recorded such records.

All moulds not thus sold and those not required for Museum are to be sold thru Mr. A. J. Clark.

___

[ Note: No masters were sold, as far as can be ascertained. However, the existence at ENHS of a Brunswick sample pressing (below) using Edison lateral-cut masters suggests that the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. might have been contemplating the purchase of some masters. Edison’s New York studio was taken over by Crown Records in early 1930, but no Edison material appeared on Crown. ]

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Discontinuing [Blue] Amberol Record Sales

W. S. Williams
(October 22, 1929)

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… While phonographs are still carried in Cylinder inventory, they were turned over to Mr. Clark some time ago for sale as scrap or junk. ..

A total of 32,408 B.A. [Blue Amberol] Records were sold for $6008.75 between July 1 and October 15. Of this number of records 15,185 were sold under the special $.20 offer which expired September 30. The balance of sales were to jobbers and dealers and to individuals at $.35 each.

Sales have greatly decreased since September 30 as shown by the following comparison of orders, shipments and cancellations.

..

Orders
Received
Shipments
Cancellations
August
11,347
7,463
2,900
September
21,076
13,664
6,095
October
1–19
2,954
5,588
1,324

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Cancellations, which have been exceedingly high due to inability to ship records of customers’ selections, have been very costly because of paper work involved in refunding advance payments. As of October 19, there were unfilled orders on hand for only 43 [cylinder] records.It is apparent from the above that it is now opportune to either
discontinue entirely or take action to endeavor to increase sales…

Therefore, the following recommendations are made.

(1) Entirely discontinue sales [of Blue Amberol cylinders] on October
26.

(2) Burn all [cylinder] records in stock, including 212,566 not carried
in inventory, thus releasing 600 packing cases which may be salvaged
thru Disc Record Sales at $.90 each.

(3) Release the remaining [cylinder division] employees — thus
saving $86.50 weekly.

(4) Close books of Division by December 31. …


To the Trade — Re: Discontinuance of Commercial
Record Production

Arthur Walsh
(October 29, 1929)

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As you know, the Edison Radio is a pronounced success. Present demand is about three time production. We feel that this demand will increase steadily…

Our present manufacturing facilities are inadequate to satisfy the demand for Edison Radios. These facilities must be increased immediately.

After a careful weighing of the record business and its prospects, we have decided to discontinue the production of records, except for special purposes, and to devote our great record plant to the production of radio, and kindred new developments in the radio and home entertainment field.This step is being taken regretfully because the phonograph for home entertainment was one of Mr. Edison’s favorite inventions. But, this is a case where sound business judgement must prevail over sentiment.

We must add that we are happy in the knowledge that there are many competent manufacturers, now producing excellent records, with adequate facilities to take care of all present and future phonograph owners…

We will, therefore, on November 1st discontinue the production of commercial phonograph records such as have been heretofore sold through you.On and after the same date, the name of Radio-Phonograph Division will be changed to Radio Division.

 

Faithfully yours,

THOMAS A. EDISON, INCORPORATED. Radio-Phonograph Division Arthur Walsh Vice President.


To All Dealers

The Edison Distributing Corporation
(November 13, 1929)

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Under date of October 29th a letter was mailed to you from Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Orange, N. J., announcing the “Discontinuance of Commercial Record Production.”

At this time we have in stock a limited supply of Edison Hill and Dale, and Lateral Cut Needle Records, which we will offer you, subject to prior sale, F. O. B. Chicago.

The Edison Hill and Dale Records at five cents each in lots of fifty or more to be selected by us, or ten cents each in lots of fifty or more of your selection.

Lateral Cut or Needle Records of the seventy-five cent series at fifteen cents each in lots of fifty or more of our selection, and twenty cents each, you selection. The two dollar series are priced at forty cents each.

Under no circumstances are the records returnable. …

 

________

These documents (excluding editorial comments) are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. Please credit the Edison National Historical Site (West Orange, NJ) when quoting.

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Shutting Down the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the AFM Recording Ban (1942-1944)

Shutting Down the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the AFM Recording Ban (1942-1944)
By Allan Sutton

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The following is an excerpt from the author’s Recording the ‘Forties,
in preparation for 2018 publication.

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For professional musicians who wanted to broadcast or record in the 1940s, membership in the American Federation of Musicians was essential. Among the few to resist was the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose management was firmly opposed to unionization. Only under pressure from RCA’s David Sarnoff did the BSO’s management finally capitulate; the orchestra, under the direction of Serge Koussevitsky, was unionized and allowed to return to the RCA studios, after a long hiatus. But the BSO found itself almost immediately shut out again, this time by an industry-wide recording ban ordered by AFM president James Caesar Petrillo. [1]

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Petrillo testifies before the National War Labor Board (1943)

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Petrillo had long pursued a very public vendetta against what he termed “canned music,” blaming it for the downturn in  “live” performances. Widely reviled within the recording industry as an inflexible, obscenity-spewing petty dictator, he did not hesitate to employ strong-arm tactics against those who opposed him. In early 1941, he appointed Ben Selvin to undertake a fact-finding mission intended to prove that recorded music was responsible for the declining employment of union musicians. [2]

Selvin’s questionnaires, individualized for commercial record companies, transcription producers, radio stations, advertising agencies, and jukebox operators, were mailed throughout the spring. A long-time AFM member, Selvin delivered the figures Petrillo wanted. Based upon the initial responses, involving the radio-transcription business, he concluded, “The amount of money spent for musical talent on recorded [versus live] programs is much higher than anyone in the industry would have guessed.”  [3]

Petrillo made his case at the AFM’s convention on June 9, 1941. He contended that although AFM members earned approximately $3 million annually in royalties from recordings, they lost $100 million as the result of what he termed “reduced employment opportunities” from the substitution of recorded for live music:

There are 800 radio stations in the United States and Canada, and 550 of them have no live music. They just use canned music twenty-four hours a day. There is a question of who survives—we or they. If the stations can’t get records and won’t hire live bands, that will be their funeral, not ours… We are scabbing on ourselves.

Admitting he had no verifiable statistics to back up his claims, Petrillo nevertheless estimated that eight- to nine-thousand AFM musicians could be put back to work if recordings were banned  and establishments were forced to rely on live music.

The issue came to a head in June 1942, when Petrillo forced a strike by unwilling members of the Ringling Brothers–Barnum & Bailey Circus Band. Director Merle Evans’ assurance that he and his musicians were “perfectly satisfied” with salaries and working conditions were ignored, and John Ringling North’s request to personally negotiate with Petrillo went unanswered. [4] Petrillo’s  demands included higher wages, with time-and-a-half for Sunday performances, which were refused. After a brief postponement to allow the band to play a benefit for handicapped children, the strike order was enforced. “We wanted to play today,” Evans told a Billboard reporter on June 6, “but the union refused to let us.” Management responded by substituting recorded music over a public-address system during the band’s involuntary absence. [5] It apparently was lost on Petrillo that by ordering the strike, gainfully employed musicians had been replaced by recordings—the very situation he had recently railed against at the AFM conference.

Having successfully shut down a circus band, Petrillo next banned the broadcasting of a popular high-school music festival in Interlochen, Michigan, declaring that the teen-aged musicians were not union members. The action brought universal condemnation from the public, the broadcast industry, and members of Congress. Iowa Senator D. W. Clark filed a formal, if ineffectual, resolution charging Petrillo with depriving the students of their freedom to make their musical talents known, while undermining the national music education program. [6] Stanley E. Hubbard, president of station KSPT (St. Paul, Minnesota), issued a scathing denouncement of Petrillo that read in part,

Ten days ago, [Petrillo] forbade the broadcast…from the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Mich., in which 160 teen-age boys and girls from 40 states hoped to play for their folks at home. He stopped eight Chinese Boy Scouts from blowing a fanfare in Chicago unless eight union musicians were hired to stand by while the scouts tooted… That is the kind of power Fuehrer Petrillo wields today… That is the power, and that is the man, and that is the kind of outrageous tyranny which we and the other radio stations in this country…are fighting.” [7]

Undeterred, Petrillo was soon threatening to bar AFM musicians from making radio transcriptions. Key figures in the broadcast industry responded swiftly with a threat of their own. Five years earlier, broadcasters had informally agreed to retain house orchestras in response to Petrillo’s charge that their use of recorded music was causing widespread unemployment of union musicians. Now, Broadcasting magazine predicted,

If transcriptions and recordings are banned, as ordered by Mr. Petrillo, it is generally expected that the [broadcast] industry, almost as a unit, will be disposed to release staff orchestras, since the gentlemen’s agreement will have been violated… In a nutshell, the overall view appears to be that AFM has walked out on its 1937 agreement by banning transcription performance, and that the next move is up to Mr. Petrillo. [8]

Petrillo’s next move was to threaten a strike that had the potential to destroy a recording industry already crippled by wartime personnel and materials shortages. On June 27, 1942, he served notice to all transcription and record companies that he intended to ban recording by union musicians beginning on August 1. [9] The New York Times reported,

As part of a campaign to force radio stations, soda fountains, bars and restaurants to employ union musicians instead of using recordings, Mr. Petrillo has informed all the record manufacturers that the 140,000 members of his A.F. of L. organization will not make “records, electrical transcriptions or any other form of electrical reproduction of music” after July 31…

Even if Mr. Petrillo’s economics were not fantastic, it is intolerable that a labor leader should dicatate to the American people what kind of music it shall or shall not hear. But if we need waste little time in exposing the nonsense in Mr. Petrillo’s economics, we should waste less in denouncing Mr. Petrillo as an individual. It is much more important to remind ourselves that it is our political muddle-headedness and spinelessness that have made the Petrillo type of dictator possible. [10]

Petrillo agreed informally to exempt the production of transcriptions for the armed forces and government agencies involved in the war effort, although he soon reneged on even that meager concession. Recordings for motion-picture soundtracks would be allowed, provided that the recordings did not find their way onto the airwaves or commercially issued records. Private recording for home use was allowed to continue under the ban, but only if the manufacturers of recording blanks guaranteed the records would not be broadcast or used in jukeboxes—an obvious impossibility. Blanks and portable recording units remained readily available, and an underground market soon sprang up for custom-duplicated discs from private recording sessions, live performances, and broadcast captures.

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There would be no immediate concessions from the record companies, nor full-fledged support from most AFM musicians. Black band-leaders in Philadelphia loudly protested the ban, claiming a potential loss of a half-million dollars in income. [11] In New York, Eli Oberstein recruited union musicians for clandestine hotel-room recording sessions, the results of which were issued on his Hit label under some imaginative aliases. Some small labels turned to non-union talent, giving at least a temporary  boost to some rural and African-American artists the AFM had declined to accept.

Record-company executives, according to the New York Times, were content “to sit back and try to outwait Mr. Petrillo,” allowing the mounting public outrage to work in their favor. Directors and officials of the National Association of Broadcasters met informally with record company executives to plan their strategies, but apparently neither group felt any compulsion to meet with Petrillo.

The record companies were allowed to continue manufacturing and selling their pre-ban recordings, so with the strike looming, they scrambled to stockpile enough new material to sustain them during the work stoppage. “This they did on a 24-hour-per-day schedule,” Billboard reported; “when August 1 arrived, they emerged from their studios with enough masters to last well into 1943.” [12] The same article predicted a return to normal recording operations around January 1943, “assuming that all goes as expected.” It did not.

The Justice Department failed in a last-minute attempt to delay the ban, but Petrillo’s actions quickly drew fire from members of Congress. Senator Clark, still seething over the Interlochen incident, took the floor on August 29 to denounce Petrillo as a thug whose actions jeopardized national morale during a time of crisis:

An ugly note has reared its head, causing great disunity in the war effort. That ugly note is a gentleman by the name of James Caesar Petrillo. By virtue of his power, by virtue of his gangster acts, if you please, he undertakes to put out of business a whole industry and prevent working people in that industry from making a living.” [13]

At Clark’s urging, a Senate resolution was drafted empowering the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate whether the recording ban constituted restraint of trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. [14]  AFM’s counsel moved for dismissal on the grounds that anti-trust laws did not apply to label disputes; the Department of Justice countered with a request for an injunction forbidding the AFM to enforce the ban, which was denied.  As the ban dragged on, the case was referred to the Supreme Court, which in February 1943 upheld a lower-court decision that the ban was merely a labor dispute, and thus not covered under the Sherman act. [15]

Of the major consumer publications, only Life magazine sided with Petrillo. Robert Coughlan’s fawning, six-page feature article, published two days after the recording ban took effect, depicted Petrillo as a rough but good-hearted defender of the working class who was only looking out for his “boys.” [16] Coughlan was largely alone in his assessment. Three weeks after his story appeared, the American Institute of Public Opinion released the results of a George Gallup poll concerning Petrillo and the AFM action. Seventy-five percent of participants said they opposed the ban, and seventy-three percent favored intervention by the federal government. Dr. Gallup reported,

A majority of those who disapprove Petrillo’s actions feel strongly, even vehemently, about the subject. Typical of their views were such statements as, “he’s a petty dictator,” “he’s suffering from a bad case of overgrown ego,”  “it’s disgraceful,” and “he ought to go over and join Mussolini.” [17]

Some small-label producers attempted to negotiate with Petrillo, to no avail. Hazard E. Reeves (Reeves Sound Studios) and E. V. Brinckerhoff (Brinckerhoff Studios) launched a trade association comprising thirteen New York–area recording studios that Reeves felt would give them a negotiating advantage. [18] So far as is known, they received no acknowledgment  from Petrillo. Neither, initially, did Muscicraft president Paul Puner. In February 1943, he attempted to contact Petrillo with a proposal that Musicraft, as a small company, be allowed to pay a lower royalty rate than what Petrillo was demanding, in return for which Musicraft would affirm its support of the AFM’s basic principles. [19]

After receiving no response, Puner followed up on March 11 with a letter requesting a prompt reply. Petrillo’s reply was a curt rejection letter. [20] Puner persisted, next dispatching what Billboard termed an “impassioned wire” to Petrillo offering to negotiate with him under any circumstances, at a date of Petrillo’s choosing. This time Puner received a note stating the matter would be referred to the AFM’s International Executive Board on April 15. [21] Eventually Puner received a final rejection from Petrillo, who dismissed the offer as “peanuts.” [22]  Clearly, Petrillo was not looking to negotiate settlements on a company-by-company basis. [23]

The major labels at first seemed well-positioned to weather what they expected to be a short strike. For a time they made-do by drawing down their stockpiles of new masters, combing the vaults for unissued pre-strike recordings, and reissuing vintage material, including re-pressings of some 1920s jazz classics. But as the strike dragged on, they were forced to become more creative. In mid-January 1943, Billboard reported that Decca was about to release the last of its pre-ban masters, and speculated that Victor and Columbia might to have to follow suit. [24] With no more new material to offer, Decca’s solution was to resume recording, substituting vocal ensembles (vocalists generally not being AFM members, and thus not legally bound to honor the strike) for instrumental backing. The idea was soon being copied by Columbia, Victor, and a host of minor labels.

“The wholly vocal disks are not being taken seriously as a long-term substitute,” Billboard reported. [25] But  they infuriated Petrillo, who resorted to his usual strong-arms tactics in an attempt to stem the flow. “Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other leading vocalists have been contacted,” he told a reporter, “and have promised AFM they won’t make records.” [26] Petrillo next  stepped up pressure on the recording-studio directors.  In June 1943, he summoned Muzak’s Ben Selvin and RCA’s Leonard Joy before the board of Local 802 to demand they take no actions “against the best interests of the union.” A Billboard reporter observed,

Although AFM officials made no threats, their “requests” can be quickly enforced, as arrangers and copyists employed for vocal waxings are AFM members. The union has made it plain that it expects cooperation from all its members, and indicated that practically all the record and transcription firms have executives who hold union cards. [27]

One producer refused to be cowed. New band recordings continued to flow on Eli Oberstein’s Hit label, although they were not by any recognizable groups. One anonymous informant, identified in a 1976 interview only as “the music director of a major label,” remembered participating in a clandestine Oberstein session:

One day I found this ad for an arranger… I was told to report to a certain room at the Hotel Claridge at nine that night…and there was Eli Oberstein. In the room with him was a nine-piece orchestra and a disc cutter. Eli had hung blankets over the windows so that the noise from the street wouldn’t be too loud and had stuffed towels under the door so that we wouldn’t bother other guests. Between nine and six the following morning, that band must have cut a dozen hit tunes. I sat right there and did the arrangements, and they sight-read them. Eli paid us all in cash as we left. I don’t know who those guys were, but they were good. [28]

The records were attributed to such apparently fictitious band-leaders as Johnny Jones, Peter Piper, and Willie Kelly, [29] leading to a popular guessing game among record reviewers (and later, discographers) as to who was actually responsible. In his later years, Pee Wee Irwin reportedly admitted that, being short of cash at the time, he had taken a risk and directed the “Willie Kelly” sessions for Oberstein. [30]

The band recordings caught the attention of Petrillo, who questioned whether Oberstein had obtained AFM clearance to record the titles. But it was Arthur Fields’ vocal rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” on the Oberstein’s Hit label [31] that sparked what would become an epic clash between Oberstein and the AFM. The record included a sparse instrumental backing, placing it within the AFM’s jurisdiction. Oberstein initially claimed that it was a pre-ban recording made with a “local pickup crew.” [32] He also insisted that “Arthur Fields” was simply “a name that’s been used for house dates for years,” which was not entirely without some basis in fact. [33] When that explanation failed to satisfy AFM officials, Oberstein changed his story dramatically. The masters, he said, had come from Mexico, leading insiders to joke that he must mean Mexico, New Jersey. [34] “Call it bootlegging,” Oberstein told Down Beat magazine, “but it’s legal.” [35]

Oberstein apparently did have connections with one or more Mexican studios, as evidenced by the earlier release of some Mexico City recordings on his Varsity label. But “Der Fuehrer’s Face” appeared to be from the same American studio as Hit’s pre-ban recordings, and the voice was unmistakably that of Arthur Fields, a New Yorker who was unlikely to have journeyed south of the border just to cut record. [36]

Oberstein’s tale failed to convince the officials of AFM Local 802, who summoned him before the board to demand he reveal the names of the musicians involved. Oberstein ignored the summons and was given until October 22, 1942, to either face the board or be judged “guilty without explanation.” [37] The outcome was eagerly awaited by industry officials, some of whom expressed hope that Oberstein would successfully defy the union. [38]  They would be disappointed.

Examination of the union logs failed to reveal any evidence that “Der Fuehrer’s Face” had been recorded prior to the ban. Finally facing the AFM board on October 22, Oberstein elaborated on his revised tale, claiming the masters had been purchased by an unnamed “associate” from an unknown Mexican studio through one Manuel Valdez, who was not available to corroborate the story because he was “on his way back to Mexico.” [39] Oberstein went on to claim that Victor and Decca were also obtaining many of their pop-tune recordings  from Mexican studios, which officials of both companies vehemently denied. [40]

On December 24, Oberstein submitted to another grilling by the AFM board, at which he agreed to turn over a list of all masters he supposedly had obtained from Mexico. It was not forthcoming, but in the meantime, union officials were investigating some suspicious artist credits on Oberstein releases that had them “scratching their heads,” according to a Billboard report. No one had heard of Oberstein’s mysterious new band leaders, and their names did not appear on Local 802’s membership rolls. The break for Petrillo came after it was discovered that “Peter Piper” was identified on the union rolls as a pseudonym for Jack Small, who was immediately summoned to testify before the AFM’s trial board. [41]

Petrillo finally had his evidence that Eli Oberstein was secretly recording with union musicians, in defiance of the AFM ban. Oberstein was expelled from the union in June 1943, on the grounds that his continued release of instrumental recordings was “damaging to the interests of the Federation.” [42] Having vanquished Oberstein, Petrillo went after his associates. Nineteen music publishers whose songs had been recorded by Hit during the ban were summoned to Petrillo’s office. There, they were pressured into withholding recording rights from any company (like Classic Records, the maker of Hit) whose operations were deemed “unfair” by the union. [43]

However, Petrillo largely failed in his attempts to intimidate the transcription companies. Many were involved in work for the war effort and could rely on support from Congress, which had already made clear its disdain for Petrillo. Having reneged on his early promise not to interfere with war-related transcription work, Petrillo found himself facing a group of influential executives who charged him with bypassing governmental agencies. They asked that the matter be referred to the National War Labor Board. Just hours after the executives released their statement on June 23, 1943, Petrillo agreed to accept mediation, narrowly avoiding intervention by the board.

Petrillo brushed off his defeat at a press conference, dismissing the transcription business as too small to be of any interest to the AFM. [44]  Several month later, V-Disc director Robert Vincent, with the backing of Pentagon officials, began applying pressure to Petrillo to exempt the V-Disc recording program from the AFM  ban. Petrillo finally acquiesced on October 27, 1943, but only after insisting on a long list of conditions.

In the meantime, negotiations between AFM officials and a committee comprising representatives of CBS, Decca, and RCA had broken down. However, Decca attorney Milton Diamond continued to meet privately with Petrillo. [45] On September 18, 1943, president Jack Kapp announced that Decca and its World Broadcasting subsidiary had signed four-year contracts with the AFM that would allow them to  resume recording immediately. [46]  The terms were not immediately disclosed, although within the month Petrillo let it be known that they included payment of a percentage of Decca’s gross revenue directly to the AFM. [47] The proceeds—later revealed to be a flat half-cent royalty per new recording sold—were to be held in an “employment fund” that was intended to finance make-work projects for AFM members deprived of “normal employment opportunities” because of competition from recorded music. [48]

Capitol Records, which had barely begun operations before the ban was enacted, capitulated on October 9, agreeing to the same terms as Decca. [49] Four independent transcription companies signed slightly modified agreements several weeks later, amidst charges from the National Association of Broadcasters that the payment plans were “as economically and socially unsound as extortion is immoral and illegal.” [50]

With the prospect of Decca and Capitol dominating the pop-record market, industry observers predicted a rush by other labels to sign with the AFM. Within a matter of months, virtually all had done so, leaving RCA and Columbia as the last significant holdouts. “Privately,” Broadcasting magazine reported, “industry leaders made no bones about their feeling that had been ‘sold out’ and are now ‘over a barrel.’” [51]

In April 1944, attorneys for RCA and Columbia called for the War Labor Board to allow their companies to resume recordings, pending a challenge to the AFM’s “employment fund” provision. When a meeting between record-company and AFM officials ended in a stalemate, more-radical solutions (including a temporary government takeover of the Columbia and RCA facilities) were floated in some quarters. [52]

Facing rapidly escalating pressure from politicians and industry officials, the National War Labor Board ordered an end to the recording ban on June 15, which went unheeded. At a show-cause hearing held on August 18, Petrillo refused to comply with order, and the case was referred to the Office of Economic Stabilization for enforcement. President Roosevelt finally weighed in on October 4, 1944, declaring in a strongly worded telegram to Petrillo,

It is the opinion of the Director of Economic Stabilization that under all the present circumstances, the noncompliance by your union is not unduly impeding the war effort. But this noncompliance may encourage other instances of noncompliance which will impede the war effort… Therefore, in the interest of respecting the considered decision of the Board, I request your union to accept the directive orders of the National War Labor Board. What you regard as your loss will certainly be your country’s gain.” [53]

However, it would not be the AFM’s loss. After considering the matter for a week, Petrillo rejected the president’s request in a rambling nine-page response. Since nearly every other record and transcription company had already settled with the AFM, Petrillo declared, he saw no reason to offer any concessions to the final holdouts, for whom the ban remained in effect. [54] With no viable alternatives left, Columbia and RCA (including the latter’s NBC Thesaurus division) finally capitulated to Petrillo’s demands on the evening of Saturday, November 11, 1944, with a formal signing set for the following Monday.

After a twenty-eight–month hiatus, RCA resumed commercial recording activities on Sunday, November 12, at 1:43 pm. Columbia followed suit six hours later. [55] RCA recording manager James W. Murray conceded, “We had no alternative but to meet the demands that we make direct payment to the union’s treasury or to abandon our record business.”

Columbia’s Edward Wallerstein fixed the blame firmly on Washington, declaring, “We are finally accepting because of the government’s unwillingness or incapacity to enforce its orders.” [56] Although Petrillo denied that the contracts offered to CBS and RCA were punitive, they contained clauses not found in those the AFM had signed with other companies, including a provision allowing artists to cancel their recording contracts in the event of another AFM strike.

In the end, industry experts estimated that the AFM ban had done little damage to most record companies, and might actually have helped some. There had been no significant decline in record sales or profits during the first two years of the ban. The lack of significant growth was attributed more to wartime shortages, and the fact that a vast number of record customers were out of  the market until their enlistments ended, than to the ban. In addition, Capitol and other promising newcomers had gained a competitive edge by signing early with the AFM and resuming production while the two industry behemoths remained locked in battle with Petrillo. [57] The end of the ban also marked the beginning of a shift by start-up companies to the West Coast, where support for the AFM was relatively weak and non-union talent plentiful. Recording companies large and small were about to enjoy an unprecedented boom, but Petrillo was not finished with them yet.

 

© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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Notes

[1] O’Connell, Charles. The Other Side of the Record, pp. 260-261. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1947).

[2] Selvin, who had begun his recording career in the late ’teens as the director of a popular dance orchestra, was by this time the vice-president of Associated Music Publishers, and a long-time member of the American Federation of Musicians.

[3] “Cost of Record Music Talent Is Found Above Expectations.” Broadcasting (April 14, 1941), p. 54.

[4] “Settlement Talk Rumored After RB Drops Band in Pay Dispute.” The Billboard (June 13, 1942), p. 38. The strike involved the main circus band, under Merle Evans’ direction, as well as the smaller sideshow band directed by Arthur Wright.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo; Clark and Vandenberg Hits Music ‘Tyranny’ by AFM.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[7] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians, Seeking to Wreck Radio.” Broadcasting (July 27, 1942), p. 8.

[8] “Industry Remains Calm on Petrillo Ban.” Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[9] “Highlights of the Petrillo Recording Ban that Went Before; From 1942 to 1944.” Billboard (November 1, 1947), p. 20.

[10] “Mr. Petrillo Gives the Word.” New York Times (July 10, 1942), reprinted in Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[11] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians,” op. cit.

[12] “Shellac Shortage, Petrillo and War Have Little Fellows Groggy.” Billboard (August 29, 1942), p. 19.

[13] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo,” op. cit.

[14] “D of J Must Prove That AFM Conspires; ‘Labor Disputes’ Can’t Be Hit By Trust Laws.” Billboard (August 1, 1942), p. 19.

[15] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Tecord Ban.” The Billboard 1944 Music Yearbook, p. 147.

[16] Coughlan, Robert. “Petrillo.” Life (August 3, 1942), pp. 68–70, 72, 74, 76.

[17] “75% of People Against Petrillo.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[18] “Independents Form Record Association.” Broadcasting (August 10, 1942), p. 58.

[19] “Tiny Disker Tries to Steal Play from Big Firms with Petrillo Personally, But No Dice.” Billboard (April 3, 1943).

[20] “AFM Rejects Plan.” Broadcasting (March 29, 1943). P. 52.

[21] “Musicraft Asks Petrillo Again, Get Second ‘No.’” Billboard (April 10, 1943), p. 22

[22] Chasins, Gladys. “Recording Ban Grows Tighter; Vocalists Agree to Stop Recording Until AFM Lifts Ban.” Billboard (July 3, 1943).

[23] “Petrillo Won’t Settle Individually with Discers; April 15 Meeting Set.” Variety (March 31, 1943), p. 35.

[24] “Petrillo Stands Pat.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[25] “Tune Pile Getting Low.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[26] Chasins, op. cit.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Quoted in Angus, Robert: “Pirates, Prima Donas, and Plain White Wrappers.” High Fidelity (December 1976). An attempt by record researcher George Blacker in the 1980s to discover the anonymous music directors’ identity was unsuccessful.

[29] Pee Wee Irwin reportedly told writer Roy Evans that he was responsible for the Willie Kelly side

[30] Evans, Roy. Undated letter to George Blacker. William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press.

[31] Hit 7023, released on October 14, 1942.

[32] “Big Recording Whodunit; 802 to Investigate Oberstein’s Recording of Mysterious Bands.” Billboard (October 17, 1942), p. 20.

[33] “802 No Savvies New ‘Hit’ Discs of Current Pops.” Metronome (November 1942), p. 8. Fields (nee Finkelstein) was one of the most prolific studio singers of the 1920s, and his name had been used on occasion as a cover for Fred Hall’s band, as well as other groups that remain to be identified. He was largely forgotten by 1942; so much so, that some reporters failed to recognize the voice and thus accepted Oberstein’s suggestion that the name was fictional. A Billboard article on November 28, 1942, stated, “Admittedly, the name carrying the billing is merely a handy handle for label purposes.”

[34] “Whither Disk Biz, Petrillo?” Billboard (July 26, 1947), p. 23.

[35] “Discs Cut in Mexico, Says EO.” Down Beat (November 1, 1942); clipping, n.p.

[36] In a bizarre twist, Fields claimed not have made the recording  (despite indisputable aural evidence to the contrary) and reportedly sued for an injunction halting distribution and sales of the record (“Now Oberstein Says Discs Are Mexican.” Billboard, October 31, 1942, p. 21). Further references to the supposed suit have not been found, and based on the large number of surviving copies of Hit 7023, it seems unlikely an injunction was granted.

[37] “Discs Cut…,” op. cit.

[38] “Big Recording Whodunit,” op. cit.

[39] “Oberstein Defends Records.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[40] Ibid.

[41] “Oberstein’s ‘Peter Piper’ May Be 802’s Jack Small; Union Wants Some Answers.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[42] Oberstein was later readmitted to the union, but only after threatening a half-million dollar defamation suit against Petrillo, the AFM, and its officers, raising fears that “a lot of dirty linen will be washed in public” (“Obie Planning 500G Suit”; Billboard, July 10, 1943). Classic Records’ recording license was restored in early November 1943 (“AFM Okays Classic Recording License;” Billboard, November 13, 1943, p. 16).

[43] “Calls on Pubs to Put Screws on Black Market Recorders.” Billboard (June 5, 1943), p. 21.

[45] Robertson, Bruce.“Disc Meeting Discusses Performance Fee.” Broadcasting (August 9, 1943), p. 12.

[46] “Petrillo’s Permission.” Motion Picture Herald (September 25, 1943), p. 8. The AFM contracts signed by Decca, World, and the many companies that followed were effective as of January 1, 1944, but Petrillo allowed them to resume recording immediately upon signing.

[47] Robertson, Bruce. “Other Disc Firms May Yield to AFM Pact.” Broadcasting (October 4, 1943), p. 9.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Capitol Records Signs with AFM.” Broadcasting (October 18, 1943), p. 60.

[50] “NAB Hits AFM Fees; Four Disc Firms Sign.” Broadcasting (October 25, 1943), p. 9.

[51] Robertson, “Other Disc Firms,” op. cit.

[52] “Editorial: Jimmy’s Opportunities.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944), p. 44.

[53] “FDR Telegram to Petrillo.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944).

[54] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Record Ban,” op cit.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Stone, Floyd E. “Victorious Caesar Petrillo Talks; Hollywood Waits.” Motion Picture Herald (November 18, 1944), p. 13.

[57] “Ban Background and Effects.” Billboard 1944 Music Year Book, p. 146.

110 Years Ago at the Victor Talking Machine Company (November 1907)

November 1907 marked the return of the Victor studio to Camden, from Philadelphia, after an absence of more than six years. The impending move got only a vague mention in that month’s Talking Machine World, in a story on a visit by distributor Max Landay, who said, “I understand the company will remove their recording laboratory from Philadelphia to Camden, into premises that are ideal.” The move was documented by Harry O. Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer:

During November [1907] we moved the Laboratory from 424 So. 10th St., Philadelphia, to the building S.W. Corner Front and Cooper Streets, Camden, N.J., in which we occupied the fourth floor. The first large type “D” recording machine was installed in the Camden Laboratory prior to our moving into same. [“D” refers to Wilbur N. Dennison, who assigned a large number of patents to Victor over the years.]

To repeat a point we’ve made often (and wish we didn’t still have to, but old myths die hard): Any discography showing a Camden recording location between early September 1901 and late November 1907 is in error. For a detailed, documented chronology of Victor’s early studio sites, see Camden, Philadelphia, or New York? Fact-Checking the Victor Studio Locations, 1901-1920.

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Here’s the complete pictorial section of Victor’s November 1907 catalog, courtesy of Victor expert John Bolig:

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By the way, John’s landmark Victor Discography Series titles are selling out quickly as Mainspring winds down its book operation. Several are already out of print, and remaining inventory is in very short supply. If there are any titles you need, hurry over to the Mainspring Press website and order while you still can!

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Forgotten Phonograph-Gadget Inventors: Louis Devineau

Louis Devineau surfaced in Cleveland in the late 1890s as a French instructor, and by the early 1900s he was working for the Federal Manufacturing Company, a Cleveland automobile-chassis manufacturer. He was also patenting some interesting after-market accessories for the phonograph, beginning with a folding horn in 1905. His light-weight self-supporting horn was first advertised for sale in September 1907:

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Devineau’s Biophone, one of many attempts to convert cylinders players to disc, or vice-versa, was quite the monstrosity. A model incorporating some obvious departures from the original patent drawing made it to market in late 1907, although it does not appear to have been a commercial success:

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Devineau eventually endeared himself to some local  politicians, and by 1908 he was serving as secretary of the Cleveland Sinking Fund Commission, which he apparently treated as his private treasury. In February 1909, a $12,840 shortage was discovered, with Devineau nowhere to be found. The papers reported that he had last been heard from in Belgium. A warrant was issued for his arrest on embezzlement charges, but nothing more was reported.

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If you enjoy early phonographs and related items, Be sure to check out Vintage Phonograph Ads, 1895-1925, available from Mainspring Press.

Some Oddball Phonograph Patents (1902 – 1906)

This bizarre phonograph, employing a record and turntable in the form of a truncated cone, was patented by Louis P. Valiquet, of Zonophone fame. One advantage was said to be that the record was less likely to slip on the turntable than a standard flat disc.

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Emile Berliner’s device for increasing volume, employing six synchronized turntables. A later “improvement” stacked the turntables vertically.

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F. F. Shanks of Chicago patented this reproducer-less device consisting of an extended rod that carried the sound vibrations directly from the stylus to an attachment of the user’s choosing (the filing mentions a snare-drum head, banjo, or other stringed instrument), which served as a resonator.

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A more direct approach to musical-instrument-as reproducer, in this case a complete violin. A version of this machine was actually manufactured in France.

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For when the “just stuff a sock in it” approach won’t do, here’s a  marvelous piece of German over-engineering. This sadistic-looking device was patented by Albert Conze of Berlin and specified a muffler-ball of leather, cork, or felt. Edison later employed the same general idea in his Diamond Disc machines, but with the adjusting mechanism neatly tucked away below the bedplate.