The John Fletcher Story, Part 2: The Olympic-Remington Debacle (1921 – 1922)

The John Fletcher Story, Part 2: The Olympic-Remington Debacle (1921–1922)
By Allan Sutton

 

 

The following is a condensed excerpt from the author’s Harry Pace, John Fletcher, and the Black Swan Saga (in preparation for 2018 publication)

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Pathé was not yet producing lateral-cut discs when it took over  John Fletcher’s Operaphone Company as a subsidiary. [1] By early 1920, however, it was preparing to do so, and the universal-cut Operaphone discs (being readily playable on lateral-cut machines) might have been seen as a potential competitive threat. It probably was no coincidence that Operaphone’s sudden disappearance in early 1920 occurred at precisely the same time as Pathé’s launch of its new lateral-cut Actuelle discs.

Little more was heard of John Fletcher until March 1921, when The Talking Machine World reported the launch of the Olympic Disc Record Corporation. [2] Incorporated with $260,000 capital in Maryland (although it never operated there [3]), Olympic announced that it would “manufacture the highest possible quality phonograph records, and plans to engage the best artists available.”

Much was made of the fact that the Remington Phonograph Company held a controlling interest in Olympic. Olympic’s  executive roster was identical with that of Remington Phonograph, except for one outsider — John Fletcher, who was listed as secretary of the new company. [4] Remington’s failure a year later would  take Olympic down with it, but in early 1921 the acquisition was hailed by industry insiders as a promising move by a rising new phonograph manufacturer.

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    The Remington Phonograph Corporation, picturing president Philo E. Remington, was registered on July 20, 1920. The company filed a trademark application for Reminola records on the same date.

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The Remington Phonograph Corporation had been incorporated in January 1920. [5] The company was headed by former Remington Typewriter Company executive Philo E. Remington (president), along with James S. Holmes (vice-president and general manager), and M. B. Thomas (secretary and, later, treasurer). [6] Eliphalet Remington, son of the founder of the Remington Arms Company, served on the board of directors. [7] Although Remington Phonograph’s promotional materials strongly suggested that the company was affiliated with Remington Arms, it was not, as later testimony would confirm. [8]

The phonograph plant was to have been housed in the Remington Typewriter factory at Ilion, New York, [9] a plan that was quickly abandoned. Instead, the company purchased an existing factory (formerly used by an unnamed manufacturer of bank and office fixtures) in Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal Building. [10] Shipments of the first phonograph model, coupled with a national advertising campaign, began in late July or early August 1920. [11] Three additional models began shipping that autumn.

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Remington’s main selling point was its reproducer, which was said to do away with the “cramped or imprisoned tone” of other models.

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Remington Phonograph clearly was anticipating record production as early as the summer of 1920. In July of that year, the company filed a U.S. trademark application for use of the Reminola brand on phonographs and records. [12] Although his application claimed use since May 5, 1920, no evidence has been found that that Reminola records were ever produced commercially. Early reports stated that Remington’s records would be manufactured at Ilion, but as 1921 dawned, they had yet to appear.

Then, in April 1921, came the first listing of Olympic records, as May releases. TMW reported that the company had already begun recording and pressing records in its Brooklyn facility. [13] A month later, it was reported that Olympic had acquired Fletcher’s idled Operaphone facility (which included a studio and pressing plant) on Meadow Street in Long Island City. Edward Kuhn (a former Edison supervisor) was hired as an advisory mechanical engineer as recording and manufacturing were transferred to the Long Island facility. By then, Fletcher had been elected to Remington Phonograph’s board of directors. [14]

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Olympic advertised aggressively, albeit to little apparent effect. The double-page spread ran in a 1921 edition of The Talking Machine World.

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Olympic got off to an unsteady start, despite an aggressive advertising campaign. Once again in charge of a recording program, Fletcher repeated past mistakes. Although Olympic was marketed as a premium-priced label, its main offering was bland pop and light classical fare, much of it performed by the same New York-area dance bands and studio freelancers who could be heard on dozens of other labels, many of them better-produced than Olympic.

The only relatively bright spot was an operatic series (with program notes printed on the labels) featuring such lesser lights as Regina Viccarino, Henrietta Wakefield, and Percy Hemus. Broadway star Greek Evans was pressed into service as an operatic baritone on several releases. However, only ten issues appeared, most of them single-sided.

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Olympic used many of the same freelance studio singers and New York-area dance orchestras (like Harry Yerkes’ Jazzarimba Orchestra, above) that could be heard on dozens of other labels. Some of the operatic recordings (right) later turned up, in disguise, on the cut-rate National Music Lovers label.

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Olympic’s recording and technical quality were mediocre, and with few stars or anything out of the ordinary in the way of repertoire in its catalog, the label could not hope to compete with Columbia, Victor, and other comparably priced brands. The company boasted a large number of retailers, but many (like the “trunk, bag, and umbrella” store shown below) carried phonographs and records only as side-lines. Sales lagged as advertising fell off, and the final Olympic Disc Record Corporation releases appeared in December 1921. At the same time, the parent Remington Phonograph Company was failing.

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Remington in decline: In late 1921, the company began steeply discounting its phonographs.

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On December 1, 1921, Remington and Olympic were thrown into receivership on the complaint of vice-president Holmes, who contended that it was impossible to proceed with business unless additional capital could be raised. In addition, Holmes disclosed that a number of legal actions against the companies were likely. Remington Phonograph claimed liabilities of $22,500 and assets of $100,000. The situation was more dire for Olympic, with liabilities of $33,000 and assets of $60,000. [15] Later testimony revealed that Remington had lost money from the start, despite rosy statements to investors.

On December 9, the Olympic Disc Record Corporation filed a petition in bankruptcy. [16] With Remington itself on the verge of collapse, management’s answer was to press its already-disgruntled investors for still more money. A meeting of Remington stockholders on January 30, 1922, turned violent, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Interrupted by cried of “liar,” “thief,” “throw him out,” and “wait until we get you outside,” James P. Holmes, vice-president of the Remington Phonograph Company [sic], tried in vain yesterday to soothe the ruffled feelings of five-hundred disgruntled stockholders… Most of them appeared to be persons of small means… The manager of the hotel came on the run when a bedlam of hisses and howls greeted Holmes’ further efforts to preside. The manager settled this argument by threatening to call the police and have the whole crowd ejected if the noise continued. [17]

A proposal that stockholders sink still more money into a reorganization was shouted down. Eventually, Edwin Starr Ward, an attorney representing the stockholders, was allowed to present his report. Philo Remington, he alleged, was merely a company figurehead, drawing a minimum $5,000 annual royalty for the use of his name. Of the 22,500 shares he had originally owned, he was now said to hold only 1,100. Ward concluded, “The business was carried on in a wasteful, ignorant, and extravagant manner and with utter disregard for the interests of stockholders.” Finally, the New York Times reported, “the gathering broke up in disorder.” [18]

The Olympic and Remington operations were quickly dismantled. Louis Jersawit, the receiver for both companies, gave notice in the New York Times for March 3, 1922, that all of Olympic’s assets and property were to be auctioned on March 25. Offered for sale was,

a fully equipped plant for the manufacture of phonograph records, phonograph records completed and in the course of completion, all materials and property used in the manufacture of phonograph records, all patents, copyrights, and trademarks, all office and factory furniture and fixtures, together with the complete equipment of the factory of the said defendant, Olympic Disc Record Corporation, contained in the premises at 156 Meadow Street, Long Island City… [19]

The purchaser would be none other than John Fletcher, in partnership with Black Swan’s Harry Pace—the American recording industry’s first racially mixed executive team. Fletcher retained possession of his Olympic masters, some of which he proceeded to reissue under colorful aliases on Black Swan, in the process scuttling Pace’s pledge to issue only recordings by black artists (although in fairness, it should be noted that Pace himself had already broken that pledge on several occasions).

Some Olympic masters would also find their way to other companies, including the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company, New York Recording Laboratories, and Scranton Button Company, which parceled them out to their client labels for several years. Some of Olympic’s celebrity operatic issues even ended up, in disguise, on Scranton’s cut-rate National Music Lovers label. [20]

Fletcher had escaped the Remington Phonograph Corporation’s collapse unscathed, at least from a legal standpoint, but other Remington executives would not. An investigation of Remington Phonograph revealed that of the $1 million allegedly collected on stock sales, only $440,000 showed on Remington’s books. In addition, shareholder complaints continued to mount over misleading promotional materials and artificially inflated stock prices. The result was an investors’ lawsuit charging that the Remington Phonograph Corporation “was grossly mismanaged by its officers, who are now under indictment for fraudulent use of the mails in connection with the selling of the stock of the corporation.” [21]

The indictment referred to in the shareholder’s suit originated in  the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, which charged Philo Remington and five other Remington Phonograph executives or associates with stock fraud. On June 1, 1922, all six were ordered held on $5,000 bond each, pending arraignment. [22] The investigation would drag on into the spring of 1924, before finally going to trial on April 4. Of the six who were originally charged, only Morris Pomerantz (a salesman whose connection to the company is unclear) escaped indictment.

At the trial, Harry Sieber (who had succeeded Thomas as treasurer) testified that Remington Phonograph had “never earned a dollar,” and that the stock price “was shoved up whenever that seemed expedient.” His testimony was followed by a parade of stockholders who declared they had been misled into believing that Remington Phonograph was affiliated with Remington Arms and Remington Typewriter. Among the evidence presented was a booklet devoted to the history of both companies, which Remington Phonograph had mailed to potential investors. [23] Two other key pieces of evidence were discovered to have mysteriously disappeared, but copies were allowed into evidence. [24]

By the end of the thirteen-day trial, seven of the original nine counts had been dismissed as faulty, and most of the evidence relating to misleading use of the Remington name had been excluded. Philo Remington and James Holmes were acquitted. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the other three. [25]

In the meantime, John Fletcher, having not been caught up in the Remington investigation, had been busy. In the space of two years, he had bought his way into Black Swan, contributed significantly to its collapse, and now was about to pack his bags for Chicago, where one last failure awaited him.

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Part 1 — Music for Everybody (1900–1921)

Part 3 (Coming Soon) — A Not-So-Black Swan (1922–1923)

Part 4 (Coming Soon) — Beating a Dead Horse in Chicago (1924–1925)

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 Notes

[1] “Pathé Frères Phonograph Co.” (re: Operaphone as a Pathé subsidiary). Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities. New York: Moody Manual Co. (1922), p. 940. Pathé’s control of Operaphone beginning in the later ‘teens was never disclosed publicly.

[2] “New Concern to Make Records.” Talking Machine World (Mar  15, 1921), p. 3

[3] Two of Olympic’s board members resided in Baltimore, perhaps explaining the decision to incorporate in Maryland.

[4] “New Concern to Make Records,” op. cit.

[5] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1920), p. 121.

[6] “To Enter Talking Machine Field.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1920), p. 226.

[7] “Announcing the Remington Phonograph Corporation” (ad). Talking Machine World (Jun 15, 1920), p. 62.

[8] “Remington Phonograph Head on Trial for Fraud.” Olean [NY] Times Herald (Apr 9, 1924), p. 5.

[9] “Holmes with Remington Corp.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1920), p. 62.

[10] “Reviews Remington’s Progress.” Talking Machine World (Sep 15, 1920), p. 124.

[11] “Remingtons Now Being Shipped.” Talking Machine World (Aug 15, 1920), p. 51. Shipments of additional models began in September or early October.

[12] Remington Phonograph Corporation. “Reminola,” U.S. trademark application #135,214 (filed Jul 20, 1920).

[13] Some pressings had been produced by March 14, 1921, when they were demonstrated at Remington Phonograph’s first annual shareholders’ meeting.

[14] “Remington Co. Doubles Stock.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1921), p. 33.

[15] “Receiver Is Appointed for Remington Phonograph.” New York Tribune (December 2, 1921), p. 19.

[16] “Business Troubles — Petitions in Bankruptcy.” New York Tribune (Dec 10, 1921), p. 17.

[17] “Heads of Defunct Firm Threatened.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan 31, 1922), p. 2. The New York Times, in the article cited below, gave the number of stockholders attending as four-hundred.

[18] “Stockholders in Wrangle.” New York Times (Jan 31, 1922), p. 3

[19] “Receivers’ Sales.” New York Times (Mar 4, 1922), p. 19.

[20] Sutton, Allan. Pseudonyms on American Records, 1892–1942 (Third Revised and Expanded Edition). Denver: Mainspring Press (2013).

[21] Frankland et al. v. Remington Phonograph Corporation et al. (119 A. 127).

[22] “6 Remington Officers in $5,000 Bail.” Rochester [NY] Democrat and Chronicle (Jun 2, 1922), p. 1

[23] “Promoters Listen to Luring Letters.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 2.

[24] “Evidence Missing. Letters Used in Alleged Fraud Case Are Stolen.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 9.

[25] “Two Are Acquitted in Remington Case.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 23, 1924), p. 3.

“Paramount’s Rise and Fall” Has Sold Out – Others to Follow Soon

Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall sold out this morning, after a long and successful run (in two editions) as one of our most important titles. We have no further copies available for sale.

The following titles are now in very short supply (less than one carton of each) as we continue to phase out book sales in favor of online data distribution, in affiliation with UC-Santa Barbara’s DAHR project. These titles will not be reprinted once current supplies are gone — Best to order soon, if interested:

Bolig: Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. II

Bolig: Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. IV

Bryant, et al.: American Record Co., Hawthorne & Sheble

Bryant, et al.: Leeds & Catlin Records

Charosh: Berliner Records in America

Sutton: Recording the ‘Twenties

You can browse and order all remaining titles on the Mainspring Press website, while supplies last.

Please note that Mainspring Press does not sell on Amazon.com; Mainspring titles on Amazon are being offered by third parties (sometimes at ridiculously inflated prices) with whom we are not affiliated. Most are used copies and are duly noted as such, but some copies being offered as “new” may be remaindered hurt/second-quality copies, which we have made available to resellers on occasion. Mainspring Press sells only on its own website, and on eBay as mspBooks.

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The John Fletcher Story — Part 1: “Music for Everybody” (1900 – 1921)

THE JOHN FLETCHER STORY
Part 1: “Music for Everybody” (1900 – 1921)
By Allan Sutton

This article is a substantially expanded version of a posting that originally appeared on the Mainspring Press website in 2001.

 

John Fletcher isn’t a name that normally comes up in discussions of recording industry pioneers. He managed to fail at virtually every venture he undertook (and there were many), and his involvement with Black Swan almost certainly contributed to that label’s demise. And yet, he was typical of many entrepreneurs who challenged the major companies during the record industry’s early boom years and, in doing so, managed to produce some intriguing records.

Fletcher, who began his career as a professional musician, claimed to have first recorded as a member of the Edison studio orchestra in the late 1890s. In a July 1918 interview with the Talking Machine World, Fletcher recalled, “My first phonographic experience was as a player in the old Edison cylinder laboratory in Orange, N.J., when you had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, be on the job, in your chair, and ready to play at 8 o’clock.” [1]

By the early 1900s, John Fletcher was performing and recording with  Sousa’s Band, as a cornetist. He is almost certainly the “_Fletcher” cited by Brian Rust in early editions of Jazz Records (the name was deleted in some later editions, with no explanation offered).

Fletcher recalled, “The band was engaged for three weeks to make records for the Victor Company. At the time, the company’s laboratory consisted of a small room on the third floor in a building in the neighborhood of Tenth and Lombard streets, Philadelphia, and it was in this small room that I got my first insight into the mysteries of sound recording.” [2] (A search of the Victor files failed to turn up a contiguous three-week block of Sousa sessions. Perhaps Fletcher was referring to the period of May 31 through June 26, 1902, during which the band was in the studio on thirteen days.)

Fletcher toured Europe with Sousa’s Band, then reportedly joined the New York Symphony Orchestra upon his return. He is known to have made at least two recordings as a cornet soloist, for Indestructible cylinders in 1908 and 1910, [3] but his growing interest in sound recording soon eclipsed any desire to continue working as a musician. “During this time,” he told TMW, “I realized how imperfect were the methods then in vogue to record symphonic music with a few instruments, and I finally resolved to devote my future career to recording the various instruments comprising the grand orchestra, in sufficient numbers to produce the musical sensation caused by the combined tonality of such a large number of instruments.” [4]

Fletcher began to experiment with recording processes. He eventually devised what he termed “an extremely narrow” vertical-cut groove playable with an ordinary steel needle, for which he filed a patent application on July 3, 1915. Fletcher claimed that his process produced a record “found to be extremely durable in use,” a claim not supported by many of the surviving specimens in which it was employed. By the time the patent was finally granted in mid-1918, Fletcher had abandoned the fine-groove vertical cut.

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Fletcher’s fine-groove vertical-cut patent, 1915 (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.)

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On December 15, 1914, The Talking Machine World reported that Fletcher, E. F. Gerner, and M. Naughton had filed incorporation papers in New York for the Operaphone Manufacturing Corporation, which was to produce phonographs and records. [5] George Thomas served as president of the company, and Fletcher managed recording and manufacturing. The company opened a New York office at 2 Rector Street (which was later moved to 200 Fifth Avenue), a pressing plant at 156 Meadow Street in Long Island City, and a recording studio at an unknown location. The latter was moved into the pressing plant in late 1916. [6]

The exact date on which Operaphone records were first sold remains uncertain, but a trademark application, filed belatedly by Fletcher on September 13, 1919, claimed use of the Operaphone name on records beginning March 1, 1915. [7] The initial offerings were seven-inch discs employing Fletcher’s fine-groove vertical cut, bearing pressed labels (using a “frosted” background, reminiscent of the Edison Diamond Disc, but with sharply raised type) and retailing for 25¢ each. Fletcher did little advertising during Operaphone’s earliest days; in fact, Crescent (an Operaphone client label) began advertising in The Talking Machine World a month before Operaphone itself. [8]

Fletcher was pursuing two conflicting goals — the production of a cheap record that virtually anyone could afford (reflected in his “Music for Everybody” slogan), and the recording of serious symphonic repertoire, an inherently costly undertaking. In the end, he opted for the former. Despite its name and Fletcher’s lofty ambitions, the Operaphone label leaned heavily toward current popular tunes, public-domain “standards,” and light-classical snippets, most often rendered by the house band or the usual studio free-lance performers.

There were occasional selections by more distinguished artists, including retired Metropolitan Opera soprano Gertrude Rennyson and Broadway star May Naudain, but they were the exceptions. Some other Operaphone artists, like “Dan Perry,” were purely fictitious; “Perry” turns out to have been studio denizen Arthur Collins, based upon unmistakable aural evidence.

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An early “frosted”-label Operaphone pressing (left), and a re-pressing of the same master using the later etched label. “Dan Perry” was actually Arthur Collins in disguise. (Author’s collection)

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By the time that Operaphone finally began advertising regularly in early 1916, Fletcher had discontinued seven-inch discs and was producing eight-inch fine-groove pressings that he claimed would play “as long as the average twelve-inch records of other makers,” which in fact they did not. The copy was later revised to read, “more music than the ten-inch records of other makes,” which was still a bit of an exaggeration. Truth-in-advertising finally prevailed in 1917, when the wording was changed to “play at least as long as high-priced ten-inch records.”

The initial eight-inch Operaphone releases were listed in the January 1916 edition of The Talking Machine World, as February releases. [9] Retailing for 35¢, the eight-inch discs initially used the same dim, “frosted” labels as the seven-inch discs, which were soon replaced by more legible embossed labels with paint-filled type. In August 1916 the company finally announced, with some fanfare, that it was switching to paper labels. [10]

Fletcher also erred by sometimes coupling mismatched selections on his early releases, placing, for instance, a tired old hearts-and-flowers ballad on the flip side of a current pop tune—the same error Columbia had committed, then corrected, several years earlier. In September 1916, Fletcher promised that Operaphone would offer more compatible couplings on future releases. [11]

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The first paper Operaphone label (left), introduced in August 1916. The design had already appeared very briefly in etched form. Crescent was Operaphone’s earliest known client label. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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Despite such a bumpy start, Operaphone reported in August 1916 that production at the pressing plant had tripled in eight months. [12] Fletcher had also expanded his client list beyond Crescent and was now pressing eight-inch Operaphone discs under an array of labels that included All Star, Elginola, and the earliest version of  Domestic. He soon secured Canadian distribution for Operaphone through the Canadian Phonograph Company of Toronto. During the spring of 1917, offices were moved to 489 Fifth Avenue, to allow easier access to the Long Island plant (which now also housed the recording studio) via the Queensboro subway line. [13]

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Advertisements for eight-inch Operaphone discs, 1916

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To all outward appearances, the Operaphone Manufacturing Corporation was a thriving business in the spring of 1917. And then it seemingly vanished, without explanation or even a passing mention in the trade papers. Fletcher finally alluded to the closing in his 1918 interview, recalling, “After facing abnormal conditions, due to the steadily increasing prices of raw materials, the Operaphone Company seized the psychological moment to shut down its factory… .” [14]

In short, Fletcher had badly under-priced his goods. A price increase might have been feasible had the eight-inch Operaphone disc been a high-quality product, but it was far from that. Weakly recorded, pressed in poor material, and offering little out of the ordinary in the way of artists or repertoire, the records had nothing to recommend them other than their unusually low price. Fletcher later admitted that the eight-inch discs “incurred tremendous expenses with returns that were hardly commensurate.” [15]

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One year later, a new type of Operaphone record suddenly appeared on the market, with no prior notice of its impending arrival. First advertised in April 1918, the records were credited to a reorganized Operaphone Company, Inc. [16] They were an obvious departure from the earlier series, being ten-inch vertical-cut discs that employed a groove of normal dimensions. What was not obvious was that John Fletcher, although still running the company, was no longer making his own recordings.

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Pathé supplied the masters for Operaphone’s new ten-inch series, the labels of which carry Pathé’s usual “U.S. Consumption Only” disclaimer. Many issues, like this one, were pseudonymous; “Albert Faber” was actually Eleanor Rae Ball.

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Fletcher, having mothballed his Long Island City studio, was now obtaining his recordings from the Pathé Phonograph Company. Pathé recorded its masters on oversized cylinders, which could be dubbed in any number of disc formats using the pantograph, a mechanical transcribing device that contributed to the rumbling and clanking heard on acoustic Pathé products.

The new ten-inch Operaphone discs used material from the Pathé catalog, but Pathé’s involvement would not have been apparent to the average record buyer. Having been transcribed using a steel-needle cut, the discs bore no physical resemblance to their sapphire-cut Pathé counterparts, and the artists often were masked by pseudonyms. A TMW reporter opined that the new records “mark a distinct improvement over the former Operaphone products,” but expressed no suspicions as to their true source. [17]

In conjunction with his new series, Fletcher announced that he was “planning to devote more time to…the recording of the entire symphonic repertoire.” In fact, Fletcher so far had not devoted any time to such an undertaking, beyond releasing a few orchestral lollipops on Operaphone. Unsurprisingly, given his track record and the fact that he was now simply leasing existing Pathé material, his plan was never implemented.

During the summer of 1919, a subtle change appeared in the wording of Operaphone’s advertising. Previously, the records had been touted as playing on “all universal tone-arm machines” (i.e., an arm that could be converted to play either lateral- or vertical-cut discs, usually by simply pivoting the reproducer into the proper position). In June, that was amended to read simply, “play on all phonographs.” The reason was that Pathé had begun dubbing Operaphone masters in a universal-cut format that was playable (albeit with rather mediocre result) on lateral or vertical machines without the need for a convertible arm. The earlier label, which pictured a reproducer in the vertical-cut position, was replaced by a redesigned version that dispensed with the illustration and listed the Smallwood universal-cut patent, #639,452.

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The final Operaphone label, showing Smallwood’s universal-cut patent number. Pathé was careful to disguise its more prestigious artists on Operaphone; “Rosner’s Dance Orchestra” was actually Joseph Knecht’s Waldorf Astoria Orchestra, and “Helene Buepre” was Claudia Muzio. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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As with the previous Operaphone series, material came from the Pathé catalog, the artists were often disguised, and the records bore no physical resemblance to their Pathé sapphire-ball counterparts. The records were also pressed under several client labels, including Empire and World. Oddly, a comparison of Talking Machine World advance listings reveals that in some cases, the Operaphone release dates preceded those of the corresponding Pathé records by a month or more. This unusual reversal of normal client-label procedure might have been explained by the fact that Operaphone by then had become a full-fledged Pathé subsidiary. The corporate relationship was never acknowledged to the general public, but it was disclosed in various editions of Moody’s. [18]

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Operaphone’s June 1920 list. “Wilbur Fairbanks” was Noble Sissle in disguise. The many other Operaphone aliases are unmasked in the author’s Pseudonyms on American Records — Third Revised and Expanded Edition (Mainspring Press).

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By the autumn of 1920, there were subtle signs that all was not well with Operaphone. In September, the company opted for a cheaper black-and-white advertisement in TMW, instead of its customary two-color. The color was back in October, but the company did not advertise in December, at the height of the all-important holiday sales season, and no new releases appeared in TMW’s advance list that month. A new ad, with only ten releases rather than the usual twelve, appeared in January 1921—perhaps not coincidentally, the same month in which Pathé entered the lateral-cut market with its new Actuelle label.

A small ad in February, with no new releases listed, would be Operaphone’s last. A month later, TMW reported that the Operaphone Company was “winding up its affairs and will shortly withdraw from the records field.” [19] In the same issue, John Fletcher was listed as secretary of a freshly launched venture — the Olympic Disc Record Corporation. [20]

 

Coming Up:

Part 2 – Fist-Fight in the Boardroom: The Remington-Olympic Saga (1921)

Part 3 – A Not-So-Black Swan (1922–1923)

Part 4 – Beating a Dead Horse in Chicago (1924–1925)

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[1] “Noted Career in Record Field.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1918), p. 96.
[2] Ibid. Victor moved into the Philadelphia studio in November 1901, according to recording engineer Harry O. Sooy, and did most of its recording there until early November 1907, when a  new Camden studio opened. Contrary to numerous discographies, no Victor recording was done in Camden during this period; for details, see “Camden, Philadelphia, or New York? The Victor Studio Conundrum (1900–1920),” on the Mainspring Press website.

[3] “Pretty Peggy” (Indestructible 940, released c. December 1908); and “Infantry Calls, No. 1” (Indestructible 1308, released April 1910).

[4] “Noted Career in Record Field,” op. cit.

[5] “To Make Phonographs.” Talking Machine World (December 15, 1914), p. 43.

[6] “All Departments Under One Roof.” Talking Machine World (November 15, 1916), p. 71.

[7] Operaphone Company: “Operaphone.” U.S. trademark application #122,654 (filed 9/13/1919).

[8] “Crescent Records for Quick Delivery” (ad). Talking Machine World (December 15, 1915), p. 19. Crescent’s fine-groove discs of 1915–1916 were simply Operaphone pressings under a different label. The company later used other suppliers.

[9] “Record Bulletins for February, 1916—Operaphone Manufacturing Company.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1916), p. 81.

[10] “Announce New Record Labels.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1916), p. 26.

[11] “To Revise Operaphone Catalog–All Operaphone Records to Bear Two Selections of the Same Type.” Talking Machine World (9/15/1916), p.82.

[12] “Announce New Record Labels,” op. cit.

[13] “Operaphone Corp. Moves Offices.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1917), p. 6.

[14] “Noted Career in Record Field,” op. cit.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Ten Inch Operaphone Records—Hill and Dale—Double Disc” (ad). Talking Machine World (April 15, 1918), p. 96.

[17] “Exhibitors of Talking Machines and Supplies at Music Show.” Talking Machine World (June 15, 1918), p. 101.

[18] “Pathé Frères Phonograph Co.” (lists Operaphone as Pathé subsidiary). Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities. New York: Moody Manual Co. (1922), p. 940.

[19] “Operaphone Co. to Withdraw.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1921), p. 71.

[20] “New Concern to Make Records.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1921), p. 3.

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

 

John O. Prescott: From “Blue Indians” to Hopi Indians

John O. Prescott ranks high on the list of undeservedly forgotten recording pioneers. Although eclipsed by his brother Frederick (founder of the International Zonophone Company and the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company, the producers of Odeon records), John O’s accomplishments — which ranged from co-founding what would become the Nipponophone Company in 1910 to serving as Gennett’s chief technician in the 1920s — were equally impressive.

John Prescott’s role in the American Record Company (which was backed by brother Fred’s Odeon operation) and its marketing arm, Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott, is covered in detail in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and need not be repeated here. What we’ll be examining in this article is Prescott’s career after American Record’s demise.
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The American Record Company discs — nicknamed “Blue Indian records” by the trade, for their distinctive blue pressings and American Indian trademark — were quite successful until Columbia succeeded in shutting the company down for patent infringement in January 1907. [1] The partnership split, with Ellsworth A. Hawthorne and Horace Sheble regrouping as the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company, and John Prescott going his own way. Little more was heard of Prescott until November 1907, when The Talking Machine World reported, “He left last week for a fortnight’s hunting on Long Island, and on returning he may have something of interest to announce to the trade relative to his work in a fresh field.” [2]

The “something of interest” probably was the Twoforone Champion Record (presumably a double-sided disc), for which Prescott filed a trademark application on February 24, 1908. [3] Prescott had been quietly preparing to resume record production ever since the collapse of the American Record Company. In January 1907 he had applied for a U.S. patent on a new pressing process that included a provision for double-sided discs. [4] Two months later, TMW reported that he had taken over the former American Record Company studio, which he was managing in the guise of “The Laboratory Association.” [5] But with the means of production all in place (but not the necessary patents, assuming it was to have been a lateral-cut disc), Champion apparently failed to launched.

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Prescott’s trademark filing for Champion Records (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).

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Instead, Prescott retired to his home in Summit, New Jersey, where his new neighbor was brother Fred (who, having sold his interest in International Talking Machine and returned home a wealthy man, was now happily engaged in his new hobby of raising chickens). But Prescott could not remain idle for long, and in May 1909 he sailed on the Lusitania for what was to have been a brief visit to London. Instead, he ended up on an extended tour that took him from England and France (where he was highly impressed by Emil Pathé’s demonstration of the vertical-cut disc) to Russia, then on to China and Korea—and, finally, to Japan, where his career would soon take an unexpected turn. Prescott was no fan of the country, as he made clear upon his return in August 1909. “Excuse me from permanently living in Japan,” he declared. “The beautiful pictures we see there of entrancing landscapes … are on postal cards only … Nobody has any money excepting the very rich, and they are comparatively few in the teeming millions of ordinary Japs.” [6]

Back in the U.S., Prescott leased the Laboratory Association studio to the Sonora Phonograph Company in September 1909. The company was planning to produce its own discs in both vertical- and lateral-cut formats (Sonora’s April 1910 TMW ad depicted a vertical-cut Sonora disc and a lateral-cut Crown disc, although the latter is not known to have been produced). However, Prescott does not appear to have had any involvement with the company, other than as landlord. The studio initially was managed for Sonora by former Zonophone engineer George Cheney, who departed for Phono-Cut before production got fully under way. [7]

In the meantime, Prescott had returned to Japan, despite his professed dislike of the place. In January 1910, The Talking Machine World reported that he was managing a recording studio in Tokyo. [8] The owner of that studio (whose name was not given by TMW) was the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company, Ltd., the only record manufacturer operating in Japan at that time. [9] Financed, owned, and managed by American businessmen, including Prescott, the company initially produced the Symphony Record label.

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The now-rare Symphony label was soon supplanted by the Nipponophone brand. Nipponophone got its start as the sales agent for the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company. (Author’s collection)

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Japan-American’s sales agent was the Nipponophone Company, which soon substituted its own Nipponophone label for Symphony. By the autumn of 1910, the Japan-American / Nipponophone combine was producing and marketing records on a fairly large scale under Prescott’s management.

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Prescott (seated at left) in Japan, 1910

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In addition to his expertise, Prescott brought along a ready-made catalog of Western recordings — the American Record Company masters. Nipponophone’s “Foreign Records” catalog of c. 1910–1911 included a substantial number of old American recordings that were renumbered and offered in new couplings, sans artist credits, with the occasional amusing mistranslation  (“A Gay Gossoon” became “A Gay Cartoon,” “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” became “Dream of the Rabbit King”). [10] The records were intended for foreign residents and tourists, but demand for them must have been meager, and they are extraordinarily rare today. A badly damaged specimen, showing the original American numbers in the wax, was found on the West Coast many decades ago. A second specimen was later reported, but as so often happens, the supposed owner did not respond to a request for a confirming photograph or other proof of its existence.

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A page from Nipponophone’s “Foreign Record” catalog listing anonymous reissues from American Record Company masters. The uncredited artists included Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, Frank C. Stanley, Len Spencer, and Steve Porter. (Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press)

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By the end of 1910, Prescott had enough of Japan. He resigned from the Japan-American Phonograph Company, and his place was taken by Thomas Kraemer, [11] who had been associated with the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company. Prescott’s stay had done nothing to improve his opinion of that country, its climate, or its workforce. Upon his return to the States in early 1911, he complained,

“The air is so humid that you soon fall into a condition of lassitude difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. To be sure, if you can adapt yourself to Oriental ways; that is, take things as they come in an indifferent, easy-going way, perhaps one could manage. An active American, coming from home full of life, snap, and ginger, and wanting to take hold and accomplish something the way we do it here, is forced to give up or become Orientalized. Excuse me, I am not built that way.” [12]

In June 1911, Prescott departed once again for Europe, where he “expected to look the trade over a little” before attending the coronation of George V in London. [13] Perhaps not coincidentally, his trip occurred at about the time that the London-based Disc Record Company, Ltd., acquired some American Record Company masters, which were parceled out to Britannic, Defiant, Pelican, The Leader, and other minor labels for the British and export markets. Whether the masters came from Prescott, from the Lindstrom organization (which had taken over the International Talking Machine Company’s assets), or from some other source, has not been established.

Little more was heard of John Prescott until August 1912, when The Talking Machine World reported that he had been in Constantinople for “a year or more,” managing an unnamed record company. [14] For the next eight years, Prescott’s name would be largely absent from the American trade papers.

Prescott eventually resurfaced in the 1920s. In 1920, brother Fred had placed some rather boastful ads in The Talking Machine World soliciting work as a consultant, but it was John who landed a steady job, at the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett Records division in Richmond, Indiana.

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Brother Frederick in search of work, 1920 (Talking Machine World)

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In August 1921, Gennett resumed recording in Richmond, after a hiatus there of nearly five years. [15] John Prescott was hired as chief technician of the Richmond facility, with duties that included wax formulation and oversight of the pressing plant. He also seems to have had some say in regard to master approval, and notes referring to “J. O” are sprinkled throughout the Richmond recording ledgers of the mid-1920s. It’s tempting to speculate that he was responsible for naming the company’s budget-priced Champion label, hearkening back to his aborted 1908 venture, but documentary evidence of that is lacking.

The “Blue Indian” man finally came face-to-face with actual Indians in May 1926, as part of a Gennett team that traveled to Arizona’s Grand Canyon to record traditional Hopi songs. The expedition was undertaken in association with the Smithsonian Institution, under the supervision of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, head of the Smithsonian’s Department of Ethnology. Music Trade Review reported that the Santa Fe Railroad was assisting in moving the recording apparatus from Richmond and had obtained government permission to transport the Indians and their ponies the one-hundred miles from their reservation to the Grand Canyon.

Along with Gennett recording engineer Ezra C. A. (Wick) Wickemeyer, Prescott oversaw the cutting of fourteen masters (# 12526 – 12537, with a single take each for first ten sides, and two takes each for last two) in a makeshift studio at the El Tovar Hotel. The company, having experienced mixed results in its initial attempts at electrical recording, dispatched its more trustworthy acoustic equipment. Twelve masters were received in Richmond on June 2, followed by the two alternate takes on June 15. The masters were processed for commercial release under standard Gennett catalog numbers, after which they were deposited with the Smithsonian. [16]

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KAKAPTI: Ma’Qutu (Rabbit Hunt) (as “Makwatu”)  
El Tovar Hotel. Grand Canyon, Arizona: Late May 1926
Gennett 5759 (mx. 12530)

_______________________

Exactly when Prescott left Gennett has not been discovered, but he apparently continued to work in the sound-recording field at least into the early 1930s. On January 27, 1929, he and Frederick A. Kolster filed a patent on a photo-electric sound-recording system that they assigned to the Federal Telegraph Company of Newark, New Jersey. [17] After that, Prescott’s trail grows cold. He died in Pasadena, California, on July 14, 1946.

 

[1] American Graphophone Co. v. American Record Co., 151 F. 595.

[2] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (November 15, 1907), p. 79.

[3] Prescott, John O. “Twoforone Champion Record.” U.S. Trademark application #32,975 (filed February 24, 1908). Prescott was well acquainted with double-sided pressing methods. American Record had pressed double-sided discs as special-order items, under Ademor N. Petit’s patent #749,092, which was controlled by Frederick Prescott. Assuming the Twoforone was double-sided and had been launched in a timely manner, it likely would have beaten Columbia’s Double Disc to market.

[4] Prescott, John O. “Mechanism for Making Sound Records.” U.S. Patent #847,820 (filed January 15, 1907).

[5] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (March 15, 1907), p. 39.

[6] “’Talker’ Conditions in Foreign Countries.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 41.

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

[8] “J. O. Prescott in Japan.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1910), p. 3.

[9] “The Talking Machine Trade in Japan.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1911), p. 4.

[10] The Nipponophone Company, Ltd. “Foreign Records” (Tokyo, c. 1910–1911). A listing of the Nipponophone issues can be found in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015), available from Mainspring Press.

[11] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (April 15, 1911), p. 30.

[12] “Returns from Japan.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1911), p. 35.

[13] “J. O. Prescott in Europe.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1911), p. 54.

[14] “A Visitor from Turkey.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1912), p. 25.

[15] “Starr Recording in New York.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1917), p. 100. Gennett recorded in Richmond during 1915–1916, using often-obscure Midwestern artists. Recording activities were moved to New York in late 1916 or early 1917, to take advantage of better-known East Coast talent and accommodate those who “found it rather inconvenient to travel out to Richmond.” Regular recording sessions resumed in Richmond on August 20, 1921, according to the Gennett ledgers.

[16] “To Record Hopi Indian Songs on Gennett Records.” Music Trade Review (May 29, 1926), p. 81.

[17] Prescott, John O., and Frederick A. Kolster. “Sound-Reproducing System.” U.S. Patent # 1,776,046 (filed January 7, 1929).

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DAHR Update: American Zonophone 7″ and 10″ Data (1899 – 1905)

The final editing of Mainspring’s 7″ / 9″ American Zonophone data has been completed, and conversion to online format for the Discography of American Historical Recordings will begin later this month. Thanks to the editors at UC-Santa Barbara, some previously undocumented remakes and other details have been added from UCSB’s holdings of the original discs.
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The level of detail far exceeds anything published so far on American Zonophone, including listings of all known remakes (the company remade like there was no tomorrow in its early days!), alternate versions, relabelings and reissues, catalog listing dates, Oxford releases, breakdown by issued diameters, and other fine details you won’t find anywhere else. There will also be an illustrated, footnoted historical introduction that puts some old Zonophone myths to rest, and a guide to label types.

This is Mainspring’s first direct-to-online venture (i.e., there will be no printed edition). We’ll keep you updated on its progress.

 

Last Call for “Berliner Gramophone Records in America: A Discography” (Paul Charosh)

We just opened our last carton of Paul Charosh’s Berliner Gramophone Records in America: A Discography. We won’t be reprinting or producing an updated edition once these copies are gone.

Just to clarify: This is the second, most recent edition of Paul’s Berliner discography. (The obsolete first edition, originally published by Greenwood Press in 1995, is now being sold by a different company as a cheap-looking reprint — but cheap it isn’t, at $30 more than our updated edition!)

Quantities are very limited. Order soon from the Mainspring Press website to avoid missing out!

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Just a reminder — Mainspring is in the process of phasing out its discography line, and we’re already running low on many titles, none of which will be reprinted once current inventory is sold. If you’re interested in a particular title, best to buy soon!

The Playlist • Broadway Headliners (1911 – 1913)


Photos from the Victor monthly supplements, courtesy of
John Bolig
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GEORGE M. COHAN: You Won’t Do Any Business If You Haven’t Got a Band (“A Little of Everything”)

Camden, NJ: May 4, 1911
Victor 60043 (mx. B 10268 – 1)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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NORA BAYES & JACK NORWORTH: Turn Off Your Light, Mr. Moon Man (“Little Miss Fix-It”)

Camden, NJ: April 24, 1911
Victor 70038 (mx. 9830 – 5)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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AL JOLSON: That Haunting Melody (“Vera Violetta”)

Camden, NJ: December 22, 1911
Victor 17037 (mx. B 11409 – 2)
With studio orchestra conducted by Walter B. Rogers. Although Rogers is not credited in the Victor files, Jolson addresses him by name in “Asleep in the Deep (Parody),” recorded at the same session.

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ELSIE JANIS: Fascinating Baseball Slide

Camden, NJ: October 22, 1912
Victor 60090 (mx. B 12527 – 1)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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DAVE MONTGOMERY & FRED STONE: Travel, Travel, Little Star (“The Old Town”)

Camden, NJ: January 24, 1911
Victor 70033 (mx. C 9845 – 1)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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DAVE MONTGOMERY & FRED STONE: Gay Paree

Camden, NJ: May 19, 1911
Victor 70042 (mx. C 9906 – 2)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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NAT W. WILLS: New York, What’s the Matter with You? (Ziegfeld’s “Follies of 1913”)

Camden, NJ: September 22, 1913
Victor 17461 (mx. B 13838 – 1)
Frank N. Darling, conductor, per Victor files (Darling was the conductor of the “Follies” orchestra).

 

Discography of American Historical Recordings – Update: Part 1 of the American Zonophone Discography Is Now Online

If you’ve been following the Mainspring Press blog lately, you know that we are no longer publishing any new printed discographies, but instead licensing our discographical data to the University of California–Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings. As much as I love books, I’ve long felt that digital databases offer a clear advantage for archiving and disseminating this sort of material (not to mention eliminating the ever-increasing costs of production, printing, shipping, and labor).

DAHR is staffed by, and associated with, some of the most knowledgeable people in the field. In recent years it has emerged as the largest and most authoritative source of discographical data relating to the 78-rpm era. A tremendous amount of Victor, Columbia, Brunswick-Vocalion, and Decca data from the original company files have already been digitized and made freely available as searchable databases, and much more is to come.

Now we can add American Zonophone to the list, with thanks to Sam Brylawski, David Seubert, and the DAHR staff for helping to make that possible. The first Zonophone installment (covering the 10″ and 12″ standard-catalog releases of 1904–1912) is now online and includes the latest revisions and updates to the printed volume that was published by Mainspring in 2012.
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msp_zono-cats-1

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The next Zonophone installment, covering the 7″ and 9″  releases of 1900–1906, is undergoing final editing and fact-checking here, for submission to DAHR within the next month or two (there are no plans for a printed edition). Much of this material is previously unpublished and includes the first systematic cataloging of remakes, reissues, relabelings, altered stampers, etc.

For book enthusiasts, the Zonophone 10” / 12” volume can still be purchased on the Mainspring Press website, although supplies are running low — We’d advise ordering soon if interested, since  Mainspring will not be reprinting any of its discographies once current the current inventory has sold out.

— Allan Sutton

The Playlist • Thomas A. Edison Speaking

EDISON_ore-plant

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: The Liver Complaint Story

Probably West Orange, NJ: Early 1900s
Privately made wax cylinder (commercially unissued)
From the Edison National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service

Walter Miller, whom Edison addresses at the beginning of the recording, was largely responsible for Edison’s recording operations until the phonograph division’s closure at the end of 1929.

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Let Us Not Forget — A Message to the American People
(Introduction by Edison Vice-President William Maxwell)

West Orange, NJ: January 2, 1919
Edison Blue Amberol 3756 (original version; dubbed from disc mx. 6540-B)

The corresponding Diamond Disc release (which originally was sold in a specially decorated box) was # 50509. Blue Amberol 3756 was released in June 1919; in 1926 the cylinder was remade, using the same catalog number and dubbed from the same disc maters, but adding a band excerpt dubbed from the reverse side of the disc.

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message from Fort Myers, Florida

Edison experimental mx. 185-A
February 11, 1929 (West Orange studio low-speed dubbing from broadcast)
From the Edison National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service

An except from the first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired, over WJZ on February 11, 1929, and captured at Edison’s Columbia Street studio in Orange, New Jersey. The broadcast celebrated the birthday of Thomas Edison, who spoke briefly via relay from his home in Fort Myers, Florida. Click to hear additional excerpts from the broadcast.

Update • The Zonophone Records Victor Herbert Didn’t Make (1900 – 1904)

A preliminary version of this article appeared on the Mainspring Press website in April 2011. The events surrounding this case should already be familiar to well-read collectors [1], but until now, Universal Talking Machine’s actions following the decision have not been explored in a systematic manner.

In the time since the original article was posted, we’ve been fortunate in acquiring the late Bill Bryant and associates’ unpublished discography of seven- and nine-inch Zonophone records, which sheds new light on how the company handled the situation after being ordered to withdraw its bogus (but highly popular) “Victor Herbert’s Band” records in early 1904.

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msp_zono-1565

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A group advertised as “Victor Herbert’s Band” was prominently featured in the early Zonophone catalogs. The name was in regular use by late 1900; Zonophone’s October 1900 sales bulletin (the earliest we’ve located so far) listed twenty-three selections credited to the band, three of which were accompaniments to singer Bert Morphy. [2]

What buyers of those records didn’t realize — and many collectors still don’t realize today — is that neither Victor Herbert nor his band had anything to do with them.

Based upon testimony later presented at trial, the records were actually made by the 22nd Regiment Band of the New York National Guard, and this apparently was where the Victor Herbert claim — tenuous though it was — originated. Herbert had conducted this band during the 1890s, which for a time was billed as “Victor Herbert’s 22nd Regiment Band.” [3] But he left that position in 1898, before Zonophone commenced recording operations, to serve as principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony. By the time the first “Herbert’s Band” Zonophones were advertised in 1900, Victor Herbert had left Pittsburgh and was touring (but not recording) with a new orchestra that bore his name.
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msp_zono-10-1901_herbert1

A portion of the Herbert listing from the October 1900 catalog.

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By early 1904, Zonophone was offering more than 120 bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” titles in both seven- and nine-inch versions, occupying three-and-a-quarter catalog pages [4], and Herbert finally took action. In January, he applied to Judge Leventritt, of the New York Supreme Court, for an injunction restraining the Universal Talking Machine Company from using his name “for the purposes of trade.”

Herbert’s suit was based on a recently enacted New York state law that prohibited the use of a person’s name for advertising purposes without prior written consent. In addition, Herbert’s attorney argued, the records were not up to his client’s standards and “tended to lower the estimation in which his music has been held by the public.” Peter B. Olney, Universal’s counsel, opposed the injunction on the grounds that Herbert had long known that his name was being used on Zonophone records, but had not asked the company to discontinue the practice [5]. His argument was rejected.

Action was delayed while Herbert tended to business in the West [6], but on March 3, 1904, Judge Leventritt ruled in Herbert’s favor and granted an injunction [7]. In his ruling, the judge affirmed his belief that Herbert “never gave the claimed permission” for Zonophone to use his name, and also expressed his opinion that the matter could be settled “without controversy” pending a full trial [8]. The injunction was allowed to stand, and it appears that the matter of damages was resolved out of court.

The injunction left a gaping hole in Zonophone’s catalog that the company scrambled to fill. Its initial response was a frenzy of remake activity during the spring of 1904, employing the house band under Fred Hager’s direction. Many of these remakes bear master numbers in the 2300–2700 range, indicating approximate recording dates of April–June 1904. [9]

Remaking the “Herbert” titles would be immensely time-consuming (and in the case of the slower-selling titles, probably unprofitable), so in the interim the company adopted a second, stopgap strategy. The “Herbert’s Band” recordings were not illegal, per se; only the use of Herbert’s name presented any legal problem. Thus, the company resorted to printing new labels, minus the Herbert credit, for use on the existing “Herbert” recordings while the remake work proceeded. The changeover is easy to pinpoint in the Zonophone sales lists. The “Herbert’s Band” records were still proudly advertised in the February 1904 catalog. But in the May 1904 catalog, the same recordings were listed with no band credit. A short time later, a new name appeared that would permanently replace Herbert’s — the Zon-O-Phone Concert Band. [10]

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msp_zono_feb-may-04

Herbert is still credited in the February 1904 catalog (left). The
May 1904 catalog (right) lists the same recordings, but with
no band credit.

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Relabeling did not entirely solve the problem, since the relabeled records still had their original spoken announcements crediting Victor Herbert. Bill Bryant and his associates identified many specimens bearing the new Zon-O-Phone Concert Band labels, but retaining the incriminating “Herbert” announcements. And so, at some point, the company began tooling the announcements off the stampers. Pressings from 9” Zonophone mx. 87, for example, are known with and without the announcement but otherwise are aurally identical. [11]

By the time that Zonophone 7” and 9” pressings were discontinued in 1905, the last of the relabeled “Herbert” recordings had either been dropped from the catalog or been remade by the Zonophone house band, and the scandal soon faded from memory. Victor Herbert and his actual orchestra would go on to make many popular recordings beginning with Edison in 1909, which went to great lengths to assure customers that they were getting the real thing.

— Allan Sutton

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[1] Passing references to the case appear in various early writings on phonograph history. A more detailed account was published in 2010, in the author’s A Phonograph Home (Mainspring Press); and in 2016, Steve Smolian made an excellent ARSC presentation on the subject.

[2] “October Bulletin. Zonophone Records” (October 1900 catalog), unnumbered pp. 2–3.

[3] Gould, Neil. Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, p. 119. Fordham University Press (2011).

[4] “The New Universal Zonophone Records” (February 1904 catalog), pp. 3–6. Copy for this catalog would have been prepared in late 1903 or very early 1904.

[5] “Victor Herbert Brings Suit.” Music Trade Review (January 30, 1904), p.40.

[6] “That Zonophone Litigation.” Music Trade Review (February 20, 1904), p. 27.

[7] “Herbert Gets Injunction.” Music Trade Review (March 9, 1904), p. 4.

[8] Victor Herbert v. Universal Talking Machine Company. New York Law Journal (March 3, 1904).

[9] Recording-date ranges has been estimated based upon known recording dates from test pressings of the period.

[10] “Zon-O-Phone Records for May.” Music Trade Review (April 23, 1904), p. 29. Copy for this list would have been prepared in late March or very early April, after the injunction was upheld. The “Zon-O-Phone Concert Band” was simply the house ensemble under Fred Hager’s direction. This was the same Fred Hager who in 1920 gave the go-ahead for Mamie Smith to make what is generally regarded as the first blues record.

[11] Zonophone C 5057 (mx. 87), 9” paper-label issue. In this and similar cases, visual inspection coupled with synchronized aural comparison confirmed that the recordings are identical, aside from deletion of the announcement, and ruled out any possibility that the altered masters are dubbings (Bill Bryant data, Mainspring Press archive). The practice was not unique to Zonophone; Columbia tooled announcements off the stampers it used on its client labels.

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Bill Bryant’s Zonophone data (accumulated over several decades, and including submissions from Tim Brooks, Paul Charosh, Dick Spottswood, Jim Walsh, the Record Research associates, and many other reputable collectors and discographers) occupies several-thousand index cards, a large carton of contributor correspondence, and several iterations of Bill’s exhaustively detailed ledger. That information (much of it previously unpublished) has finally been collated and entered into a database in preparation for submission to the online Discography of American Historical Recordings later this year. A print edition is not planned.

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The Playlist • “Some Of These Days,” Four Ways (1910–1930)

msp_tucker_some-of-these-da

 

Four very different treatments of Shelton Brooks’ 1910 hit, beginning with a Victor release by studio singer Billy Murray in auto-pilot mode. Given what we know of Victor’s musical assembly-line of the period, Murray’s first encounter with the song quite likely came when a company representative handed him the score and gave him a few days to prepare for the recording.

The song might have died on the spot, given such treatment, but Sophie Tucker made it her own. She brought audiences to their feet (and folks of the sort who carped about “white coon shouters” to near-apoplexy), and it would serve as her signature tune for the rest of her career. Here are two of Tucker’s many recorded versions — the original, and a mid-1920s reworking with the Ted Lewis band that incidentally marks one of the earliest fruits of the Columbia-Okeh merger. Lewis was exclusive to Columbia, Tucker to Okeh; the fact that Columbia got the release was perhaps a not-so-subtle reminder of who was boss in the new relationship.

And finally, a full jazz treatment by The Missourians, the sensationally hot band that Cab Calloway had recently taken over. Within a few months he would begin adjusting personnel and reducing them to glorified accompanists, but here we have them in their final, untampered-with glory.

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BILLY MURRAY & AMERICAN QUARTET: Some of These Days

Camden NJ: December 27, 1910 (Released March 1911)
Victor 16834 (mx. B 9740 – 3)

Personnel not listed in the Victor files. The American Quartet at this time normally included Murray (lead tenor),  John Bieling (tenor), Steve Porter (baritone), and William F. Hooley (bass).

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SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days

New York: February or March 1911 (Released May 25, 1911)
Edison Amberol 691 (four-minute cylinder)

The Edison studio cash books list Tucker four-minute sessions on February 17 and 24, and March 2, but do not indicate the titles recorded at each.

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TED LEWIS & HIS BAND with SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days

Chicago: November 23, 1926
Columbia 826-D (mx. W 142955 – 2)

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CAB CALLOWAY & HIS ORCHESTRA (Cab Calloway, vocal):
Some of These Days

New York: December 23, 1930
Brunswick 6020 (mx. E 35880 – A)

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Forgotten American Recording Pioneers • Joseph Moskowitz (Cymbalom Solos, 1916)

msp-vicsup_11-1916-23_mosko

Joseph Moskowitz
(b. Romania, 1879 – d. Washington DC, June 27, 1954)
From the November 1916 Victor supplement, courtesy of John Bolig

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JOSEPH MOSKOWITZ (Edward King, piano): Panama Pacific Drag

New York: February 4, 1916
Victor 17978 (mx. 17118 – 1)

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JOSEPH MOSKOWITZ (Max Yussim, piano): Chasen Senem (Turkish Medley, No. 2)

New York: July 19, 1916
Victor 67988 (mx. B 18204 – 2)

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JOSEPH MOSKOWITZ (Max Yussim, piano): Sadiguerer  Chusid — Hebrew Dance

New York: March 27, 1916
Victor 67827 (mx. B 17390 – 1)

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JOSEPH MOSKOWITZ (Max Yussim, piano): Hungarian Dance, No. 5 (Brahms)

 

New York: February 4, 1916
Victor 17973 (mx. B 17116 – 1)

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JOSEPH MOSKOWITZ (Max Yussim, piano): Argentine Dance (Tango Argentino)

New York: February 4, 1916
Victor 18155 (mx. B 17113 – 2)

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JOSEPH MOSKOWITZ (Edward King, piano): Operatic Rag

New York: February 4, 1916
Victor 17978 (mx. B 17117 – 2)

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Discographical data from Dick Spottswood’s Ethnic Music on Records
(University of Illinois Press)

The Playlist • Edison Ragtime Banjo Classics (Fred Van Eps, Shirley Spaulding)

msp_spaulding_van-eps

FRED VAN EPS: The Junk Man Rag (C. Luckyeth Roberts) — Medley

New York: December 15, 1913
Edison Blue Amberol 2225
Includes: The Junk Man Rag (Roberts); Harmony Joe (J.A.G. Schiller); That Teasin’ Rag (Joe Jordan). The latter was plagiarized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on their 1917 “Original Dixieland Jass Band One-Step,” the first jazz release.

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FRED VAN EPS (John F. Burckhardt, piano): The Ragtime Oriole (James Scott)

New York: February 6, 1924
Edison 51324 (mx. 9365-C)

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FRED VAN EPS (John F. Burckhardt, piano): Grace and Beauty  (James Scott)

New York: February 6, 1924
Edison 51324 (mx. 9366-C)

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SHIRLEY SPAULDING (John F. Burckhardt, piano): Somewhere in Dixie (George Lansing)

New York: September 15, 1922
Edison 50152 (mx. 8593-A)

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The Playlist • Indestructible Cylinder Favorites (1908 – 1911)

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BAND: In Darkest Africa (from Sousa’s “Three Quotations”)

New York: Released June 1908
Indestructible 785

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JOHN J. KIMMEL (accordion): Indian Intermezzo

New York: Released June 1909
Indestructible 1090

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FRED VAN EPS (banjo): Trombone Johnsen

New York: Released February 1908
Indestructible 722
“Johnsen” is the correct spelling, per the sheet music and copyright registration.

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VESS L. OSSMAN (banjo): Hoop-E-Kack

New York: Released July 1909
Indestructible 1113

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ELIDA MORRIS: Stop! Stop! Stop! (Come Over and Love Me Some More)

New York: Released April 1911
Indestructible 1457

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ARTHUR COLLINS: Come After Breakfast (Bring ’Long Your Lunch, and Leave ’Fore Suppertime)

New York: Released June 1910
Indestructible 1345

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Cylinder Fans — We still have a few copies left of Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography (an ARSC Award winner). Quantities are limited , and we won’t be reprinting — order soon if interested!

 

Busy Bee Cylinder Record Catalog (1906)

The O’Neill-James Company of Chicago issued this Busy Bee cylinder list in 1906. The records were manufactured for them by the American Graphophone Company (Columbia), and — as many unsuspecting collectors have discovered — the inner taper was altered to prevent use of the records on standard phonographs. They fit only specially modified Busy Bee machines (which were also Columbia products), a classic example of a tied-goods premium scheme. A detailed history of O’Neill-James and the other Chicago premium-scheme operations can be found in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

All of the records listed here are two-minute molded cylinders. Some specimens are known that use the old “brown wax” formulation (as did some of Columbia’s molded Oxford cylinders). That’s led some collectors to assume, incorrectly, that they’re brown-wax–era “originals,” rather than XP-era molded records; but in fact, they’re just examples of the ever-frugal Columbia using up obsolete stock.

Some masters were recorded specifically for Busy Bee, as is indicated by the use of the name in the spoken announcements, and these are of the most interest to collectors, since Busy Bee is the only confirmed form of issue. Other Busy Bee issues are confirmed as having used use the same recordings (but not always the same takes) as the corresponding titles on Columbia XP cylinders. Most of these lack spoken announcements, or have announcements that give only the title and artist, with no company mentioned; but examples are known that slipped through with the tell-tale “Columbia record” announcement.

There are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of in using this list. First, some composers’ names appear in the list instead of artist credits. And second, in some cases the artists listed do not match who is heard on reliably reported specimens, meaning that alternate recordings were used on occasion and/or someone slipped-up in preparing the catalog copy.

A great deal of research remains to be done on these now-scarce cylinders. (On the other hand, Busy Bee’s disc output has been studied exhaustively for many years, and solid data can be found in American Record Company et al., available from Mainspring Press; and Tim Brooks’ Volume 1 of the Columbia Master Book Discography.)

 

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