Recording-Industry Pioneers • Victor Emerson’s Personal Photographs

 Victor Emerson’s Personal Photographs

 

These remarkable photographs come to us courtesy of Colette LaPointe, Victor Emerson’s great-great-granddaughter.

Emerson is one of the undeservedly forgotten pioneers of the recording industry, a gifted inventor and recording engineer, and a progressive businessman. Emerson’s own company, launched in 1915 after his departure from Columbia, was highly successful for several years, but ultimately did not survive the great recession of the early 1920s intact. Its history is covered in detail in American Record Company and Producers, 1888-1950, newly released by Mainspring Press).

Other photos from this group will appear in an expanded Emerson biography, which we will be posting soon.

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Victor Emerson (left) and unknown companion, c. 1880s

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A rare glimpse inside what is likely the New Jersey Phonograph Company or its successor, the United States Phonograph Company. Equipment more clearly visible in the full-size print dates this to the early-to-mid 1890s. The Bell-Tainter Graphophone (lower left, with goose-neck horn) would have been used for office dictation.

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Emerson in 1897. In January of that year, he resigned from United States Phonograph and joined the American Graphophone Company (Columbia) as a recording engineer.

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On a trip to London (undated)

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Victor Emerson at home (undated photos)

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A Few Emerson Favorites (MP3)

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GEORGE HAMILTON GREEN: Triplets

New York; released June 1920
Emerson 10169 (mx. 4882 – 1)

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EDDIE NELSON: I’ve Got the Joys

New York; released  October 1921
Emerson 10426 (mx. 41919 – 3)

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EUBIE BLAKE: Sounds of Africa [Charleston Rag]

New York; released October 1921
Paramount 14004 (1940s dubbing from a test pressing of mx. 41886 – )

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EUBIE BLAKE (vocal refrains by Irving Kaufman):
Sweet Lady — Medley

New York; released December 1921
Emerson 10450 (mx. 41985 – 2)

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ORIGINAL MEMPHIS FIVE (as Lanin’s Southern Serenaders):
Shake It and Break It

New York; released November 1921
Emerson 10439 (mx. 41924 – 1)

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Emerson Records: A History and Discography covers all 10″ and 12″ Emerson issues, including releases on subsidiary, client, and foreign  labels. Supplies are very limited, and we will not be reprinting — order soon!

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Collectors’ Corner (MP3) • Some January Cylinder Finds – Edison Two-Minute (1901 – 1909)

Collectors’ Corner (MP3) • Some January Cylinder Finds
Edison Two-Minute Cylinders (1901 – 1909)

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Cylinder fans — If you’re a serious collector or conscientious dealer, you need Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders, compiled from the original Edison documentation. This is the only fully detailed guide to Edison cylinders, identifying and dating all of the numerous remakes. Remakes often employed different artists (see, for example, the note to the first selection below), who generally are not identified in earlier cylinder guides. Supplies are very limited, and we will not be reprinting once they are sold out — order soon!

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Some of these recordings contain racially derogatory language that is typical of the period. It does not reflect the views of Mainspring Press; however, we see no value in censoring history. This was America (and, sadly, still is, in some jerkwater communities).

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ARTHUR COLLINS: Little Alabama Coon

Edison Gold Moulded 1523
New York – Master plated July 19, 1901
National Phonograph began plating masters for the new Gold Moulded cylinders on January 21, 1901, in advance of an early 1902 launch. #1523 was originally allocated to George J. Gaskin’s 1897 recording of this title, which was subsequently replaced by a brown-wax version by Collins (deleted in July 1902 and replaced by this version in Gold Moulded format). The number was recycled yet again in July 1905, for a more common remake by Ada Jones with orchestra.

 

 

BOB ROBERTS: Somebody Lied

Edison Gold Moulded 9936
New York – Listed July 1908

 

 

WILL F. DENNY: My Word! What a Lot of It

Edison Gold Moulded 9620
New York – Listed June 1907

 

 

JACK PLEASANTS: I Said “Hooray”

Edison Gold Moulded 10293
London – Listed November 1909 (U.S.)
British issue on 13898 – Listed c. July 1909

 

 

MURRY K. HILL: In the Good Old Steamboat Days

Edison Gold Moulded 9619
New York – Listed June 1907

 

 

BILLY MURRAY & EDISON MALE QUARTET: San Antonio

Edison Gold Moulded  9547
New York – Listed March 1907

 

 

EDWARD M. FAVOR & CHORUS: Almost (from The Fair Co-Ed)

Edison Gold Moulded 10147
New York – Listed April 1909

 

 

ANTONIO SCOTTI: Falstaff – Quand ero paggio

Edison Grand Opera Record B-57
New York – Listed November 1907

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For detailed, fully documented histories of National Phonograph (Edison) and dozens of other cylinder record producers, be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888 – 1950: An Encyclopedic History, newly released by Mainspring Press.

Pioneer Midwestern Cylinder Companies – Two Excerpts from “American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950”

PIONEER MIDWESTERN CYLINDER COMPANIES

Two excerpts from
American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950

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IOWA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY

Founded: 1889

Offices: Metropolitan Block, Sioux City, IA (to 5/1892); 5th & Jackson Sts., Sioux City (from 5/1892)

A sub-company of the North American Phonograph Company, licensed to deal in Columbia graphophones and Edison phonographs in Iowa. The state originally was to have been covered by the Nebraska Phonograph Company, which was first organized in November 1888 but apparently failed to launch at that time. A reorganized Nebraska Phonograph was formed on January 31, 1889, at which time the Iowa territory was abandoned and reallocated to the newly formed Iowa Phonograph Company.

Iowa Phonograph’s officers included W. P. Manley (president), C. J. Brackenbush (vice-president), Whitfield Stinson (secretary), and G. A. Beach (general manager). Among its directors was Erastus A. Benson, who had been a director of the short-lived Central Nebraska Phonograph Company and was also serving as president of the reorganized Nebraska Phonograph Company. Interviewed by a reporter for The Sioux City Journal, Benson expounded at length on the phonograph’s business uses but mentioned its potential as a entertainment device only in passing, noting, “songs of the finest singers and musical productions” could be had.

In July 1889, Beach secured permission to record members of the well-known Bostonians theatrical troupe (including Jesse Bartlett Davis, H. C. Barnabee, and Marie Stone) during their performance of The Bohemian Girl at the Peavey Grand in Sioux City. When the results proved barely audible without the aid of ear-tubes, additional recordings of the troupe were taken in the company’s offices, with mixed results. A reporter for the Journal concluded, “It is very doubtful if the phonograph will become an important factor in the musical world until is has reached a greater degree of perfection…[it] talks plainly enough but does not as yet sing or whistle becomingly.”

A month later, the recently arrived Walter S. Gray gave a private exhibition to three Journal reporters at which he played cylinders by local performers, including Beach himself. “The instrumental work sounded somewhat ‘choppy’…metallic and strident,” one reporter observed. “The phonograph…imparts to singing a ‘machiney’ flavor.”

In late May 1890, the Iowa Phonograph Company was said to have “hardly got a start,” due to a lack of trust among local business owners after the company placed some unreliable machines in local offices. However, its entertainment business fared better. In August 1890, it was reported that the company was looking into the possibility of making and distributing recordings of the bands that were to perform at that year’s Corn Palace festivities.

In February 1893, Beach employed his son Charles (who at the time was embroiled in a scandalous affair with one of the Beach household’s servants) to record tenor solos for Iowa Phonograph. A month later, he was replaced as general manager by Whitfield Stinson. The company appears to have been inactive by the end of 1893, although its corporate charter was not officially cancelled until 1909.

Selected References

“Corn Palace Preparations.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Aug 22, 1890), p. 22.

North American Phonograph Company. “Local Companies.” Phonogram (Jan 1891), p. 4.

“Organization and Progress of the Phonograph Companies of the United States.” Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), p. 247.

“Phonographing Opera.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Jul 14, 1889), p. 6.

Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States (Chicago, May 28–29, 1890). Milwaukee: Phonograph Printing Company.

Smythe, R. M. Obsolete American Securities and Corporations, p. 523. New York: R. M. Smythe (1911).

“The Iowa Phonograph Company.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Mar 13, 1893), p. 9.

“The Iowa Phonograph Company Ready for Business.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Feb 1, 1889), p. 6.

“The Phonograph.” Nebraska State Journal (Nov 14, 1888), p. 8.

“The Phonograph. An Exhibition of its Powers, More Especially in a Musical Manner.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Aug 7, 1889), p. 6.

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OHIO PHONOGRAPH COMPANY

Founded: 1888

Offices: 220 Walnut St., Cincinnati (1888–early 1889); St. Paul Building, 27 W. 4th St., Cincinnati (from early 1889); 163 Elm St., Cincinnati (mid-1894); 427 Vine St., Cincinnati; 122 Euclid Ave., Cleveland (branch office)

A sub-company of the North American Phonograph Company, licensed to deal in Columbia graphophones and Edison phonographs in the state of Ohio. A certificate of incorporation was filed on November 30, 1888, by James L. Andem, J. W. Dawson, George Moerlin, Frank Overbeck, and W. J. Overbeck. (Newspapers of the period sometimes stumbled over Andem’s name; he is referred to as Amden, Anderson, and even Adams in various reports.)

The Ohio Phonograph Company was headquartered in Cincinnati, under Andem’s management. Arthur E. Smith managed the Cleveland branch office before resigning in the spring of 1892. In September 1892, Andem published the first detailed phonograph operators’ manual, his sixty-four page Practical Guide to the Use of the Edison Phonograph.

The company opened coin-operated phonograph arcades in Cleveland and Cincinnati in September and November 1890, respectively. Each housed ten to twelve machines, with a single selection on each, and titles were changed each morning. The Phonogram reported, “On Saturdays and Sundays these exhibition parlors are crowded, and oftentimes quite an effort must be made before one can get possession of the coveted hearing-tubes when a cabinet contains a popular selection… Attached to the side of each machine is a napkin and holder to enable parties to cleanse the hearing tubes before listening, in case they desire to do so.”

Many selections in the Ohio Phonograph catalog were likely obtained from the North American Phonograph and New Jersey Phonograph / United States Phonograph companies. However, there are reliable reports from the period that the company also made and marketed its own recordings. It recorded and demonstrated a “choice selection of airs” by Cincinnati baritone Tim Sullivan in February 1891. Four months later, Andem reported that the company had “hired a gentleman from an adjoining territory [Kentucky] to sing a number of banjo songs.” A December 1891 advertisement suggested that Dan Kelly’s “Pat Brady” comic recordings were original, which was later confirmed by a Phonogram report declaring that “Mr. Kelly spends his spare time in making records for the Ohio Phonograph Company.” The Phonoscope for November 1896 reported that Ohio Phonograph was making “some very fine band records.”

The Edison Phonographic News for July–August 1896 confirmed that Ohio Phonograph was operating a studio in Cincinnati, “which, although in the heart of the city, affords perfect quietness.” It was briefly managed by Calvin G. Child, who left the company in late 1896 to work for Emile Berliner and would later be a key figure in the formation of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

In January 1894, J. W. Dawson filed suit against Andem, charging that he had consistently elected a board of directors “subservient to his will,” had been “extravagant in his management” of the company, and had appointed himself agent of a rival company handling graphophones. The company’s sales for 1893 were said to be $6,244 less than in the previous year, while expenses were $4953 more. On January 11, 1897, Ohio Phonograph was placed in the hands of a receiver, although its liabilities were said to be “trifling.”

Andem reorganized the Ohio Phonograph Company in the spring of 1897 as the Edison Phonograph Company of Ohio (q.v.), a large regional concern that had no connection to Thomas Edison’s companies and was eventually ordered to stop using the Edison name. The artists recording for Andem at that time, as listed in The Phonoscope for May 1897, appear to have been local performers. Andem went on to serve as secretary of the New York Phonograph Company during the period in which that company was engaged in a prolonged (and ultimately fruitless) legal battle with Edison’s National Phonograph Company.

Another Ohio Phonograph Company, based in Columbus and operated by H. H. Meyers (who sold it to F. A. Drake in 1899) appears to have been unrelated to Andem’s operation and is not known to have produced recordings.

Selected References

“A Noted Record Maker, Dan Kelly, of Cincinnati, O.” Phonogram (Mar-Apr 1893), p. 363.

“A Practical Guide to the Use of the Edison Phonograph” (ad). Phonogram (Aug–Sep 1892), p. v.

“A Row Among Stockholders of the Ohio Phonograph Company.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Jan 28, 1894), p. 16.

“Cincinnati Illustrated.” Edison Phonographic News (Jul–Aug 1896), p. 21.

“General News.” Phonoscope (Dec 1896), p. 9

“Humorous Talking Records for the Phonograph” (ad). Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), p. 265.

New and Selected Records for the Phonograph, for Sale by the Ohio Phonograph Company (1894 catalog).

North American Phonograph Company. “Local Companies.” Phonogram (Jan 1891), p. 4.

“Organization and Progress of the Phonograph Companies of the United States.” Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), p. 243.

“Phonograph Company Incorporated.” Columbus [IN] Republic (Dec 1, 1888), p. 1.

“Phonograph Company Liquidating.” New Orleans Times-Picayune (Jan 12, 1897), p. 4.

Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States (Chicago, May 28–29, 1890). Milwaukee: Phonograph Printing Company.

Proceedings of Second Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States, Held at New York, June 16, 17 & 18, 1891, pp. 62–63. New York: Linotype Reporting & Printing Company (1891).

“The Automatic Phonograph in St. Louis—A New Industry Yet in Its Infancy.” Phonogram (Jun–Jul 1891), p. 139.

“The Exhibition Parlors of the Ohio Phonograph Company.” Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), pp. 248–249.

“Trade Notes.” Phonoscope (Nov 1896), p. 9.

Untitled notice (re: Tim Sullivan recordings). Cincinnati Enquirer (Feb 11, 1889), p. 8.
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©2018 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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For information on all of the other North American Phonograph sub-companies, and dozens of other early cylinder producers, be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950: An Encyclopedic History, available exclusively from Mainspring Press. This is a limited edition — order soon!

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“American Record Companies and Producers, 1888 – 1950” Is in Stock – Special Limited Edition

NOW IN STOCK
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American Record Companies and Producers,
1888 – 1950
An Encyclopedic History
By Allan Sutton

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760 pages • 7″ x 10″ full-cloth hardcover
Heavy-duty sewn library binding


Special Limited Edition of 300 Copies

ISBN # 978-0-9973333-3-6
Library of Congress Control # 2018960581

Visit MAINSPRING PRESS for details, subject list, and ordering

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Save 10% – 50% on All Mainspring Back-List Titles

Just in time for the holidays — Save 10% to 50% on the complete Mainspring Press back-list, including Vintage Phonograph Advertisements, Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders, Edison Blue Amberols, The Victor Discographies, Little Wonder and Bubble Books, A Phonograph in Every Home, and other popular titles. All are sealed, first-quality copies, but quantities are very limited, and none will be reprinted — Order soon for best selection!

Visit us at Mainspring Press to see what’s available (and while you’re there, check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950, our latest release).

Collector’s Corner (MP3s) • Some Recent Cylinder Finds: Sophie Tucker, Elida Morris, Murry K. Hill, Goldin Hebrew Quartet, Kukzuoka Sokichi & Others

Collector’s Corner • Some Recent Cylinder Finds: Sophie Tucker, Elida Morris, Murry K. Hill, Goldin Hebrew Quartet, Kukzuoka Sokichi & Others

 

Cylinders seemed to turn up everywhere the past couple of months; here are a few favorites. A heads-up — There’s politically incorrect language (by current standards, but perfectly normal for its day) on many of these. We don’t censor history.

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GILMORE’S BAND: By the Sycamore Tree — Medley

Columbia XP 32413
New York – Released April 1904

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BOB ROBERTS: I Wants  a Graphophone

Busy Bee 261 (Columbia mx.)
New York – Released July 1905

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GOLDIN HEBREW QUARTET: Die Seider Nacht

Columbia XP 32786
New York – Released October 1905

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KUDZUOKA SOKICHI: Komori Uta – Japanese Lullaby

Edison Gold Moulded 12822
New York – Released August 1903

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EDWARD M. FAVOR: O’Brien Has No Place to Go

Indestructible 841
New York – Released September 1908

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MURRY K. HILL: A String of Laughs, intro. “Don’t” and “Four-Hundred Nursery Rhymes Brought Up to Date”

Edison Amberol 401
New York – Released April 1909

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NAT M. WILLS: Down in Jungle Town — Parody

Edison Gold Moulded 10178
New York  – Released June 1909

A great send-up of “Ted” (Theodore Roosevelt). Wills starts out knocking Roosevelt for using English guns, instead of American, on his African safari.

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SOPHIE TUCKER: Knock Wood

Edison Amberol 852
New York – Released October 1911

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

Indestructible 1457
New York – Released April 1911

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BOB ROBERTS: Fables

Edison Blue Amberol 1632
New York – Released March 1913

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ADA JONES: Oh, Mr. Dream Man (Please Let Me Dream Some More)

U-S Everlasting 1504
New York – Released 1912

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VESS L. OSSMAN: St. Louis Tickle

Indestructible 1453
New York – Released October 1911

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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.

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© 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.

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