Ranking Edison’s 40 Best-Selling Artists of 1906 – 1908

Ranking Edison’s 40 Best-Selling Artists of 1906 – 1908

Compiled by Allan Sutton
from the Edison Dealers’ Order Sheets

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(From the Raymond R. Wile Research Library)

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The following artists were the top sellers on new releases made during the height of the Gold Moulded cylinder’s popularity, based upon the initial dealer-order reports of 1906 through mid-1908. The leading sellers of the period, by far, were Ada Jones (who captured the top three spots), Len Spencer, and Billy Murray. It’s interesting to note that Murray as a soloist ranked only #12, followed by Spencer at #13; but paired with Jones, they ranked in the top two spots.

Some caveats:

(1) The figures are only for initial dealer orders. Some of these records remained in the catalog for long periods, and final total sales figures have not survived, nor have statistics for dealer returns or scrapped copies. However, most sales to dealers occurred in advance of, or immediately following, the initial release date.

(2) The list covers only artists on new releases of the period. Some top-selling artists, like Cal Stewart, do not appear because no new records were released during this period, although their earlier releases were still selling well. Several other very popular artists, including Billy Golden and Murry K. Hill, are not represented because they made so few Edison recordings during this period that the sample size is too small to establish a reliable ranking. Both make the top-seller list (along with Stewart) during the Amberol and early Blue Amberol periods, which will be covered in a future post.

(3) There is strong evidence to suggest that many record buyers of the period were more interested in a given song than in the artist who recorded it. Artists who made a weak showing might have done so, to some extent, because they recorded less-popular material. Conversely, some artists’ rankings might be inflated because they were consistently assigned current hits.

The poorest-selling artists of the period? Those on the Edison Grand Opera cylinders, with average initial orders in the 1,100–1,250 range.

 

 

Artist(s) Average Initial Order
1 Ada Jones & Len Spencer 44,076
2 Ada Jones & Billy Murray 42,261
3 Ada Jones (solo; see also #1 and #2)
40,384
4 Edison Vaudeville / Minstrel Company 38,767
5 Frank C. Stanley & Byron G. Harlan 38,186
6 Arthur Collins & Byron G. Harlan 37,957
7 Charles D’Almaine 37,831
8 John J. Kimmel, as “John Kimmble” 36,944
9 Steve Porter 36,717
10 Manuel Romain 35,530
11 Haydn Quartet, as “Edison Male Quartet” 35,095
12 Billy Murray (solo; see also #2) 34,794
13 Len Spencer (solo; see also #1) 34,494
14 Frederick H. Potter 34,306
15 Albert Benzler 34,002
16 Helen Trix 33,968
17 John Young & Frederick J. Wheeler, as “Anthony & Harrison” 33,389
18 S. H. Dudley 33,223
19 Byron G. Harlan (solo; see also #5 and #6) 33,161
20 Stella Tobin 32,832
21 Vess L. Ossman 32,761
23 Arthur Collins (solo; see also #6) 32,346
24 Edward Meeker 32,183
25 Edward M. Favor 32,048
26 Bob Roberts 31,889
27 Will F. Denny 31,537
28 James Brockman 31,334
29 Reinald Werrenrath 31,290
30 Harry Macdonough 30,384
31 Reed Miller 30,283
32 Edison studio bands / orchestras 29,865
33 Henry Burr, as “Irving Gillette” 29,078
34 J. W. Myers 28,259
35 Joe Belmont 28,236
36 Will H. Thompson 28,147
37 Frank C. Stanley (solo; see also #5) 27,854
38 Florence Hinkle 27,829
39 John Young, as “Harry Anthony” (solo; see also #17) 27,178
40 Allen Waterous 27,142

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© 2022 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved. Exclusive publication rights are assigned to Mainspring Press. Reposting or other distribution in any form without prior written consent of the copyright holder is prohibited.

i78s Now Has More Than 8,000 Vintage Sheet Music Covers Online

i78s Now Has More Than 8,000 Vintage
Sheet Music Covers Online

 

By David Giovannoni and Kathy Sheram

 

Click here for more information on i78s.org, the exciting new 78- and cylinder-streaming website. Registration is free, simple, and secure.

 

Over 8,000 records at i78s are now illustrated with sheet music covers from the Giovannoni–Sheram Collection.

Registered users can check them out by browsing through any list of records. When you see the SHEET MUSIC tab, there’s something to look at. (Roughly one-in-five records are linked to sheet music covers.)

Here a few examples. [Note that these scans are only for demonstration purposes, and not indicative of the high quality you’ll see on the site. Click the link below each image to stream a recording of the selection; if you’re a registered i78s user and currently logged on to the site, you will also be able to view both the front and back covers. To access all 41,000 recordings, the associated discographical data, and 8,000 sheet music covers, you’ll need to register on the site.]

 

Here’s the Unique Quartette cover that spawned the Celebrated reissue:

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https://i78s.org/preview/65dec4a2e54cafcda08e972c85d44c1b

 

This isn’t a sexy cover, but look at the publisher….

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https://i78s.org/preview/d1fe9c18e0f398890c2b6078d69871a7

 

We often have multiple copies of sheet music selections, so records of the same title can link to different sheets. Here’s one with Bobby North’s picture and another with Belle Baker’s:

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https://i78s.org/preview/eb218f5cd40074798514e13c7544cdb3

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https://i78s.org/preview/57227eec9f3784068d229766cb83bf50

 

Sometimes there’s cool bonus material on the sheets (see backside):

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https://i78s.org/preview/ce836db7600c215f0327666764317478

 

Later this month, i78s will gain the ability to search data from the sheets (composer, publisher, artists on cover) and include hits in its search results. For instance, a search for the “Unique Quartet” will bring up the records linked to the Unique Quartette cover photo on “Where the Sweet Magnolias Bloom.” We hope these upgrades will help contextualize the recordings and make the site richer and more useful to more folks.

As always, your thoughts and suggestions are welcome. Many thanks, and enjoy!

 

Enjoy 41,000 Vintage Recordings Free at i78s.org

Enjoy 41,000 Vintage Recordings Free at i78s.org

 

Vintage-record enthusiasts have cause to celebrate with the recent launch of i78s.org, created and hosted by David Giovannoni. Many of you know David for his role in recovering the Scott Phonoautograms (which pre-date Edison’s first recording by nearly two decades) and other important work in the field of early recorded sound.

At the moment there are more than 41,000 digitized discs and cylinders on the site, from David’s own eclectic collection and those of several other advanced collectors, and that number will no doubt increase as others come onboard. You’ll find some exceedingly rare, unusual, and even one-of-a-kind recordings here. Offerings run the gamut from popular mainstream hits to the virtually unknown or just-plain-weird.

Registration is simple, requiring only a valid e-mail address and a password. No personal information is required, and there are no third-party cookies, trackers, spyware, ads, or other such nastiness. Plus, it’s free.

Once you’re registered and logged in, you’ll find a well-designed and relatively intuitive interface. Be sure to take the video tour, on which David walks you through the various screens and reveals some features and settings that might not be immediately apparent. One setting, for example, allows you to switch between three display modes tailored to users with different needs, from those who just want to stream some tunes, to us hardcore types who like to delve into discographical and historical minutiae.

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You can customize your i78s experience through
an array of special settings.

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Navigation is easy once you’ve familiarized yourself with the layout and features. There are multiple search options, and results appear in a menu on the right side of the screen.

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Multiple options make it easy to browse or search the 41,000+ recordings that are currently posted.

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Once you’ve located a record you’d like to hear or know more about, just click on the link, and a window will open on the left side of screen. The upper portion has two tabs by default, one to display the discographic data, and one to display a high-quality label scan. A nice bonus, for selected records, is a third tab marked Supplemental Materials, which displays ancillary items like record sleeves and original documents or advertisements.

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The Supplemental Materials tabs, available for selected recordings, allows you to view ancillary materials like record sleeves, original ads, and related documents.

 

To stream your chosen selection(s), simply click the arrow icon in the lower left-hand panel. You can also save selections to a custom playlist. Transfers have been made at the correct playing speed, which (as most advanced collectors know) often is not 78 rpm — the sort of expertise and attention to detail that’s lacking in similar sites managed by hobbyists or librarians, rather than by experts in the field of early sound recordings.

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Clicking on an item from the search results opens a panel displaying discographical information and label images. Audio files are launched or added to your playlist in the bottom panel, which also allows you to change the playback speed and switch between flat and processed audio mode.

 

An especially useful feature is the ability to switch between flat and processed audio files. For purists and masochists, the flat file reproduces every snap-crackle-and-pop in glorious detail. But if you’re more into enjoyment, the default Processed Audio option removes the worst of the noise, without altering the original sound quality. The transfers are very cleanly done and, for the most part, made from records that are in decent condition considering their age and, in many cases, extreme rarity.

I could go on, but instead, let me urge you to jump over the site ASAP, and start enjoying all the features this remarkable resource has to offer.

—Allan Sutton

New Free Download: Ragtime on Records (1894 – 1950) • The Worldwide Discography of Cakewalks, Rags, and Novelties on Cylinders and 78s – New Edition

The Mainspring Online Reference Library — Free Download

Ragtime on Records (1894 – 1950) • The Worldwide Discography of Cakewalks, Rags, and Novelties
on Cylinders and 78s

New Revised and Expanded Edition by Allan Sutton

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The latest addition to the free Mainspring Online Reference Library, Ragtime on Records covers more than 900 commercially recorded compositions, from the earliest primitive cakewalks to the classic rags of the early 1900s, the decadent novelty rags of the 1920s, and the ragtime revival of the 1940s. The work is conveniently arranged by title, with original publishers and publication dates noted in each entry, and is fully searchable.

Ragtime on Records covers more than 8,000 cylinders and 78s (U.S. and foreign) in 550 pages. In addition to highly detailed discographical listings for mainstream performances, there are supplemental summary listings of recordings in other styles (jazz, country, novelty-pop, etc.) that reflect ragtime’s spread and assimilation over the decades. There is also a gallery or rare sheet-music covers, historical introduction, and user’s guide.

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Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (~30 mb)
(Free for Personal Use — Print-Restricted)

 

This work is offered by the publisher for personal, non-commercial use only. Sale or other commercial use, as well as any other unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or alteration (including conversion to or dissemination via digital databases, e-books, or the Internet), either in printed or digital form, is prohibited. Please read and honor the conditions of use included with this file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

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Buy Direct from Mainspring Press:

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

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

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

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

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


DETAILS AND SECURE ONLINE ORDERING

 

“American Record Companies and Producers 1888 – 1950” Wins 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence

American Record Companies and Producers 1888 – 1950
Wins 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence

 

We’re pleased to announce that American Record Companies and Producers, 1888 – 1950 has received the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ 2019 Award for Excellence in Recorded Sound Research – Best Historical Research on Record Labels and General Recording Topics. This is the thirteenth  ARSC award for Mainspring Press.

Launched in 1991, the ARSC awards “Recognize those publishing the very best work today in recorded sound research. In giving these awards, ARSC recognizes the contributions of these individuals and aims to encourage others to emulate their high standards and to promote readership of their work.”

American Record Companies and Producers is available exclusively from Mainspring Press and Nauck’s Vintage Records. We encourage you to order soon, as this is a limited edition that will not be reprinted.

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760 pages • 7″ x 10″ full-cloth hardcover
Sewn library binding
Acid-free paper

Limited Edition

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

$75 – Free Shipping to U.S.
Foreign Shipping Extra
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> Details, Subject List, and Secure Online Ordering

Cal Stewart (Uncle Josh Weathersby): Newspaper Highlights, 1892 – 1919

Cal Stewart (Uncle Josh Weathersby):
Newspaper Highlights,
1892 – 1919

 

Of all the pioneer studio artists, Cal Stewart (1856 – 1919) left the most abundant paper trail. Stewart was a master of self-promotion, and unlike most of his contemporaries in the recording business, record-making comprised only a small (if lucrative) portion of his activities.

Stewart spent much of his time on the road, giving recording demonstrations, making free promotional appearances in connection with his records, and mounting traveling theatrical productions complete with orchestra and supporting cast. He also dabbled in the book business, launching his own publishing venture to produce the popular Uncle Josh Weathersby’s Punkin Centre Stories in 1903.

Below are some of the most interesting clippings from Stewart’s long career. Diehard Uncle Josh fans can hear and download more than 170 Stewart recordings (including some rare brown-wax issues) on the University of California-Santa Barbara’s cylinder record site.

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“Happy Cal Stewart” in January 1892, as The Original Jersey Farmer (top); and in January 1897, with his Uncle Josh persona now fully developed.

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From The Phonoscope for February 1899, and probably placed by or for Stewart himself, based upon the lack of a specific record-company affiliation.

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Stewart on the road with his own “capable company and special scenery” (Allentown, Pennsylvania, September 1900)

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Numerous ads appeared in the early 1900s for Stewart’s record-making demonstrations. These examples date from December 1900 (top) and March 1902. This was toward the end of the brown-wax cylinder era, when all that was required to make records was a supply of blanks and an off-the-shelf cylinder phonograph with recording attachment. Note Stewart’s offer in the Bentel ad to make original records to order, a topic ripe for discographic investigation.

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An early announcement for Stewart’s popular book. Despite the  title, it also included many of his poems, which he never recorded. Early editions were printed on heavy, high-quality paper and credited to the Punkin Centre Company of Chicago. Later printings, often on cheaper paper and with less decorative bindings, bore a variety of imprints. (November 1903)

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Stewart’s take on the “rube” stereotype (Minneapolis, July 1906)

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Oakland, California, was one of many towns that claimed a close connection with the widely traveled Stewart. (May 1909)

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Stewart’s “Politics” (top, January 1910) eventually morphed into “Running for Governor” (bottom, November 1913), an elaborate  traveling theatrical production that included five vaudeville acts in addition to Stewart and supporting cast.

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Davenport, Iowa (December 1913)

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Stewart on “naturalness” in acting (Muncie, Indiana, November 1914)

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Making a promotional appearance for his records
(Stevens Point, Wisconsin, October 1916)

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Cal Stewart plays Kansas in April 1919, at Kingman (top) and Lyons (bottom). “Gypsy Rossini” was Rossini Waugh Stewart, his second wife.

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One of Stewart’s last documented public performances
(Hannibal, Missouri, September 24, 1919)

Chicago (December 10, 1919). In a different obituary, cause of death was given as “tumor of the brain.”

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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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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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Early Columbia Cylinder Phonograph Outfits (Chicago Projecting Company, c. 1901 – 1902)

Some tantalizing ads for Columbia cylinder outfits from a rare catalog issued by the Chicago Projecting Company (225 Dearborn Street). In addition to projectors, films, stereoptions and slides, and related items, the company stocked a wide array of Columbia and and Victor merchandise.

The catalog is undated but includes Victor Monarch “pre-matrix” discs that were recorded as late as October 1901, suggesting a late 1901 or early 1902 publication. By that time, high-volume molded cylinders were beginning to enter the market, and the ear-tubes, oversized “exhibition horns,” and Concert-type cylinders offered here were on the verge of obsolescence.

One page implies that the company was making its own cylinders, picturing an unbranded cylinder and bragging that “our records…made with much greater care than the ordinary records,” while another shows a Concert-type cylinder in a special Chicago Projecting Company box (but with a Columbia lid). In fact, they were all Columbia cylinders, using Columbia’s catalog numbers.

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Len Spencer Arrested (1897)

Russell Hunting wasn’t the only recording-industry pioneer to be arrested in the 1890s. In March 1897, Len Spencer and two of the Emerson brothers were taken into custody in Newark, New Jersey, charged with stealing cylinders from the United States Phonograph Company.

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Len Spencer’s Phonoscope biography, 1898

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The trouble began in early 1897, after Spencer and the Emersons (Victor H., George E., and Clyde D.) resigned from United States Phonograph to work for the American Graphophone Company (Columbia).

According to the charges, Spencer, George Emerson, and Clyde Emerson took a substantial number of records from U.S. Phonograph, which they allegedly sold to a “rival concern.” The company was not identified in the press reports, but quite likely it was Columbia, which had a history of copying other companies’ cylinders and marketing them as their own (see, for example, American Graphophone Co. v. United States Phonograph Co., et al., U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, In Equity No. 4005, an 1898 case in which Calvin Child confirmed the practice).

Victor Emerson was not charged. Details of the arrest were reported by the New York Sun on March 9, 1897:

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But unlike Hunting, who went to jail for three months for making and peddling “obscene” records, Spencer and the two Emersons  escaped unscathed. On March 25, 1897, the prosecutor declared that the state had no case, and defendants were discharged.

A few weeks later, Spencer formally announced his employment by Columbia:

 

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Spencer didn’t remain exclusive to Columbia for long, and by the early 1900s he had reclaimed his former status as one of the most prolific studio free-lancers. Victor Emerson went on to serve long and well as Columbia’s chief recording engineer before resigning in 1914 to launch his own label.

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Odds & Ends from the Recording Industry’s Infancy (1891-1893)

Sarah Bernhardt recording in Bettini’s “Phonographic Salon”
(New York, 1892)

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Members of the United States Marine Band recording for Columbia; at least six recording machines appear to be in use, each producing a master from which copies will be transcribed for sale. (Washington DC, 1891)

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Getting their nickel’s worth (1891)

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A gallery of first-generation recording artists. Aside from Russell Hunting and Len Spencer (shown here as “Leon”), all retired from recording in the early 1900s, if not earlier. (1892)

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No electricity? No problem! Just hook up this Edison water-powered model to your kitchen sink. (No running water? OK, well there’s a treadle-driven model…) (1892)

Russell Hunting Goes to Jail (1896)

Russell Hunting was a major figure in the early recording industry — an editor of The Phonoscope (an early trade paper), a prolific recording artist both here and in England, and eventually, the technical director for Pathé’s New York studio.

He also made raunchy records that he sold under the counter at his Clinton Place studio and shipped to shady establishments from Coney Island to California in the mid-1890s. They were colorful enough that they caught the attention of Anthony Comstock of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who spent two years trying to identify the culprit.

The story’s been told elsewhere, but never as well as in the New York World‘s tongue-in-cheek account (below). Hunting went to jail for three months.

 

 

 

The Playlist • Thomas A. Edison Speaking

EDISON_ore-plant

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: The Liver Complaint Story

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

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

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

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

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

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message from Fort Myers, Florida

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

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

The Playlist • William Howard Taft on Equal Rights (1908)

A sobering look at how far the Republican Party has fallen in recent years — Here’s their 1908 presidential candidate:

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WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT: Rights and Progress of the Negro

The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia: August 3, 1908
Edison 10007 (2-minute cylinder)

 

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Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1908