The “Edison Victor Phonograph” (1905)

The “Edison Victor Phonograph” (1905)

 

A disaster narrowly averted — the Edison Victor Phonograph, from the July 1905 catalog:

.

From “Edison Phonographs” (Form No. 740 7-15-05)
(Edison National Historic Site)

.

This surely would have given Eldridge Johnson and the other Victor folks a collective case of the shrieking fantods, had they gotten a whiff of it. Fortunately for Edison, someone caught what can only be described as a stunning lapse in judgement, and the machine was renamed the Balmoral.

It’s interesting to note that p. 22 is hand-corrected, but p. 23 is not. So the question is, did any of these uncorrected catalogs get into circulation? And more intriguing, might any of these  machines have slipped out with Victor nameplates? Pretty unlikely, but as Fats Waller used to say, “One never knows, do one?”

.

Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan: After the Fall (1921 – 1936)

Arthur Collins & Byron G. Harlan:
After the Fall (1921 – 1936)
By Allan Sutton

.

Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan
(Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

.

At a time when online access to digitized archives was the stuff of science fiction, Ulysses (Jim) Walsh did a remarkable job of chronicling what he called the “Pioneer Recording Artists” for Hobbies magazine, using the limited material available to him. Many of us found our collecting experiences greatly enriched by his columns. They remain enjoyable reading long after his death, even if some of what he wrote doesn’t hold up to close examination. As a popular columnist who relied on colorful tales to keep readers coming back, Walsh often accepted anecdotes as fact without question, provided they suited his narrative, and he tended to embroider the facts to keep the story line going.

A case in point is his account of Arthur Collins’ accidental fall from the stage at the Princess Theater in Medina, Ohio, and his skewed take on the outcome of that event. [1]  Walsh gave the date of the accident as Thursday, October 20, 1921, an error that has been widely repeated in derivative works. But in fact, October 20 was simply the date on which the Medina Sentinel belatedly reported the incident. [2]  As noted in the Sentinel article, it had actually occurred on “Thursday of last week” — i.e., on October 14.

Both accounts have Collins falling into the basement from a stage that had been darkened as part of the Tone Test routine. Walsh has him plunging dramatically through an open trap-door — then, “reeling dizzily…fearfully bloody and almost out of his head … dazedly — almost instinctively,” making his way back up a ladder, with “the trooper’s [sic] instinct that ‘the show must go on.'”  The Sentinel, on the other hand, has him simply falling down a flight of stairs, then being given medical treatment after regaining the stage.

.

The Medina Sentinel for October 20, 1921, confirming the date of Collins’ accident as “Thursday of last week” (i.e., October 14).

.

So, a minor factual error, and an over over-abundance of purple prose on Walsh’s part, which might be easily overlooked had he not then gone on to thoroughly misrepresent what happened in the wake of the accident, erroneously declaring “For the duration of Collins’ illness, the Collins-Harlan partnership was broken up…”

That was not the case; Collins made a quick recovery, and one week after the accident, the team was back on the road, which is where our survey of the team’s advertising and press coverage, post-fall, begins.

..

Collins makes a quick recovery: The Zanesville Tone Test was presented on October 21, 1921, one week after the accident in Medina.

.

The Zanesville Time-Recorder commented on his steady stride and the “virile quality” of his voice at the October 21 Tone Test). With Collins apparently in passable health, the team went on to complete their tour, wrapping up in late November. After a month-long break, they went back on the road in early 1922, reaching California in February.

.

Collins & Harlan in Visalia, California (February 1922)

.

Harlan seems to have first ventured out on his own in the spring of 1922, when he was featured on several broadcasts sponsored by Okeh records, minus Collins. At that time, however, the team was still performing together.

.

Harlan on the air (New York Herald, April 26, 1922). “Rubalogue” was a coined term for a monologue by a “rube” (or “hick,” in slightly more modern parlance).

.

Although Collins and Harlan did little traveling together during the spring and summer of 1922, they recorded duets for Edison in July, August, and September. In the latter month, they hired Palmer Kellogg as their new road manager, apparently anticipating a busy fall travel season.

.

From the Fremont, Ohio, News-Messenger (September 6, 1922)

 

A short time later, however, the act split temporarily, for reasons that remain to be determined. Perhaps Collins was experiencing health problems, albeit not necessarily related to his accident, which was now nearly a year behind him; all that is certain is that there was a sudden dearth of press coverage devoted to him. Whatever the cause, Harlan took the road with a widely publicized new solo act in the autumn of 1922.

.

Harlan and his own company on tour, minus Collins (Coudersport, Pennsylvania, November 1922)

.

Collins and Harlan reunited in the late spring of 1923. They returned to the Edison studio on July 25, but recording was now only an occasional undertaking for them. Increasingly, their old minstrel-show shtick was lost on younger, more sophisticated urban record buyers. They attempted some more up-to-date material for Edison, toning down the racial stereotypes that marred so much of their earlier work, but the records fail to attract much interest. However, their older material remained popular in the small cities and rural areas.

They were soon on the road again, now with their own small company, making grueling cross-country tours of predominantly small-town America. While they continued to perform Edison Tone Tests, they also began staging their own shows in churches, high-school auditoriums, YMCA’s, fraternal halls, movie theaters, and any other venue that would have them. Clearly, given the rigors these tours entailed, Collins was not the broken, infirm man that Walsh made him out to be.

.

Together again: Collins and Harlan in St. Louis in October 1923, on the first leg of a tour that would take them as far west as Utah.

.

Collins and Harlan wrapped up their 1923 western tour in the final days of that year. This ad for their appearance in Provo, Utah, ran on December 16.

 

The team had barely time to catch their breath from their last 1923 tour before again heading west. They arrived in California in January 1924, then worked their way back east during February, with stops in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. March and April were spent touring Pennsylvania, followed by sporadic appearances in the Middle Atlantic region during the spring and summer. A new feature had been added to the act — they would now make and play instantaneous recordings on stage, of themselves as well as aspiring local artists, using a process that remains to be discovered.

.

The early 1924 western tour: Collins and Harlan in Grand Junction, Colorado (February 1924)

.

The on-stage recording sessions were heavily promoted. Presumably they had been approved by the Edison organization, since many were conducted during Tones Test appearances. At least one ad made the misleading suggestion that these were Edison trial recordings that could lead to “fame and fortune” for the performers.

.

Collins and Harlan in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (May 1924), on their second tour of the year.

..

Collins and Harlan and “Company,” as the added attraction at a movie screening in Allentown, Pennsylvania (March 1924)

.

Collins and Harlan stayed close to home during the summer of 1924, making only occasional documented appearances in the Mid-Atlantic region. On October 3, they returned to the Edison studio to record the forgettable “Liver and Bacon.” Coupled with “Any Way the Wind Blows (My Sweetie Goes)” on Edison 54123, it would be their last issued record as a team. [3]  A short time later, they embarked on a two-month Tone Test tour of the Midwest, with stops in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

A two-month Tone Test tour followed in February–March 1925, playing mostly no-name venues in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Ending in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it would be their last major tour as a team.

.

Collins and Harlan in Hinton, West Virginia, in February 1925, during their final major tour as a team.

.

In 1926, Collins retired and moved with his wife to a suburb of Fort Myers, Florida, where he occasionally performed at the local social clubs and reportedly enjoyed tending his orange grove. He died at home on August 3, 1933. Walsh, quoting Mrs. Collins, has him expiring peacefully by her side in a pastoral setting:

“We were sitting on a bench under the trees, talking about a recent trip I had just returned from, when he put his head on my shoulder and quietly passed away.”

The Fort Meyers News-Press reported the event less poetically, although the basic facts are the same:

“After pushing the [lawn] mower, he sat down beside his wife for a minute’s rest and then suddenly slumped to the ground.” [4]

Harlan died at his home in Orange, New Jersey, on September 11, 1936 [5] — in his bath-tub, according to Walsh, who didn’t cite a source for that tidbit (nor have we found one so far).

.

Notes

[1] Walsh, Ulysses “Jim.” “Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists. Arthur Collins — Part III.” Hobbies (Jan 1943), p. 13.

[2] “Edison Artist Nearly Killed.” Medina Sentinel (Oct 20, 1921), p. 1.

[3] Collins is not known to have made any further recordings. Harlan reportedly made unissued experimental recordings for Edison in 1926. His last commercially issued records were made with Steve Porter, for the ultra-cheap Grey Gull chain of labels, in 1928 and 1929.

[4] “Arthur Collins Dies Suddenly; Was Noted as Singer and Actor.” Fort Myers News-Press (Aug 3, 1933), p. 1.

[5] Walsh, Ulysses “Jim.” “Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists. Byron G. Harlan — Part II. Hobbies (Mar 1943), p. 14.

______________

Article © 2020 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

 

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


T
he Final Days of Edison Record Production

From Original Documentation at the
Edison National Historic Site

__________________

 

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


Subject: Discontinuing the Record Business

Arthur Walsh to Charles Edison
(October 12, 1929)

.

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

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

.

 

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

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

ADVANTAGES:

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

2. Possible idle equipment and plant.

3. Keeping faith with old owners.

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

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

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

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

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

DISADVANTAGES:

1. Heavy losses, as indicated above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Discontinuing Recording

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

.

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

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

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


Negotiating Release of Contracts with Artists

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

.

Discontinue — at once — all recording.

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

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

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


Sale of Finished Stock

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

.

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

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

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

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

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


Disposition of Master Moulds

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

.

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

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

___

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

.


Discontinuing [Blue] Amberol Record Sales

W. S. Williams
(October 22, 1929)

.

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

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

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

..

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

.

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

Therefore, the following recommendations are made.

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

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

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

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


To the Trade — Re: Discontinuance of Commercial
Record Production

Arthur Walsh
(October 29, 1929)

.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Faithfully yours,

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


To All Dealers

The Edison Distributing Corporation
(November 13, 1929)

.

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

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

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

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

Under no circumstances are the records returnable. …

 

________

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

.

An Edison Tone Test Artist’s Contract (1920)

The Edison Tone Tests were highly popular marketing events at which invited guests were challenged to distinguish live performances from the “Re-Created” versions as performed by the Diamond Disc phonograph.

The events were rigged by various means, despite Edison’s vigorous denials, including the surreptitious substitution of special records and reproducers (the latter confirmed in some surviving correspondence between the company and singer Vernon Dalhart). Artists were also carefully coached to match their tone and volume to that of the recordings to which they would be compared. You can find a detailed history of the Tone Tests in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

Below is a copy of a typical 1920 artist’s Tone Test contract, for Cecil Arden, which we recently found among Ray Wile’s materials in the Bill Bryant papers. Many of Arden’s recordings were flagged “For Tone Test” in the Edison files, and several appear to have been made expressly for that purpose. In Arden’s case, payment probably was on the skimpy side, since she* earned  $36.25 to $40 per song for her studio work (per the studio cash books), without all the rigors of travel and rehearsal that the Tone Tests entailed.

.

.
* Oops! We said “he” / “her” in the initial post. Many thanks to old friend George Sweeny for spotting the mistake, and sending along a photo to confirm. Obviously, we’ve never heard a Cecil Arden recording!
.