Forgotten Phonograph-Gadget Inventors: Louis Devineau

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

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

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

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

Oddball Record Updates • 1907 Mercury Record; Indestructible Dictaphone Training Cylinder

A couple of unusual special-use records that we’ve not seen before, courtesy of Tim Brooks (Mercury) and David Giovannoni (Indestructible). If anyone has other examples of these, or more information on them, we’d like to hear from you.

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MERCURY RECORD (1907)

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The Mercury Record above obviously has nothing to do with the well-known label that was founded in 1945. It was made by American Graphophone (Columbia) for the Electric Novelty and Talking Machine Company. The company exhibited telegraphic equipment at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, although it was not formally incorporated until April 4, 1905. It was chartered in Jersey City, New Jersey, by George R. Beach (a prominent bankruptcy attorney who served as a receiver in at least two phonograph-related cases), Walter P. Phillips, and Thaddeus R. McCartie.

So, what to make of the Bridgeport address? On closer investigation, Electric Novelty’s official business address (15 Exchange Place, Jersey City) turns out to have been the office of George R. Beach, an unlikely venue for this sort of operation. The consistent use of the Bridgeport address (where Columbia had its factory), and the specially customized “conditions” sticker (below), suggest that Columbia was handling all operations and fulfillment for Beach, or possibly had even closer ties to his company.

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Numbers embossed under the label are T503-1-1, and M-1700-1-1. Tim notes, “That’s apparently a Columbia ‘M’ number, and it falls into a blank section in Bill [Bryant]’s M-number log. Judging by other M-numbers I would date it as 1907 or 1908, around the end of the period in which M-numbers were used. It’s embossed rather than hand-written like most M-numbers. The record doesn’t seem to have been assigned a standard Columbia number of the period (which were in the 3000s). This would seem to add more weight to the theory that the M-numbers were the true matrix number during this period, and the 3000s were in fact catalog numbers assigned after the fact.”

The copyright filings below, from the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries for July–December 1907, mesh nicely with Tim’s 1907–1908 estimate for the Mercury label:
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At the end of 1912, the Governor of New Jersey declared Electric Novelty & Talking Machine to be in default after having failed to pay its 1910 taxes. Apparently things were resolved; the company was still listed as an active corporation in the 1914 register, and the ad above appeared in May 1915. The “Diamond Disk” notation is puzzling; clearly, this was still a Columbia-affiliated venture, based on the photo. Could there have been an Edison Diamond Disc version as well, or was that just an ad writer’s flight of fancy? (We suspect the latter, but will check our copies of the Edison files.)

 

INDESTRUCTIBLE DICTAPHONE RECORD

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Many collectors are familiar with Edison’s Ediphone training cylinders, but this is the first such cylinder we’ve seen for the competing Dictaphone. It’s a standard 4″ celluloid Indestructible, with 150 grooves per inch (as was usual for dictating machines; standard “entertainment” cylinders were 100-gpi (two-minute) or 200-gpi (four-minute). Like this example, the first Indestructibles had raised lettering on the rim, suggesting a very early Indestructible master. However, David notes that it has “the look and feel of a late 4-minute Indestructible.” Unfortunately, it didn’t have its original box; has anybody seen one?

 

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The Dictaphone began life as the Columbia Commercial  Graphophone, an example of which is shown above, mounted in Gerson cabinet. The Dictaphone name was first registered as a trademark, by the Columbia Phonograph Co., Gen’l., on September 18, 1907; the first Indestructible cylinders were released a little over a month later.

The Columbia–Indestructible affiliation was cemented (for a time, anyway) in 1908, when the former bought the latter outright. There’s much more to that story, of course, which can be found in Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderopgraphy (Nauck & Sutton), still available from Mainspring Press while supplies last.

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Vintage Phonograph Gallery • The Kraemer (Hawthorne & Sheble) Spring-Loaded Tone Arm (1907)

Thomas Kraemer’s spring-loaded tone arm was featured on Hawthorne & Sheble’s Star phonographs beginning in 1907. A key feature was a small coiled spring that was said to propel the reproducer, thus supposedly skirting Victor’s Berliner patent, which specified that the record groove served that purpose. The courts weren’t swayed by that argument, finding the spring was too weak to serve any real purpose. Victor eventually forced Hawthorne & Sheble into bankruptcy, over unrelated patent-infringement claims in the Starola enclosed-horn machines, in 1909. There’s much more on Hawthorne & Sheble in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

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The Vintage Phonograph Gallery • Electric-Motor Columbia Grafonola (1915)

This ad for the electric-motor Columbia Grafonola dates to 1915. Large urban areas had been wired for electricity by that time, but rural electrification wouldn’t be completed until the Great Depression. That factor, combined with the steep prices of these machines, apparently limited their sales. They’re not seen very frequently today, and when they do turn up, they’re sometimes missing their motors, some of which no doubt were “repurposed” after the machines had outlived their usefulness.

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