Watch our friends from the Vinyl Factory in Hayes press a special limited edition record of Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart on “The One Show” Friday 16th March
As interest in the gramophone increased, so did the ingenuity of the Gramophone Company’s technicians. Outside the limits of most people’s finances, these machines were still largely owned by the wealthy, so how to bring all this wonderful recorded music to the mass public?
The early machines and discs were incapable of filling large spaces – the only variable was the size of the horn and even that made little different to its range. The first attempt to tackle this chal lenge was the Triplephone, effectively three gramophones playing the same recording to give three times the volume (though how they managed to have each machine start at exactly the same time is now explained!)
There is one extraordinary illustration of a Crystal Palace concert in 1904, which featured six players, each with three horns – what on earth did that sound like?
So, in the interim, the amplifying horn was considered the best way forward, so step forward our faithful Monarch, suitably dressed for the occasion!
Here, the original base sits on a large ebonised pedestal with green moulded panels, suitably weighted with sand or some other heavy material to keep it upright. The wonderful ironwork arm is a reconstruction as virtually no original examples exist and holds a 48” horn.
Sadly, for all the effort that went into its construction, it failed to catch on. Introduced in 1903-4, The Gramophone Company’s London sales office had to report that it was ‘unable to dispose of’ the 22 in stock!
With kind permission of its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley we continue our series of extracts from “His Master’s Gramophone” …
Introducing the Single Spring Monarch Style No.11 In production from 1901-1905, this machine was specially designed to play the newly introduced 10” Concert recordings issued in 1901.
Costing £10 in 1901, the price was drastically reduced to £7.10s (£7.50) a year later, the design was classy, with a wide stepped plinth and baluster corner column. The machine is driven by a single-spring, hence its title, with a bevel drive and vertical governor. The 22” brass witch’s hat horn used a wooden tracking arm.
We made mention of this fine new hardback book a few months back, but feel it deserves more attention, and so, with the kind permission of its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley, we’re starting a series of extracts to give/remind you of the first golden era of recorded music and the wonderfully crafted machines that allowed it to be heard.
First up is ‘The Improved Gramophone – Trade-mark, (Style No 5).
This was the machine that started the life of The Gramophone Company in Britain in 1897, the first to be sold here by Wilfred Barry Owen and his associates. While the very first machines imported from New York bore The National Gramophone Co name, subsequent imports carried the names of The Gramophone Company (until 1899), The Gramophone Company Ltd. (until the end of 1900), and The Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd (January 1901-March 1902) together with one of the first two addresses of the Company, 31 Maiden Lane or 21 City Road.
Initially retailing at £5.10s (£5.50), cheaper models were added, retailing at 2,3 or 4 guineas (£2.10, £3.15, £4.20)
With a plain oak case housing the motor and, together with the extension arm, mounted on a baseboard and the mainspring projecting in a nickel-plated cast iron casing, the Improved Gramophone set the standard of craftsmanship and quality that was to epitomise the Gramophone Company’s output for many years.
Other versions, like this one
were made from walnut with gilt fittings, and there were even ‘Extra Fine’ models made from mahogany – all at this stage imported from New York. The witch’s hat horns were either made from tinplate or zinc and painted black, as in the first photo, or single spun from brass. While the first shipment was largely the black version, the brass model, an experiment, proved the more popular and by 1902 nickel plated and even silver plated versions were available.
To complete the purchase, wealthy customers were invited to buy a carrying case. These came in several styles, made in black enamel, brown canvas and green crocodile or tan leather. Classy eh?
Times are tough in the recorded music business with sales revenues declining significantly and regularly this century. Times are particularly tough in the classical music part of that business with its decline outpacing the market at large.
We’ve been reading Norman Lebrecht’s marvellously pacey race through the history of classical recording in his book “Maestro’s, Masterpieces and Madness” and would recommend it to all people interested in the story of the record business.
At the end of the book, Lebrecht lists all the classical records that have sold over 1 million records. There are only 25 of them. The first record to do so – and clinging on to the list at #25 – is Gaisberg’s recordings of Caruso. Only ten classical recordings have shifted 3 million or more. The top 5 all time sellers are as follows
1. Wagner Ring – Solti (Decca) 1958 – 1965 18 million. Produced by Decca legend, John Culshaw, this is “a better record than Sgt Pepper” according to its fans. Here is an excerpt from a BBC documentary about the making of the records, starring Solti’s strange jerky style conducting and Culshaw’s calm comfortings. Style fact: Decca engineers (and Solti) wore white plimsolls when in the studio to avoid causing background noise.
2. The Three Tenors (Decca) 1990 14 million
3. Vivaldi: Four Seasons (Philips) 1959 9.5 million
4. The Three Tenors 2 (Warner) 1994 7.8 million
5. Canto Gregoriano 1993 5.5 million
This is the fourth in a series of publicity shots from the early years of the recording business that our friends at the EMI Archive Trust have made available to us. This photo is of Madame Kirkby-Lunn (known to her friends as Louise) who was a Mancunian contralto who lived between 1873 and 1930. This picture was taken of her in 1909 when she was recording for The Gramophone Company and playing Dalila (or Delilah as Tom Jones might have said) in Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila at Covent Garden.
Unusually for an English person, Louise spoke 4 languages and sang fluently in each. Even more unusually, for an Opera singer of the era, she retained a Northern English accent throughout her life. An interesting fact about Louise was that she performed in the very first Proms put on by Henry Wood in 1895.
As for Louise’s efforts at PR, we give her a 6 out of 10 for this photo. Although she is dressed well and shows willing – and exhibits excellent technique with the net curtains – her eyes betray her discomfort with the whole sordid affair.
This is her singing in the first decade of the twentieth century, a couple of years before the photo was taken.
Kate Bush, Nick Mason and Brian Wilson on new life for old tapes
Sound Of The Hound have been away on their summer holidays, hence the lack of activity in recent weeks. To kick off the new term, here is a link to some lovely pictures of instruments and equipment from the Rolling Stones archives.
For a man who is not well-remembered outside of specialist circles, Eldridge Johnson has left behind a lot of physical material and resources. For example, if you’d like to read Johnson’s personal papers, you can visit the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Johnson’s son donated 48 boxes of personal and business papers there in 1975. You can access copies of some of these papers, including Johnson’s diaries from 1901 to 1930 at the EMI Archive in Hayes, Middlesex, England.
The Victor factory became the RCA complex in Camden, New Jersey, until the 1990s, where it, along with the Campbell Soup Factory, was one of the principle employers in the area; the Camden Historical Society has a number of materials and artifacts related to Victor and RCA-Victor.
Edison has his own museum, of course, but so does Eldridge R. Johnson, the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover, Delaware, a dedicated building housing lovely things related to the man and all things Victor. The Museum was founded by Johnson’s son in 1975; the mid-‘70s were a boom-time in the US for little Museums because of a huge interest in preserving American culture at the time of the Bicentennial.
The Museum is a two-story building nestled in the center of historic Dover; the ground backs up to a small church whose cemetery contains the remains of the Fenimore family (Mrs Johnson was Elsie Fenimore, you see.) The Museum holds literally thousands of Victor 78s (the last count the archivist gave me was ‘somewhere between 50 and 80 thousand.’ Think of the weight alone!) There are over 100 Victor and Victrola models from an example of the earliest improved gramophone model for Berliner to the huge orthophonic machines of the last years of Victor.
There is a reproduction set-up of a typical record shop of Victor products, and numerous Victor advertising, ephemera, and memorabilia.
Johnson’s office has been reproduced with his desk and comfy chair and many of his personal possessions, including his posthumous Grammy. Upstairs are more machines and horns related to the whole history of recording, many of which donated by a private collector with an apparently very understanding wife – so you can see an Edison tinfoil machine and a couple of Bell’s graphophones; if you’re looking for anything to do with Zonophone, there is a photo of Mr and Mrs Frank Seaman in one of the cabinets. The other Victor celebrity roosting in the museum is Nipper in lots and lots of forms.
The pride and joy of the museum is one of the autograph Barraud paintings sent to Johnson from Barraud himself (and the third painting the artist made after the original ‘His Master’s Voice’ and a second one for the Gramophone Company).
Since Johnson secured use of Nipper ‘as he saw fit’ Nipper is more prevalent in the US, whereas in the UK, he is very strictly licensed by HMV. So keep in mind, these are Victor and RCA-Victor flavoured Nippers.
The museum is an Aladdin’s cave of wonderful machines and memorabilia – and while the Museum was closed down in 2009 due to budget cuts in response to the recession in 2008, the State of Delaware has re-opened the museum (as of May 2011) almost to its full schedule. The Museum’s holdings are also kept by the State Archives in Dover in a state-of-the-art facility – while you have to make a formal request to see things kept in the Archives, the Museum is free to the public.