HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 5

Today we publish the fifth and final in our series of extracts from this fine new book, with kind permission from its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley.

While the gramophone horn was a wonderful piece of design and construction and served its purpose well during the early years, when it came to portability it was pretty cumbersome. As one of the key marketing points of this invention was the ability to take it on picnics, to parties, and indeed to the First World War trenches, and even to the Antarctic with Captain Scott, sooner or later the Gramophone Company scientists would come up with a hornless model, if you’ll pardon the phrase!

This is the probably politically incorrectly named Pigmy Grand.

It has to be confessed that this machine was created in April 1909 to compete with portable machines coming into Britain from Europe, and despite the scorn poured on it by Eldridge Johnson, designer of the first gramophones to be brought to England from American by William Barry Owen, who pronounced it ‘a bum outfit’, it ended its life selling nearly 2,500 by September 1911.

This is the single spring model, made of satinwood with the internal horn behind the trendy treble and bass clef brass grill.

It sold for £5.10s (£5.50) or £7 with carrying case – the first truly portable record player!

If your interested in purchasing this fine edition please contact Brian Oakley at brian.e.oakley@btinternet.com     The cost of the book is £45.00 plus postage/packing quoted on request once country of destination known.

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 4

From functional to luxury. Within a short 3-4 years the Gramophone became the status symbol of the age, so inevitably the designers determined to take advantage of the privileged market by creating machines that were not only wonderful pieces of furniture, but also hid the rather cumbersome horn.

Enter the Sheraton Grand, the first enclosed horn gramophone. Designed to resemble a piece of 18th century furniture, only the wind handle gave it away as not being a classy cabinet, and that could presumably be removed when not in nuse. It quickly caught on with the discerning customer, over 300 having sold within the first five years of its 1906 launch. This machine was designed as a feature of any sitting or drawing room, the back panels being of the same high finish as the other three.

The ‘drawers’ were dummies, the front opening with four separate doors to reveal luxury storage space for the discs.

Made in mahogany, crossbanded in tulip or satinwood with a flat lid on coved front and side it stood nearly four feet tall, and two feet wide and deep. The open doors also revealed the internal horn, created from four tapered panels suspended below the tone arm.

Retail price £52.10s (£52.50)

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 3

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!

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 2

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.

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE

  

PART 1

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?

Our First Plug!

 

This is very exciting. We’ve been asked to spread the news about a new book. Our first plug! 

And we are very pleased to say that the book in question is rather lovely; it’s  a lavishly-illustrated, information-packed hardback book printed on high quality silk paper with colour digital photographs, comprehensive descriptions, technical details, original purchase prices, production dates & quantities, etc etc  all about….

   It’s authors, Brian Oakley and Christopher Proudfoot, are good friends of the EMI Archive. In fact Christopher, in a previous life at Christies, helped to value much of the wonderful collection held at Hayes. This book, privately published, measures an impressive 30cmx22cm and contains over 250 pages of colour photographs and text on – as it says on the cover – ‘the acoustic instruments sold by The Gramophone Company in Great Britain 1897 – 1960”. In addition to sourcing information from old catalogues and using their own collections, Brian and Christopher spent several days at Hayes last year painstakingly photographing vital machines that were unavailable elsewhere.

 The Chairman of the EMI Archive Trust, David Hughes, has written the forward and he urges anyone interested in the origins of the music industry, to buy a copy. You can purchase a copy directly from the authors by contacting them: Brian (brian.e.oakley@btinternet.com) or Christopher (cproudfoot@firenet.uk.net) direct.

 Here’s a sample page to whet the appetite: 

It’s beautifully designed and reminds us of Kehew & Ryan’s brilliant “Recording The Beatles”

In the rush to publish this plug and offer a flavour of its contents, we have taken the liberty of photographing the cover/inside page. We’d just like to confirm that the quality of the whole book is much higher than our pictures suggest.