The History of the Major Record Companies in the UK #3 Pathe Freres

This is the third extract from a wonderful book called “The Talking Machine Industry” written by Ogilvie Mitchell in 1924 covering the Pathe Freres Company.

Charles Pathe

Emile Pathe

Charles and Emile Pathe originally ran a bistro in Paris. They moved into music retailing, first selling Edison products before beginning to record and sell their own records. They also moved into film making and distribution and expanded both sides of the entertainment business into wider Europe and the USA. In 1924, when this book was published, Pathe were hitting financial difficulties and, four years later, the French and British Pathé phonograph assets were sold to the British Columbia Graphophone Company which would in turn soon become part of EMI. In July 1929, the assets of the American Pathé record company were merged into the newly formed American Record Corporation.

This is what Ogilvie Mitchell had to say in 1924:

“Pathe Freres, who had been doing a very large continental trade, came into the English market in 1902. By the exercise of a little ingenuity, aided by Mr. J. E. Hough, they had previously circumvented the Edison embargo. No sooner, however, were they free to export their goods from France to England than they began to do an extensive trade with us. The Pathe discs are phono-cut, i.e. they are of the hill and dale variety invented by Edison, and therefore require to be played with a special needle. To this end the firm supplies asound box of its own with a permanent attachment of a ball-pointed sapphire. Quite recently it has brought out a reproducer which by a simple contrivance permits of a steel needle to be used for the lateral cut disc as well.

In the early days Pathe records were played from the centre outward to the periphery of the disc, but since the company erected a British factory on this side the Channel they have reversed their old system and the record is now played in the same manner as other discs. Those old discs were splendid fellows, nearly 14 ins. across and embodied the voices of many of the best continental artists. The firm actually prevailed upon Sara Bernhardt to record her incomparable tones, and in the years to come that disc ought to be worth much more than its weight in gold. The records are now somewhat reduced in size, conforming more to the width of ordinary makes, but the best of them at the present time are the most expensive on sale in England.

It is worthy of mention that Pathe Freres were the first to introduce the language-teaching record, and it is quite possible that they may revert to this very useful method of instruction now that there is a demand for easy systems of learning foreign tongues.

Besides building a factory here in England, Messrs. Pathe” have established a large business in America, which we understand is extremely prosperous. M. Jacques Pathe is at the head of affairs in London, and is a shrewd and competent director. He fought in the war for his country and received high commendation for his service. Although it has nothing to do with this little book it may not be out of place to state that Pathe Freres are a firm with very extensive interests in the kinematograph world. The House of Pathe, with its defiant chanticleer as a trade-mark has branches in every corner of the civilized globe, and its machines and discs are familiar to everyone who has the slightest knowledge of the reproduction of sound.”

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2 thoughts on “The History of the Major Record Companies in the UK #3 Pathe Freres

  1. Just a footnote: J. E. Hough was the founder of, and the driving force behind, the great Edison-Bell concern and was himself the subject of an Edison embargo, which story will probably be recounted in these pages if it hasn’t been already. (Details can be found in Read & Welch’s ‘From Tin Foil To Stereo’.)

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