Mystery Object of the week #11 Answer

Congratulations to Martyn Dowel, Rolf Christian Holth Olsen and Robert Spencer who all correctly identified this weeks mystery object  – The Auxetophone designed by the British engineer Sir Charles Parsons.   

This Auxetophone is in the 'Queen Anne' Style with a highly polished mahogany cabinet with panelled doors and cabriole legs. It has a triple-spring spiral-drive motor, 12" turntable, speed indicator, tapering tone-arm with gooseneck, auxetophone soundbox, and a mahogany grained Flaxite horn. Part of the EMI Group Archive Trust collection

This Auxetophone is in the ‘Queen Anne’ Style with a highly polished mahogany cabinet with panelled doors and cabriole legs. It has a triple-spring spiral-drive motor, 12″ turntable, speed indicator, tapering tone-arm with gooseneck, auxetophone soundbox, and a mahogany grained Flaxite horn.   Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust collection

The Auxetophone was perhaps the most effective attempt, prior to the development of electrical amplification in the 1920’s, of increasing volume. Invented in 1904, it used air pressure to enhance the vibrations of a specially-designed reproducer valve. An electrically-powered blower inside the cabinet forced air through the tubing along the tone arm and through the special reproducer, enormously increasing the volume. The machine did not sell particularly well, in part due to price, and in part due to the fact that it was not well suited to home use (it was extremely loud and meant for mass public consumption).The sales literature promoted its use in “large residences,” and the market was thus largely restricted to commercial applications such as dance halls and theatres.

Amy Eliza Castles (25 July 1880 - 19 November 1951), was an Australian soprano

Austrian soprano – Amy Eliza Castles  – 1917 (1880-1951)

 

A ‘Grand Gramophone Concert’ was given at the Royal Albert Hall on 14th December 1906, about which The Daily Mail wrote; ‘ Many ladies were visibly affected when Madame Patti or rather the gramophone sang ‘Home Sweet Home’. The rendering recalled in a startling manner her singing at the same hall on the occasion of her farewell concert a few days ago….The most effective example of what the gramophone can do was demonstrated immediately after Miss Amy Castles had sung in person as her encore was a repetition of the song on the gramophone itself’.

Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd. Auxetophone – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.

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The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961)

  By Tony Locantro

gat134-018-LFCourtesy of  © EMI Group Archive Trust

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961) came to the UK from his native Australia to study singing in 1903. His lessons with Sir Charles Santley stood him in good stead for a career that lasted almost 60 years and encompassed every kind of music, from the oratorios of Handel via Gilbert and Sullivan to rousing patriotic ballads and popular songs of the day.  He began recording in 1904 on cylinders for the Edison company, and in 1906 Fred Gaisberg signed him to an exclusive contract with the Gramophone Company. His first flat discs were on the G&T label but he was soon appearing on HMV when the dog and trumpet trademark started being used on Gramophone discs around 1909. He went on to become one of the most prolific recording artists of all time and remained exclusive to HMV for the rest of his life.

As well as his own name, he used many aliases, including Hector Grant, the pseudonym under which he performed the repertoire of Harry Lauder, not only on disc but also on the music hall stage in full Scottish gear, much to Lauder’s annoyance.

Listen to Dawson give a fine rendition of  “The Song of Australia“.   Written by English born poet Caroline Carleton in 1859 for a competition sponsored by the Gawler Institute. If you’re a SOTH subscriber following by email please go to the actual blog to get the full posting.

A stirring version of Dawson’s  Rule Britannia  is featured on the new double CD Scott’s Music Box, released on 14 May.

The tenor Edward Lloyd (1845–1927)

By Tony Locantro

 

The tenor Edward Lloyd (1845–1927) had a distinguished career for some 30 years as a leading oratorio and concert singer and was considered by some to be the foremost tenor exponent of that genre during the last quarter of the 19th century. He retired in December 1900, a few months after singing the lead in the disastrous premier of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham, at which the chorus and orchestra were under-rehearsed and Lloyd himself was not in good voice. But the Gramophone Company coaxed him into the recording studio in 1904 and eventually made some 34 titles up to 1908, and one more in 1911 after he emerged from retirement to sing at the coronation of King George V.

 

In February 1907 he ceremonially cut the first sod at the site of the factory of The Gramophone Company at Hayes, Middlesex.  

Thank you to our friends at the EMI Archive Trust in providing these fine images.

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!

Trouble in St Louis. How the Victor Company got its name.

This is the third in a series of articles about the great Eldridge Johnson and his Victor companies.

By Carey Fleiner

Ever tried to think up a name for a fledgeling company? It’s more difficult than you think. You can go literal BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) or abstract such as Google or Yahoo. Why did Johnson choose the name Victor for his company? He never explained it himself, but there are a number of theories ranging from logical to silly.

Johnson had great confidence in his company and its product; this can be seen in Victor’s earliest advertising campaigns. For the first few years the company existed, profits were poured back into advertising – much of which was written by Johnson himself. As we’ve seen these advertisements touted the results of the new technology – the cultural, intellectual advantages and rewards of the use and ownership of a Victrola. The advertising art for Victor products – machines, records, and music – is elegant, beautiful, and sophisticated. It also falls into what is described as ‘feminine advertising’ – that is, an emphasis on the aesthetic, domestic, and educational aspects of the product.

Johnson wasn’t all about pleasing the ladies, however; he was in competition with other companies, and this era (late 19th, early 20th centuries) is sometimes called the time of the ‘War of the Patents’ as people rushed to patent new inventions and lay exclusive claim to them and their rights. One needed to pull out the stops to set oneself apart from competitors (and imitators). Victor did this in numerous ways, from lauding the superiority of its wares to the cultural benefits of its records. Another important venue for demonstrating one’s wares was at trade shows and expositions.  In 1904, Victor machines were among those demonstrated in the Palace of Manufacture at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known by its unofficial name, St Louis World’s Fair;

shortly thereafter, Johnson took out a number of adverts lauding his company’s superiority over his competitors at the show —

Medals and advertising showing Johnson’s win at St Louis (author’s photos)

even though the actual winner was apparently Berliner’s Columbia Records. Berliner surely wasn’t too pleased with this outcome, and Columbia launched an advertising campaign to set the record straight.

Berliner’s counter advertisement

So much for vying for the ladies and competing with the gentlemen in the cutthroat world of the early recording industry – why is Johnson’scompany called Victor? There are several different explanations; Johnson was as enigmatic on the matter as Don McClean is over the meaning of ‘American Pie’ or Carly Simon about ‘You’re So Vain.’ In fact, no one really thought to investigate the origins of the name until American comedian Steve Allen got tired of lying awake at night wondering, and in 1966 wrote a short article for Cavalier Magazine in which he tried to solve the mystery called ‘Schnock Schnock: The Great RCA-Victor Mystery.’

So Victor is Victor because (in order of likeliness)

1. Johnson’s legal victory over nasty copyright lawsuit and success over his competitors in the patent wars: this is the most likely given that he changed the name of his original company (Consolidated Talking Machine Company, 1900) to the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 after this perilous lawsuit. (Johnson’s family, who still live in the Dover area, however, dislike this explanation as the entire incident was stressful and unpleasant, and they argue that Johnson was not that sort of a vindictive man.)

2. ‘Victor’ was simply ‘one of those words’ that one used in business and advertising at the turn of the century, like ‘Acme’ (from Mr Allen’s discussion with ERJ’s son William Johnson…plausible, too, although ERJ didn’t have a son called William…)

3. Johnson’s ‘victory’ over Columbia et al at St Louis: this doesn’t really make much sense, as the St Louis Exposition was in 1904 by which time the company was already three years old.

4. Victor was called after one Alexander Victor, a mysterious man Steve Allen went to some great lengths to track down – among the many claims of Alexander, he was the one who gave Johnson the idea for creating a lighter-weight tone arm for the improved Berliner gramophone, because he just happened to be working in Johnson’s Camden shop as Johnson and Berliner himself sweat over the project…except, as Mr Allen points out, this development occurred some three years before the company was formed. Was ERJ really that grateful? Of course, Alexander Johnson (no relation) also told Mr Allen that he was Nipper’s owner, and also the Victrola was named after him…

5. The company was called after Mrs Leon Douglas, as this good lady, called Victoria, was married to the Victor Company’s first manager. This is also from Mr Allen’s article, but he states the person who told him this also claimed not only to be Nipper’s original owner, but gave the famous painting its name…

6. Because Johnson’s favorite horse was called Victor…er, perhaps quite likely as any, as a lot of these explanations seem to be a case of closing the barn door after the horse escaped…what do you think?

Johnson astride his horse Victor

“Stop Yer Tickling Jock”: The great Scottish singing swindle – Russell Hunting day #5

This is the final part of a five-day series of blog entries about Russell Hunting, a maverick who was involved at the start of the very start of the record business when its pioneers were searching to find the best business model to capitalise on the new sound-recording and playback technology. Hunting tried all sorts of ways to make money between 1894 and 1899 including comedy records, obscene records (for which he received a 3 month jail sentence), found himself being ripped off by a record company and made dramatic recordings to appeal to patriotism during the Boer Wars.

By 1904 Hunting had moved to London and had settled down a little. He was working for the newly formed Sterling Phonograph Company which was owned by Louis Sterling. A Russian-born American citizen now living in England, Sterling had been an early employee of The Gramophone Company before setting up on his own and would later go on to become the first Managing Director of the newly formed EMI in 1931, working with Fred Gaisberg’s old friend Alfred Clark (who became the first Chairman of EMI).

Louis Sterling

Hunting discovered a new Australian singer called Peter Dawson. Dawson was talented but poor and hungry for success, which meant that unlike the established singers of the day who were still loathe to record their voices Dawson “accepted all and sundry engagements – “smokers”, seaside concert parties, and phonograph recording” remembered Gaisberg later.

Peter Dawson

Dawson proved a remarkable and flexible talent who could sing beautifully in a range of styles. Gaisberg, Sterling and Hunting proved equally flexible and agreed a “secret understanding” to work together to their mutual benefit. In short they would record Dawson together and then Sterling would use the recordings for supplying phonograph owners with cylinders and Gaisberg would use the same recording for gramophone.

The flexibility of the singer and the three executives would be highlighted when one of Gaisberg’s star turns, Harry Lauder, proved reluctant to make the number of recordings desired by Gaisberg. Lauder was a big star at the time who specialised in Scottish balladry and presented himself as a comic Highlander.

His big songs included “I love a lassie” and “Stop yer tickling, Jock”

Peter Dawson was a fantastic mimic. He later recalled, “At The Gramophone Company one day I gave an imitation of Lauder singing “I love a lassie”. I was astonished at the reaction among the recording staff. Fred Gaisberg, the chief, came up to me excitedly and said:

“Peter, can you do any more like that. I mean, can you sing Scottish?” I was amused at the way the little American put it, and answered “Yes of course. I can sing all of his songs including “Stop Yer Tickling Jock”….”

A little while later he asked me what I thought of singing Lauder’s songs….under another name.” That other name was “Hector Grant”

Hunting, Sterling and Gaisberg leapt upon the imitation. The records became widely popular and they even persuaded Dawson to disguise himself and don a kilt to go on tour as “Hector Grant.”

Lauder was livid that he was being copied in this way. But after a while Grant’s records became less successful and the “Hector Grant” project was ended. Dawson and Gaisberg had a conversation with Lauder some years later after World War I, which Dawson recalled:

“Some time later I met Harry Lauder at the recording studio. I was making a Peter Dawson record…We chatted about old times, and he suddenly turned to Fred Gaisberg and myself:

“Did ye no ken a chap by the name of Hector Grant? He had a grrrand voice. He must have been killed in the war.”

Fred grinned and in his quiet American way asked, “Didn’t you know, Harry, that Hector Grant was Peter?”

But with obvious disbelief he replied. “Nah, nah, ye canna tell me that. I saw him in Glasgie. Yon was a much older man…”

In 1905 Sterling sold his Sterling Phonograph Company to Hunting who renamed it The Russell Hunting Record Company Ltd. Russell Hunting had begun to make some real money. He had become a player.

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #1

This is the first of a series of early playback devices that are owned by the EMI Archive Trust. Its actually not a gramophone; its a phonograph. An Excelsior Pearl phonograph which was made in Cologne, Germany, in 1904

This is how the Trust describes the piece “Excelsior phonographs were produced by the Excelsiorwerk of Cologne at the begining of the 20th Century.They were mainly of the Type Q Graphophone family with a cover-plate round the motor. Some however, like the Pearl, were made with a cast-iron bedplate and a motor concealed in a case below. Decoratively, the Pearl shares the common Excelsior finish of black with a red lining. This Pearl also carries its name and a landscape / floral motif on the oak case. Originally cost 32/6.”

You can see how it would have played back sound in this video of a reproduced phonograph:

Thank you to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to show these pictures. You can find out more about the EMI Archive Trust (and even arrange a time to go and visit their gramophone collection) here.

I’d love to make contact with people who have an interest in these kind of devices. Please get in touch via the comments section below.