If you are ever irritated by those teenagers sharing an ipod’s headphones and ignoring everything around them LOOK AWAY NOW!

They were far more “sharey” in the 90’s. That’s the 1890’s, of course.

We stumbled across this photo the other day  but we don’t know much about it. It’s apparently a group of listeners trying out the new fangled phonograph on headphones, treating it like a sort of communal ipod. We think this was probably a way of promoting the new invention to a wider audience but we are not sure. So please, if you know anything more about these people and what they are up to please get in touch.

Whatever they are doing, they don’t look very happy do they? Probably listening to Joy Division or The Smiths…..

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #3

This little beauty from the EMI Archive Trust collection is an Oratiograph Phonograph which was made by John Schoenner in Germany in 1902

Its described by the Trust as:
 
“…a is a fascinating small machine about which not much is known. They were made in Germany by the John Schoenner Factory in the early years of the 20th Century. The Oratiograph outfit comprises of a box containing the mechanism, a box containing the cylinders, and a collapseable paper horn. Once set-up, unlike other phonographs, the reproducer and horn remain static, as it is the madrel which moves beneath it. The cylinders were wax on a tin core and came in a red box with decorative lid.”

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.

We’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.

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #2

This is a seriously cute piece; it’s another Phonograph called ” Le Mervilleux” (Meaning =  “Wonderful”) and was made by Henri Lioret around 1894.

Our friends at EMI Archive Trust, who own it, describe it thus:

“Henri Lioret was a respected clockmaker before turning his attention to phonographs. This unusual phonograph was made from around 1894, and based on the same mechanism that Lioret used in his Bebe Jumeau talking doll. The mechanism itself is mounted inside a pasteboard box and finished with a simulated leather covering. A side flap opens to allow access to the cylinders, and a top flap opens to reveal the integral-horn. This machine played only the smallest of Lioret cylinders, lasting a mere 30 seconds. Despite its simplicity and fragility, the Merveilleux plays extremely well for such an early phonograph. Their fragility too, makes them a relatively rare machine. It was also the first entirly Lioret machine to be sold, with a price tag of 16 francs.”

Lioret’s first commercial idea for playing back recordings was the talking and singing Bebe Jumeau doll mentioned above which had in effect a phonograph as innards. It looks like something from an episode of Doctor Who.

This strange looking toy, which was very successful in France, represented a step forward in recording technology as it was the first non-tin foil cylinder made in France. It contained improvements upon Edison’s original design including the fact that the cylinders were made out of celluloid and were the first unbreakable cylinders ever made. You can see more Lioret stuff, here.

So now you know!

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.

We’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.

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.

Gathering sounds out of the air. Charles Cros dawdles. Edison dawdles less.

Paris was clearly the centre of the world in the early days of sound recording. It was there that Leon Scott de Martinville invented his  Phonautograph to capture sound onto paper in 1857 and 20 years later Charles Cros took the process forward by working out how to record sound onto a cylinder by tracing oscillations using a screw. In April 1877 he wrote a paper describing his thesis and submitted it in a sealed envelope to the Academy of Science in Paris. Before he got a chance to build a prototype, a hard working inventor by the name of Thomas Edison living thousands of miles away in the USA beat him to it. Edison had been independently considering the same problem and in late 1877 he built a machine that recorded and played back sound which he called a Phonograph. Edison became world famous whilst Charles Cros is largely forgotten. Cros died 11 years later at the age of 46.

Portrait of Charles Cros

Bizarrely this was the second time that Cros had failed to gain recognition for a significant invention by being slow on the draw. In 1869 he had invented a way of taking colour photographs for the first time but took several months to submit his ideas to Société française de photographie. When he did get around to it, he discovered that a rival called Ducos de Hauron who had been developing his own method of taking colour photographs had submitted his own ideas that very day. And although De Hauron had discovered his method several months after Cros, the rival had built a device that could take colour snaps and  produced examples whereas Cros’s ideas remained only theory. And like Edison in sound, De Hauron is now widely remembered as the inventor of colour photography….

 Perhaps Cros was an ideas man who was less gifted at executing them or perhaps the reason that Cros never got round to building his imagined recording machine (which when he eventually did he would call the Paleophone) until some time later was that he was living a pretty full on rock and roll lifestyle.  Paris was the cultural capital of the world in the 1860’s and 1870’s and Cros was a significant player in artistic circles. He was a poet who wrote strange and proto-surrealistic poems (his best known is The Kippered Herring), ran around town with Verlaine and Manet and even shared an apartment with Rimbaud for a while. Cros was fond of a good drink and Absinthe was his tipple of preference; a choice that may have contributed to his early death.  He was a member of a group of artists who called themselves the Hydropathes and published a newspaper of that name. They were precursors to the Surrealists. The newspaper featured an illustration of Cros on one of their covers in which (looking spookily like Bob Dylan) he rides a fish (presumably a herring) carrying a bag of inventions over his shoulder as he hunts ideas with a butterfly. Seems to sum the man up! 

Cros also had some crazy ideas about interplanetary communication which you can read about in this interesting blog article .