January 30, 2000

Antique Phonograph Gadgets, Gizmos & Gimmicks.  By Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul, with photographs by the authors.  Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1999.  228 pages.  ISBN: 0-7643-0733-9. $49.95.

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

If it’s pictures of phonograph paraphernalia you like, big, glorious, full-color, close-up photographs, boy, is this the book for you!  Fabrizio and Paul, who previously collaborated on The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium (Schiffer, 1997, reviewed in the ARSC Journal 29:1), have followed up with this second volume about the accessories that accompany many an acoustic talking machine.  Numerous collectors allowed the authors access to their collections, and thus we see some of the best examples now in private hands.

The glib title is somewhat misleading.  There are plenty of phonographs pictured here, mounted with various horns, reproducers, repeaters, and other common (and uncommon) devices.  There is also a fascinating and groundbreaking chapter on “the phonograph in real life”–more on that later.

The book is a handsome, oversized volume divided into six chapters, all heavily illustrated.  Chapter one, devoted to amplifying horns, wins the prize for “most likely to blow you away.” The colors are breathtaking.  Shimmering golden brass horns, gleaming metal horns painted with bright red roses, yellow pansies, white tulips and pink dogwood blossoms, golden oak Music Master wood horns, crystal glass horns, collapsible horns slipping effortlessly into their cases, all looking absolutely pristine and spotless.  Why can’t my beat-up horns look like that?  Just open a page in this section at random, and I dare you not to say, “Oh!”

Chapter two deals with cylinder phonograph gadgets.  Here we find various reproducers (including those of Bettini), eartubes, shavers, recorders, coin-slot mechanisms, multiple-horn machines and the slightly preposterous “Devineau Biophone,” which allegedly allowed the user to play “disc records on any… cylinder machine” (p.57).  The photograph appears to show a cowering Edison Standard being attacked by a spidery, unworldly contrivance resembling the space ship from some cheap horror thriller.  Numerous interesting paper items are also pictured, including posters, advertisements, record slips, and some yellowed (even the paper is colorful!) 1890 correspondence relating to the rental of an Edison Class “M” electric phonograph.

Chapter three, “disc talking machine gadgets,” begins with an array of needle tins, then moves on to dealer displays, record dusters, soundboxes, repeaters, “sound clarifiers,” turntable toys (see Siam Sue do the shimmy) and adapters to play vertical and lateral records.  I always wondered how those worked.  Chapter four covers storage devices, with illustrations of handsome wood cylinder and disc cabinets and storage boxes.  The cabinets can be quite useful today, especially those that hold the hard-to-store cylinders.  It is instructive to see how consumers and dealers at the time dealt with the same storage problems faced by today’s collectors.

Signs, advertising and ephemera occupy chapter five.  These include some very early examples from the 1890s promoting phonograph concerts and exhibitions.  There are also pictures of Edison on advertising cards from around the world (the French saw him as a youthful rake), colorful record catalogs and supplements, advertisements, dealer signs, calendars, counter displays, lantern slides, Nippers, and “The Phonograph Game” (c.1899), a parlor game in which random song titles were inserted into a silly story.  One advertising novelty was the die-cut “articulated card,” which showed an intriguing scene on the cover, then opened like a pair of doors to reveal what was behind it.  One of these appears to show a naked lady with a mustachioed man’s arm around her waist; when opened, however, the woman is seen to be fully dressed with the man about to seat her at a table.

The last chapter, “Ordinary People: The Talking Machine in Real Life” is perhaps the most interesting of all.  Included are numerous scenes of turn-of-the-century citizens with their talking machines–in the parlor, on the porch, on camping trips, at an ice cream social; old folks reminiscing and youngsters in the flower of youth (the young lady on page 202 is as fetching as the flowered-horn cylinder machine beside her); a straw-hatted gent in a canoe with a carefully balanced portable, serenading some ladies; main street in Gibson City, Illinois, with its phonograph store; an expansive and very orderly phonograph display parlor in another store; mud-splattered soldiers at the front in World War I, with their equally grimy phonograph.  The sociology of the early phonograph–the role it played in everyday life–is an area that needs study, and Fabrizio and Paul’s gallery of faces and places is a welcome start.  (Some of these images were shown with a talk given by Fabrizio at the 1998 ARSC Conference in Syracuse.)  Perhaps the only jarring note is the sometimes overwrought captioning supplied by the authors.  Here is how one caption begins: “Camping.  Cool air and refreshing forest breezes.  The summer of 1911.  The tent was so still, except for the soft flap, flap, flap of some loose material…”  My English professor would have given that an “F” for “theft of Carson McCullers prose.'”  Still, the writing is anything but dry and clinical.  At times it is rather lyrical.

The text that accompanies each chapter has a hard time competing with all the wonderful pictures, but it is generally informative and accurate.  For example the section on horns opens with a short, interesting essay on their evolution, citing numerous original sources.  In chapter two we read about Lieut. Bettini, and in chapter three about the Hawthorne and Sheble company (complete with a transcript of a 1986 interview by Fabrizio with Hawthorne’s grandson).  The captions are informative as well.  A welcome sense of humor pervades, as in this 1878 advice about the advisability of using a horn instead of ear tubes with the newly-invented phonograph: “Now, it is optional with the operator whether he uses the funnel or not, for, like the ladies, it will speak anyhow…”

The strength of the book, however, is in those beautiful pictures, almost all of which are sharp, clear, and in full color.  (An odd exception is a blurred photo of a Bettini machine on page 15.  The Siam Sue doll is blurred too, but that is because she is doing the shimmy!)  They fill virtually every page, and spill over to the title page, flyleafs, and the cover.  This is the kind of book that coffee tables were made for.


This page was last modified on November 5th, 2011.
© 2011 Tim Brooks All rights reserved HomeTV HistoryRecord Industry HistoryCopyright IssuesConsulting ServicesBook and CD ReviewsAbout My BooksGeorge W. Johnson, the First Black Recording StarLinks & ResourcesDartmouth CollegePress RoomFAQ