While not a second-hand store junkie,
I do like to occasionally make the rounds of the local Salvation Army, Goodwill,
and other independent shops to see what kind of relics are donated. Since eBay,
Etsy, and their kind have gained immensely in popularity, it is getting harder to
find anything useful other than clothes and kitchen wares. A few months ago Goodwill
had a 1910s vintage cabinet-style Edison disc phonograph (as opposed to wax cylinder)
that was in very good condition, complete with a handful of styli and a couple old
records. The original finish over smooth mahogany and burl veneers had only a few
scratches and could easily be polished to look practically new. The metal hardware
could have stood a fresh coat of black paint due to nearly a century of oxidation.
Even the original nomenclature plate looked factory-new, and a clearly legible paper
plaque of operating instructions was embedded beneath a layer of shellac. I expected
an asking price of at least $500, but was shocked to see only $125 on the price
tag. Surely, I thought, the employee who affixed the tag must not have realized
the value of such a treasure of American history. Out of curiosity, I put a fresh
steel needle in the tone arm and placed a vinyl album gotten from the music area
in the store on the platter and cranked 'er up. The sound was barely discernable,
so that ruled out any possibility of justifying the purchase on the grounds that
I could impress visitors by playing my Boston or Styx albums on it. If I had a place
to keep it, I would have snatched it up in a heartbeat, but my 920 sq.ft. house
is about outfitted to capacity with historic artifacts. I wrote down the phonograph's
model number (C150) to look up on eBay what similar examples were selling for, thinking
if I could buy it and sell for a handsome profit, but alas, a search of the "Sold"
items showed only piece parts like crank handles and tone arms had actually been
Part 6. More on development of early Edison phonographs including
data on maintenance.
Thomas A. Edison listening to his "Triumph" phonograph in his
laboratory. This photograph was taken in 1906.
By Oliver Read Editor, Radio & Television News, and James Riley
In part 5 of this series (March issue) we described several of Edison's phonographs
made before the turn of the century. Among these was his "Home Phonograph" first
produced in the year 1896. Following publication of this article we have been literally
deluged with requests for information as to the availability of parts and for information
on repair techniques for his early models. Many of our readers are in possession
of Edison's "Home" and "Standard" models. These were the two best sellers in their
day and many thousands of these were produced. Original instruction books have been
lost through the years and without this information the phonograph collector is
greatly handicapped when attempting to restore his cylinder machine.
Fig. 1 - Sketch shows details of the Edison "Home Phonograph"
Model A, circa 1898. Parts are identified in legend at right.
Fig. 2 - Edison's "Fireside" unit played both 2- and 4-minute
cylinders and came with a dual-stylus reproducer.
The following is from an original instruction book published in 1898 "for the
Edison Home Phonograph." Because his "Standard" model is very similar, the maintenance
technique will apply to the "Standard" as well as the "Home."
The detailed sketch of the mode "A" Home Phonograph (Fig. 1) wit its index
of parts shows all of the essential components comprising the phonograph:
"Before winding or starting the machine, see that all working parts are free,
particularly that there is no dirt or packing in the gear wheels, and that all set
screws are tight. Sometimes these screws work loose from shock.
"The Phonograph, like every other good mechanism; should be clean and free from
dust. Instructions as to oiling will be found later in these directions.
"See that knife adjusting screw (22) is screwed entirely back, or until the stop
pin rests against the casting of the speaker arm, as it always should do except
when shaving. This screw controls the shaving knife, and draws it away or forces
its cutting edge against the wax cylinder.
"As a precautionary measure, it is well to look to the belt (7), the shaft (2),
and the speaker arm, before starting the machine. All machines are completely adjusted
before shipment from the factory. They will sometimes, though not often, become
disarranged in transit. The tension of the belt (7) should be moderate, and the
belt-tightening idler pulley (not shown in engraving but easily found on the machine)
should be in proper place against the belt. The main shaft (2) turns on centers
(8 and 10), between which it should run easily. If centers are too tight they will
bind the shaft, while, if too loose, the end-shake will destroy the accuracy of
the reproduction. There should be no end-shake here. The shaft adjustment is regulated
by the adjusting screw (12) on the swing arm center. A simple test is to throw off
the belt with the hand, and see if the shaft will spin freely without noise. The
main shaft pulley (32) should of course be tight on the shaft. Its set screw (37)
regulates this. The main shaft centers are regulated by set screws (9 and 11), as
shown in the drawing. Care should be taken that the large end of the mandrel (1)
does not touch the center lug of the body casting. The thickness of a piece of paper
between the lug and mandrel is sufficient clearance. The speaker arm or carriage
of the machine should work free on the back rod (6).
Fig. 3 - The Model K "combination" sound box or reproducer.
Refer to article.
Fig. 4 - Two separate sapphire points are coupled to the
diaphragm. See Fig. 3.
Fig. 5 - The 4-minute sapphire in playing position. It has
a tip radius of 0.0045".
"All bearings should be oiled, as mentioned before, and to obtain the best results
from the motor the gears must be kept clean, particularly the fine-toothed gear
which engages the governor pinion. The governor disc (the flat metal plate against
which the horseshoe rocker works) must be oiled occasionally. If necessary to adjust
the governor, see to it that there is a slight play between centers. If too tight
there, regulation is impaired and efficiency is diminished.
"Under no circumstances should the governor disc, described above, touch the
"The first operation will undoubtedly be reproducing. Raise lift lever (15) to
its highest point. Push speaker lever (18) to its highest point, against speaker
adjusting screw lug (17). Throw down lock bolt (14) and open swing arm (13) wide.
Slip the wax cylinder (28), beveled end foremost, upon the tapering brass mandrel
(U, and press it firmly, but not too forcibly, into place. Close swing arm and re-lock
it. Now place hearing tube (25), or horn, on the speaker tube (reproducer) plate
(21), slide speaker arm to point where record appears to begin, and drop lift lever
(15), after having first thrown start and stop switch (24) to the left.
"With the Automatic Speaker (type C reproducer) the following adjustment is unnecessary,
as the reproducer (Continued on page 168) adjusts itself to the track or groove
made by the stylus. With the Standard Speaker (a combination reproducer equipped
with. both recording and reproducing sapphires), it sometimes occurs that clear
reproduction is not at first obtained. To obviate this, unscrew the adjusting screw
(16) until its point disappears in the lug (17), and while listening, press the
speaker lever (18) upward with the thumb of the right hand, and with the first and
second fingers of the same hand turn the adjusting screw (16) slowly down until
you can hear the record distinctly. Adjustment will bring the reproducer ball (stylus)
into the groove of the record.
Regulation of Speed
"The speed of the machine in revolutions of the main shaft per-minute is regulated
by the speed adjusting screw (23). To increase speed, screw the nut down, and to
decrease it, unscrew this nut. Observe this carefully when reproducing music, as
a different speed from that at which the music was recorded will produce an entirely
different pitch. The standard pitch at which musical records are taken is about
125 revolutions a minute; talking records, about 80 per minute.
"A very good way for the beginner to determine the number of revolutions per
minute is to hold his finger lightly against the main shaft pulley set screw (37),
and count the revolutions by his watch, for ten or more seconds.
"The machine is at rest. Open speaker clamps (19) and insert recorder with its
speaker lever (18) pressed up against lug (17). Press up lift lever (15). Throw
down lock bolt (14), and open swing arm (13) wide.
"Slip the wax cylinder (28), beveled end foremost, upon the tapering brass mandrel
(1), and press it firmly, but not too forcibly, into place. Close the swing arm,
and re-lock it.
"Raise the speaker arm from the straight edge upon which it rests in front, and
slide to the left until directly over the beveled end of the cylinder, or the point
at which you wish the record to commence. Again lower it to straight edge. Everything
is now ready to record.
"Start the machine by pushing the switch (24) to the left. The machine is now
in motion. Place speaking tube or horn upon the tube plate (21) of the speaker,
lower lift lever (15) as far as possible and commence recording. In speaking into
the instrument use a clear voice, and articulate well. Do not force the voice or
speak too loud, if best results are sought.
"A fine white shaving will appear on the surface of the cylinder where it has
been passed over by the stylus.
Remove the horn or speaking tube; raise the speaker arm, and throwing it back
as far as possible, dust off the shavings, by holding the camel's-hair chip brush
against the revolving cylinder, and passing it slowly from left to right.
Handling the Cylinder
"The wax cylinder, which is somewhat brittle, should be handled gently at first
until the operator becomes practiced.
"Thrust the first and second fingers of the right hand into the thick end of
the cylinder, and hold it fast by spreading the fingers apart. Touching the outside
surface of a prepared cylinder, or record as it is called, destroys the attractiveness
and generally' the value of such record.
"Cylinders should be kept in boxes or cabinets made for the purpose, which have
perpendicular pegs at fixed distances to prevent cylinders from coming in contact
with each other. Over these pegs they are placed beveled 'end down. Use the camel's-hair
chip brush to remove chips and dust from the wax. Do not attempt to blow it off.
Fig. 6 - Edison's "Triumph" model was a rugged triple-spring
Fig. 7 - Edison's "Standard" was popular. It had a "cygnet"
"Do not leave the cylinder upon the brass mandrel (1) of the Phonograph for any
length of time when the machine is not in use.
"Every Edison Home Phonograph is equipped with a simple device for shaving off
or smoothing blank cylinders, which preparation is necessary before a blank can
be used for recording. Here are the instructions for operating the turning rest.
Machine is at rest. Wax cylinder firmly set upon mandrel. Hearing tube or horn removed.
Speaker lever (18) set as for reproducing, that is, up against lug (17). Fasten
back the speaker weight by passing rubber band around lower end of the weight and
over the speaker arm.
"Lower the speaker arm about over the center of the cylinder, by dropping lift
lever (15), Hold the end of the arm down firmly with the thumb and forefinger of
the left hand, while the same fingers of the right screw down the button (22) which
controls the knife bar. This will bring the sapphire shaving knife to the surface
of the wax. As the depth of the cut to be taken is very slight indeed, the knife
must be set very gently into the wax, as shallowly as possible. The machine is still
at rest, with lift lever (15) down. Now raise speaker arm, slide it back to the
extreme left, and start the Phonograph.
"The knife should always be allowed to pass over the entire length of the surface
of the cylinder, otherwise there will remain a portion of the wax which is thicker
than the rest, and if a new adjustment of the knife be made to the right of the
end of former cut, it will not touch the surface to the left of It. If adjusted
to the left, on reaching that part which was before unshaved, the knife will take
too deep a chip, and tear instead of cutting the wax.
"If the chip chute becomes clogged, it will prevent shaving. Keep the chute clean
by raising the speaker arm from the straight edge, moving the carriage to the extreme
right, and striking it gently against the back lug of the casting. Under no circumstance
jar out the chips by striking the front of the speaker arm on the straight edge.
"If the slot in the face of the chip chute, through which the sapphire knife
projects and into which the chips or shavings feed, becomes clogged, apply the camel's-hair
chip brush or a wooden toothpick. Never touch the cutting edge of the sapphire with
metal or any tool,
"If desired, the chip chute can be removed entirely by unscrewing its set screw,
and the knife will shave without obstruction.
"The thinnest possible shaving will leave the smoothest surface. Shave several
times in preference to a single deep cut.
"New blank cylinders require trueing, as they are likely to be eccentric, and
do not have prepared surfaces. In trueing these, set the knife on the highest part,
if any, of the blank When once trued, blanks always remain cylindrical.
"When the shaving of a cylinder is completed, see that the knife bar is screwed
back away from the cylinder, or it will cut the next record that is put on the machine.
This is managed by manipulating the button (22).
"Apply oil sparingly but thoroughly to the following parts: Back-rod (6); Main-shaft
feed screw (2); Main-shafts centers (8 and 10); Roller on the straight edge; all
motor shafts at their bearings; all gear teeth of motor; arbor on which main spring
turns; idler pulley, occasionally, where tension spring holds it; governor disc,
occasionally; winding shaft, if necessary.
"No oil should be permitted to get on the belt, and oil must not be smeared on
the machine, as it will catch dust and make trouble.
Fig. 8 - The original diamond stylus reproducer used in
early Edison machines.
"When the oil on the gear tooth gets black and dirty, wash it off with benzine
before putting on new oil, which apply sparingly. Use best Phonograph oil, to avoid
gumming. Above all, keep the machine clean. No mechanism will work perfectly unless
free from grit."
Some strange terminology appears in the preceding text. For example, "the speaker
arm" is now commonly called the tone arm or pickup. The term "speaker" referred
to the transducer, sound box, reproducer and finally the phono cartridge (using
The "Standard Speaker" was Edison's type B reproducer. The stylus could not self-adjust
to seat into a groove.
The "Automatic Speaker," known as model C, overcame this limitation and provided
lateral seating automatically.
Things were indeed difficult in the gay '90's. Making a record of Junior's first
words was a day's labor.
Cylinder machines were being produced in quantity by Edison and Columbia in the
late '90's. All cylinders up until 1906 were of the two-minute type and it was not
until 1908 that Edison introduced the four-minute Amberol cylinder records. Owners
of the older model Edisons ("Home," "Standard," etc.) were able to buy simple gear
attachments, so that these new four-minute cylinders could be played on the older
machines. A new reproducer by Edison, type "H," was introduced and this was designed
especially for reproduction of the new cylinders. Like other Edison reproducers
the stylus was of sapphire. The model "H" had a tip radius of .0045/1.
Fig. 9 - The last of the "Home" phonograph series was this
model with its "cygnet" horn. This particular model, a popular one, is discussed
in detail in article.
Fig. 10 - A favorite with collectors is this small "Gem"
model phonograph with its "Fireside" horn.
Fig. 14 - Operating lever caused feed to engage to move
the sliding mandrel of unit.
In 1909 the Edison "Fireside" model (Fig. 2) was introduced as a "combination
type" and featured a brand new development of Edison's, which was his model "K"
dual-stylus cylinder reproducer. This device (Fig. 3) was, in appearance, similar
to the model "C" and the model uR" and would fit the same housing, but as seen in
Fig. 4, employed two separate sapphires (.007" and .0045/1) mounted to two
cantilevers and coupled to a common diaphragm. The assembly could be rotated to
bring either the two-minute sapphire (for Standard cylinders), or by twisting through
an arc of 180 degrees, would bring in the proper stylus to reproduce the new Amberol
four-minute cylinders. As far as we know, this was the original dual-stylus phono
cartridge or reproducer (Figs. 4 and 5).
The Edison "Fireside" Phonograph (Fig. 2) was provided with a sectional
type horn finished in japanned maroon with gilt decorations. It was 19 inches long
and the bell had 8 petals and measured 11 inches in width. This was supported by
a nickel-plated crane. The machine would play the Edison Amberol, Standard, and
Grand Opera records. It featured a newly designed single-spring motor that could
be wound while running. It also used an improved stop-and-start regulating device.
The Edison "Triumph" Phonograph (Fig. 6) known as model "E, F, and G" was
an improved model which was produced in 1910. This was the last of the series bearing
the name "Triumph." It featured a gooseneck type horn having a bell of steamed oak.
This was supported by a crane mounted to the rear of the cabinet. Note that the
carriage supporting the reproducer is designed to lie flat above the rotating mandrel.
By means of adapters this housing would contain the Edison models "C," "H," "K,"
or "0" reproducers and, in addition, permitted Edison's new diamond point reproducer
to be used when playing the Blue Amberol four-minute records which were introduced
two years later, in 1912.
Fig. 11 - A deluxe phonograph was this Edison "Opera" model
with its diamond reproducer and big horn.
The series of "Standard" Phonographs of Edison also underwent improvement and
change. The one shown in Fig. 7 was his model "E, F, and G" which also had
the flat type carriage to contain the reproducer. This model was supplied with a
black japanned metal horn which was supported by a nickel-plated crane and was coupled
to the reproducer by means of a short section of rubber hose. This was a dual-speed
phonograph and would play either the two-minute or four-minute cylinders simply
by changing the gearing. The reproducer housing would also accommodate the diamond
reproducer (Fig. 8) that was introduced along with the Blue Amberol cylinders.
The Edison "Home" Phonograph also underwent considerable change. This model was
redesigned so that it would play either two- or four-minute cylinders. The model
"E, F, and G" shown in Fig. 9 was supplied with both two- and four-minute reproducers
and, like the machines previously described, would also accommodate Edison's new
diamond stylus reproducer. The accessories for this model of the "Home" are similar
to the previous types. Note that the swinging gate used on the earlier model Edisons
has been eliminated in the new designs. This was a much needed improvement and saved
considerable time when placing or removing cylinders from the machine.
The last in the series of Edison "Gem" Phonographs (Fig. 10) was known as
models "D and E." This was supplied with Edison's "combination type" reproducer
(type K) and was finished in maroon and gilt enamel. It was mounted to a polished
oak base and was provided with an antique oak dust cover. The motor was a newly
designed single-spring type that could be wound while running and it also featured
a new start and stop regulating device and speed control. The gears were enclosed
in a cast iron housing to protect them from dust. To the side of this housing may
be seen the knob which was used to alter the gearing when changing from two- to
four-minute cylinders. The Phonograph came complete with the "Fireside" type horn
which was also of japanned maroon and decorated with gilt. This particular model
was first produced in 1908.
Fig. - 12. The mechanical parts used in phonograph were
precision made, many of them being tooled from solid brass.
The Edison "Opera" Phonograph (Fig. 11) was first produced in 1911. It was
later called the "Concert." This deluxe phonograph was designed especially to take
full advantage of Edison's Blue Amberol cylinders. It featured a moving mandrel
assembly and a series of cams which performed the function of engaging the feedscrew
while at the same time lowering the reproducer onto the revolving cylinder. This
model also had an automatic stopping device which could be set to the last groove
on a cylinder and the machine upon operating to that point would automatically apply
the brake to the governor of the spring motor. A deluxe gooseneck type horn, having
a large bell of steamed oak, was supplied with this model. It was capable of producing
enough volume to fill the average concert hall of its day.
The entire mechanism was skillfully assembled of heavy-duty parts throughout.
Most of them were of solid brass (Fig. 12). This model employed a heavy-duty,
spring-wound motor capable of playing up to a dozen cylinders per winding and its
speed was regulated by a heavy-duty, three-ball governor in conjunction with a weighted
flywheel. The entire gearing mechanism was protected from dust by a cast metal cover.
The essential difference between this and other machines of Edison is that instead
of the reproducer traveling above a fixed mandrel, in this model the reproducer
assembly remained stationary and the mandrel assembly (including the cylinder) was
propelled across and under the reproducer. This assembly rode on solid rails.
Fig. 15 - Operating lever also dropped the reproducer onto
the revolving cylinder.
Fig. 16 - Recording attachment included a horn, recorder, and
a special basket.
Due to the demand from various educational institutions and from music dealers
Edison produced a special phonograph called the "Opera School" type (Fig. 13).
This machine was produced in limited quantity during 1912. It consisted mainly of
the various parts used in the regular "Opera" model, the essential difference being
in the size of the horn which was of metal throughout and which was found capable
of producing more volume than the machine designed for home purposes.
Fig. 13 - A large metal horn was supplied" with this model
phonograph for school use.
The top view of the mechanism of this model (Fig. 14) shows the moving mandrel
and housing, the automatic stop and the mounting for the reproducer and for the
The operating lever (Fig. 15) seen in the center of the mandrel housing
is in the operating position which lowered the stylus to the cylinder and at the
same time engaged the feedscrew which rotated beneath. This caused the mandrel assembly
to move laterally beneath the reproducer.
A recording attachment (Fig. 16) was offered as an accessory to this and
other Edison phonographs. It included a metal horn and the Edison Recorder which
were designed originally to record on the soft wax cylinders. We doubt if many of
these attachments were sold since home recording on wax cylinders lost popularity
after the turn of the century when records became abundant and when results were
far superior to those obtained with the attachments. The last of the Edison phonographs
using outside horns were produced in the year 1912.
Posted September 21, 2023
(updated from original
post on 2/13/2019)