Columbia Graphophones

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The Columbia Graphophone Collection

Treadle GraphophoneExcept for these Treadle images, most of these are photos of machines that I have restored. Most are fully operational.  They often come alive in the morning to wake anyone sleeping. They are known to entertain guests especially during the late evening, while some other phonographs are still in 'stash inventory' waiting to be brought back to life. 

It's no secret that if I can't buy a particular machine for any reason, I try to shoot it (like big game hunting) and take it home as a digital image. Photography!   As much as I'd like to have this first Graphophone, Serial No. 1, it enjoys a prominent position in Charley Hummel's collection.  Charley who admits some responsibility for my phonograph collecting addiction gave me permission to post this photo here.  

Prototype Treadle Graphophone of 1885

Graphophone Exhibit No. 1This is the original Bell & Tainter prototype Treadle Graphophone hand made at the Volta Laboratory in Washington DC in 1885.   This machine has a very distinctive graphophone identification plate, Exhibit No. 1.  It sits on a walnut top that is fixed to an iron frame which is really a modified treadle sewing machine.  How many treadle phonographs were unwittingly delivered to the curb side for scrap iron to contribute to the war effort during World War I and II?  How many original treadle phonograph stands assumed to be a sewing machine base are hidden in cellars and barns across America waiting to be set free?

Treadle Graphophone DesktopCharley Hummel's machine has an all brass chassis and governor assembly. Perhaps the machinist chose brass, because it was easy to work with and easy to modify the prototype.  Unlike later models that used a pulley wheel assembly to drive the mandrel this machine uses two brass gears (of variable size) perhaps to experiment with speed.  The crude recorder/reproducer and half nut assembly rides on the feed-screw face down while traversing the six inch wax-coated cardboard cylinder record that is placed on the brown cylindrical mandrel made from solid gutta-percha.    Obviously the cylinder records in the above photo don't fit this machine; they're just sitting on the desk.

Bell and Tainter GraphophoneThis is a beautiful replica of the Bell and Tainter graphophone made in 1987. This photo is courtesy of the Science Museum's Science and Society Picture Library of England.   Alexander Graham Bell developed his response to Edison's phonograph with Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter. 

Like the phonograph, the graphophone makes a cylinder record, but unlike Edison's phonograph that recorded on tin foil, this graphophone recorded and replayed wax cylinders.

Click to enlarge photo. 

Type AB Graphophone

This Type AB  is pristine, perhaps the very best example I've seen.

Type AB GraphophoneAuthors George Paul and Tim Fabrizio have produced an exceptionally well written, well researched series of books about phonographs and many aspects of the hobby.  Published by Schiffer Books, they have done more to spark new interest in phonograph collecting than anything including eBay.  George and Tim are 'famous' in phonograph circles.  So it's no surprise they can no longer get a 'good deal' at a phonograph auction.  Read on to learn why!

As I sat patiently waiting for the Columbia AB to 'come up' for auction, I repeatedlyColumbia Model AB Ad recalculated how much I was willing to spend, including fees and sales tax, each time mentally raising my maximum bid price.  The day before the auction, I had scouted out the stash of machines at Skinner's Auction house careful not to draw any attention to the pristine Columbia AB.  The New Yorkers (no, not Yankee fans, competitor bidders) were already arriving with what I imagined to be pockets full of cash.   While praying for a ton of snow, rain or sleet to keep bidders home, I wondered, who am I going to have to bid against to win this AB? 

Suddenly, I heard the slam of the gavel, sold, now ladies and gentlemen up before us, lot 2468 is a very unique, rare, exceptional.... I wanted to tell the auctioneer, stop the accolades, just say we have an old Columbia phonograph.  But noooo, he provided more detail than necessary getting everyone's attention.  When the bidding started, it looked as if every hand was raised on the opening bid. As time passed the number of bidders thinned out, finally there were only two.   As Tim hadn't slowed the speed at which he was raising his hand, I began to think, this will be more expensive that I expected.  Finally, there was but one hand raised, it was mine. It was mine.

At auctions, knowledgeable collectors have an advantage over the even more knowledgeable dealer because the dealer must buy the machine at a price that will allow him to earn a reasonable profit.  So as I bid against Tim, a professional dealer who owns, I was willing to pay the higher price to win. I thought, if Tim's willing to bid that amount, that's a knowledgeable dealer price. Later that day when I tried to tease Tim about my new prize, he smiled and said, I wasn't bidding, I was scratching my head.   

AB at the AuctionThis machine was in perfect condition requiring only a few minor touch-ups to the dark oak cabinet and base, a little tweaking mechanically and normal lubrication.  The highly nickeled open-works needed a gentle cleaning and polishing.  There was no rust or oxidation on any of the original nickel plating.

The Columbia Type AB Grand Graphophone now often called as the "Macdonald" (not the original official model name) was designed by American Graphophone leading inventor, chief engineer and factory manager, Thomas H. Macdonald.   This machine has a removable 5 inch mandrel that slides over the standard 2 inch mandrel to play either size record. At the time Columbia Phonograph Company introduced the AB, 2 inch records cost .50 each or $5. per dozen while "Grand Records" cost $1. each or $10 per dozen. 

A wing nut on the left side locks the larger or smaller mandrel in place under the reproducer.  A knurled knob moves forward and backward to adjust the speed.  A speed indicator with steps from 70 rpm to 170 rpm also has a knurled knob which the user can move to indicate playing speed.  The AB has a key-wound two spring motor and three ball governor.  This machine has the rarer #4 Grand reproducer which was often traded in for the more common (better sounding) # 5 reproducer.  The Columbia Phonograph Companion, Volume I by Howard Hazelcorn notes these AB machines have a serial number range from 750510-759029 and estimates that approximately 150-250 ABs survive.  This machine is serial number 754065.  

The rest of the story.   When I got home I noticed the AB was missing the flat nickeled key.  I checked the auction catalog photo, it showed no key.  I called Skinner's Auction House to ask them to contact me if they found the key.  After a while, I gave up assuming, no key.  A few months later, I received a package and nice note from Skinner's saying they had found the key.  Now that's class! 

Type AZ Columbia Graphophone

Type AZ GraphophoneThe Columbia Model AZ, introduced in 1904 at the World's Fair in St. Louis. Selling for $25. this Columbia graphophone featured a bright polished nickeled brass "Lyric" type reproducer on a fixed carriage. The pink-red flowers with gold stems and GRAPHOPHONE name painted on the black enameled chassis stand out nicely. 

The upper gear drive is exposed.  The bedplate is nickel-plated. The chassis, cabinet, two-spring motor, 4-ball governor are the same as the Model AT but the AZ has the more reliable fixed reproducer "lyre-frame" carriage.  The easily-removable, brass nickeled reproducer with a 1 3/8" diaphragm is a Type #9 Lyric T-1 "free weighted" reproducer also used on the Rosenfield Phonograph and Rosenfield Illustrated Song Machine.   This two spring motor has sufficient power to play five cylinder records and does a decent job cutting wax records when using the optional recorder. The Columbia Phonograph Companion book notes these AZ machines have a serial number range from 295524-320520 and estimates that approximately 250-500 AZs survive. This machine is serial number 315948.

Type AT Columbia Graphophone

Columbia Model AT GraphophoneThis Columbia Model AT introduced in 1898 then priced at $25.00 has the popular nickeled bedplate, black enameled cast iron chassis decorated with painted gold GRAPHOPHONE name, pink/red flowers and gold stems.  The upper gears are open.  It has a more powerful double spring motor which gives longer playing time per winding, 4-ball governor and it came configured with a #2 aluminum reproducer. 

This particular machine is an "early model" because its serial number 207709 falls within Hazelcorn's Serial number range of 201260-303568.       It doesn't have the pot metal used in the later model carriage assembly that is known to crack and freeze up as the pot metal deteriorated over years.   Perhaps this is why more earlier model ATs survive than later models. 

This particular model has the less ornate New York Model A or Bijou Model AN plain oak cabinet with locking cover. This machine has a brass horn but should have the standard 14 inch A1 Aluminum horn or optionally fitted with a 14 inch J2 Japanned tin horn or alternatively, the listening tube for left and right ears.  The nickel plated bed plate needs work but the machine is functional and plays reliably.

The Columbia Model Q

Columbia Model QThe Columbia Model Q designed and patented by Thomas Macdonald in 1897 was introduced in January 1899. Similar to the Type B but smaller and  priced at only $5.00. This key-wound open works machine has a single spring motor speed regulated by a 3-ball governor.       It came standard with the popular #3 reproducer and flat winding key.  The 10 inch japanned tin horn was included.

Columbia also offered the Type QB, the same configuration as above but with the now very rare cardboard case for an additional $1., the QC same configuration in an oak bent-wood carry case priced at $7.50 and the QQ with a 10 inch nickel plated horn and recorder in a bent-wood carry case, priced at $10. Columbia Q

The Columbia Model Q (second style) is basically the same as the original Q configuration but the base of the machine was black enameled with gold stripes and Graphophone identification decal.  The cast filigreed winding key added a touch of elegance to this very low cost machine.  The better sounding #7 reproducer was considered a big improvement.   Most of these second models were configured with the bent-wood case priced at $7.50 very competitive with Edison's GEM family.

Columbia Q Graphophone with standSears, Roebuck & Company sold an optional embossed cast nickeled base with lions paw feet.  This base could be configured with the first or second style Columbia Q.  Although the J-1 was the standard 10 inch horn, I think the optional 10 inch nickeled horn looks much better with the nickeled base.  

The nickeled base shown in this phonograph is one of "the two last, limited edition nickeled base reproductions" that I bought from Aaron Cramer.  I believe they were the last two because when I tried to buy one more later that day, my good friend Aaron told me there were no more.  Click here to see some of Aaron's incredible collection.  Click photo for another view.

The Columbia Model Q "Busy Bee"

Columbia Type Q Busy Bee Columbia Type Q Busy Bee Graphophone is essentially the same as other Columbia Q machines except the diameter of the mandrel was a bit wider to accommodate the "Busy Bee High Speed Gold Moulded Records" made exclusively for O'Neill-James Company of Chicago.   Like other Columbia Q's the base was black enamel with gold pin striping with a prominent Busy Bee gold decal.  As this model was not normally configured with a bent-wood cabinet, it had rubber feet affixed to the four corners to prevent scratching the furniture.     Busy Bee Front

The O'Neil-James Company founded in 1904 came up with the unusual name from a member of the staff named Sherwin Bisbee, thus BusyBee.

The company believed they'd garner a large share of the market by selling a low cost graphophone and would avoid competition from Columbia and Edison, by selling a slightly larger diameter two-minute cylinder record.


Columbia Q "The Language Phone"

The International College of Languages (ICL) a NY City based correspondence school aggressively advertized its French, German or Spanish Language Phone Method.  ICL was to Columbia as International Correspondence School IICS) was to Edison.  Columbia Q Language PhoneThe ICL kit included choice of gold moulded cylinder records produced by ICL or Rosenthal (Richard S.) a 30 page instruction booklet "Speaking and Pronouncing Manual",  a complete set included ten booklets, the Columbia Q second style with bent-wood case, #7 aluminum reproducer, filligree key and ear-cup listening tube. 

Advertized in 1900 the regular price was $37.50 for the kit or $5.00 deposit and then $5.00 per month for five months. In 1903 ICL advertized that the pronunciation of the professor was a clear as heard on the phone- a wonderful advantage. 

Columbia Type B and BX, the "Eagle"

Columbia BX GraphophoneThis was one of Columbia's most popular low-cost Graphophones.  It was called the "Eagle" because it could be purchased at that time with a United States ten dollar "Eagle" gold coin. Its gears, two spring motor and 3-ball governor open-works are fun to watch for those who appreciate Macdonald's highly reliable, inexpensive mechanical engineering.  Initial deliveries included the smaller #2 reproducer later replaced with the larger, louder #5 and #7 reproducers. A ten inch japanned tin horn was included in the base price; this machine doesn't have the power needed to push a much heavier horn, alternatively another lightweight horn might work.    It's chassis and base were bright brushed steel.  A nickeled, highly-polished model, called the "BXP" and ten inch nickeled horn could be ordered for an additional $5.
Hazelcorn's Columbia Phonograph Companion notes these serial number ranges:
B: 80040-190857 and 406366-424629, 500+ survive,
BX: 425907-429826 76-150 survive,  BXP: 6-15 survive. 
This machine is serial number 143304.


Fast Forward, 1950 

In July 1950, Columbia advertised this Model 104 LP Changer Attachment capable of changing all sizes of 33.3 rpm records automatically describing this changer as the best LP salesman since the LP itself.  Remember that at this time Columbia and RCA were battling the 'format wars'. Columbia Model 104  LP Changer Columbia's message was that one speed is all you need to play anything from a 3-minute pop hit to a 50-minute symphony.   Advertised as a $32.95 value that sells for only $16.95, dealers were encouraged to sell these as "every sale creates an ever-growing market for more and more LP records".  

This Model 104 reliably plays 7", 10" and 12" records.   I'm not into Columbia's phonographs, but I wanted this nice attachment in a brown bakelite cabinet to compare what prospects heard in 1950 when considering the RCA Victor 45 record changer.   Although many believe that an "LP"  sounds better than a "45", I'm convinced that a 7" 45 rpm record sounds better on an RCA 45 rpm record changer than a 12" LP on a Columbia LP record attachment when all other variables are the same.

In 1950, the direct competitor to Columbia's Model 104 was the RCA's 9YJ, which was later renamed 45J.  RCA advertised "Already 10 other record companies are making or have announced they will make "45"s in early 1950".  RCA licensed its record changer technology and arranged contract manufacturing for other companies such as Cresent, Crosley, Decca, Emerson and Motorola who sold these record changers under their label along with their own Radio and Television appliances.    

Boston, MA  USA