Makes and motors

Cleaning the motor.

Cleaning the motor.

There were many thousands of different models of Phonograph and Gramophone made, of which the following are but a small selection. For ease of reference I have arranged them in roughly chronological order, with the cylinder playing phonographs first and disc playing gramophones later. But bear in mind that they overlapped for more than a decade, with the last phonographs being made as late as 1913, whilst the earliest gramophones were being made in the 1890s. The speed with which technological innovations rendered earlier versions obsolete was similar to the rapid evolution of the mobile phone in more recent history.


From his invention of the ‘Tinfoil Phonograph’ in 1877 onwards, Edison was constantly thinking of ways to improve on the device. Consequently there are hundreds of variants of Edison machines, each with a plate listing the numerous patents applicable to that particular model – with the 1898 version slightly better than the 1897 one, only to be superceded in 1899. They were all available with a choice of horns, some of which were a simple trumpet that sat on the neck of the reproducer as it tracked across the cylinder, larger ones having a bracket fixed to the back of the case holding a crane to support the weight, and the biggest having an independent support, similar to those used for parrots cages.

The following three Edison Phonographs are thus a small example of the variety that were made.


Edison Concert Grand Phonograph

Edison Concert Grand Phonograph

The Concert Grand was intended for public performances and thus had an extra large mandrel for taking three inch diameter cylinders.  However, this can be removed, revealing a standard sized mandrel underneath.  When new this machine would have had a very large free-standing horn, in the hope of generating enough sound to reach the back row of a theatre.


An Edison Standard phonograph (circa 1906) playing Billy Williams’ “Put a bit of powder on it Father!” This machine was originally made for playing two minute cylinders.  However, in order to compete with the three-minute flat records that were increasingly available for the disc-playing Gramophone, Edison came up with a four-minute cylinder, using narrower grooves.  This required the reproducer to advance across the surface of the cylinder at half the speed, consequently a gear change mechanism was made available to enable people to upgrade their existing Phonograph to play these longer cylinders.


This Edison Fireside phonograph (circa 1906) is very similar to the Standard above, except that it was made with the gear change for two or four minute cylinders already built into it.  It is demonstrated here playing “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. This was a popular music-hall song in 1905, satirising the naivety of Irish immigrants in London, and this recording dates from that time.  With hindsight of course, this song is forever associated with the longing for home of soldiers in the First World War.


The Edison Gem was the smallest of the Edison family of phonographs having a cast iron frame instead of a wooden case. This example shows the optional long horn suspended from a crane. All the Edison phonographs of this period, used the same reproducers so the only difference in sound was volume was rather than quality.


The Gramophone Company made the best (and the best known) gramophones, under the trade name ‘His Master’s Voice’ (HMV), sold in America as ‘Victrola’. Besides HMV there were many other makers, Columbia, Decca, Zonophone, Regal, Alba, Mayfair and Songster to list but a few of the most common. A lot of furniture shops (such as Maples, Waring and Gillow) also built cabinet models under their own names.  Of all these, only HMV manufactured their own motors; nearly all the other makes were fitted with either Garrard or Collaro motors, which were well made and survive the test of time, as long as they haven’t been deliberately maltreated.  Some of the earlier machines have motors made by Thorens, the Swiss clock and watch makers.


This video shows an early Columbia ‘travelling arm’ Graphophone (circa 1903) playing Jack Buchanan singing ‘Goodnight Vienna’ (1933). This machine is the Columbia equivalent of the Gramophone and Typewriter Company’s Model No. 2, as shown in the famous painting ‘His Master’s Voice’. The travelling arm mechanism had the sound reproducer fitted directly (by means of a leather elbow) to the end of the horn, the large end of which balances on a cradle. This severely limited the size of horn that could be used, as the larger the horn, the greater the weight pressing down on the record. This was quickly superceded by the invention of the tone-arm and back bracket, whereby much larger horns could be braced off the back of the gramophone case, with no increase in the impact of the needle on the shellac.


Gramophone and Typewriter Company Monarch – with a rare, original brass 'Morning Glory' horn.

Gramophone and Typewriter Company Monarch – with a rare, original brass ‘Morning Glory’ horn.

The Gramophone Company was, for a few years, the Gramophone and Typewriter Company, and it was under this name that they produced the Model No. 2, made famous for ever after by being the one with a Jack Russell looking into it. The original design used a brass horn.

Gramophone and Typewriter Company Monarch - 1905.

Gramophone and Typewriter Company Monarch – 1905 – with painted tin horn.

However, while the No. 2 had a brass horn, the company quickly found that brass was not the ideal material for making horns out of;  one got a better sound quality out of painted tinplate or, best of all, wood.  They also discovered that the typewriter side of their business was not doing very well so the dropped them and reverted to ‘The Gramophone Company’.  It was about then that an artist called Francis Barraud tried to sell them a somewhat maudlin picture of a dog, sitting on a coffin, listening to an Edison phonograph.  With typical Victorian sentimentality it was titled “His Master’s Voice”, the master in question presumably being in the coffin, although his voice lived on.  The Company agreed to buy the painting, as long as Barraud substituted their latest model for the Edison machine.


HMV Intermediate Monarch with painted tin horn and 1907 HMV Intermediate Monarch with wooden horn.

HMV Intermediate Monarch with painted tin horn and 1907 HMV Intermediate Monarch with wooden horn.

Within a few years the Gramophone Company started trading under the name ‘His Master’s Voice’ and developed the ‘Monarch’ gramophone into a much bigger machine than the G+T example above.  This they called the ‘Senior Monarch’, they also made a smaller one called the ‘Junior Monarch’, and inbetween them was the ‘Intermediate Monarch’.  One might have thought that ‘King, Queen and Prince’ would have made more sense in orders of majesty than having three varieties of monarch, but there it is.


Columbia 'Hornless' gramophone

Columbia ‘Hornless’ gramophone.

Although antiquity has lent charm to the classic horned gramophone, at the time when they were the latest technology a lot of people found them ugly and intrusive.  The various manufacturers all began to produce so-called “hornless” models;  in practice they were not hornless at all, they couldn’t be, otherwise they would also be soundless!  What they have is the horn inside the box, with the sound being channelled past the motor and out (in the case of this Columbia) through louvered doors at the front.  The “hornless” models were the precursors to the later table models.


Decca 'Trench' Model C - 1923 and 'Art Deco' Decca -Late 1920s

Decca ‘Trench’ Model C – 1923 and ‘Art Deco’ Decca -Late 1920s

The Great War brought about the desire for a compact but robust gramophone that could withstand being bumped about on active service – it was the first war in which the troops could listen to bands and entertainers from back home, and this was good for morale. (The verse of the WW1 song “Take me Back to Dear Old Blighty” mentions a soldier “having a little gramophone”.)

Decca answered this need with a cube shaped machine, hinged in the middle, the bottom half of which contained the motor and turntable, the top half mainly consisting of a parabolic reflector bouncing the sound outwards from a very short horn, from which the tone arm swivelled at the base.  Fitted with a small Thorens motor, the ‘trench’ model was a great success, and developments of it continued to be made long after the war had ended, including the Art Deco version shown here which has an elongated tone arm and a needle box that automatically slides out of the side of the deck as the lid is lifted.


HMV and Columbia Table Models.

HMV and Columbia Table Models.

Following on from the pre – WW1 “hornless” models, these table models from the 1920s followed the same system of having an internal horn coming past the motor, but with the advantage of a lid that could be closed whilst the record was playing.  This reduced the tinny treble sound coming directly from the mica diaphragm and produced a fuller bass.

HMV 130

HMV 130

HMV 130

A very nice table model from the 1930s, larger and squarer than the similar 103, benefiting from the 5A soundbox and the big motor no 32 with its twin 1¼ inch springs.


HMV Cabinet Model

HMV Cabinet Model

The great desire of gramophone manufacturers in the era before electronic reproduction was to get a deeper bass sound.  By putting the horn under the motor inside a wooden cabinet and bring the sound out through doors or louvers at the front the “bass cab” effect was discovered.  HMV went on to produce some marvellously engineered cabinet models utilising this principle, until electronic amplification rendered purely acoustic reproduction obsolete.

HMV 102

HMV 102

HMV 102

The advertising blurb at the time described the 102 as “the finest of all portables” and that is pretty much spot on. Made, with minor modifications, from the mid 30s to the mid 50s, these were the pinnacle of what HMV’s engineers achieved in compact, non-electric, machines.  After that the arrival of vinyl 45s and 33s rendered shellac 78s obsolete, and so all the development expertise went into producing electric record players with lightweight styluses rather than steel needles.


Alba portable - early 1930's, 'Maxitone' portable - mid 1930's and 'Special' portable with fake walnut motorboard.

Alba portable – early 1930’s, ‘Maxitone’ portable – mid 1930’s and ‘Special’ portable with fake walnut motorboard.

A vast number of portables were made under many different names, nearly all of them were cheaper versions of HMV’s 101 and 102, being roughly the same size and shape.  Like the three illustrated here, nearly all of them had Garrard motors and generic soundboxes, often made by Goldring or Songster but badged with the name of the ‘maker’.



A whole range of rather peculiar gramophones were made during the 20s and 30s, as manufacturers tried to come up with ever smaller machines that would, nonetheless, actually play a record. A lot of these are now thought of as toys, although most of them were not sold as such at the time.  The Peter Pan is one of the more functional examples, having a full-size Thorens motor inside. It is unusual for one to survive with all the component parts still in the box, particularly the telescoping aluminium horn. In this video the Peter Pan is playing Jack Jackson and his Orchestra’s ‘Ding Dong Ding’.

Peter Pan with Celluloid Trumpet

Another variation by Peter Pan is this model with the celluloid trumpet, which seldom survives as celluloid is an inherently unstable compound. Listen to Jack Hylton and his Orchestra with their version of ‘Singing in the Rain’. Notice how much faster Jack Hylton took this number than the later version featuring Gene Kelly.


'Guineaphone novelty gramophone - 1930s and 'Pixie Grippa' Miniature Gramophone also 1930s.

‘Guineaphone novelty gramophone – 1930s and ‘Pixie Grippa’ Miniature Gramophone also 1930s.

The Guineaphone novelty gramophone and the Pixi Grippa Miniature Gramophone are two more examples: the novelty value is rather better than the sound quality.

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