Edison Phonology

Welcome to the Edison Phonology Website - A Place to Learn About Edison Cylinder and Disc Phonographs as well as cylinder records and Diamond Discs. 

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The purpose of this website is to educate the public about Edison phonographs, cylinder records, and Diamond Discs.

My name is Phil O'Keefe.  I have been collecting Edison phonographs and records over the last thirty years.  The phonographs and records in my collection date back to the first three decades of the 20th Century, in what was known as the "Acoustical Era" of sound recording.   Records from the Acoustical Era were recorded and played without any form of electronic amplification.  Sound was recorded on the record surface purely through mechanical means and entirely by the energy contained within sound waves eminating from musical instruments and peoples' voices.  On the phonograph, sound was reproduced purely by the mechanical action of a jewel-tipped stylus bouncing in the record groove.   The stylus vibrated a diaphragm, thus creating sound waves, which were in turn amplified by a horn to increase volume.

Click on the links below to learn more about my Edison phonographs and and my record collection...

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Edison Standard Phonograph

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Edison Amberola Phonograph

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Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph

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Edison Records

Hear My Records on the Radio

WFMU-FM is a listener-supported, non-commercial radio station broadcasting at 91.1 Mhz FM in Jersey City, NJ, right across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan, and not too far from Edison's phonograph and record factory in West Orange. WFMU is home to the Antique Phonograph Music Program, hosted by MAC, a fellow record and phonograph collector. The bi-monthly, one-hour show gives listeners the opportunity to hear a wide variety of antique records played live on antique wind-up acoustic phonographs.  In December, 2008, MAC was kind enough to allow me to virtual guest host his radio show.  I did an all-Edison Diamond Disc program with many hot dance numbers from the 1920s as played on my Edison C-200 Diamond Disc phonograph.  Click on the hyperlink below to access the show's play list and hear the show via RealAudio, MP3, and Pop-up player:

Click here to hear my December 2, 2008 Radio Show on WFMU

Phonograph References

If you are interested in learning more about Edison cylinder phonographs and records, then I recommend the following reference books:

Edison Cylinder Phonograph Companion, 1877-1929, by George Frow, , Mullholland Press, Inc, 1997, ISBN 0960646612. This book includes detailed information about the development of the Edison cylinder phonograph from early novelty tinfoil machines to advanced celluloid record players for home entertainment.  This book has excellent illustrations, photographs, and detailed information about all models of Edison cylinder phonographs and accessories.  It also includes includes information about Edison coin-operated phonographs and dictating machines. This essential reading for anyone interested in collecting Edison phonographs.  Read this book before you buy.  Although this book is now out of print, you may be able to find copies at your local public library, used book sellers, phonograph collector sites, or on-line auctions.

The Edison Diamond Disc Phonographs and the Diamond Discs, by George Frow, Mullholland Press, Inc., 2001, ISBN 0-9606466-3-4.  A great reference for identifying your Edison disc phonograph and understanding how it works.  Edison basically got into the disc phonograph manufacturing business too late, and being the thrifty type, had to come up with a totally new design based on his cylinder phonograph technology to avoid paying patent licensing fees to his competitors.  What resulted was a line disc phonographs and discs that were far ahead of their time and the competition with regard to recording length and clarity of reproduction.  This book also contains interesting information about the Edison disc record manufacturing process, marketing strategies, and some of the artists who recorded on the Edison label.

Edison Blue Amberol Recordings, 1912-1914, by Ron Dethlefson, 2nd ed, Mullholland Press, Inc., ISBN 0960646639. Since celluloid Blue Amberol cylinders are the most commonly found records, I recommend purchasing this volume and the following volume.  Both volumes contain copies of record slips, catalog cuts, photographs, and vintage advertisements. This book is invaluable if you know the title and number of a cylinder record and you want to know what the recording is like before you buy it.  The two volumes also contain interesting information about the performers on the records, how the records were recorded, and how the records were manufactured. 

Edison Blue Amberol Recordings, 1915-1929, by Ron Dethlefson, Mullholland Press, Inc., ASIN 0686781473.  This is the companion volume to the one above.

The Compleat Talking Machine, by Eric Reiss,  4th ed., Sonoran Publishing, LLC, 2003, ISBN 1886606188. This book is great if you want to learn about restoring, repairing, and maintaining your phonograph.  It also has a price listing and rarity rating for various phonograph models.  It is a great general reference book.

The Talking Machine, an Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929, by Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul, Schiffer Publishing, LTD., 1997, ISBN 0764302418. At first glance, this book appears to be a coffee table picture book with little or no historical information. Looks are deceiving! This book is chocked full of detailed historical information documenting the Acoustical Era of phonograph and record manufacturing.

Edison Cylinder Records, 1889-1912, With an Illustrated History of the Phonograph, by Allen Koenigsberg.  This book covers over 10,000 2-minute and 4-minute wax cylinders, including brown wax 2-minute cylinders.  The book even covers the variations between 2-minute wax cylinder box labels.  If you want to learn about early wax cylinders, then this is a great book to have.

Phonograph Concerts

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By the end of the 19th Century, the improved phonograph was considered to be revolutionary and exciting technology, much like the personal computer and Internet are today.  However, as late as 100 years ago, many people in rural, far-flung areas of the United States never saw a phonograph. Even if phonographs and records were available in a particular town, they were unaffordable to the average person.   Enterprising individuals bought phonographs and cylinder records and they took them on the road to put on public phonograph concerts for profit. Some concerts were put on for free by agents of the phonograph manufacturers for the benefit of a local dealer to generate interest in the machines and spur sales. The concerts were put on in the local opera house or Masonic Lodge, and the star of the show was actually a machine sitting on the stage!

In this age of compact discs and digital recordings, the phonograph is becoming almost unheard-of by the general public... particularly the younger people. I would like to change all of that!   If your school, library, park district, museum, or social organization is in the southeast Minnesota area, and you would like to sponsor a phonograph concert, then please feel free to contact me for more information. My concerts are unique, fun, and entertaining... and also educational!  

Email Me

Interesting Links

Frequently Asked Questions Page

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