Non-collectors who come across Edison Diamond Discs characterize these records by their thickness, often times I hear "I saw some old records that are a quarter inch thick" --- Yes, they are thick, the company at first stamped issue numbers on the edge of the Diamond Disc... you need a thick record to do that. The discs are ten inches (diameter) but could hold more music than twelve inch discs made by other companies, some Diamond Discs play up to five minutes per side. If you find a twelve inch Edison Disc made in 1926, this is a long playing record or LP which plays up to 40 minutes and is a valuable item.
There are a few things a begining collector should know about Edison Diamond Disc. Edison Diamond Disc were a unique product in the record industry, they were not like Victor or Columbia products from the same era. Some of the songs and artists are the same as what one would find on Victor and Columbia Records but the technology differs, the same way Beta differs from VHS or IBM differs from Apple the are simply not compatable. Edison Discs can not be played on Victrola's, those wonderful cabinet machines made by the Victor Talking Machine Company. I define "Victrola" here since some people use this same term for Edison Phonographs, a common mistake. Here is another crucial fact, Edison Diamond Disc do not play with steel needles, you need a diamond stylus to play Diamond Discs which were designed by Edison engineers. A diamond stylus last a long time but not forever, so today's Edison machine owner should inspect the stylus to see if it needs replacing. Moreover, Victor products can not be played on Edison Disc Machines, unless the machine has a special adapter. Edison's company made "lateral" sound-boxes (diamond discs were vertical) to play non-Edison discs such as Victor or Columbia 78's. These sound-boxes original sold for $1.50 but are rare today. The Victor company never made such an adapters although various small companies made such adapters, sadly the adapters usually performed poorly.
You will find some of the same performances on the Edison Diamond Disc that you do on Edison Blue Amberol Cylinders. Edison dubbed from discs onto cylinders using a horn-to-horn process, with the first dubbings release in January 1915. For a period of four decades begining in 1877, Edison was committed to cylinders, which created an opportunity for Emile Berlinger to develop a market in America for discs in the 1890's, Berlinger's company later evolved into the Victor Company. Finally, Edison decided that he was ready to enter the disc market, although he also issued cylinders, since they were very profitable, as cylinders cost very little to make and Edison Discs were relatively expensive to produce.
Edison Diamond Disc were issued form 1912 to 1929. You can determine the decade in which an Edison Disc was manufactured by knowing two basic labels. From 1912 to mid-1921, Edison relied on "molded labels". A prepared plate was pressed into the record surface, leaving an engraved impression, most are solid black and are notoriously hard to read, except for the very early issues that have a gray background that highlights the lettering, this was to expensive and time consuming and was dropped from the production line. Then beginning in mid-1921, paper labels were used on Diamond Discs. The Edison Company was better than other companies at keeping popular titles in stock, so songs recorded in the teens were often available into the 1920's and can be found with paper labels as well as on disc featuring the early engraved surface. Edison would have switched to paper earlier except for problems with "pressure-bonding" paper labels to the disc. Edison's first paper lable came out on June 6, 1921 - #50818 "Sunnyside Sal" -- The lable problem never seemed to be solved, often times you run accross a label-less Edison Disc, why Edison did not use the lable technology other companies were using at the time?
As mentioned before the Edison Company first stamped issue #numbers on the edge of the disc and actually this was a problem since moisture could enter the records through these stamped numbers. You never want Diamond Discs to get wet, they warp if exposed to moisture, so don't wash them. Edison Diamond disc cores were made from finely ground wood flour together with asphaltic bonder. In 1921 the core or "powder blank" composition was changed to include china clay and lesser amounts of wood flour. This was done because it was found that wood flour absorbed moisture readily whereas china clay did not, as a result the china clay disc were heavier, however china clay cores did provide protection from moisture, submersion tests at Edison's lab revealed that these records could stay submerged in water for about 15-20 minutes before moisture damage occured.
Although they may look pristine, some Edison Discs have bad surface noise which you discover after you play them the discs from the earliest years and from the 1920's have better surfaces and better sound than the discs made around 1917 to 1920, the peak war years of production. Wartime shortages affected the quality also surfaces on pre 1916 discs are smooth since Condensite Varnish was applied to a smooth celluloid base, bonded to a wood flour core. Edison discs made from around 1917 to 1920 had an overly thin coat of Condensite sprayed onto a rough core. When output was high, few coats of Condensite were applied because of the time need to dry. When output was low such as around 1921-1922 when the economy was in recession, more coats were applied. --- There is no shellac in Edison Diamond Discs.
Collectors seek early classical Edison Discs in the original fancy cardboard boxes (very rare). Most Edison Discs came in paper sleeves, many of which discussed the artist and songs, however these notes were gone by 1921. On early discs so artist go unidentified, with the record merely saying "baritone" or "soprano". This allowed Edison to change artist but not change the lable.
Until 1924 or so Thomas Edison personally decided what was issued, approving or rejecting takes. Edison preferred simple melodies and basic harmonies, disliking jazz. This created tension at the Edison Company with the A & R staff fighting with Edison over choices of titles issued. Perhaps much music on a Diamond Disc won't suit the typical listener but it is a myth that the Edison Company never recorded good dance music or blues and jazz. Excellent dance titles, blues numbers and jazz tunes can be found on Edison Discs. "Hot" sides may not turn up as often as a Walter Van Brunt disc or a waltz but Edison did record such artist as Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams and Eva Taylor, Red Nichols, Josie Miles and other greats. Some of the jazz and blues performances were so 'hot" that one wonders if the marketing folks at Edison Company had to sneak these records past the inventor as he napped. Not only Josie Miles and Fletcher Henderson but also Red & Miff's Stompers, the Five Harmaniacs, Viola McCoy, Chas. Mason's Creole Serenaders. Maybe by this time the A & R staff won the battle with Edison since he stopped interfering with what titles were issued. Many Disc offer great performances of classical music, with some opera discs being highly collectable. fine singers who made Edison Disc include Frieda Hempel, Claudia Muzio and the tenors Zenatello, Martinelli and Urlus and the great pianist Rachmaninoff.
The Edison Company made good profits and some collectors claim Edison was out of touch making cylinders as late as 1929 but the forget that Edison was making profits from cylinders for much of the 1920s. However, Edison made some bad buisness decisions, for example until 1928 Edison was against the idea that his company should enter the new radio market. For years his opinions about music influenced what was released on records, which in-turn made him less successful as market driven companies like Victor and Columbia. The fact that a deaf and musically untrained Edison decided what music was issued by his company is testimony to his stubborness. Edison scoffed when Victor and Columbia switched in 1925 to an electronic recording process (the microphone). The Edison Company eventually made changes to keep up with his competitors, even by late 1927 adopting the electric recording process and by 1929 making needle-type discs that could be played on competitors equipment. sadly changes came to late, when the last Edison records were issued in late 1929 (cylinders ceased with the June 1929 list), an era came to an end.