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Collectible Edison Phonographs

Thomas Edison invented the first cylinder phonograph in 1877 called the Edison Cylinder Phonograph. He went on to create the Edison Phonograph Company, which produced and marketed different phonograph models to the general public. With their horns and cylinder records spinning on mandrels, Edison phonographs are collectors' items.

How were Edison phonographs made?

The first phonograph design used a cylinder with tinfoil sheets wrapped around it to record and play back sound. The phonograph had a needle and diaphragm system for recording sounds and a different needle and diaphragm system to play back sounds. The model didn’t have a cover and was built on a base. Eventually, the tinfoil sheets were replaced by different types of wax cylinders including those made out of beeswax and blue amberol. Covers and cabinets were also added as different phonograph models were introduced.

How many different phonograph models did Edison make?

Edison went on to produce 10 different phonograph models. Here are the different phonographs:

  • Edison Standard phonograph: The Edison Standard phonograph was the first to be mass produced and came with a single spring motor. The unit came with a wooden case typically made out of green or golden oak. The top of the case was held to the bottom with a couple of suitcase-style clips.
  • Edison Home phonograph: The Edison Home phonograph also used a single spring to operate. The case was similar in design to the standard version.
  • Edison Gem phonograph: The Edison Gem phonograph was a basic model. This machine is the most similar to the original design. It had no cover and was built on a metal base. Covers were added in later production years.
  • Other phonograph models: Fireside, Concert, Opera, Class M, Idealia, and Triumph which used a triple spring motor.
How do you operate an Edison phonograph?

The early phonograph models, before household electricity became common, usually used springs to operate. The spring works by tightening it with a crank arm. As the spring loosens after tightening, the cylinder spins around and music is produced. Some phonograph models, like the Class M, used wet cell batteries to operate, and some later phonograph models used the household electrical current as the designs evolved.

For those phonograph models with a crank arm, you want to insert it into an opening and place it on the motor. Turn it slowly counterclockwise until the spring tightens. Do not over tighten it or you could break the spring. There is a lever on the side of the machine that you push in. The phonograph will begin to work once the lever is pushed in. Electric-operated models can be turned on as long as the cord or battery is in good shape.

Can you adjust the speed?

There’s a lever called a regulator on the turntable board. You turn it one way to increase the speed and the other way to decrease the speed.

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