Ediphone (1888 – early 1950s)

The Ediphone was one of two competing wax cylinder phonograph systems for voice dictation, the other being the Dictaphone system. The use of cylinders for voice recording pre-dated their use for music, although it wasn’t until 1888 that Edison switched from tinfoil to wax cylinders in response to the rival Graphophone system introduced in 1887 (that later became the Dictaphone system).

The main difference between the two rival systems was the recording method, with Edison using ‘hill and dale’ recording, while the Graphophone used lateral (side to side) recording. The cylinders could have a layer of wax shaved off, to enable re-use.

By around 1910, the Edison system had adopted the name Ediphone, and technical refinements were introduced over time such as electric motors, foot control pedals, and eventually electrical recording in 1939.

By the mid-1940s, new dictation technologies were rapidly being introduced such as Dictaphone’s Dictabelt, Edison’s own Voicewriter, the Gray Audograph and the SoundScriber, and both Edison and Dictaphone stopped supplying wax cylinders in the early 1950s.

Sources / Resources

Voicewriter (late 1940 – 1960s)

The Voicewriter was a dictation format introduced by Thomas A. Edison Industries in the late 1940s. Unlike Edison’s previous cylinder-based dictation machines, this used an almost 7-inch diameter flexible red resin-based disc, labelled as an ‘Edison Diamond Disc’ (not to be confused with the earlier Edison Disc Record / Diamond Disc of 1912 to 1929).

Like the SoundScriber and Audograph systems, sound was embossed in grooves onto the discs, but unlike these competing disc formats, Voicewriter discs can be played back on a phonograph turntable with a microgroove stylus and a US-style adaptor for 7-inch singles (although the speed is slightly-less than 33⅓ rpm).

Sources / Resources

Brown wax cylinder (late 1880s – 1906)

Brown wax phonograph cylinders were the first mass market cylinder format, and were introduced in the late 1880s.

Early brown wax cylinder recordings would commonly wear out after they were played a few dozen times. The buyer could then use a mechanism which left their surface shaved smooth so new recordings could be made on them. The ability to record as well as play back sound was an advantage over the cheaper disc record phonographs which began to be mass marketed at the end of the 1890s.

Over the years the type of wax used was improved and hardened so that cylinders could be played over 100 times.

Most of the commercial recordings made up to the mid-1890’s were recorded directly onto the cylinder, making each cylinder unique. The first duplicates were made by connecting a playing phonograph with a recording one by the use of a rubber tube. A more practical solution was found in pantographic duplication machines, which recorded a blank more directly from the original cylinder, allowing about 100 copies to be made from a single master cylinder.

In 1902 Edison Records launched a line of improved hard wax cylinders marketed as Edison Gold Moulded Records, replacing Edison brown wax cylinders. The last commercially recorded brown wax cylinders were likely made in Europe by small labels until around 1906.

Sources / Resources

Preservation / Migration

media stability 1obsolescence 1Brown wax cylinders are very brittle and easily damaged by handling or playing. They may be suffering mould damage, or oxides or oils may have migrated to the surface, both of which will damage the playing surface.

For playback, an Automatic or Model B reproducer should be used on the phonograph. Specialist systems with lightweight pickups can be used for transcription.

Gold Moulded Record (1902 – 1912)

Gold Moulded Records are a type of phonograph cylinder introduced in 1902 by Edison Records. The cylinders were made of a hard black wax, capable of being played hundreds of times before wearing out. They ran at a standard speed of 160 RPM and played for between 1.5 and 2.5 minutes (and were generally labled as 2 minutes).

They used a process that Edison had developed, that allowed a mould to be made from a master cylinder which then permitted the production of several hundred cylinders to be made from the mould. The reference to gold was that the master cylinder was coated with gold as part of the production process. Previously cylinders were recorded live or by hooking two machine together to copy from one cylinder to another, and they used softer brown wax which wore out in as few as twenty playings.

Gold Moulded Records were discontinued in 1912.

Sources / Resources

Preservation / Migration

media stability 4obsolescence 4

Blue Amberol Records (1912 – 1929)

Blue Amberol Records are a type of phonograph cylinder recording, introduced by Edison Records in 1912. They replaced the 4 minute black wax Amberol Record introduced in 1908.

Blue Amberol Records are made of blue celluloid around a plaster of paris core, and play for 4 minutes at 160 rpm. Their introduction led to a resurgence of sales of cylinder records.

After 1915, many Blue Amberol Records were acoustically dubbed from Edison Disc Records, and some recordings contain the sound of the disc machine starting and stopping. The celluloid surface of a Blue Amberol Record is able to withstand hundreds of playings, with only a moderate increase in surface noise if played on well-maintained machines with a stylus in good condition.

Kits were available to allow Blue Amberol Records to be played on older cylinder machines, and some machines were produced that could play both.

Production of Blue Amberol Records ceased in 1929, when Edison Records closed.

Sources / Resources

Preservation / Migration

media stability 4obsolescence 4

Edison Disc Record / Diamond Disc (1912-1929)

Edison Disc RecordEdison Disc records (also known as Diamond Disc records because the stylus used was diamond) were introduced by Edison Records in 1912.

They were introduced to compete with disc sound recordings from companies such as Victor Talking Machine company. Unlike competitors’ discs, Edison Discs used up and down movement rather than side to side (or lateral) and so the grooves have smooth sides and variable depth. Because of this, Edison Discs are incompatible with other phonograph discs (although some adaptors were available).

Edison’s 10-inch discs played for nearly five minutes per side with 150 threads per inch (TPI), and revolved at 80 RPM. They were also ¼-inch thick and were filled with wood flour, or later, china clay.

Sales peaked in 1920, and in 1926 a microgroove version (450 TPI, allowing up to 40 minues per side on a 12 inch disc) was introduced but technical problems meant it was not a success.

Sales continued to drop, and the last Edison Discs were made in 1929.

A later Edison dictation system, the Voicewriter, re-used the name ‘Edison Diamond Disc’ from the 1940s for the unrelated recording medium.

Sources / Resources

Preservation / Migration