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A Victorian interior and our Edison phonograph

Inspiration, Photo Gallery

When my parents got rid of all their personal belongings and hit the road, we became the proud owners of some really awesome antiques. One of my favorite pieces is the Edison Disc phonograph, which came from my father’s family and (I think) dates to around 1915. Here it is in our front entry room:


One reason I love this thing so much is that when we were kids, my brother and I had a great time playing the weird old records (which are about 1/4″ thick). We thought they were hilarious since the style of singing is so very different from the radio hits we were used to. Lots of warbling. But is that better, or worse, than listening to Hulk Hogan’s daughter limping her way through an overproduced hip-hop song? Personally, I’d rather hear warbling.

Edison Disc phonograph

Each record has two songs on it, one on the front and one on the back. My personal favorite is a song called “Gasoline Gus” by Bill Murray (not my favorite Bill Murray, obviously). It’s a very catchy tune about a jitney bus driver. (A jitney bus is small vehicle that offered rides for nickels back in the day). Gasoline Gus is kind of a creepy guy if you listen to the lyrics closely.

I managed to find an mp3 online, so you can listen to it here:

Isn’t that crackley sound great?

But the other reason I really love this piece is the reason I’m sharing it with you. Because we have a photo of the phonograph in it’s original home! How cool is that? And if you’re looking for real Victorian interior inspiration, this is it. The wallpaper, rugs, pictures, light fixture…. so much to take in! I think this would be considered a parlor, but correct me if I’m wrong.

Edison phonograph in Victorian parlor

I put a much larger version on our Flickr account, so you can check it out here:

Here’s a closeup of the phonograph. They chose to put it in a corner, just like we did. ;)

Edison Disc Phonograph

Comments, Thoughts, and Feedback

Joyce C. had this to say on 03.14.07:

Rather than a parlor this would appear to be a study, perhaps for the lady of the house based on what looks like a day bed on the left. Or maybe this was a doctor’s office and the day bed is for patients? Also, I believe parlors were primarily there for visitors and there are few places to sit and have tea, or whatever. Personally, I would kill for it and/or the phonograph. (Does it use bamboo “needles”?) The door to the outside could also be quite useful. Nothing like having a quick getaway.

Ernest had this to say on 03.15.07:

On the back of the old phonograph picture, I think it says “Front Room”. By the way, have you seen the house that the picture was taken at?

Mindy had this to say on 03.15.07:

The house is located about 15 minutes from where we live – I am not sure exactly which one it is but I’ve made copies of the pic and hope to drop them off to the owners some day! (If this is your house, claim it now!)

Joyce, thanks for the insights – I’m not sure what type of needles it uses, I will have to look at it more closely!

Texas Ranger had this to say on 03.17.07:

To be honest I think that thing is neither a phonograph nor Edison, it’s a disc grammophone, a system invented by the German immigrant Emil Berliner. The records were made of shellac!
To my knowledge they all use steel needles that have to be replaced pretty much every time you play a record, otherwise it’ll damage the records.
There might even be sapphire replacements that last much longer. Some 1970s record players still hab 78 RPM and a second, thicker needle for playing shellacs. You’d just flip around the needle carrier.

There were even portable grammophones the size of a small suitcase! I once rode the streetcar in Vienna (Austria) where I live and suddenly heard music. Thought “waht#s that? Some obnoxious kids with their cell phones? Nope, music doesn’t sound like that… rather dixieland jazz or something like that…” and suddenly saw one guy sitting there with a grammophone in his lap…

Kristin had this to say on 03.19.07:

I am so terribly jealous. And I adore old, scratchy-sounding music, though the new evil work Internet-monitoring software won’t let me listen to Gasoline Gus. I’ll have to remember to listen at home. One of my favorite CDs is my “Greatest Hits of Gershwin” … so many wonderful scratchy tunes.

Alan had this to say on 03.20.07:

That song was a little creepy.

Josette had this to say on 01.09.08:

Hi, I’ve been collecting Edison phonographs for several years now. To Joyce C. who asked about bamboo needles? No, the Edison phonograph doesn’t use this type of needle. The Edison phonograph uses a diamond stylus (needle) that doesn’t need to be changed.

However, the diamond needle can still be prone to wear and tear (eventually) by playing worn, cracked, dirty, or severely scratched Edison records. If you should ever choose to clean an Edison record you can use a little bit of denatured alcohol and a few clean jumbo sized cotton balls.

And the Edison record isn’t made of shellac, it is made of a wood-flour core mixture and should never be cleaned with water. It will ruin Edison records completely.

The Edison phonograph in your pictures appears to be a table top model with nickle plated hardware. And might possibly have the model/serial number of B-80 ?? (these were still good Edison phonographs next to the higher end expensive floor models of the day as well).

Hope this information about your Edison phonograph helps. :o)

Edison Phonograph Works had this to say on 02.15.08:

Just a confirmation of the above comment that this is indeed an Edison B-80 Edison Diamond disc phonograph, this model was belt driven, and so it needs to be replaced, if it warbles too much. The reproducer uses a diamond stylus to read the hill and dale grooves of Edison Re-Creations, the original name given to the records. The diaphragm is made of 40 layers of compressed,shellacened rice paper and cork center, with a silk link down to the stylus.

karen had this to say on 06.07.08:

About 25 years ago my husband &I bought an Edison floor standing model with an open shelf on the bottom. It has a large diamond in place of the needle. It also came with the thick 80 disc . We were told its from around 1903, but we’re not sure. Does anyone have any clue onwhat type of edison we have and a possible value?

Steve had this to say on 07.15.09:

My father just purchased a B-80 at an Estate sale that was still in a wooden shipping crate.Inside the crate was the phonograph, which is in like new condition and over 100 thick Edison 78’s. The phonegraph head and needle came in its seperate little box that is lined and in mint condition. The phonograph and all of the 78’s are in mint condition and after a dusting looks great and sounds even better. As a bonus, all of the recoerds were wrapped in old papers and magezines from the 20’s and 30’s. What a great find.

Art Barnes had this to say on 03.06.10:

I am just finishing restoring a B-80, serial number SM 5446 that belonged to my grandparents. I have 44 records. It still plays great! I am 60 years old and as a child I fondly recall grandma playing these records for us. After they passed away we ended up with it (that was in 1976 or so). Just now getting around to fixing it up and going to pass it on to one of our children. The cabinet where the records are stored is unlike any I have seen on the web although it matches the top. It comes down about halfway and has legs that extend the rest of the way to the floor.

Jason had this to say on 09.05.10:

A truly great find! I have a 1918 cherrywood Edison C-150 Diamond Disc phonograph in my downstairs living room. It sounds fantastic and everyone I show it to enjoys it. The fact that you have a B-80 is incredible; I’ve seen maybe three of those in my entire life, and yours is the only one I’ve seen in working condition. How many Diamond Discs so you own?

Lucius1958 had this to say on 04.03.12:

Question: is that machine a B-80 or an A- 80? (see the ID plate in the lid)

I ask because I recently acquired an A-80 which is nearly identical in appearance.

BTW, have you checked behind the grille for traces of the original cloth? It should probably be a brownish-gold silk material…

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