Recording and Playing Machines

Shellac & vinyl discs


Shellacs or 78s, also called coarse groove gramophone discs, were the main mass produced audio format of the first half of the 20th century. The shellac discs were pressed from a wax matrix that was made during a professional recording. Although individuals could not make recordings themselves, they were now able to listen to professional recordings of much better quality than those of the wax cylinders and discs.

The main difference between vinyl discs and 78rpm discs was due to the groove cutting technical capabilities. Thanks to electrical recording and the invention of new material, it was possible to burn discs with much smaller, closer grooves.

In 1948, Columbia Records marketed the first vinyl discs (or long playing records). These discs were no longer made out of shellac but from PVC. Several standards were released during the first years, the most common being the 33rpm long play and the 45rpm long play.

Trademark gramophone

The Gramophone Co. trademark gramophone has become the standard image of an early record player as a result of the painting, His Master's Voice, by Francis Barraud. The painting portrays a dog, Nipper, listening with curiosity to the voice of his owner being reproduced by a gramophone. Barraud's iconic picture became the trademark of The Gramophone Company, later known as His Master's Voice. The trademark gramophone, more accurately called the 'No.5', represents an important step in the public's acceptance of the flat disc player as opposed to the earlier cylinder system. Its clockwork motor set a new standard in speed consistency, reliability and control. This was an improvement over the earlier, simpler mechanisms whose speed decreased more rapidly.

Pathéphone gramophone

The Pathéphone Modèle F gramophone was produced in Chatou, France between 1906 and 1912. Pathé Frères began making cylinder phonographs before the turn of the century, but by 1906 these had been supplemented by Pathéphone disc players. The Pathéphone is not strictly a gramophone as it only plays discs which, like cylinders, had modulations cut vertically, or ‘hill and dale’. The blue and gold painted flower horn has 8 panels and is an attractive feature. The jewel-tipped stylus could play many records, unlike the steel needles used for conventional lateral cut records which had to be changed constantly. The groove on the Pathé records ran from the centre outwards, playing at 90rpm and more.

Monarch Gramophone

This is the Intermediate Monarch Gramophone, Reg no. 557674. The ‘His Master's Voice’ brand logo of a dog appears under the horn, near the winding handle. The Gramophone Company’s music stave design trademark also appears. Information on the reproducer is as follows: His Master's Voice, The Gramophone Co Ltd., Hayes, Middlesex, England, No 5A.The Gramophone Company, based in the United Kingdom, was founded by William Barry Owen and his partner/investor Trevor Williams in 1897. It was one of the early recording companies, and was the parent organisation for the famous "His Master's Voice" (HMV) label.

Pathéphone prototype

Pathéphone is a generic name for disc phonographs built from 1906 to the early 1930s by the Pathé Company, the most significant company of its kind in France at the time. These machines played sapphire discs, recorded vertically and needing a special diaphragm on which the needle was replaced by a sapphire. The Pathé Company worked out this recording technique, which was used mostly in France and in the United States, but was never able to compete successfully with the lateral recording technique in the international field. This item was offered as a gift to the French Speech archives by the Pathé Company. Its glass case was designed to allow people to see the double spring motor, the finest technology of the time. It was introduced and demonstrated in public gatherings, among these the matinées poétiques organised in 1911 by the Speech Archives, which recorded the great voices of the time. This enabled people to hear famous contemporary French poets reciting their own texts, such as Guillaume Appollinaire, who would die during World War I, a few years after being recorded by the Speech Archive.

Victor Grand gramophone

Eldridge Johnson, designer of the Improved Gramophone, set up his own company, the Victor Talking Machine Company, in 1901. Like Edison’s company, it was also based in New Jersey. Victor continued its close association with the Gramophone Company of London, and manufactured both companies’ soundboxes for many years. The Victor Victrola, launched in 1906, was the world’s first internal horn cabinet gramophone. It was followed in the UK by the Gramophone Grand. This later model Victrola (introduced in 1917) is ornamented further, with carved pilaster at each corner, and serpentine front and sides. In its lower compartments the cabinet provides both vertical and horizontal record storage. The upper compartment is the horn outlet, with three horizontal louvres.

Edison Bell gramophone

Introduced for Christmas 1927, the Edison Bell Picturegram portable gramophone was intended as a nursery toy, albeit a complicated one. Essentially a portable gramophone, it includes a ‘proscenium’ inside which a paper cartoon strip unrolls as the nursery rhyme story is recounted on the record. It was supplied with three records performed by Harry Hemsley. The horn aperture is the small hole in line with the tone arm. The opening beneath the carrying handle is for storing the picture attachment. A spare picture roll is shown in the foreground.

HMV Gramophone

The HMV Model 102 portable gramophone was the last acoustic gramophone to be made. Due to its long production life, it was the most prolific of all Gramophone Company products, being available with few changes from 1932 to 1958. Sound travels from the stylus, via the soundbox diaphragm, along the tone arm and through a sound conduit under the top plate to emerge in the well to the left of the tone arm. The sloping lid acts as a partial sound reflector. The 102 was offered in a choice of colours. The canted winding handle, a space-saving measure, is characteristic of this model.


The Patafons is an example of a locally-made record player produced by the Latvian Music Instrument factory in Riga. It was opened in 1929 by Latvian entrepreneur Jānis Viesturs and, until its closing in 1936, it produced not only record players, player heads and needles but also records under the Homophon label. These machines and records were produced mostly for the domestic market, as the Latvian record production was given a boost by the founding of the record label "Bellaccord Electro" in Riga in 1931.

Stradivox Phonograph

The Laberte et Magnié phonographs were luxury machines. Produced during the early 1930s, they were made of the kinds of fine and rare woods most often used for musical instruments like violins. Laberte and Magnié were famous instrument makers from Mirecourt, a village in the north of France well-known for this activity. All their phonographs were man-made and signed. They marketed their machines on the basis of their expertise and the quality of woods they used, which allowed their phonographs to have a better quality and louder sound. This Stradivox is a spring motor phonograph designed to be portable: it is shaped into a suitcase and contains hidden compartments to host the accessories: a needle box, a cleaning brush to rub the discs before playing, and places to stack the diaphragm and crank. This Stradivox was offered to the Musée de la parole et du geste (Speech and Gesture Museum) in 1931 and won the Grand Prize at the Colonial Exhibition that took place in Paris the same year.

Sobell radiogram

The Sobell Model 515 was a competitively priced British radiogram, which was technically unadventurous but with a well-finished cabinet created by the furniture designer Michael Sobell. These models were available from 1948 to 1955 when the company was absorbed by GEC. The example in the photograph was used daily for 35 years before being donated to the Library.

Электрофон (Electrophone)

This electrophone was made in the USSR, most likely in the 1950s. Unfortunately there is very little information available about this record player.

Dansette record player

Manufactured by the London firm, J & A Margolin Ltd, the Dansette 'Viva' record player was a common sight in British households during the 1960s and is redolent of the vibrant, popular youth culture which developed during the period. The Dansette was a versatile machine, being equipped to play 7, 10 and 12-inch discs of 78, 33⅓ and 45 rpm. The 'Viva' model was designed to be readily transportable, with a handle and studs affixed to either side of the case, latches to secure the protective lid, and a built-in mono speaker at the front.