Thursday, August 25
1904 Stollwerck Chocolate Company Phonograph
'Founded in 1839 in Cologne, Germany, the Stollwerck chocolate company is still in business today. Stollwerck has long been considered one of the world’s foremost chocolate manufacturers, however for a brief period in the early 20th century the company dabbled in an unusual sideline -- phonographs.
Ludwig Stollwerck, director of the company in that era, co-founded a phonograph import company in Germany, the Deutsche Edison-Phonographen-Gesellschaft, and in early 1903 Stollwerck visited Thomas Edison at his Orange, New Jersey lab and obtained exclusive rights to market Edison phonographs in Germany.
However, Stollwerck’s role as an Edison importer was merely an unprofitable sideline (he lost half a million German Marks during their association). Among modern phonograph collectors Stollwerck is best known for his own phonographs, made to promote his chocolate business.
In 1903 Stollwerck began to envision making a disc record molded out of chocolate. To play these unique records Stollwerck contracted to produce small lithographed tin phonographs These were tiny phonographs, measuring barely 2-3/4" tall. The first ones reached the market at the end of October, 1903, too late for effective promotion for the Christmas retailing season. However, initial response was very enthusiastic.
However, this initial enthusiasm was short-lived. They were extremely delicate little machines with noisy, underpowered clock motors and mediocre sound quality. They were far too fragile to withstand rough handling by children, who were (not surprisingly) the main market for chocolate records. Most phonographs were likely broken beyond repair in a matter of days. (The big advantage was the records themselves. As explained in a contemporary magazine, "when a song no longer pleases, oh well! just savor the disc like you would a simple snack, and eat it.")
At the same time Stollwerck offered new, larger records (4-3/4" rather than 3" in diameter), made of a pressed wood composition with a very thin coating of a wax-like material into which the sound was impressed. Unlike those made of chocolate these new records were unbreakable. However the recorded surface tended to crack or delaminate, destroying the recording.
This attempt at making a more 'serious' phonograph was a costly failure, which Stollwerck soon abandoned to return to what he knew best -- chocolate. Only 5,000 of these wooden phonographs were sold, most of which have been destroyed over the past century. Today these phonographs and records are highly coveted by collectors but due to their very fragile construction their survival rate is extremely low.
This is the finest wooden Stollwerck, complete right down to the original turntable felt and original key. The horn has a brass bell with woodgrain lithographed body, and gilt Stollwerck name at the neck. There is one very small dent on the side of the horn, as seen in the photos, but overall this is an exceptional example of this very rare, early, and unusual phonograph.
It comes with one original record, #548, titled "Steinmetz Marsch." The surface is intact, though like all 1904 Stollwerck records the surface shows some cracking. It is playable, but don't expect perfection! This is no Victor VI; there's a good reason it was such a failure in the marketplace. '