Thursday, August 2

Talk-o-Phone Phonograph of 1904

'Here's a big, beautiful Talk-O-Phone Sousa front mount disc phonograph manufactured in Toledo, Ohio more than a century ago.  The phonograph is complete and working, and it shouts Victorian design from pretty much every angle.  In addition to the most ornate cabinet trim to be found on any front-mount American disc phonograph, the machine features factory gold-plated hardware and Talk-O-Phone's deluxe 28" all-brass horn.  
Embroiled in litigation of one sort or another throughout its short history, Talk-O-Phone -- aka The Ohio Talk-O-Phone Co. -- made few phonographs relative to the talking machine giants Victor, Columbia and Zon-O-Phone.  The Sousa was Talk-O-Phone's flagship phonograph, and it was intended to be the last word in talking machine design.  This particular version features gold-plating on the reproducer, the support arm, the arm bolts, the turntable, the turntable spindle, the speed control and the horn cradle.  It's the most desirable version of the Sousa, and it's the one that's least often seen. When launched in 1904, it was priced at $75 -- more than any other machine being offered at the time, and almost twice the price of a Zon-O-Phone Grand Opera, which was considered by many at the time to be the standard bearer for high end phonograph design.
As you can see in the photographs, the machine may be ancient, but it's still a showstopper.  It came from an estate in northwest Ohio, not far from where it was manufactured, and with the passage of time in the hands of a conscientious steward, it's possibly even more beautiful now than it was when it was new.  Oak cabinet is complete and in excellent condition, with undamaged carvings on all sides.  The cabinet corners are likewise in excellent condition (both lower and upper corners), and the motorboard's surface is solid, with no cracks or splits in the grain.  I was told when I purchased it that the cabinet had been refinished at some point, but to look at this beautiful machine -- including the fine checking in the finish along the top edges of the motorboard -- you would never know any part of it had ever been touched. 

The gold-plated parts exhibit wear to their plated surfaces consistent with their age and authenticity, but all parts on this machine are original, including the reproducer, the crank, the support arm, the arm bolts, the horn cradle, the horn, the two-piece horn elbow, the traveling arm, the turntable, the motor, and the speed control lever, which doubles as an on/off switch.  The triple spring motor is also original, and it's good working order, with some normal but not excessive gear noise as it winds down (probably not much more than could be heard when the machine was new). The all brass horn is the largest and most expensive horn that Talk-O-Phone offered.  In promotional literature from the period, it was advertised as being 30" in length, but in fact it measures just shy of 29", and that includes the proprietary two-part horn elbow, which was created by Talk-O-Phone to circumvent existing Victor and Columbia patents.  The condition of the horn is excellent.  There are a few minor dings and some tarnish in spots, but overall you will be very hard-pressed to find a brass horn this large that's in such good shape.'

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