Research on Antiques & Collectibles


A story of pioneering marketing, a dog and the famous 'His Master's Voice' logo

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The history of this make is most interesting and deserves to be told in detail.  Invention played a relatively minor role in the evolution of the Gramophone. It was mostly a series of painstaking refinements of existing processes and of fantastic publicity through prestigious recordings that helped propel the Gramophone to its widest audience. Good sales organization and a rapidly growing network of factories in all the major countries quickly established the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY as a world leader.

Invariably, at the bottom of every late nineteenth century industrial undertaking there is one man. In this case, that man was born in Hanover in 1851 and his name was Emile Berliner. Reaching the United States very young, he tried many jobs including that of secretary. His various jobs led him from New York to Washington. The young man was interested in science, and spent his evenings reading in the public libraries. With his modest savings, Berliner set up a little laboratory and conducted experiments. His first work concerned telephones, newly invented by Alexander Graham Bell. Returning briefly to Europe, Berliner, with his brother Joseph, started a factory for the manufacture and marketing of telephones. The TELEPHON FABRIK BERLINER at Hanover soon proved of crucial importance in the history of the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY. When Berliner returned to Washington in 1883 he began patiently probing into the phonograph and its origins. Starting from a study of the Phonautograph, Scott de Martinville's device, then the writings of Charles Cros, in which the two possibilities of recording on disc or cylinder are considered, Berliner became interested in the patents taken out by Edison in 1878 and finally began work on the discoveries of Bell and Tainter. Possibly to avoid clashing with established processes, Berliner focused his attention on the flat disc, which seemed to him full of promise.

The importance of Emile Berliner's work concerns the recording of sound by laterally cut grooves on a flat disc. By 1887 his process was in use. It was known as Phonogravure. Instead of tin foil as used by Edison, Berliner employed a circular zinc plate lightly coated with wax. The recording stylus scratched away the wax leaving the metal exposed; the plate was then placed in an acid bath, which attacked the metal where it was not protected by wax. In a way, Berliner made etchings of the human voice.

A demonstration was held at the FRANKLIN INSTITUTE in Philadelphia in May 1888. The results were satisfactory but not yet suitable for exploitation on a commercial scale. Emile Berliner continued his experiments, and before long succeeded in taking electrotype copies from his discs, which paved the way to their reproduction commercially. The phonograph used by Berliner was primitive in the extreme, operated by turning a handle, with a ball overnor to hold the speed constant. Crude as it was, the machine was christened Gramophone, to distinguish it from Edison's Phonograph and the Graphophone of Bell and Tainter; it may well have been the toy-like simplicity of his machine that gave Berliner the idea of manufacturing a toy gramophone during one of his trips home to Germany. These toys were produced for some years, probably from 1889 to 1891. The firm of Kammerer and Reinhardt, of Watershausen produced children's records in several European languages under Berliner patents. Once back in America, Emile Berliner found ways of improving his records and the means of taking copies. The first commercial flotation was the UNITED STATES GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, with offices at 1410 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., but without enough capital for rapid expansion.

However, a very important event occurred during 1893: a young man joined Berliner's concern, Fred Gaisberg by name. Having worked for some while with the COLUMBIA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY, Gaisberg understood the technique of recording; what is more, he was an excellent pianist, a fact which became very instrumental later. The first records he was concerned with were: 1) The Lord's Prayer, spoken by Berliner himself in a guttural voice and a heavy German accent, and 2) The Mocking-Bird whistled by John York Atlee 'accompanied by Professor Gaisberg'. Primitive perhaps, but what collectors' pieces!

The quality of the recordings improved but the little hand phonographs did not really satisfy their audience. Originally the nominal speed of rotation was 70 revolutions per minute, but it was not easy to prevent variations in pace.

Gaisberg therefore decided to call in a specialist and fit a clockwork motor to his talking-machines. A young man named Eldridge Reeves Johnson (1867- 1945) was found, with workshops at Camden, N.J. It was from here that the first gramophone motors emerged. By now Berliner had found the necessary capital, and was at last able to launch the gramophone on a proper scale. This was at the end of 1896.

Here it is worth remarking that the dynamic qualities of the team Berliner had built up were largely due to their age. Gaisberg was young, Johnson 29, Berliner himself an energetic 45. Starting from the bottom of the social ladder these men all made large fortunes and reached the top. They became 'Gramophone millionaires' — and they were by no means the only ones...

With more sophisticated machines and much improved records made of ebonite the Gramophone was poised to take the world by storm. In the United States branches had been opened in New York and Philadelphia and recording studios set up. The lateral engraving process had proved a great success, although it had one disadvantage vis a vis the cylinder system: it was not possible for Gramophone users to make their own recordings. Sales, therefore, had to be based on other considerations. This was where Fred Gaisberg came in once more. Everything, he reasoned, would depend upon assembling an attractive catalogue. He practised what he preached, travelling the world in search of celebrities, and personally recording their voices: Adelina Patti, Dame Nellie Melba, Caruso, Chaliapin... all the great names of grand opera and the concert platform, even the choir of the Sistine Chapel in St Peter's, Rome.

Meanwhile subsidiary companies were floated, in England (1898), then in France, Germany and elsewhere. This proved the big moment for Emile Berliner's brother Joseph, whom we left in charge of the TELEPHON FABRIK BERLINER at Hanover. This works now became the largest record factory in the world, pressing discs for the entire European market. The original of every recording made by the globe-trotting Fred Gaisberg was sent to Hanover, where all matrices were made from which the millions of records were pressed. Another press works was set up at Riga in Latvia on the Baltic, although records were never made there on a similar scale.

The Gramophone technology evolved by Berliner and his team over a space of ten years was never changed; it was simply improved in 1925 by the advent of electrical recording. Although a late starter in the talking machine stakes, Gramophone outstripped all its competitors.

We have already noted the importance given to performers' names in the record catalogue. Prominence was given to famous composers and instrumentalists: Massenet, Jean de Reszke, Paul Mounet, Reynaldo Hahn, Diemer, Ernest Reyer and Raoul Pugno. Composers were specially commissioned to write pieces for the gramophone, the best known of which became Leoncavallo's Mattinata sung by Enrico Caruso, accompanied by the composer at the piano. But the real stroke of genius came from London, where the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY had recently been formed.

Francis James Barraud, whose family was of Huguenot extraction, was born in London on June 16, 1856. He studied art and developed into a very respectable painter. One day in 1899 he painted a dog listening to records. 'If only poor Nipper were alive he could have sat for me' he mused, but his terrier had died in 1895. Barraud found an old photo. That is how Nipper was to become, post mortem, the most famous dog in the world. Barraud had now to find a machine for he never worked without a model. He chose an Edison Bell. When he had finished his picture he offered it to the Edison people. Nothing came of this and Barraud next contacted the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY. Barraud was received by Barry Owen, head of the English operation, who agreed to purchase the picture on condition, naturally, that a recordplaying GRAMOPHONE should replace the cylinder machine.

No agreement was reached there and then, but after an exchange of letters and telegrams the matter was settled on September 15, 1899. A day or two later, the Company delivered a Gramophone and Francis Barraud set to work, complaining that no records had come with the machine. This was fair enough, for how without one could Nipper recognize His Master's Voice?

Emile Berliner was shown the picture; he was impressed and took a copy home with him in May 1900. The agreement assigning the copyright in 'His Master's Voice' was dated July 1900, but by this time Berliner's business affairs were going badly. Eldrige Johnson took them over, and was shortly to float the VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY, with the listening dog as its trademark. Barraud's picture was used in advertising and on the machines themselves; it did not appear on record labels until 1909 in Europe. Francis Barraud received 50 for his painting and another 50 for the copyright; but he also got many orders from GRAMOPHONE COMPANY (VICTOR in the U.S., THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY in Britain, and later of course His MASTER'S VOICE and H.M.V.) for replicas of his picture, which made him a lot of money. He died in 1924, leaving no great name as a painter, but one work which was famous all over the world. There are photographs of Francis Barraud but so far as is known, no record was ever made of his voice. Sales of records and gramophones continued to mount. Gradually gramophones lost their external horns as these became part of the instrument, around 1906. This in no way interfered with the sound, but it did have a profound effect on the gramophone as a piece of furniture. Nowadays, the financial structure of the group stemming from the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY is entirely altered; but the famous dog trademark is very much alive.