Edison Bell.

The label of the special record. It is thought only to have been distributed to Edison Bell’s wholesalers (factors), and certain prominent dealers and individuals. Certainly this single-sided disc is quite scarce, and it has been suggested that the pressing run might have been only around 250 copies; but that is conjecture.

“Edison Bell”! When declaimed, it has a fine, resonant sound. The term Edison Bell is used, rather casually by collectors and students, to describe a company which began in London and existed from the earliest years of commercial sound recording, almost all on cylinders (circa 1890). It expanded, burgeoned, and at its height, in the mid and late 1920s, was active all over Europe.

Alas, the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, eventually destroyed ‘Edison Bell’, along with hundreds, nay, thousands of other ‘innocent’ businesses; and it finally disappeared altogether, around 1935.

In fact, calling the company ‘Edison Bell’ is, in one sense, a serious violation of its extremely long and convoluted history, during which the company existed under, perhaps, six different names, if not more. If you read the long text below, you will encounter several of the earlier ones. However,  this site is concerned primarily with what record companies actually did,  rather than what they were called, especially in view of the fact that this web-page covers only a very narrow time period of just a year or so: 1924 into 1925.

Happily, the CLPGS has published, in its ‘Reference Series’ No.41, a detailed company history and an exhaustive list of its issues on its British labels, as well as some others. See https://www.clpgs.org.uk/reference-series.html . Scroll down to 41.

1924/5 was a prosperous period for ‘Edison Bell’ (which was called J.E. Hough Ltd. at the time), and yet a sad one; for in 1924  its long-time boss, James E. Hough was  not at all in good health, and in fact he died in March 1925.

A letter from one of Hough’s sons is reproduced in the CLPGS Reference Series 41, telling that Hough, though a strong man of business, was modest as an individual, & had always refused to make a recording of his own voice previously; but his family wanted one. He was finally persuaded by the fact that he was regarded as ‘The Father of the Gramophone Trade’, and it would be good if he were to make a record to thank his Trade colleagues for that Accolade.

The sound file will be found at the bottom of this page, after the text & images of ‘The Story of Edison Bell’.

The booklet is 24cm wide by 18.5cm tall.

The title page.

A typical text page, of which there are 15 – the rest are images. They have all been scanned and  read  by  Optical  Character Recognition.

The term “Edison Bell” is a household word familiar enough throughout the English-speaking world. It is derived from the surnames of the great inventors, Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell—and his brother Chichester, pioneers of the talking machine. The British rights of their original patents, together with those of other inventors, were sold for a sum of £40,000 to the Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation, Ltd., in the early ’nineties.

Edison and the Bells had, probably, a very narrow view of the future of their inventions, and disposed of the American sales-rights in a haphazard fashion. Anyhow, after a time Edison retrieved himself and resolved that all his machines should bear his licence. Nevertheless, it was a difficult matter to maintain such a position, for many of the instruments had gone abroad without his sanction. Edison’s new policy was to enforce inexorably this condition, and when the British Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation, Ltd., was formed they endeavoured by inducement, and even by threat, to ensure that no phonograph was disposed of without this licence. Their business outlook proved to be too restricted. They purposed merely to lease machines and records, not to sell outright, and indeed, the aim of the Company was tantamount to the establishment of monopoly rights. This scheme was not in keeping with English ideas of trading.

Among others who had secured phonographs direct from America was the London Phonograph Co., Broad Street, E.C. The presiding genius of this establishment was Mr. James E. Hough, who had been settled in London some few years, and who, incidentally, has since proved himself to be the principal personality in the gramophone industry. Indeed, to-day he is universally acknowledged as the ‘Father of the Trade’. Mr. Hough and the London Phonograph Co., like most others who had purchased phonographs, used them more or less for exhibition purposes. That is to say, they charged the public so much a time—generally a humble penny—to listen to Edison’s wonderful phonograph. But Mr. Hough saw in the talking machine a wonderful future, and having purchased his machines outright was not content to be dictated to by any monopoly. Furthermore, he was fortunate in having as an assistant a young man who had the ability to sing comic songs, and who could at the same time impersonate the best comedians of the day, and even if necessary switch over and oblige with sentimental ballads. This was Mr. Harry Bluff, who a few years later, proved to be one of the most prolific record makers extant, and whose name, even nowadays, occasionally appears on the Edison Bell Winner record labels. A pianist was also required, and among his friends Mr. Hough counted a gifted instrumentalist in Mr. Edward Hesse, the Director of Recording to the present firm, but then engaged at the Old Royal Aquarium.

The American Company at this time had started to record various bands, songs, and other items, but the cylinders were extremely dißcult to obtain in this country, and those which came were consigned to the Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation, Ltd., whose policy, as we have seen, was to lease them with phonographs to their various subscribers at an annual rental.

Such a method was not good enough for Mr. Hough. With the talented assistance at his command, and also in possession of a few genuine Edison recording machines, he was able to make his own records and sell them outright to the various owners of phonographs, who were now growing in number. The novelty of the talking machine still appealed to showmen and exhibitors as a profitable line, and naturally enough it found its way to countryside fairs and to other outlying places of entertainment, and, as well, was in much request at society functions. This demand the London Phonograph Company sought to supply.

We have already said that Edison had assigned his British rights to the Edison Bell Corporation, and Mr. J. E. Hough found himself before long among a list of several hundred offenders who were supposed to be contravening their rights. The consequence was that he received a writ. To cut a long story short, he secured an adjournment; made a compromise with his opponents, and had his supplies from America declared free. However, it was not long after that fresh complications arose lasting well into three years. To successfully combat this Mr. Hough discovered that he would have to study the talking machine in all its bearings. He energetically applied himself to the task and decided to pay a visit to the great Edison. He crossed the Atlantic, interviewed the inventor, finding him at the summit of one of the Ogden mountains, where Edison was
carrying out some exhaustive mineralogical experiments. Mr. Hough succeeded in securing the promise of Edison to give evidence before a British Commission sitting at New York. True to his word, Edison did so that same week, with results which proved favourable not only to Mr. J. E. Hough, but furthermore won an advantage for the whole of the British trade. He was able to settle his differences with the Edison Bell Corporation by agreeing not to harass them, and further, by providing a guarantee for the payment of at least £3,000 a year in royalties.

After his return to England he found it necessary to go into larger premises at Broad Street Buildings. More progress was made, and with the privileges he had obtained from Edison he incorporated a new business under the title of Edisonia, Ltd., moving to more commodious premises at Banner Street, E.C.

The phonograph industry at this juncture received a new stimulus. Hitherto the process of making records was long and laborious. Each record sold to the public was an “original,” that is to say, the artiste had to use his efforts over and over again so that if a hundred records of a particular selection were ordered that selection would have to be played a hundred and even more times, since the performers were liable to make mistakes; but with the introduction of the Duplicating Machine a new era commenced. The inauguration of this instrument made it possible to manifold records in what was then thought to be an extraordinary way. Having secured one perfect original it was only necessary to put this on the mandrel of a phonograph, and placed in juxtaposition with a duplicating machine, a secondary record could be obtained in about two or three minutes. The process was repeated again and again, so that now some twenty records could be obtained in an hour, and the output of the Banner Street factory was only limited by the number of duplicating machines which it possessed. These duplicating machines were, of course, quickly multiplied, and consequently the price of cylinder records dropped. This meant a bigger demand for phonographs. A model with a cheap clockwork motor was designed, and these instruments served to keep alive the trade in records, most of which was now being supplied by Edisonia, Ltd.

Edison Bell machines, however, were still controlled in this country by the Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation, Ltd., who had now moved out of the premises they had hitherto occupied in Northumberland Avenue, to No. 39, Charing Cross Road, where they occupied quite a palatial building, developed later to contain the finest showroom in Europe.

The erstwhile opponent of this Company, Mr. Hough, had so expanded the business of Edisonia that he was compelled to occupy much larger premises at Euston Buildings, close by Gower Street Station, N.W., where a spacious new factory for the complete manufacture of phonographs, records and accessories was established. The phenomenal growth of this business was in an inverse ratio to that of the Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation, Ltd., who were now beginning to feel the draught owing to the inhibitive prices of their machines and records, which they were selling outright instead of merely leasing them, as hitherto.

They were in disagreement with a new company which recently bought over Edison’s American rights, and faced by trade rivals here and on the Continent they wisely chose the line of least resistance. Instead of continuing their enmity with Mr. Hough, they made him a friend, and this more especially as he had already secured certain concessions, as has been seen before, from Edison himself. The outcome of this was that Mr. Hough secured orders from the Corporation to manufacture for them both accessories and records, and later he was called in by them to manage the very business which had before been so hostile.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hough was still at the helm of Edisonia, Ltd., at Euston Buildings. But this dual policy of managing two businesses was discovered to be unworkable both by Mr. Hough and his new associates. One reason for this was that the Edison Bell people had in contemplation the establishment of a large factory at Peckham which, if brought into being, would seriously jeopardise the Edisonia business. It was a case for compromise. The Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation was reconstructed. It united with Edisonia, Ltd., under the managing directorship of Mr. James E. Hough, and included on the Board were the Earl of Denbigh and Dr. Maynard Owen, M.A., LL.D., the latter being to-day a Director of the present Company of J. E. Hough, Ltd. This was certainly a wise stroke of commercial policy and a rosy future was anticipated. Putting his whole energies into the new consolidated firm, the Company became the largest purveyors of phonographic products in the country.

In the interim, the method of multiplying records by the duplicating process had been superseded by a new method known as the Gold-moulded record. This enabled cylinders to be manufactured in far greater quantities. The average duration or playing length of the cylinder record was about two minutes. Stealing a march on their foreign competitors, the Edison Bell Company introduced at this time a record of double this duration but of the same material length. The new record, however, was shelved for a time as it necessitated the re-shaping of the phonograph, but was introduced some few years later under the title of the Crystol four-minute record.

All records up to this time were preceded by what was known as an “announcement.” That is to say, prior to the actual recorded work the name of the selection, artiste and the make of the reCord was mentioned. How the Edison Bell record predominated over any and all of its rivals is testified by the fact that to-day it is no uncommon thing to hear the man-in-the-street, even when he is referring to the modern gramophone, give voice to the phrase “Edison Bell record”!—which “tag” is part of one of these original announcements

From his headquarters at 39, Charing Cross Road, the managing director of the new Company was able to build up a flourishing trade, and in the first three to four years of 1900 were opened up depôts to supply the retail trade. In London, apart from the magnificent showrooms and offices at Charing Cross, was also a depôt at 20, Cheapside, and another at 356, Strand, while branches to cater for the provincial trade were established at Manchester, Glasgow, and similar centres, The big Edison Bell premises at 62, Glengall Road (known at this time as Edisonia) were now inaugurated, and here was carried on the manufacture of records and machines which on their completion were supplied to the Euston premises for redistribution to the London and provincial dep6ts and to the wholesale trade. Here at Euston were also the Company’s recording rooms where, even in those days, a very long list of distinguished artistes made records for Edison Bell. Indeed, not a few artistes who since have earned world-wide fame, commenced their recording activities with Edison Bell. To mention a few:- John McCormack, Albert Whelan, Peter Dawson, Lady Tree, Madame Belle Cole, George Robey, Bransby Williams, Ernest Shand, Olly Oakley, Wilson Hallett, Leo Dryden, Will Evans, Alexander Prince, G. H. Elliott, Billy Whitlock, Eli Hudson, Amy Augarde, Phil Ray, Stanley Kirkby and Florrie Forde.

Under such happy conditions it seemed as though everything would go in favour of the new Company. But only a short time elapsed and there was more trouble.

With Thomas A. Edison and James E. Hough there was never any real difference. Mr. Hough’s opinion of Mr. Edison is just this: “He is one of the most modest men I have ever met.” But while principals often hold each other in high esteem, it does not always follow that their seconds treat each other with like gallantry. This was apparently the case With those who. about 1904, were handling Mr. Edison’s phonographic patents in the United States. They could do no business in England, but managed to open a commercial distributing centre in Holland, which served as a point of vantage to storm the stronghold of British trade. Making little progress here they grew bolder, for financially they were backed rather strongly. It was a case of make or break. They succeeded. They made records, but “broke” themselves. In their bitter struggle against British independence they were instrumental in throwing the trade into a state of consternation. They claimed nothing more or less than the control of the industry. In a circular letter to the British trade the American Company stated that they had an exclusive right to the use of the word “Edison”. Edison Bell promptly challenged this claim by announcing that all the Edison patents, together with others of importance within the United Kingdom relating to the modern phonograph were their property, and that it had been agreed that the first word of this trading name should be “Edison.”

Meantime, due to the confusion into which the cylinder industry was thrown, the trade and public, not to be cheated of their talking machines, looked with more favour upon the gramophone and disc record which now began to make rapid headway. The House of Edison Bell, therefore, busied itself in preparing for the market disc records first pressed on one side, and later they pleasantly surprised the public with the economic innovation of a double-sided disc record.

The serious conflict at the Law Courts and the nervous mood in which it left traders, though not disastrous enough to exterminate it, had an unpleasant influence on Edison Bell, but like the Phœnix it rose from its ashes with renewed life and vigour.

In 1909 a new company was formed, purchasing the goodwill, plant, machinery, matrices, and other properties of not only the Edison Bell Consolidated Phonograph Co., Ltd., but also of the recently defunct Sterling Company. Abandoning the Charing Cross premises and those at Euston, J. E. Hough, Ltd., for this was the style of the resurrected company, concentrated at the Edisonia Works at Peckham, which were reconstructed, while at the same time a new and model recording room was established at 15, City Road. Here was equipped an excellent showroom to meet with the requirements of the gramophone traders, for the forward policy of the newly constructed company was to deal direct with the wholesale trade and to leave the public in the good hands of its many accredited dealers, some ten thousand of which it claims at the present day.

The manufacture of phonographs and cylinder records, however, was not entirely given up, nor did this occur until some year or two later. At this period there were three cylinders being made, the Edison Bell N.P., the E.B. and the Sterling record, while also a sapphire-cut record known as the Phona Disc and the Bell needle-cut disc, to say nothing of phonographs and discaphones, were in great demand to keep the factory busy. His many friends, mindful of the clean methods and the brave fights that Mr. Hough had put up, saw to it that he should not go unrewarded, and the business of Edison Bell progressed accordingly by leaps and bounds.

In July, 1911, the Company opened a West End Depôt at 43, Cranbourn Street, opposite the London Hippodrome, and within an easy stone’s-throw of the originally occupied Charing Cross Road premises. This branch was established not only to retail Edison Bell products but any other gramophonic goods. Here, too, the musical director has his offices, a circumstance which makes this blanch quite a rendezvous for artistes, and seldom a day passes without some eminent vocalist or instrumentalist pays a visit. But to continue our story.

The gramophone industry was passing through a transitory stage. The cylinder, though not dead, was moribund, the needle-cut disc was gaining the ascendancy, though it fell far short of the naturalness of tone which it enjoys to-day in the modern Velvet Face and Winner records. The Phono-cut disc also won favour at this time. It is not strange, therefore, that the House of Edison Bell should have been manufacturing each of the three types of record since then, as to-day Edison Bel! sought to satisfy the public taste. But as we have said, the cylinder trade, due mostly to the misguided American Edison policy, was now dying, and German traders were only too anxious to get in the thin end of the wedge.

At this time Edison Bell definitely decided to abandon the cylinder trade, and to focus all its attention on the disc. The Edison Bell EA. disc record and the Velvet Face record, together with a smaller disc known as the Little Champion, had now formally established themselves and were selling at prices commensurate with their high quality. The idea of J. E. Hough, Ltd., has always been to produce records that would be good; that would give the dealer a living profit; that would compensate the artiste, and at the same time sell at a price to suit the average public. In the three aforementioned products such a standard had certainly been attained, and it gave all-round satisfaction. The Velvet Face record was made in two kinds, 12-inch at 4s., and 10-inch at 3s., while the Edison Bell E.B. record retailed at 2s. 6d. It is interesting, therefore, in passing, to note that Edison Bell records of to-day compare very favourably with their pre-war prices.

As we have said, German manufacturers were now endeavouring to capture the English markets in all seriousness. Feeling their way with a 2s. 6d. disc record it was not long before they introduced a cheaper one. Not satisfied, a still cheaper record was brought over, and then another, until there was quite a plethora of these discs, all emanating from the same headquarters, but bearing different labels, and selling at various prices. This was, of course, part of a preconceived plan to upset the equilibrium of the markets, and such alien methods, it will be remembered, were by no means confined to the gramophone industry. This insidious policy for a time seemed to be successful, for as yet the British public as a whole had not learnt to what depths German perfidy can descend. As far as the gramophone industry was concerned, J. E. Hough, Ltd., was going to beat the Germans at their own game, and decided to introduce a record that would sell at a low price and at the same time maintain the highest standard.

By one of his happiest inspirations Mr. Hough aptly, and even prophetically, christened the new double-sided record the “Winner,” and put it on the market at the amazingly low price of 1s. 6d. The new move was effectual in checkmating the German menace. The Winner met with instantaneous success, although at first the fight was fast and furious, but for the two years before the war the all-British firm of Edison Bell was able not only to hold its own against its enemy assailants but also to vanquish them, thus anticipating the victory won by the ordeal of battle in 1918. The unassailable position which the Winner established for itself and the firm hold it has since maintained is, of course, quite a matter of common knowledge. In passing, we would draw attention to pages 35 and 36 for a few of the principal titles contained in the main Winner catalogue of two thousand records.

The terrific demand for the Winner record, together with the outbreak of hostilities, checked the production of the other Edison Bell disc records, since early in the stages of the war Edison Bell, in accordance with the traditions of their house, promptly placed their services at the disposal of the authorities and engaged in the manufacture of munitions.

Their first contract was for several thousand gross of small brass parts for the Admiralty, and so satisfactorily was this order executed that repeat orders from the same source poured in. Then followed orders from the War Office for the manufacture of the Mills hand grenade, of which in a single year Edison Bell were able to turn out a million of the cases for these explosives. In addition, the Company produced large quantities of pistol heads for the Stokes Trench Bomb, parts for mine sinkers, fork ends and tension rods for aeroplanes, and several other munitions of war—these were produced by the Engineering Section of the Edison Bell Works. But Edison Bell activities did not stop here. In the meantime the Air Board had invited J. E. Hough, Ltd., to provide plugs and valve caps and holders for the purpose of wireless telegraphy. The first request of this Government Department was for huge supplies of a special insulator for wireless valves for aeroplanes similar to those fitted to the wireless installations in the field. These original parts were made of fibre and also of ebonite, but their production was found to be too slow on account of the machining which was found to be necessary in the Air Department’s specimens. Edison Bell suggested that they could make them quicker by their own moulding process and with their own material, a different kind of material but possessing higher insulating properties. The Air Board were areeable, and J. E. Hough, Ltd., discovered that not only could they effect a saving in time but they could make a vast improvement in the insulators and save the country enormous expense, and at the same time increase the output a hundred fold. In this connection it should be explained that in the original insulator there were four loose pins cut out of a hexagonal brass rod, and screwed into the device. Mr. Barber, one of the firm’s superintending engineers, devised a method of using ordinary brass wire, and moulding two pins direct into the insulator. By this means a higher standard of efficiency was obtained, the output increased, the cost reduced, and over half-a-million of the improved insulators manufactured. In keeping with their reputation as pioneers, Edison Bell were the first to introduce this improvement, and since they have supplied their insulators to all large firms holding contracts with the Government. The improvement in respect to the insulator itself was also applied to the base, the whole of the necessary fittings being moulded into the material, thus preventing any possibility of vibration.

Editor’s Note. Recording Director Joe Batten stands commandingly at the back left. The   artistes have all turned round to face the camera; in performance they would be facing the other way and be playing into horns in the far wall. Indeed, one horn is visible. The eminent Norman Williams would not be nearest us, but furthest away, at the front of the ensemble! Although in 1924 recording was still mechanical, there is a swan-neck horn loudpseaker hanging from a frame. Presumably this relayed  comments from the cutting lathe operators in their Holy of Holies beyond the wall…   

Editor’s Note. There are many distinguished people here, but we must single out the young Paul Gustavus Augustus Helmut Voight, a truly brilliant electrical engineer, brought into Edison Bell right at the beginning of the radio or ‘wireless’ era in 1922. Later, he designed excellent electrical recording equipment for Edison Bell. It was so good, that   when Edison Bell was failing in the early 1930s, the then-young Decca  company bought out  Edison Bell, it is said, just to acquire crucial Voight patents. Later in the 1930s he designed a revolutionary logarithmic-horn loudspeaker,  but his work was swallowed up by WW2.

The insulators referred to are, it will interest many to know, attached to all wireless installations in battleships, sub-marines, aeroplanes and aircraft generally. The whole of this useful work was carried out by the Gramophone Record Department. The employees, previously devoted to the production of records, were carefully trained, and to the satisfaction of all concerned quickly adapted their skill and ability to the special needs of so momentous an occasion. In the circumstances it will not be surprising to learn that when the Armistice was signed the Government congratulated the firm on the character of their wartime productions, and thanked them for the expeditious manner in which all their requirements had been fulfilled.

Contemporaneous with these wireless and munition activities, the House of Edison Bell still kept the “home fires burning”. It was necessary to produce Winner records and Discaphones not only for trade consumption but also to help sustain the morale of our fighting forces. Then, too, gramophones of all sorts and conditions reached the Peckham factory for repair. An enormous number of these came from the trenches and from the high seas, and naturally enough they received the promptest attention.

Further, the Edison Bell war record was not limited to the production of various devices necessary to enable soldiers and sailors to rid the world of a despotic foe. J. E. Hough, Ltd., gratuitously played a most generous part in ministering to the needs of those who fought and won our battles. During the war the firm presented over 80,000 Winner records to the Army and Navy, all of which were distributed through official channels to soldiers and sailors in the fighting line and to hospitals, while at the same time many contributions were made to the various funds raised on behalf of the troops. In addition, J. E. Hough, Ltd., are entitled to look back with every satisfaction on the highly successful concert they organised at the Alhambra in April, 1917, when they raised nearly £500 for the St. Dunstan’s Hostel for blinded soldiers.

Experience and success gained in the manufacture of wireless accessories as far back as 1914 has actuated the House of Edison Bell to continue in this direction. From the manufacture of insulators and wireless moulded parts this side of the factory has so greatly progressed that to-day component parts and complete wireless sets are also being manufactured in enormous quantities, and to this end we would draw the attention of readers to a few of the Edison Bell radio products as illustrated on page 14.

Side by side with these wireless activities big developments were made on the gramophone side of the business, and about Christmas, 1918, shortly after the Armistice, when the demand for munitions had ceased, a new semi-permanent gold-plated needle which would play ten records instead of a single one was introduced to the public. This was called the Chromic needle. The fact that one box of 100 of these Chromic needles would play 1,000 records without acting harmfully to the material of the record quickly commended itself to the public, and before long the Chromic needle became easily the most popular gramophone playing point on the market.

While experiments were being made in connection with the Chromic needle, a series of very interesting results were obtained. One very notable example was the possibility of manufacturing a needle, the point of which would be so delicate that it would pass over four miles of recorded track without showing any. appreciable signs of wear, and this not only as regards the metallic point itself but also in relation to the material of the record. The production of such a needle, though it meant a wonderful richness and increase in tone, also meant a diminution in volume. The next step, therefore, was to invent a device whereby any degree of volume from a faint whisper up to almost the full volume of the Chromic needle could be obtained. Incidentally, this could have been effected by marketing an entirely new Sound-box or other expensive device, but not desirous of taxing the pockets of an already highly taxed public, an inexpensive “grip” or attachment was provided so as to bring this new needle within the reach of all. The new needle, on account of its capacity to play records at any desired volume, was happily christened the Sympathetic, and as it was made of the same material as the other needle, was styled the Sympathetic Chromic, the term Loud Tone Chromic being now applied to the original full volume needle. The coming of the Sympathetic was hailed by Press and public alike as a revelation and a revolution, and the circumstance that it enabled the user to control the volume of the gramophone won for it countless admirers all over the world.

We have seen that shortly before the war Edison Bell were occupied in the manufacture of a record known as the Velvet Face, but the military cataclysm into which we were precipitated, together with the German commercial menace, curbed the Company’s activities in this direction. However, when again the time was ripe to beat our swords into ploughshares, the re-manufacture of this record became a subject for further progress, and after gathering up the twisted threads of a tangled skein, or in other words the piecing together of different operations of a series of exhaustive experiments, Edison Bell decided to introduce this record once more to the public. Its re-appearance was hailed with delight, and the distinctly natural tone of its recording marked a new era in gramophonic reproduction. The distinctly classic complexion of the numbers in the repertory of the Velvet Face, and the endeavours of the musical staff of Edison Bell to give where possible only “uncut” versions of the world’s masterpieces of music, has been another commendable feature of this now world-famous record, and interested readers will do well to turn to pages 33 and 34 for a few of the recent titles.

The hallowed place the gramophone holds in the hearts of the children prompted the Edison Bell Company to issue a record which would make a special appeal to them, and in 1921, about the same time that the Velvet Face record was being launched, saw the introduction of yet another disc record. This was entitled the “Bell,” and has been aptly termed the “Winner’s” little brother. The catalogue embraces selections especially adapted for children, such as hymns, nursery Rhymes, and similar juvenile attractions. The disc is double-sided, measures 5½ inches in diameter, and as such is extremely convenient for the children to handle.

And while wireless, records, needles and other accessories have received the closest attention of the House of Edison Bell, the question of gramophones themselves has also been carefully considered. Edison Bell gramophones, by the by, have been known to the trade and public for years past as Discaphones, and much application has been bestowed upon them. Gramophones are subject to fashion, and with the changing of the seasons these fashions vary. The lines of the models are never the same, and it requires much careful discrimination to forecast the successful models for the future seasons. Edison Bell, however, are very fortunate, since their Discaphones are always in popular favour. Several of their leading models are detailed on page 13.

One of the most surprising models of recent years is the famous Edison Bell Handephon, the birth of which model is very interesting, since it is more or less an outcome of the war, and like many other Edison Bell products, was first placed on the market immediately after the Armistice. Portable gramophones were much in demand during the days of the war, not only popular with our soldiers sailors, but also in the many hostels which were erected throughout the land to entertain that vast army of munition workers and others engaged in clerical and other duties in connection with the successful waging of the war.

Thousands of people who had learned to thoroughly appreciate the gramophone began to make enquiries for a portable instrument which would not be merely a makeshift, but which also would be a perfect instrument fit for any occasion. And to this end Edison Bell set themselves to produce one—a really substantial and reliable model; a portable gramophone which they could claim to be Britain’s best. After much patient experiment a model was designed, and this was given to the world as the Handephon, a name readily suggesting the portability, utility and convenience of such a desirable gramophone. The Handephon was first produced in 1919, and so successfully was it received that the manufacturers found themselves inundated with orders from all over the world. This model was fitted with a single spring motor and a patent automatic tone arm and other unique devices, the like of which had never before been introduced to gramophones of this order.

A year or so after other types of Handephon, two with double spring motors and two with space to accommodate records, features. absent in the original model, were introduced, so that to-day there are four distinct types of Handephon on the market. It is interesting to note in reference to the Handephon that the manufacturers’ claim for it as being Britain’s Best Portable has been sustained by public, trade and Press alike. “The Gramophone”, one of the principal technical journals, in a competition open to all comers, recently awarded the highest marks to the Edison Bell “Handephon,” notwithstanding that other models, one nearly twice its price, were also adjudicated upon.

The rapid development of the several up-to-date products such as the Handephon, Chromic needle, together with the complete manufacture of Eboneum, the material used in the making of wireless moulded and component parts, to say nothing of the increased demand for records— Winner and Velvet Face—has made it compulsory for the House of Edison Bell to considerably enlarge the premises. Having from time to time absorbed all the vacant land adjoining the main factory, the Company have raised up several new workshops and buildings, equipping them with the most up-to-date machinery, so that the complete manufacture of the gramophone record—from its raw material to its finished state—can be carried out. One of the latest additions in this direction was the new £10,000 wing constructed in the early part of last year. But in spite of these great extensions the business has quite outgrown the capacity of the Peckham establishment, and the management, realising the possibilities of the future, took a broad view of the situation and sought fresh fields wherein to prosecute Edison Bell activities. A factory, hitherto used for the making of aeroplanes, and later for the manufacture of clocks and gramophones, was secured at Huntingdon. This newly-acquired factory, which stands on a floor-space of 3½ acres, was taken possession of in the early part of the present year. In this commodious building will be carried on much of the work which the Peckham factory cannot satisfactorily undertake. In outlining this story of Edison Bell, it will be seen that the Managing Director of the present house has been bound up almost inextricably with the gramophone industry in all its phases, and before we close our remarks it may be interesting to learn that not only is he appreciated by his own staff and workpeople, but that some who once were his bitterest opponents, and still even are his keen commercial rivals, united on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, some five years ago, to pay him handsome tribute. They invited him to luncheon at Frascati ‘s, and with Sir George Croydon Marks (for a long time Edison’s attorney in this country) in the chair, presented him with a magnificent silver service in recognition of his status in the industry as Father of the Trade.

In concluding our story it would be well to take another glance at the illustrations contained in this booklet. They will bring home to the reader the highly skilled processes which are involved in the manufacture of gramophones, records, and accessories pertaining thereto, as well as to give a faint indication of what has to be done in producing wireless mechanism. On page 19 we see the splendidly appointed recording studio at the Peckham headquarters. Here are assembled an eminent artist together with the orchestra accompanying. They have just completed a record, the initial step in the process. Page 9 shows workmen preparing the thermo-plastic material from which the finished disc record is made. On the same page (2) we view part of the department where the original wax discs are prepared. These are sent to the recording room, and upon them the efforts of the artists are registered.

This original record, called the master wax, is sent to the depositing room where it is faced with a deposit of copper  which then is known as the master matrix, to be preserved in a safe for all future occasions so that the singer’s voice may live for ever. But previous to putting it in the safe a reverse copper deposit called “the mother” is made from it, and from this mother as many mother copper discs as may be required are made. These are silvered over and mounted on steel dies. These are called the “workers.” Between two of these a portion of the thermo-plastic material is placed, and face to face they are put into hydraulic presses and in a few moments the playable disc is ready to be trimmed and finished for public use.

It next passes to the edging machines, page 27 (1). Here the rough edges of the disc are smoothed and finished. On the same page (2) girls are seen examining and testing finished records before passing them to the stock-rooms, one of which is illustrated on page 10 (2). But, of course, a record, as everybody is aware, is not much good without a machine to play it, and a machine in its turn is quite useless without a needle. Interest, therefore, Will attach to the illustration (l) on page 10 showing one of the rooms where Edison Bell Discaphones and Handephons are assembled, and to page 6 where the dies and moulds (l) and small brass and steel parts (2) are produced. These latter products, of course, enter not only into the manufacture of gramophones but are also—especially the brass parts—involved in the making of wireless apparatus. The weighing and boxing of needles is another interesting subject, and on page 17 (l) we see an Edison Bell(e) busily engaged in automatically weighing Chromic and other needles. The lower illustration on the same page shows other employees placing these needles, after being weighed, into the small tin boxes. Page 31 Will be specially interesting to wireless enthusiasts, since it depicts some of the few rooms * wherein Edison Bell radio activities are pursued.
* This should surely read: ‘some few of the rooms…’? I guess the writer must have relaxed as he had reached the end of his 6,000 words. 8^)

The main text has ended; however, four pages of selections from the Velver Face and Winner catalogues were included as pp 33-36. They are given here as simple images.

Trranscription of James E. Hough’s record, presented to various members of the gramophone trade. 

Hough was born in Failsworth, near Manchester, in 1849, and his local accent is still unmistakable. A few words have eluded us, but the gist is quite clear.

“You are reported the be the ‘Father of the Trade’, I have been told, and you ought – indeed it is your duty – to give us a little fatherly advice.

For over thirty years I have been closely identified with the gramophone industry, and in that time have had many fights, played many games, seen many things, won many friends, among whom I count you in particular.

The House of Edison Bell is, as you are aware, is the pioneer of the gramophone industry in this country. During this long experience, we have seen many developments. It is a far cry down the passage of time to the early days of the phonograph: the tin foil record; the wax cylinder; the duplicated cylinder; the gold-moulded cylinder; the single-sided disc; the double-sided disc are some of the many milestones long(?) seen on the way. And there are others which crowd upon the mental vision(s) as we contemplate the past existence of our industry.

I say nothing of machines and accessories pertaining thereto. Of these, in later years too, have come ???? upon us, one which is closely allied to the gramophone. I refer of course, to radio. The house of Edison Bell was quick to grasp, develop, and improve upon the many accessories required for this new ????, and today we are in a unique position in this direction.

The best advice I can give you, fellow… fellow traders, is always to play the game, and play clean.  And if you have to fight, and you sometimes will, to hit straight… and never below the belt. Business, especially in gramophones, records and radio is no ???? occupation; it demands rather, virility, resourcefulness, courage; and if you will only take the trouble to generously wield(?) it, those manly qualities, success is a matter of certainty.

Carry on with tradition; this is what you need to know – I give it to you for what it is worth. May this New Year – Season – bring you all, my friends, health, peace and prosperity.

Yours very truly, James…. E. Hough.”

Hough died a few months later, in March 1925.  But let us not remember
him as a tired old man, but as he was in the prime of his life!

Frank Andrews Archive.

British disc records of the 'Acoustic' Era.