Phonographs and Gramophones for beginners

This FAQ section covers the basics of collecting gramophones and phonographs. A simplified history, how sound is recorded and reproduced, the terms used and how to spot authentic machines from fake ones.


THOMAS EDISON invented the PHONOGRAPH in 1877. A device for recording and reproducing sound. It was a hand-wound cylinder drum covered in tinfoil that was inscribed by a needle fitted to the centre of a diaphragm, which in turn was fitted to a small horn. He envisioned a dictating machine.

In 1886 CHARLES TAINTER and CHICHESTER BELL improved the quality of reproduction by introducing the GRAPHOPHONE which used wax cylinders. Edison followed suit and in 1888 issued the "Perfected Phonograph" which played 2 minutes of sound. Commercial pre-recorded cylinders followed and the recording industry was born. In 1912 Edison introduced the Blue Amberol Cylinders that were made of celluloid and played for 4 minutes. The last commercial cylinders were phased out in 1929.

EMILE BERLINER first patented the GRAMOPHONE and Flat Disc Record in the USA in 1887.

The gramophone was first sold in Germany by a toy manufacturer, the records were made from chocolate. In the USA, Berliner joined forces with ELDRIDGE JOHNSON who introduced a reliable spring motor. Due to legal problems, Berliner was forced to move to Canada and started the Berliner Gram-O-Phone Company

In the US, the VICTOR Talking Machine Company was founded in 1901 by Eldridge Johnson and the name "Gramophone" was abandoned. He registered his company's trademark - Francis Barraud's image of his dog, Nipper, listening to his master's voice. The UK equivalent became HMV.


Unfortunately, fake gramophones are far too common and many people are duped into buying them thinking they are original. Trying to point this out to someone that has spent a small fortune on a fake and has had it for years, if not decades, can be challenging.

I personally have nothing against these fakes as long as the buyer is not being conned into thinking it is an original gramophone.

It infuriates me more when these fakes appear in period movies. It's just plain laziness.

Fortunately, most fakes are very easy to spot. Here are some terms and links that will help you spot a fake.