There are a few objects found in the nooks and crannies of the Curtin Library that have mystified us.
This one looks like an old sewing machine at first glance, but on lifting the cover, turned out to be an Edison Phonograph.
The Perfected Phonograph
Thomas Edison first succeeded in creating a sound recording on tinfoil in 1877, and later improved the technology to use wax cylinders as the recording carrier. The phonograph could both record and play back. The first cylinder records could only hold two minutes; later the cylinder length increased to four minutes. Edison formed the Edison Phonograph Company in 1887 to market the Improved Phonograph which was followed shortly after by the Perfected Phonograph.
First Phonographs in Perth
In 1891 Professor Douglas Archibald was touring Australia and visited Perth to demonstrate the Edison phonograph. People eager to see the phonograph paid between 2s and 4s to attend an exhibition in Guildford. One member of the audience wrote afterwards –
I think of purchasing a phonograph, with a view of committing to it my recollections of the first appearance of the machine in West Australia. It may provide as a minor illustration to a lecture in the year 2000 (The West Australian 28 Aug 1891).
The writer would have had to delay his or her intentions as it is would be several years before the phonographs were available for sale to the public. By 1901 mass production of recorded cylinders was developed and in 1905 the Edison Phono Depot was advertising the ‘talking machine’ from an address in Perth.
Curtin Library Phonograph
The Edison Phonograph model held by the Curtin Library was found with one broken cylinder recording of the Myosotis Waltz by the US Marine Orchestra.
A few parts are missing, but the phonograph does have a ‘witches hat’ trumpet/ horn. There is no instruction book so we looked online. Here is how to put one together to play a wax cylinder record Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.
We spent some time looking into wax cylinder recording and found this great Australian story at the National Film and Sound Archive Bringing wax cylinders back.
Take a look at the Curtin Edison Phonograph and other objects featured in 50 Objects for 50 Years, now on display on Level 3 of the Robertson Library.