BERLINER LEVER-WIND GRAMOPHONE - 1897

This rare and unusual machine was the successor to the original Berliner hand-wind Gramophone. Without a motor, Emile Berliner's first machines were difficult to operate and were unpopular as a result. It was not until late 1896 that Berliner's Gramophone became a practical instrument, with a spring-driven motor developed by Levi Montross. The first spring motor Gramophones had metal bodies, but in December 1896 they were housed in attractive oak cases as illustrated here. The machine was wound by pulling a ratcheted lever from side to side rather than with a rotating crank as is typical of all other old phonographs. This lever-wound mechanism is unique in the history of antique phonographs and was extremely short-lived -- within 7 months Berliner came out with the "Improved Gramophone" which had essentially the same case but was fitted with a better motor with a conventional crank, developed by Eldridge Johnson. (The Improved Gramophone with its vertical crank was immortalized in Francis Barraud's painting "His Master's Voice," which later went on to become the most famous trademark in the world.)

This particular example is one of the earliest of the wood-cased lever-winds, with serial number 891. There is no on-off switch -- the motor can only be shut off by moving the speed control lever on the side of the case. It also lacks a reproducer rest, which was introduced a couple of months after production began.

Berliner had little success selling his 'talking machines' and was ultimately forced out of the U.S. market by his unscrupulous business partner. One offshoot of the resulting legal battles evolved into the aptly-named "Victor" company, which dominated the disc market for many years thereafter.

The cabinet has a slot across the entire side to allow adequate room for the winding lever. This was the only phonograph ever produced with a lever rather than a rotating crank.

The unusual motor designed by Levi Montross has two governor weights which hang from a support and are connected with a spring, much like a steam engine governor.

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