Although the tinfoil phonograph attracted a great deal of attention when it was first shown to the public at the end of 1877, very few related materials have survived. Paper items such as trade cards and handbills offer unique insight into the marketing the phonograph in its infancy, however, these "ephemeral" items were never intended to last and are very hard to find today.
This early advertisement and article both appeared in the June 4, 1878 issue of the Cincinnati Daily Gazette. It is particularly interesting since it refers to Ezra T. Gilliland, who was a friend of Edison from his telegraph days of the early 1870s. Edison and Gilliland went on to become best friends, referring to themselves as "Damon & Pythias" and building summer homes side-by-side in Fort Myers, Florida. Gilliland even introduced Edison to Mina Miller, who would soon become his second wife. Gilliland presented tinfoil phonograph exhibitions throughout the midwest in the summer of 1878. During the 1880s he worked closely with Edison, especially developing the "improved" phonograph of 1888. However when Gilliland cut a secret deal to profit from the phonograph behind Edison's back the friendship came to an abrupt end. Edison never spoke to Gilliland again for the rest of his life.
This photograph, scanned from a 3-D stereoview card, was taken on June 5, 1878 in my old home town of Springfield, Massachusetts. On the building in the center of the block is a large sign announcing a tinfoil phonograph exhibition. As seen in the closeup on the right, the sign reads "EDISON'S PHONOGRAPH - Talks, Laughs, Sings &c. - ON EXHIBITION - 10, 12, 2, 4, 8, 10 - ADMISSION 25c." The local newspaper for June 6th carried a notice about the exhibition, which was held on the second floor of the building.
This is the most unusual advertising brochure I have ever seen for tinfoil
exhibitions, far more elaborate than the usual handbills and trade cards. It was
produced in newspaper format titled "The Phonograph, Volume 1, Issue 1",
with four 9"x 12" pages. Long, rambling text promotes the story of the
phonograph while advertising the first appearance of the phonograph in Boston, starting
June 24, 1878. A letter from Edison is quoted on the back page warning people to
"Beware of Humbugs", saying that "certain dishonest and unscrupulous
persons ... have been exhibiting an instrument which they claimed was an Edison Speaking
Phonograph. Mr. Charles H. Thayer is the only party in Worcester County who has a
genuine Edison Speaking Phonograph, and he alone is authorized to exhibit it to the
public. ALL OTHERS ARE SPURIOUS."
It is interesting that the phonograph was exhibited in Springfield, 90 miles west, almost 3 weeks before being shown in the capital city of Boston.
This "carte de visite"-sized photograph was taken on August 21, 1878, by Edison's nephew Charles Pitt Edison, the official laboratory photographer at the time. It shows a large phonograph made for Edison by Alex Pool of Newark, NJ. Ten prototypes were made but none are known to survive -- all that remains of that interesting machine are a few surviving pictures. The back of the photo carries a rubber-stamped notation that it is from Edison's Menlo Park laboratory and is signed and dated by Charlie.
"The Song of Mister Phonograph" was commissioned by the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company and published in sheet music form in mid-1878. The flyer seen on the right was a promotional advertisement directed at phonograph exhibitors, encouraging them to use the song for demonstrations of the tinfoil phonograph, and to sell the sheet music to members of the audience for 25 cents. "This is a good song and quite effective."
The engraving of operatic star Marie Roze recording on a 'Brady' model tinfoil phonograph, first published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, is one of the most iconic tinfoil images in existence. It was used constantly through the tinfoil era, on trade cards, advertising, and other promotional material. (Many examples can be seen in these pages.) This sheet music, however, is the largest representation of this famous engraving ever printed -- almost 11" by 14" in scale.
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