Most surviving tinfoil phonographs are relatively small machines which were
sold primarily as novelties (for example, the Vital
phonograph). Exhibition phonographs, designed for public demonstrations before large
audiences, were substantially larger in size and are extremely rare. The machine
illustrated here is a classic example and is in fact the largest tinfoil phonograph
known to exist today -- even bigger than the well-known exhibition phonographs made
by Sigmund Bergmann, which it closely resembles. The picture cannot adequately convey
the scale of this imposing phonograph. Nearly four feet wide, including the heavy
10" diameter solid flywheel, it has a massive mandrel approximately 9"
wide and 6" in diameter (even larger than two of the later "Concert"
or "Grand" mandrels combined). To allow adequate room for the very wide
mandrel the upright support arms are cantilevered over the edges of the 18-1/2"
wide base. It is a very heavy phonograph, weighing over 80 pounds.
Made by Max Kohl, a prominent manufacturer of scientific instruments, this gigantic machine incorporates all of the improvements Edison devised for exhibition phonographs in the summer of 1878: the speaker arm tilts forward rather than pivoting from the side; the mandrel has a slot cut along its length to allow the ends of the tinfoil sheet to be tucked in place; and the feedscrew is supported from underneath, with a halfnut that can be easily disengaged to quickly reset the position of the mandrel for playback. The skirted cast iron base is beautifully painted and pinstriped in the manner of the finest Victorian machinery, and is marked with Kohl's name. The brass speaker arm is decoratively finished in dark green marbled lacquer, giving it a very striking appearance. Amazingly, this extraordinary machine was discovered by the previous owner in 1973 at a Florida flea market! (A smaller version of the Kohl phonograph is known to survive, with the same base but with a shorter speaker arm and a mandrel half as long.)
This early engraving was published in a contemporary Kohl catalog.
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