This is a very historically significant phonograph -- the first ever offered for sale to the general public. Immediately after the invention of the phonograph in December 1877 (the first Kruesi prototype) Thomas Edison was bombarded with inquiries from around the world. People were eager to see and hear this incredible machine, however public exhibitions would not start until late spring. To help satisfy the overwhelming curiosity, on January 8, 1878 Edison sketched a design for a small "demonstration" phonograph which would illustrate the principle of the phonograph, but would not be suitable for public exhibitions (and therefore would not compete with authorized exhibitors).

Several prototypes were built in Edison's laboratory. On February 27, 1878, one was shipped to Edison's European agent with instructions to have such phonographs made for sale at the International Exposition in Paris, starting in May. Edison subsequently contracted with machinist Edme Hardy to manufacture these phonographs under Edison's name. (Hardy was already making Edison's Electric Pen for the European market.) It is not known exactly when the first Hardy demonstration tinfoil phonographs were ready for sale, but a reference in the May 9, 1878 Paris Advertiser, an English-language newspaper, indicated that Edison's phonograph was "having a great success in society circles at Paris." Since no other Edison phonographs are known to have been exhibited there at the time, this reference presumably confirms that sales started by early May. A few months later Sigmund Bergmann was hired to make similar machines in the US.

The Hardy-made Edison phonograph is a small but heavy machine, measuring only about 8" by 10" but weighing 21 pounds. The mandrel is nearly 6" in diameter but only 2" wide, capable of recording only 50-60 words. The diameter and weight of the mandrel helped smooth the rotation, making it unnecessary to add a separate flywheel (and reducing production cost).

Edison's agent described the Hardy phonograph in a letter written July 17, 1878, saying that "there is at present but one model of phonograph for sale.... Although this instrument is perfectly large enough to demonstrate the principle of the invention to satisfaction, yet it is hardly fit for public exhibition. A special instrument has been constructed for this purpose." At 200 Francs ($40), equivalent to nearly a month's salary for an average worker, the "demonstration" phonograph was a very expensive and impractical novelty. The Bergmann-built version was even less successful, and Edison soon dropped the idea of marketing phonographs to private individuals. Throughout the rest of 1878 the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company concentrated on public exhibitions. It was not until early 1879, after interest in exhibitions began to wane, that Edison again began marketing phonographs to the public in the form of the Edison Parlor Phonograph.

Original engraving of a Hardy tinfoil phonograph from an era catalog by Ch. Magne of Paris, a dealer in electrical and scientific items. This is the only known contemporary engraving of a Hardy tinfoil. The catalog is undated but it lists the Hardy-made Edison tinfoil at 125F, a sharp discount off of the original 200F price, so presumably he was liquidating stock that remained unsold after the Paris Exposition ended. Hardy himself advertised phonographs for sale directly from his workshop as late as 1880 (below).