The extreme rarity of original tinfoil phonographs makes it difficult for collectors to enjoy examples of these historic machines. However, high quality replica phonographs have been made over the years, bringing otherwise unobtainable machines into the reach of those who are intrigued by the astonishingly simple yet effective technology found in these relics of 1877-1880.
Never officially given a name, this was a modified version of Edison's second phonograph, and the first to be widely exhibited. Within two weeks of the completion of the original Kruesi prototype phonograph on December 6, 1877, Edison had designed a vastly improved model. The separate recording and reproducing speakers of the prototype were combined into a single unit, mounted on a swing-out arm. The mandrel was substantially longer -- 7-1/4" rather than 3-3/8" -- and was grooved with 20 threads per inch rather than 10 on the prototype.
As originally built, this new model had no flywheel. After exhibiting it over New Year's weekend Edison realized the need for more even rotation and by January 3, 1878, had added a flywheel. This version became the standard demonstration phonograph for the next few months, and as the first phonograph to be widely shown to the public it was frequently illustrated in the press.
Ultimately this is perhaps the best known of all tinfoil phonographs because it was the machine that Edison took to Washington DC for exhibition for the Academy of Sciences in April 1878. It appears in one of the most famous photographs ever taken of Edison, by photographer Levin Handy in the studios of Mathew Brady on April 18. For that reason, this is generally referred to as the "Brady" model by collectors today. Nine were originally made, only two survive today (at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, and The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan). This very precise replica is one of 14 made by Bill Ptacek in 2002. Curiously, both surviving original machines differ slightly from the one Edison took to Washington, with wider upright supports and reproducer.
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