Nickeled & Polished, with Polyphone Attachment

The Columbia “Type B” Graphophone – commonly called the 'Eagle' – was first sold in late 1897 as an inexpensive yet solidly-built machine for the mass market. (See my uncased Columbia Eagle page for more details about the production and sale of these machines.)

There is a little-known variation of the Type B 'Eagle' which is definitely not common: the special “Nickeled and Polished” model. Instead of brushed steel, the entire motor was mirror-polished and heavily plated in bright nickel, including the governor balls, gears, and even the screws. This was sold for a brief time only in 1898, aimed at a niche market of people who wanted a little “bling” even on an inexpensive machine. The highly polished nickel-plated metalwork added $3 to the cost, bringing it to a total of $15. That represented a 25% premium over the regular cased version, a significant amount in that era. Few of these highly-nickeled Eagles are known to survive today.

Adding to the bling factor on this particular example is a Polyphone attachment invented by Leon Douglass of the Chicago Talking Machine Company of Chicago. As with Polyphone attachments made for Edison phonographs, this device uses two individual reproducers tracking the same groove, which creates an echo effect. This “artificial reverb” is more pronounced on the Type B Graphophone than on Edison Polyphones because the design of the Columbia reproducers puts the stylii more than twice as far apart from each other, thereby creating a longer lag time in playback. As difficult as it is to keep Edison Polyphones tracking consistently, the floating reproducer design of the Graphophone attachment is infinitely harder despite a special bracket linking the two reproducers to theoretically keep them aligned.

The attachment cost a whopping $15 by itself, doubling the cost of the already expensive nickeled and polished Type B to $30 – equivalent to approximately $850 today. That was a lot of money for such a simple, underpowered machine, especially since the same Polyphone catalog lists the more powerful and durable Edison Standard Polyphone outfit at only $25 (reduced from the earlier $35). It would have been hard to justify investing so much in the Type B Graphophone, however decorative it might have been with the bright nickel plating.