EDISON "H" COIN-OPERATED PHONOGRAPH
The Edison "H" was Edison's first spring-motor coin-operated phonograph.
Introduced in the fall of 1898 at a very substantial $50 (equivalent to nearly $1,500
in today's dollars), the H had a very short lifespan -- late 1898 to 1900. Yet despite
that short production period, there were two distinctly different versions produced.
Both used the same cabinet, with an Edison 'Suitcase' Home mechanism, but the two
versions differ in several details.
This is the second model, with a chain-driven
return mechanism to reset the reproducer stylus to the beginning of the record. The
earlier version had a string-driven return and a rubber tube rather than metal linking
the reproducer to the horn. The mandrel is made of rubber-coated brass. The rubber
was meant to minimize the difference in expansion and contraction due to temperature
changes, which could easily cause a fragile brown wax record to crack when left on
a regular brass or nickel-plated mandrel.
The Edison H was expensive, bulky,
and very heavy (45 lbs.), and was not a very popular machine. Only about 12 are known
to survive today, of both types. In 1901 it was supplanted by the much more popular
(and slightly smaller) "Excelsior",
which was based on the "Standard"
and remained in the Edison catalog until 1908. It was a more manageable size but
it still sold at the same $50 price, significantly more than competing coin-operated
cylinder machines made by Columbia Graphophone.
My old friend Dave
Heitz had a massive collection of coin-operated phonographs, occupying a full
room. He always told me his Edison H was the most difficult to keep in running order.
Steve Farmer, the renowned restorer who rebuilt my H mechanism commented that "The
people that designed the H machines must have ended up in an asylum or maybe they
were let out to design this thing." It is truly a Rube Goldberg device, very
complex and delicate, and incredibly sensitive to adjust. Interestingly, the Columbia
BS was introduced at the same time as the Edison H, but at only $20 it was less
than half as expensive. It is much smaller, not as loud, but mechanically it is much
simpler and unlikely to go out of adjustment. It is vastly more reliable than its
far more expensive Edison rival, which is no doubt why the BS is the most commonly
found coin-op phonograph today, while the H is one of the rarest.
has a superb original finish, however like many coin-ops that outlived their useful
service lives, this was "de-commissioned"and some of the coin parts were
removed in the early 20th century so the machine could be easily used for home entertainment. Ten years ago, the missing parts were re-made directly from originals by master restorer
Steve Farmer (who has since passed away) and it now looks and operates as it did in 1899/1900.
title sign in the top frame is original, a very rare find in itself.
The new Edison spring-motor coin-operated phonograph was announced in the
August, 1898 issue of Phonoscope, and entered the market soon thereafter.
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