Although the tinfoil phonograph attracted a great deal of attention when it was first shown to the public at the end of 1877, very few related materials have survived. Paper items such as trade cards and handbills offer unique insight into the marketing the phonograph in its infancy, however, these "ephemeral" items were never intended to last and are very hard to find today.
This 8-1/2" by 11" handbill was distributed by an Ohio mail-order company in February 1879. Printed on extremely thin colored paper, it was designed to be pasted to walls, fences, or telegraph poles. This is the oldest surviving advertisement for a phonograph offered for private sale to the general public, rather than promoting an exhibition. The engraving shows Edison with the early "Brady" model tinfoil as photographed at the studios of Matthew Brady in April, 1878, however the phonograph being advertised was actually the much smaller "Parlor Model."(In the text it is admitted that the phonograph is "imperfectly represented in the engraving.") Customers were encouraged to buy a phonograph in order to "derive a nice income in the exhibition of the phonograph in his own and adjoining towns."
This handbill, printed on tissue-thin "flimsy" paper measuring 17.5" x 6", advertises a tinfoil phonograph exhibition in Mt. Jackson, VA in December 1879. The date and venue were handwritten in pencil at the top. Of the many types of similar handbills I've seen, this is the only one with an extensive list of "testimonials" extolling the wonders of the phonograph. Such exhibitions had largely faded away by this late date.
This souvenir plate was made in France circa 1878 as part of a series of twelve, all featuring satirical images of "War of the Future." The drawing shows a terrified man operating a "Brady" style exhibition phonograph as a battle rages behind him and a shell hits the table on which the phonograph sits. The legend reads "During the action, the manufacturers of the EDISON company will be able to record the sounds of combat." (To express the brand-new concept of recording, for which no word yet existed, the original French used the invented word "phonographier," which could be translated as "phonographify" or "phonographicate".) This novelty plate illustrates just how much the phonograph had captured public imagination in 1878.
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