This extremely large, heavy (68 lbs.), and very ornate phonograph was put on
the market just in time for Christmas, 1898, at the astonishingly high price of $300
(equivalent to about $7000 in today's dollars). It was designed to play giant 'Grand'
cylinders of 5" diameter, rather than the conventional 2" diameter cylinders
already in the market. The larger surface area allowed for longer grooves, which
in turn meant greater volume and higher clarity than conventional-sized soft brown
wax cylinders. These new, large records were initially priced at $5 apiece (about
$125 in today's money, for a single song!), but this was dropped to $1 fairly soon
afterward. Clearly this was a phonograph for the ultra-wealthy music lover.
Aside from the very high price, the 5" diameter cylinders were bulky and fragile. A couple of dozen 7" disc records could be stored in the same space as a single 'Grand' record.
The Graphophone Grand is unusual in that the mechanical design is much more like an Edison Phonograph than any other Graphophone. It has a large, hinged endgate, virtually a direct copy of an Edison (the only other Columbia to use an endgate -- hinged at the bottom -- was the Type N). The feedscrew is on the same shaft as the mandrel (however unlike Edison machines, on the GG it is covered); and the reproducer carriage sits over the mandrel, supported by a shaft at the rear, with an Edison-style lift lever. However, like most Graphophones, the reproducer is a floating style.
Not to be outdone, Thomas Edison released his own version, the 'Concert' Phonograph, in February 1899 for $125, with Edison Concert cylinders priced at $1, the same as the Columbia Grand records. Columbia countered by cutting the price of the Graphophone Grand in half to $150, still a substantial sum. There are few 19th century phonographs that can rival this extraordinary machine in beauty or sound quality, however the high price and unwieldy nature of 'Grand' or 'Concert' phonographs and records kept these out of the reach of most people. Unfortunately for the well-heeled owners of these deluxe Graphophones, they were completely obsolete only three years later when molded 2" records of hard black wax came into the market, offering better sound at much lower cost.
As sold by Columbia, the Graphophone Grand was fitted with a 14" aluminum
horn, which is much too small for the full volume and tone quality of the records
to be appreciated. It was expected that the buyer would add a large horn at extra
cost in order to properly enjoy the amazing sound. A March, 1899 advertisement from
McClure's shows it with a huge polished brass horn and floor stand, but the
cost of this set was not indicated since such horns were sold by after-market suppliers
of accessories, not by Columbia.
It certainly true that with a huge 'concert' horn the Graphophone Grand is a very loud machine. No conventional phonograph of the 1890s comes remotedly close to rivaling it.
With an enormous brass 'concert' horn the sound volume of the Graphophone Grand is absolutely amazing!
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