This attractive and quite substantial tinfoil phonograph was made in Germany
around 1878-1885, apparently by the scientific instrument maker Leppin & Masche
in Berlin. The elegant construction consists primarily of finely lacquered brass,
with a mahogany base and cast iron flywheel. All screws are blued steel, and the
mouthpiece is constructed of two types of wood: light mahogany for the interior and
rim, and dark rosewood on the outside.
There were at least 3 manufacturers making surprisingly similar machines during that period: Leppin & Masche and Berthold Pensky in Berlin, and A. Küss in Hamburg. Many elements, notably the speaker, are sometimes nearly identical among the different makers. However other elements are often quite different, inevitably leading to confusion. I am reasonably sure this particular machine was made by Leppin & Masche, based on details noted in an original catalog engraving, however this is subject to reinterpretation pending further research.
One of the most distinctive features of the phonographs made by the 3 companies
noted above is the speaker assembly, which is hinged at the top of a decorative lathe-turned
brass support rather than being hinged to the base as on most tinfoil phonographs.
In order to support the speaker and depth adjusting screw there is a large curved
casting behind the mandrel. The mouthpiece of Leppin & Masche and Berthold Pensky
machines is astonishingly large, with a diaphragm nearly 4" in diameter.
It is a imposing machine, measuring 2 feet wide and weighing almost 30 pounds. That puts it at about half the size of the behemoth Kohl exhibition tinfoil phonograph but substantially larger than most tinfoils found today, which were made for home use.
This tinfoil phonograph was recently discovered in Germany and is in exceptional original condition. Even the finely crafted stylus, with its unusual A-shaped mounting spring, is complete and original. Not surprisingly it functions beautifully, making very clear and loud recordings.
The base of the speaker mount is elegantly engraved with the serial number 26. The total production of Leppin & Masche tinfoil phonographs is unknown but they were sold at least into the 1880s. An original catalog description says "Edison's Phonograph, on a mahogany base with brass mandrel and a speaker with mica diaphragm, with fine adjusting screw, with a funnel to speak into and instructions for use." Three sizes were originally available, with mandrels of about 2-3/4", 5-1/2", or 8" in length. This is the middle-sized phonograph, with a mandrel precisely matching the catalog description of 14cm.
Engraving from a contemporary Leppin & Masche catalog. This is shown without a flywheel but otherwise appears nearly identical, including the unusual stylus spring. The 'funnel' at the left of the upper image was inserted into the mouthpiece to concentrate and direct the sound waves during recording. For playback the extremely large diaphragm and mouthpiece give adequate volume without an amplifying horn.
(RETURN TO MAIN PHONOGRAPH PAGE)