The Polyphone attachment was one of the more unusual inventions in the early
history of the phonograph. Patented in 1898 by Leon Douglass (who would later become
president of Victor Talking Machine Co.), the Polyphone was marketed by the Talking
Machine Company of Chicago, in conjunction with famous phonograph pioneer H.E Babson.
Polyphone attachments were made to fit the Edison Gem, Standard, Home, Concert, Spring
Motor and Class M, as well as the Columbia Type A and Columbia Type B 'Eagle.' The
principle of the Polyphone was simple: two separate reproducers with two separate
horns track the same groove of the cylinder, only a fraction of a second apart. The
company's advertising claimed it had "the sweetness of many echoes instantly
combined," further stating that it was "more than twice as loud and many
times more musical that any other Talking Machine." The reality is that the
very slight delay of the second reproducer gives an artificial reverb. However, the
effect is absolutely amazing! The sound quality is truly remarkable, far superior
to a normal phonograph. (Standing directly in front of the horns even gives an illusion
of stereo.) It was one of the few phonograph inventions that almost lived up to its
original hype, but it was never a big success and was rendered obsolete by the louder
molded cylinders released in 1902. Very few survive, perhaps because it is not easy
to adjust the stylii to track perfectly -- and an out-of-adjustment Polyphone definitely
does NOT sound very musical!
This Polyphone attachment is mounted on an early Edison Standard, sometimes called a 'Square Top' or 'Suitcase' Standard because of the square lid and suitcase-type latches. The cabinet carries a very rare decal from Edison dealer Peter Bacigalupi in San Francisco, who promoted Polyphones widely. In addition to the decal on the front of the machine, Bacigalupi's name and address are stencilled on the bottom of the case.
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