A picture may be worth a thousand words but it can also be misleading. In looking
at the phonographs in these pictures, most people who are familiar with the disc
phonographs of the early 20th century would tend to mentally scale the size up to
that of well-known machines such as the Berliner Trademark or Victor Royal. The three
phonographs pictured on this page, however, are downright tiny -- a mere fraction
of the size of conventional machines.
The two very rare tin phonographs pictured above were made in late 1903 and have to rank among the most unusual phonographs ever made: they were designed to play disc records made of chocolate! Made by the Stollwerck Chocolate company in Germany, the phonographs were powered by a tiny clock motor made by Junghans, a company still in the clock business today. Each machine measures a mere 8-1/2" tall (including the horn), with a turntable barely 3" in diameter. In the German and Belgian markets the phonographs were emblazoned with the Stollwerck name on the horn and the sides of the turntable, as seen on the phonograph on the right. Stollwerck's French partner, Kratz-Boussac, sold the identical machine in France under the brand name "Eureka," without the Stollwerck markings, as pictured on the left.
A French magazine, La Nature, had initially described the phonograph as "not a toy, it is a solid machine which rivals more expensive phonographs. It speaks loud, it sings well, and it reproduces all songs with clarity." Alas, this was hyperbole. In reality they were extremely delicate little machines with noisy, underpowered motors and mediocre sound quality. They were far too fragile to withstand rough handling by children, who were (not surprisingly) the main market for chocolate records. Most phonographs were likely broken beyond repair in a matter of days. The big advantage was the records themselves. As explained in La Nature, "when a song no longer pleases, oh well! just savor the disc like you would a simple snack, and eat it." (Stollwerck also pressed records out of a non-edible wax called "karbin," for those who wanted a more permanent recording.)
In early 1904 Stollwerck came out with an improved, slightly more substantial
model. This phonograph had an elegant wooden case only 2" tall and 6" long,
a stronger motor with a separate speed control, more solidly constructed support
arm, and a horn with brass bell and a lithographed woodgrain pattern on the body.
The turntable and most other metal parts were brass. The winding key fit through
a hole in the turntable, making it easier to use than the earlier model (which wound
from underneath). The fragile and easily broken glass stylus of the tin model was
replaced by a sapphire point in the improved machine. At the same time Stollwerck
offered new, larger records (4-3/4" rather than 3" in diameter), made of
a pressed wood composition with a very thin coating of a wax-like material into which
the sound was impressed. Unlike those made of chocolate or karbin these new records
were unbreakable. However the recorded surface tended to delaminate and chip over time, destroying
the recording. Despite Stollwerck's optimism, the wooden phonograph was a complete
failure in the market and only 5,000 were sold.
In the end, Stollwerck's flirtation with the phonograph proved to be a costly failure, which he subsequently abandoned to return to what he knew best -- chocolate. Today these phonographs and records are highly coveted by collectors but due to their very fragile construction their survival rate is extremely low. Only a few chocolate records are known to survive and even the more conventional "karbin" and pressboard records are very rare. Particularly desirable today are the boxes in which the machines were packaged, and original advertising material.
This 'Eureka' phonograph still has its incredibly rare and fragile original
cardboard box, just as it was sold in 1903.
The colorful lithograph on the lid is characteristic of the art nouveau posters of the 'belle époque'.
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