"Baby Grand"

This modest little machine has surprising historic importance. Produced in 1894, it was the first Graphophone made specificially for home entertainment and the first to be designed by Thomas Macdonald, the brilliant mechanical engineer who would soon make Columbia a formidable rival to Thomas Edison. When the obsolete tinfoil phonograph was supplanted by improved machines starting in 1888, they were offered strictly as office dictation devices. However response was poor and neither Edison nor the American Graphophone Company manufactured any new machines between 1890 and 1893. As interest in the entertainment possibilities of the phonograph began to blossom during this same time period, Edison offered unsold stocks of the Class M while Columbia, stuck with large quantities of obsolete treadle-powered Graphophones, took the "A-frame" topworks from old machines and fit them to attractive new cabinets with electric or spring motors to produce saleable home machines like the Type K.

The Type G "Baby Grand" was entirely new and came on the market two years before Edison introduced his first spring-motor phonograph. (The "grand" nomenclature had no relation to the later 5" cylinder machines like the Graphophone Grand, which came 4 years later.) Although the "Perfected" Graphophone Type G used no recycled old parts, the topworks were still reminiscent of the earlier treadle-type. The upright supports were now elegantly curved and set closer together since it was made to play only standard 4" cylinders, not the 6" long Bell-Tainter ozocerite cylinders of dictation machines. As on earlier Graphophones, the mandrel had to be removed from the machine in order to fit a cylinder in place, making this just as awkward to use as the converted Bell-Tainter models. Also like the earlier Graphophones, the cylinder plays from right to left. Priced at a substantial $75—equivalent to nearly $2,000 in modern dollars—this was an extremely expensive luxury and consequently not very successful. (Nonetheless, it was only half the price of the contemporary Type K.) It was not until late 1895 that the $40 Type N brought Graphophones into the reach of the average middle-class consumer.

There were two styles of the Type G. The earliest, as seen here, had a drop-down front door to access the motor. A slightly later model had no door, so the motor had to be lifted out the top for access. This very early machine is number 76 in a series that totalled less than 400 (both styles). It has a very rare wooden mandrel, as can also occasionally be found on recycled Bell-Tainter models. The serial number is stamped into the bedplate and also in a half-moon metal plate screwed inside the lid, whereas later Type G Graphophones have a conventional embossed patent/serial number plate mounted to the bedplate. Only about a dozen Type G Baby Grands are known to exist today.