Edison C-200 Diamond Disc Phonograph
|My Model C-200 Edison Disc Phonograph, otherwise referred to by Edison dealers as the "Adam", has a tiger oak cabinet with a very ornate wooden grill covering the horn compartment.|
In my opinion, Edison made the best cylinder phonographs on the market. However, by the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, it became apparent that the public preferred disc phonographs, particularly the new internal horn Victrolas being offered by the Victor Talking Machine Company. Nevertheless, Edison stubbornly insisted that cylinder phonographs were superior to disc phonographs and balked at the idea of developing a line of disc phonographs to compete.
Eventually, Edison reconsidered his position and he threw himself into a project to develop the Edison disc phonograph. Unfortunately, he waited too long to enter the disc phonograph market which was dominated by well-established competitors with patents on their designs. Edison was forced to develop a disc phonograph unlike any others on the market to avoid paying expensive licensing fees and royalties to competitors. The result was the Diamond Disc phonograph and the thick Diamond Disc Re-Creation (record). Many of the components and operating principles of the Diamond Disc phonograph were borrowed from Edison's Amberola cylinder phonographs.
The new Edison Disc Phonograph was shown in public for the first time at phonograph distributor convention in Milwaukee in July of 1911. In late 1912, Edison finally had models available to sell to the public. These phonographs differed from the competition in that they had a permanent diamond stylus in a floating weight reproducer patterned after the Diamond B cylinder reproducer. Like the Diamond B, the Diamond Disc reproducer played vertical cut record grooves. The Edison diamond stylus was designed to track in a much smaller diameter groove than those found on competitors' records. Because of the small record grooves and the lateral play in the floating weight reproducer, the tone arm in the Edison Disc Phonograph was not moved by the diamond stylus as the record played. To move the tone arm along the record groove spiral, Edison borrowed from his cylinder phonograph designs to come up with a feed screw and sector gear (a curved feed nut). When the reproducer is lowered on the record, the sector gear engages the feed screw and the tone arm automatically tracks along with the floating weight and stylus as the record plays.
|The lid of the C-200 opens to reveal the turntable, reproducer, and control levers. This phonograph requires absolutely no electricity to operate! The motor is driven by two powerful springs that are wound by the crank sticking out of the side. Sound reproduction is purely mechanical, but remarkably loud and clear.|
Although Edison disc phonographs had excellent sound reproduction and the Re-Creations played longer than conventional 78 rpm records, they were expensive to manufacture and expensive to purchase. To help justify higher prices and gain a competitive edge, Edison commissioned furniture designers to develop attractive "period cabinets" to house his phonograph mechanisms. The result was a line of cabinets based on European designs from the 16th Century to the late 19th Century. These included Elizabethan, Queen Ann, Chippendale, Louis XIV, etc.
The design of my Edison C-200 Diamond Disc phonograph cabinet is based on the Adam period of 1760-1795. Robert and James Adam were sons of a prominent Scottish architect. The brothers became architects as well. They were also furniture craftsmen, and much of their furniture was made expressly for the houses they built. The furniture they designed is simple, finely proportioned, and elegant. Robert, the older brother, spent many years traveling and studying in Italy, and became thoroughly acquainted with the classical style of that country. The Italian influence appears in all the furniture of the Adam design.
Adam furniture typically has slender, tapering legs, which are round or square and often fluted. Their designs were typically adorned with oval wheels. The Adam brothers also incorporated classical features into their designs, including the acanthus leaves, Greek urns, the Greek key, and honeysuckle. They also used the heads of legendary animals such as centaurs, griffins, and the winged sphinx.
Because of its period design, the C-200 was also known as the "Adam" model, and is often referred to as such by collectors. It was in production from 1915 until 1919 and sold for $200 for much of that time, hence the model number designation of "200". It was a mid-range phonograph sandwiched in between the lower priced C-150 ($150) and the higher priced C-250 ($250). As such, it was not a big seller as customers opted to either pinch pennies and buy the lower cost model, or splurge and spend the extra $50 for the top-end model. This is why the C-200 is relatively hard to find today and prized by collectors.
With a few exceptions, all Edison disc phonograph mechanisms are basically the same. The only difference mechanically is the size of the horn and the number of springs used to drive the turntable and tone arm. Low-end machines used smaller horns and had one spring. Mid-range models had a slightly bigger horn and one spring. Top-end models had the largest horn and two springs. The two springs allowed you to play more records on one winding.
|A sliding file drawer under the horn compartment is designed to hold approximately 45 Diamond Disc records, or "Re-Creations" as Edison called them.|
Edison's competitors had thin shellac 78 rpm discs with lateral cut record grooves of a coarse pitch. The coarse groove pitch on the 78s enabled a disposable steel needle to drag the heavy tone arm and sound box along as the record played, thus, no feed screw and sector mechanism was needed. Although the shellac 78s were prone to rapid wear and warping, they were cheap to manufacture and had a relatively low purchase price. Edison Diamond Discs on the other hand, were made using a complicated process and a unique recipe of materials, including bakelite (an early plastic material). This made them significantly more expensive than the competition's discs.
|Most of the hardware is gilded to give a most attractive appearance. An Edison Diamond Disc record is sitting on the turntable. Note how thick the record is compared to conventional 78 rpm records sold by Edison's competition!|
The advantage that Edison had over his competition was that the finer pitch of the record grooves made for longer playing records (up to 5-minutes for a 10-inch Diamond Disc turning at 80rpm), there were no steel needles that needed to be replaced every other play, the diamond stylus and floating weight caused very little record wear, and the sound reproduction was remarkably clear and loud, especially on electrical recordings produced after January, 1928. By the way, Edison discs are much thicker than standard lateral 78s to prevent warping and allow the diamond stylus to track along the fine grooves without skipping.
|The Diamond Disc floating weight reproducer design was based on the old reliable Edison Diamond B reproducer that was designed to play vertical cut Blue Amberol cylinder records. The Diamond Disc diaphram is significantly larger and the floating weight faces in the opposite direction but the concept is the same. The Diamond Disc reproducer is secured to the horn with a knurled connector, allowing easy removal for servicing. The reproducer basically consists of a diamond stylus mounted to one end of a lever. The other end of the lever is attached to a diaphram by a thread. When the stylus bounces up and down in the record groove, the lever amplifies the movement and tugs on the diaphram to produce sound. The sound is further amplified as it travels through the horn.|
Although Edison Disc Phonographs and Diamond Disc Re-Creations were acoustically superior to the competition, they were not popular. The major drawback to owning an Edison Disc Phonograph was that the owner could only play Edison Diamond Disc records on it. It was possible to purchase an expensive adapter to play competitors' lateral disc records, but the results were often less than satisfactory. Another drawback was the relative higher prices for the Edison Disc Phonographs and Diamond Discs. The Edison machines were expensive because the motors were more complicated and the reproducers were complicated to manufacture. Lastly, Edison insisted on personally reviewing and approving all of the recordings before they were pressed into the records. Edison's tastes in music and entertainment were deeply rooted in the 19th Century when he was a young man. His judgement was also impared by his poor hearing. As a result, much of the subject matter contained on Diamond Discs was outdated and not appealing to the tastes of the growing ranks of young urbanites, particulary before 1920. Nevertheless, sales were strong enough in rural areas to keep Edison Disc phonograph production going until 1929.
|Access to lubricating tubes is gained by lifting the turntable off of the spindle. Before doing this, one must remove the reproducer, turn the speed control knob fully clockwise, release the brake lever, and turn the control handle fully clockwise. Make sure the small oil tubes leading from the cups are not clogged and that the wicks are sticking out of the ends near the bearings before filling. Always lubricate the spindle bearing and put a few drops of light oil on the governor's felt friction pads. When replacing the turntable, make sure the slot lines up with the key on the spindle shaft and gently press down. Set the brake and turn the speed control knob almost fully counterclockwise. Use a strobe wheel to fine tune the speed to 80 rpm.|
|Edison, already well into his seventies and almost completely deaf, poses before a Model C-19 (a later version of the popular C-250) Disc Phonograph in a 1923 advertisement. Edison was purported to have actually listened to records by digging his upper teeth into the cabinet of a phonograph to allow the sound vibrations to pass into his inner ear through the bones in his skull.|
The C-200 was made with mahogany or oak cabinets. The standard motor was equipped with a single spring. The reproducer, horn, crank, and other exposed hardware was gold plated. The cabinet contains a record drawer below the horn compartment with enough room for about 45 Diamond Discs in sleeves. The standard C-200 horn had a bell diameter of 15.50 x 10.00 inches. My C-200 is in oak finish. It is somewhat unique in that it is equipped with a dual spring motor, typically found in the more expensive C-250. It also has a "Laboratory Model" medallion inside the cabinet, even though Laboratory Models had dual spring motors and a larger 16.75 x 12.00 inch horn. This enigmatic machine is somewhat baffling. Although it may have be a Frankenstein cobbled together long ago from salvaged parts, it may have been configured as such at the Edison factory to fill an order for a more expensive model that could not be finished on time due to parts shortages. Apparently, this practice was not unheard of.
|Removing the grill reveals the horn. The horn swivels about the vertical shaft seen in the front on the right side of the horn compartment. This shaft is rotated by a feed screw and sector gear to move the horn and reproducer in synch with the record groove. The round ball seen in the throat of the horn is the volume control. This is moved in and out of the horn throat with a choke cable connected to a lever on the top of the motor board. The wooden bracket to the left of the horn was for storing the reproducer when the phonograph was shipped.|
If you own an Edison Disc Phonograph and/or Diamond Discs, here's some important stuff to remember: Don't play the thin lateral cut 78s (made by Victor, Columbia, Brunswick, Gennett, etc.) on the Edison phonograph with the diamond reproducer and never try to play the thick Edison Diamond Discs on anything but an Edison Disc Phonograph!!!! You will damage the recordings. Also, if your Diamond Discs are chipped in the grooves, cracked, warped, or they have worn brown grooves, don't play them because you could damage the diamond stylus. When playing a Diamond Disc, always make sure the pin on the floating weight does not strike the top of the reproducer. This will result in damage to the record and the reproducer can be damaged as well. This can happen when playing older etched black label records with wood flour cores that swelled and warped due to moisture absorption. Also, Don't clean Diamond Discs with water!! They absorb moisture like a sponge and this will damage the record. Clean Diamond Discs only with a soft cloth dampened with alcohol. Never play dirty records because you will accelerate wear as the diamond stylus grinds through the groove. Lastly, if you find an old phonograph (regardless of make) that's been sitting in a barn, garage, or attic for many years, don't attempt to play it unless you clean and lubricate the motor first. If the spring is broken, don't attempt to fix it yourself unless you know what you are doing. Phonograph springs are very powerful and they can cause severe injury if handled improperly. When in doubt, seek out the help of a professional phonograph repair service.
|My C-200 is rather enigmatic because it came with a "Laboratory Model" medallion inside the cabinet. These were usually affixed to more expensive models with dual spring motors and a larger horn. This odd configuration may have been done at the Edison factory. Edison was known to cobble together machines with non-standard parts to fill orders when his factory was experiencing supply problems.|
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