Common Problems With Edison Diamond Disc Records

Photos and Text by Phil O'Keefe

 

Introduction

Those thick, heavy Edison Diamond Disc Records (a.k.a. "Recreations") are actually fairly common and they tend to turn up often in antique stores and on eBay. A significant number of these records have been ravaged by time and abuse, rendering them worthless. If you are a novice buyer and you run across damaged Diamond Discs in an antique store or flea market, they're pretty easy to identify if you know what to look for. If you are a seller on eBay, to avoid unknowingly passing off worthless Diamond Discs to buyers and risking a negative feedback rating, you should know what is worth listing and what belongs in the trash. Hopefully this web page will help sellers and buyers to have a more positive experience.

 

Delamination

Edison Diamond Discs were made by laminating an early plastic called "Condensite varnish" over a blank (core) comprised of materials like woodflour, chalk, china clay, phenol resin, cotton flock, lamp black, gas black, and denatured alcohol. The materials used in the record tend to absorb moisture. If subjected to enough moisture, the record can warp, delaminate, and crack, especially early Diamond Discs which were made with a Condensite layer over a celluloid layer pressed on to the core. This is why Diamond Discs should never be stored in a damp environment or cleaned with water. They should ONLY be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol applied to a soft cloth!

When an Edison Diamond Disc is stored in a damp environment over a prolonged period of time, it can develop the damage illustrated in the following three photos:

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Warping usually results in the record assuming a flattened cone shape where the middle is higher than the edges. This causes the floating weight to get wedged under the top of the reproducer, making the diamond stylus dig into the record, thus destoying the grooves closest to the label. Telltale brown marks are left behind as the Condensite is stripped away, revealing the core. Records always have this type of damage on one side only.

 

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Moisture tends to penetrate to the core of the record through the numbers stamped on the edges of etched-label Diamond Discs. This record probably delaminated for this reason.

 

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These delamination cracks resulted when moisture caused the Condensite to start peeling away from the core. The cracks actually extend into the grooves, damaging the first few seconds of the recording. If you set the diamond stylus down on these cracks it will probably get damaged, and in any event, the sound will be aweful.

 

Steel Needle Damage

Edison Diamond Discs were designed to play ONLY on an Edison phonograph with a floating weight reproducer with a diamond stylus. Damage will result if they are played on a phonograph designed to play thin shellac 78 rpm records using a disposable steel needle (e.g. Victor, Columbia, etc.). Edison phonographs are sometimes found modified to play the thin shellac 78s, so never play the thick Edison Diamond Discs on them!

 

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The steel needle of a Victrola will rip through the Condensite grooves of an Edison Diamond Disc like a hot knife through butter. Apparently, someone was ignorant of this fact, and they attempted to play about 30 seconds of this Diamond Disc before realizing that something was wrong. The brown core material left behind is highly abrasive and will damage the diamond stylus if you try to play the record with an Edison Diamond Disc reproducer. Many rare and beautiful recordings were destroyed (and continue to be destroyed) in this manner.

 

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This Edison Diamond Disc phonograph was modified to play thin 78 rpm records using a steel needle. Do not play Edison Diamond Disc Records or Re-Creations with this type of tone arm! By the way, person who was trying to sell this phonograph on an on-line auction claimed that "It plays very well." This was obviously a lie because as he was destroying the record, all he would get is static.

 

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This is a close up of a Victor sound box used in Victrolas. There are many variations in this design used in different Victor models and the models of other makes. They all basically function in the same way and have generally the same appearance. In any case, they all have a disposable steel needle that fits in a chuck in the botttom. They are designed to play only thin 78 rpm records using the steel needle. Do not play Edison Diamond Disc Records or Re-Creations with this type of sound box!

 

 

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Only use an Edison Diamond Disc reproducer to play Edison Diamond Disc Records and Re-Creations!

 

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The Edison Diamond Disc reproducer has a small diamond stylus that rides in the fine grooves of the Edison Diamond Disc record. This stylus is designed to play the thick Edison discs thousands of times before being replaced.

 

Chips

Diamond Discs are kind of like thick porcelain dinner plates... if they are handled carelessly, they get lots of chips around the rim. Various types of chips are shown in the following photos:

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Minor chips like these will not effect the play of a Diamond Disc, but watch where you set down the stylus!

 

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This chip is pretty bad, as it extends right into the first few grooves. Sometimes you get lucky when the first few grooves are dead and contain no recording, but this record is of little value if the recording starts in the first groove. Who wants to risk setting the stylus down so close to this jagged pit? Not me!

 

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This looks more like the Grand Canyon than a chip! This one wiped out maybe the first 20 seconds of the recording. This side of the record is trashed.

 

Scratches

Edison Diamond Discs have such small grooves, that even the most insignificant looking scratch can be enough to cause problems.

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This deep scratch runs nearly perpandicular to the grooves, and as such, it creates an annoying, loud "CLICK" sound every time the record makes one revolution. It also puts stress on the stylus tip. If the scratch was at a differnt angle, it might cause the stylus to skip and keep repeating the same groove over and over again.

 

Wear

The hardest thing to visually judge on a Diamond Disc is wear. I've gotten shiny, clean looking Diamond Discs with no visible defects, only to discover that the volume was weak with a lot of static, and there were skips at various points of the recording where the sound kept repeating. On the other hand, I've gotten Diamond Discs that looked dull and beat up, but they played beautifully with little static and nice, loud volume. This is because Edison used the vertical cut (a.k.a. "hill-and-dale") method of recording, where the recording resides in the bottom of the groove. As long as the groove bottom is not worn away, and the walls of the groove are not severly damaged, the recording remains good.

With regard to wear, the only way to really tell whether you are getting a cherry or a lemon is to actually play the record before you buy it. This is almost never possible, so you either take your chances or you can buy from a reputable collector. It's probably the best idea to do the latter, especially if the asking price is high.

 

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