Summer sounds

May 17, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Imagine my surprise and delight when I received in the mail a card from a Mr. Joseph Pickel of New Jersey.

Inside was the following note:

“My grandmother worked for Victor Talking Machines in Camden, New Jersey. Throughout the years, she had saved a few ads and I thought you might appreciate the enclosed from 1913.

At a cost of as much as $500 in 1913, (about the same today as $13,000) it begs the question were there audiophiles in 1913?”

(Victor Fibre Needles can be repointed and used 8 times!).

Thanks to Joseph for this wonderful jaunt back 108 years in time where it all began.

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29 comments on “Summer sounds”

  1. “She was a working girl
    North of England way.
    Now she’s hit the big time
    In the USA.
    And if she could only hear me
    this is what I’d say

    Honey Pie, you are making me crazy
    I’m in love but I’m lazy
    So wont you please come home” – P. McCartney

    Actually down-under, here in the CoViD free land of Oz, it’s gettin’ cold as winter approaches.
    Colder temperatures means denser air, which in turn means more dynamic audio…oh goody! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Were there audiophiles in 1913?
    You bet there were; they probably just didn’t know that that was their title.

    1. At least they hadnโ€™t to care about pure and regenerated voltage supply and endless discussions about the best cabling and best loudspeakers or room acoustics! They simply could concentrate on the music!

      1. No, but they constantly argued over which cactus species made for the best needles and if was worth the extra cost for wild cacti vs farmed.

    2. “Were there audiophiles in 1913?
      You bet there were; they probably just didnโ€™t know that that was their title.”

      Yes. Absolutely. In 1913, there were armies of listeners who tested out wind up, acoustic record players, and compared the fidelity of one against another. Audio reviewers in 1913 tested and listened to wind up, acoustic 78 RPM players, and described which ones were the most musical, with the best imaging, the least transistor grain, the greatest accuracy, and which cables sounded best.

      Yes. Yes. Steve Guttenburg, Sr., regularly reviwed Victrolas and all competition. He preferred horns, such as the Victrola model Klipsch 600A, whiich he used with a non-transistor tube acoustic First Watt amplifier.

      What slowed the 1913 audiophiles down wasn’t something called World War I – which we’ve never heard of, and don’t know what it was, so it can’t matter and never existed – but Covid 1. Luckily, POTUS Donald S. Trump handled it all perfectly.

      Soon, 1913 audiophiles were texting each other about the latest 1914 windup acoustic 78 RPM record players, debating which brands wow and flutter, grinding distortion, ludicrously limited frequency response, and metal horn screaming resonances were the airiest and most audiophile.

      Yes. And, we know all of that from reading all of this in issues of 1913 Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, and Paul McGowan senior’s Paul’s Posts on the 1913 internet.


      Rock on.

  2. I love the add. It is the 1913 version (Victorola) of the DAP or I-Pod. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    ^ Martin. Here in Canada (Toronto specifically) we are actually starting our spring. It was a bit late coming this year, but my yesterday (Sunday) was 21 Degrees. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Anyhow, I just think of you cause we had a long cold weather season and now to think your starting yours. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Geographic climate will always be interesting to me, much like Gramophones.

  3. My grandmother worked as a maid for the Estes family in the 30’s and 40’s, she was the breadwinner during the depths of the depression. The Estes had a piano and organ factory in Boston and sometimes would give old furniture to their household employees.

    One piece was a console phonograph in a mahogany case. It stood about 40″ high and probably 30″ wide. There was a windup crank on speed control on the right side, you lifted the lid to access the record changer. The was a tube that ran from the arm of the changer to a wood horn in the bottom of the cabinet so the sound was pretty good for a mechanical phonograph. There was also storage for 78’s in the lower part of the cabinet

    I started tinkering with radios when i was about 10 years old and would often drag treasures home to the basement on trash night. I’d use the neighbors wagon to move the heavier pieces. One find was a 1940’s radio phono console that used Loctal tubes that had been developed during the war. This also had a very early FM radio in it and decent 6V6 based push pull amp. The phono cartridge was a variable reluctance unit that modulated the FM’s IF and ran the signal through the FM detector of the radio. I think the needle was $5 (a hefty sum at the time) and if you needed a new cartridge you would need a part time job to pay for it.

    Everything was pretty much seat of you pants and dead reckoning back then for a kid with lots of questions and no money. The library had some decent books on electronics and a set of Riders repair manuals for schematics. I used to fix car radio’s and that meant I needed a reliable 12v source so I set a an old washing machine motor with generator a voltage regulator and an even older 12v car battery I got from a junk car. i used that setup till I went in the army in ’67.

  4. All of my grandparents were born before the turn of the century ( i.e. in the 1800’s ). I can barely remember when I was 5 to 6 ( the early 1950’s ) that my mother’s parents had a wind up record player. It was a table top model. I have no idea how old it was. My father’s mother ( I never knew my father’s father ) lived next door to us and she had an electric record player that was also a table top model. I remember her playing shellac 78’s on it. I also remember listening to weekly radio programs at her house before either her or my parents could afford a TV.

  5. Back then EQ was wooden needles for that softer sound and steel to jazz it up ๐Ÿ™‚
    My first ‘gramophone’ was an HMV clockwork one to play 78 rpm shellac records. Being an inquisitive youngster I opened it up and learned all about the rotary speed governor (seen again 30 years later repairing a Bell & Howell film projector).
    I still had a sneeking admiration for Garrards Eddy Current disc speed regulation though, much simplier.
    I progressed to an electric turntable that plugged into the phono input of our Kolster Brandes radio, it was an amazing three speed 33-1/3, 45 and 78.
    Then the bug bit, Garrard 301, Leek amplification and Wharfdale speakers. After that it was a crazy roundabout of expensive stuff that is hard to stop.

    1. Good olโ€™ Eddy Current, he had a short but scintillating life.

      One night, when his charge was pretty High,
      Eddy decided to try to get a cute little coil
      to let him discharge.

      He picked up Milli Amp and took her for a ride on his Megacycle.
      They rode across the Wheatstone Bridge, around the Sinewave
      and stopped in a magnetic field, by a flowing current.

      Eddy, attracted by Milli’s characteristic curves
      soon had his resistance at a minimum and his field fully excited.

      He laid her on the ground potential, raised her frequency,
      lowered his capacitor and pulled out his high voltage probe.

      He inserted it into her socket, connecting them in parallel
      and began to short her shunt.

      Fully excited, Milli said “Mho Mho, giv’ me mho !”

      With his tube operating at maximum peak voltage and her coil
      vibrating from the current flow, she soon reached her maximum peak.

      The excess flow got her hot and Eddy rapidly discharged
      and drained off every electron.

      They fluxed all night, trying various connection card sockets
      until his bar magnet had lost all of his field strength.

      Afterwards, Milli Amp tried self induction and damaged her solenoid.

      With his batteries fully discharged,
      Eddy was unable to excite his generator,
      so they ended up reversing polarity
      and blowing each other’s fuses.

      1. scottsol… I remember them!

        In a recent interview with Eddy Current the topic of Milli came up. “What ever happened to you two?”

        Eddy said that he soon found out that she had a short temper. She was giving him too much negative feedback.. and he had to phase her out.

      2. Now that is an electrical romance novel.
        โ€œDraining every last electronโ€ had me in stitches.
        Thank you for the laugh. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Years ago friends gave me their floor model Victrola and a box of 78s. It had been in his family and was in decent condition. I intended to restore it and put it in my dedicated music room for display if i ever got one.

    Then when I moved the new house did not include a dedicated room and the Victrola was heavy to ship 2,000+ miles, so I gave it away. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it as it would have made a great conversation piece.

    1. I believe Victor was the company i.e Victor Talking Machine Company then HMV and Victrola was one of their production models. I may be wrong so please correct me if so.

  7. Paul,

    There is a picture of my father with his uniform during WW-II. I don’t know where the picture was taken and he is not with us to find out. There are no signals in the picture to give us an idea. It could be during the Italian campaign. He is listening to music in a “modern” victrola of the time. 42? 43 or 44?
    I’ll send you the picture privately. Sound and music in our genes.

  8. Did the $500 Victrola use cast iron plinths for improved resonance damping and special alloy drive springs for speed stability and low wow and flutter? Did they import high quality cork for the platter mats, those shellac phonograph records were brittle.

    Or just heavier, fine furniture quality mahogany cases.

  9. I have the table top version (like the one on the left without the legs) and a about hundred records – some up to 1/4″ thick! Beneath the lid & beside the platter is a cutout in the wood with a steel screw-on lidded small container for the spare needles. Considering the insane weight of the needle/tone arm you’d think there would be a coiled up cutting of vinyl twirling up from the needle as it cut right into the record. And the two doors on the front – that is the entire volume control. Small ball bearings atop the doors to lock the volume at ‘zero’.
    Mind you the volume from fully closed to fully open is not all that much of a dB change. It really acts more like the ‘Loudness’ pot on the old Yamaha stereos… Signal to noise is about 60/40. Cool stuff!
    I don’t believe that isolation pods would be that effective.
    As far as the ad? It was quite common back then, post completion of your detailed artist’s rendition of an advert, to let your 5 year old draw in the clouds… Higher family values back then y’know.

  10. I live in Canada as well, and was in grade school in Montreal during the 1950s. We had one of these players in our class, along with wooden desks that still had inkwells with ink. Anyways, I distinctly remember the teacher cranking it up, then lowering the arm onto 78 records but it sounded quite rough and squawky, I was spoiled, as my folks had a small RCA Victor 45 record player at home, that sounded wonderful compared to this behemoth of a machine. Where does the time go…?

    1. Mr. Bill,
      The eternal question that I’m sure every generation asks.
      I often wonder whether Mick still sings ‘Time Is On My Side’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. “Where does the time goโ€ฆ?”
    “I often wonder whether Mick still sings…”

    Why – it goes no where. Nothing ever changes.

    What’s here today has always been here.

    Cro Magnon’s had cell phones and were audiophiles, just as today. [c.f., “Were there audiophiles in 1913? You bet there were…”. Mick was still singing….in 1913. Yup. Hyup. Yup Yup. You betcha. It’s true if you say it’s true and it’s true because you say so. Hyup].

    Genius. Rock on.

    1. Neward Thelman,
      “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future” – Steve Miller.
      You type, “Mick was still singing….in 1913. Yup. Hyup. Yup yup. You betcha.”
      Ummm…NEWS FLASH Neward, Mick wasn’t even born in 1913, far less singing.
      I want to know what mind altering drugs you’re on?
      I want some; as I can see that your mind is seriously misfiring ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I’m breaking cover here, but I know from experience that it actually goes to the Great Time Repository Vaults located deep below Secaucus, New Jersey (give or take a few parsecs, the space-time continuum gets a bit wibbly-wobbly around them).

  12. This is one of the reasons I enjoy watching the video and reading the posts. The stories behind the equipment that lights up our senses. I wonder what you got for 10$ and 500$. But you could reuse, the needles 8 times and you bought a 100 at a time. I wonder what the sound difference is between fiber and steel needles. I wonder if there were two camps formed on each side. Enjoy your listening !!!

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