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Published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd of Atglen, PA19310 and distributed in Europe by Bushwood Books, 6 Marksbury Road, Kew Gardens, Surrey TW9 4JF. Tel: 0181 392 8585 (234pp, large HB, many colour pics). ISBN 0-7643-0733-9. £39.95.

OUR two authors have lived and breathed talking machines for more than 30 years and describe the long-lost aspect of their hobby as something akin to Dorothy’s first faltering steps into the Land of Oz; their first rather wordily titled book, The Talking Machine, an Illustrated Compendium 1877-1929 is followed by this rather snappier named book on a popular collecting area.

Two of the great selling features of the Schiffer imprints are the breadth of the collections seen and their terrific photography. Here the authors have looked at 20,000 pages of ‘primary documents’ and shot phonograph accessories and graphics from over 35 collections; the sheer industriousness of the inventors and the outrageous claims made for many of these products are probably no odder than many of the car, computer and home gadgets that fill the pages of today’s mail order catalogues.

Chapter One deals with the horn, its beginnings, innovation, standardisations and new designs and includes some remarkable photographs as the invention bred evermore exotic floral variants, including many horns painted pink and covered in red roses, and dotted with pink pansies and there’s a modish example painted to resemble quarter-sawn oak. Talking machine horns were cumbersome and difficult to carry; although a few companies offered collapsible horns made of leatherette with its dubious acoustic properties. Moving swiftly on to 1892 and cylinder talking machine gadgets, we are introduced to Gianni Bettini, formerly of the Italian cavalry and described as the Crown Prince of cylinder gadgets, who achieved a notable coup by inviting to his New York laboratory the great actress Sarah Bernhardt and by persuading her to speak in her sonorous voice into his phonograph, Bettini, who described himself as Lieutenant Bettini – never looked back.

The longest chapter covers disc talking machine gadgets, and a dizzying and inventive cornucopia of needles, boxes and tins, sharpeners, dusters, stops, repeaters, dancing toys, supplemental lighting, automatic spring winders and many others are photographed and described. One of the most interesting chapters is on Signs, Advertising and Ephemera with a section on Victor and Gramophone. This shows an example of the very first commercial lithograph of the renowned His Master’s Voice painting with Nipper the dog, whose fame led to him being modelled as salt and pepper shakers and whose publicity campaign by the Victor Talking Machine Company was a marketing miracle.

Each of the pieces photographed has a value code which is explained at the end of the book, i.e. VR for very rare, A for $1000 and upwards, down to H $5-$24, with most categories falling somewhere in between. The authors advise conservatism. There is a bibliography which includes the great George Frow’s two books, the Edison Cylinder Phonograph Companion and the Edison Disc Phonographs and Diamond Discs.

It is always a joy to see other people’s collections in your chosen obsession and it leaves one to wonder why does it take a US company to produce such a pictorially thorough book?