Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Mystery Solved is Music to My Ears.

Hello again!

Today I get to tell you a little bit more about this strange little mystery artifact. 

It’s a phonograph cylinder! Thanks to John for your guess on the blog!

But why is it a cylinder? Didn’t phonographs use old-fashioned records? The big flat discs? 

Well, yes. But before the invention of that kind of record, there were these things. They were small cylindrical records, that worked pretty much the same way. The lines around the outside of the cylinder are actually grooves, much like the grooves on a record. The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, while he was working on a way to transcribe telegraphs in order to play one on repeat. He first experimented with recording sound by embossing onto wax paper, then moved on to doing the same on cylinders covered in tin foil. The tin foil, however, only lasted for a few plays of the recording. The novelty of the invention wore off, and Edison instead started working on the incandescent lightbulb. 

However, eventually, new cylinders were developed for phonographs, made of three different types of wax mixed together. Most early wax phonograph cylinders were generally brown, and looked like this:

Our mystery artifact, though, is an example of the next step in these cylinders. Called “Blue Amberol Records,” they are made of celluloid, a type of hard plastic. The strength of these cylinders is that they were “indestructible,” or at least they were much less likely to break down or degrade in quality after numerous plays through. These are actually even more durable than the disc records that came after them!

These kinds of cylinders were played on machines that look somewhat like what you expect when you hear the word "phonograph." This particular one in our collection is called an Amberola (like the Amberol records!) and was made by the Edison company:

As you can tell, the cylinder would have been put on the apparatus in the center. Then, that would spin, and the needle would move down the cylinder to play the record.

Now, why exactly don't we use these kinds of records anymore? Rather, why did the big flat records win out over these? Much of the reason was because the record-players and records were easier and cheaper to mass produce. Also, flat discs were way easier to store.  In addition, as recording technology developed and the double-sided record was created, the simple fact of the longer duration gave disc records a clear advantage. Cylinders could only hold about 4 minutes worth of music (or whatever was recorded on them).  By around 1912, it was clear that cylinders were on their way out, and discs were here to stay (well, for a while anyway). 

Oh, and if you were wondering what was on this particular cylinder, see for yourself!

Thanks for reading! We will be back soon with a new mystery artifact so stay tuned! And as always, please come and see us, these interesting mystery artifacts featured here on the blog, the new Water/Ways exhibit, and much much more! 

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