1896 Amet Echophone * Historic Clockwork Motor Cylinder Phonograph
No Sales Tax If Shipped Outside North Carolina
This is one of several slightly different variants of the Echophone, Edward Amet’s ingenious, short-lived, impossibly delicate and eminently collectible device for playing pre-recorded cylinders with a hollow, tipped glass rod instead of a sapphire stylus coupled to a diaphragm. All variants of the Echophone were deemed to infringe on existing patents, however, and by 1897, the remaining inventory of Mr. Amet’s low-cost alternative to the Edison Phonograph and Columbia Graphophone was being offered at deep discounts to jobbers and mail order houses, who were selling Echophones in bulk for as little as $20 per dozen.
Nobody knows how many Amet Echophones are left today, but the number is small — six, eight, maybe ten.
Condition of this example is excellent throughout. The cabinetry in particular is outstanding (and original), and the original skeletal clockwork (made by Waterbury) is still functional and delightful to watch as it powers the gear train, which drives the mandrel, whose speed is regulated by the simple, two-weight governor — not unlike a Rube Goldberg apparatus. The drive string and stylus have been replaced (as have the drive strings and styli on most surviving Echophones; the originals have all disintegrated or broken into pieces), but the phonograph is otherwise original throughout, including the gutta percha mandrel, the motor, the governor and both governor weights, the winding key, the wood stanchion, the stanchion’s rubber bands (they’re cracked and brittle but still mostly intact), the casting and the casting’s Japanned finish, the cabinet’s shellac finish, the cabinet hardware, etc.
Even when it was new, the performance characteristics of an Echophone were limited by the phonograph’s unconventional design. Vibrations created by the interaction of the stylus with the hill and dale surface of the cylinder traveled through the long rod to the stanchion, where they entered a small sound chamber and, slightly amplified, traveled out through either a horn or a pair of listening tubes. Stylus tension was regulated by a small spring attached to a piece of string. Not exactly high fidelity, and the fidelity of an Echophone — even one this well preserved — does not improve with age. As noted above, the motor on this example works and the mandrel runs, and if the governor is set just right and the machine is kept perfectly level, then something bearing a passing resemblance to prerecorded sound emanates from the sound chamber, but — caveat — if you’re expecting much more than that, you’re going to be disappointed. Adding to your disappointment will be the volume level (low) and the range of cylinders that can be played on the machine; the tiny glass ball on the end of the stylus is chipped, making the stylus safe only for celluloid records, not wax. This Echophone is a beautiful, novel, marvelous musical relic. It should be placed on a table or shelf and admired for what it is and was — the world’s first truly affordable talking machine — not wound up repeatedly and tinkered with endlessly in a hopeful but misguided attempt to get it to play properly. If you’re simply looking for a phonograph with which you can listen to your favorite cylinders, you can buy an Edison Standard from a stranger on Facebook and save yourself about seven thousand dollars in the process.
Includes a pair of later-made hearing tubes.
Shipping considerations require that buyers outside the USA contact us prior to purchase.