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Bettini Cylinder Boxes: The Unreal, Real and Related

The purported Bettini cylinder box pictured and described in the May-June issue of Antique Phonograph News was of more than passing interest to me. In more than thirty years of writing articles about Lieutenant Bettini, I have never seen another one and my sympathy goes out to the bidder who paid $169.50 for it, if that collector thought what was being auctioned was anything other than a fascinating, but spurious Bettini carton...a counterfeit put together by someone with a lot of imagination and little respect for history.

When I first saw it on Ebay, several months ago, I had been tempted to bid, in the hope of getting an original color cover of Gianni Bettini’s April, 1900 U.S. catalog. I have the 1965 Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound’s black and white reprint of Catalog No. 10, "A True Mirror of Sound," as the lieutenant dubbed his cylinder brochure for that month and year, and thought that a genuine, richly-hued cover, would be great to keep within it. Ultimately, I decided against buying, in part because I did not want to reward the possible dishonesty of the seller and out of fear that I would only be vying for a photocopy, made either from an original Bettini No. 10 cover or a depiction of it. I have no doubt that one of those two possibilities has been converted into a fake label. Full-color, easily photocopied specimens of the cover appear on P. 46 of Tim Fabrizio and George Paul’s excellent book, Antique Phonograph Gadgets, Gizmos & Gimmicks and my A Tribute to Gianni Bettini website, www. talkingmachine.org/Bettini.html). It would have been an ironic and unpleasant experience for me to have won the item only to find out, on closer examination, that it was a carton around which was wrapped a colorized Xerox made from the precise illustration which appears on my own website! As this has not been the only spurious Bettini box to have been sold, prospective buyers should be informed and wary... and particularly so because authentic Bettiniana command such high prices.

Illustration 1

Back in 1972, Allen Koenigsberg reproduced a Bettini accessories catalog, a few copies of which he still has for sale (www.phonobooks.com). Someone used rather skilled artistic creativity, a good photocopier, some water to simulate age stains, and thus fashioned another false Bettini cylinder box from the reprint’s cover. And while Koenigsberg, who clearly marked his publication with the word "Reproduced," printed it with silver and red lettering on a dark brown background, to reflect the actual colors of the original catalog’s binding, the counterfeiter changed the colors to red lettering on a buff background (see illustration I). It is worth noting that neither the resulting fake, nor the one previously described, contained either original Bettini recordings or record slips, the latter of which are stamped, along with titles and numbers often noted in the lieutenant’s distinctive handwriting.

To market the cylinders he produced in New York City, Lieutenant Bettini affixed identical light blue labels to blank standard and Concert boxes. On the left of the front, he placed his logo-picture of a highly stylized phonograph, sitting on a pillar, in the front of which was a bending Romanesque statuette. Small lettering to the right of that gave the address of his phonograph studio, which was at 110 Fifth Avenue, and below that were the large, diagonal words: "Bettini Micro-Phonograph Records." In tinier print, he warned: "None genuine without signature," followed by a duplication of his autograph and the words: "On Record ticket." An American-Bettini Concert box, with one of these labels and its accompanying cylinder are shown with this article. They, along with the record slip, were discovered around 1964 by collector Walter Norris in the loft of a hotel near Nelson, New Zealand. The record itself is a very clear rendition by soprano Marcella Sembrich singing Strauss’s "Voci di Primavera".

Illustration 2

Around 1970, a collector photo-offset copies of an original U.S. Bettini label on blue paper. These duplicates were originally intended to be souvenirs for other Bettini enthusiasts and have had a limited distribution over the years. Unfortunately, they were not marked as repros when they were printed and some have been used to make phony Bettini boxes, which are difficult to detect (see illustration 2).

Illustration 3

The standard cylinder boxes of the Société des Micro-Phonographes Bettini, headquartered at 23 Boulevard des Capucines, Paris, which have black lettering on a crimson background, were produced ca. 1901-1903. In addition to displaying the usual machine-on-a-pillar logo, Bettini placed that address on the containers, and added a notation on the side of the lids that he had won the Gold Medal for Phonographs at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 (see illustration 3). The French-Bettini standard boxes vary, as some were originally sold with inner tube-spindles, while others were not.

Illustration 4

In France, Bettini’s five-inch recordings were housed in green Pathé Stentor boxes with a marble design (see illustration 4). Labels with yellow backgrounds and green lettering distinctively depicted singer Lina Cavalieri, whose image graced Bettini catalog covers from 1901 to 1904, standing next to a phonograph. The upper left has reproductions of the obverse and reverse of the Paris Universal Exposition’s Gold Medal for Phonographs, while the name and address of Bettini’s Paris corporation appear on the center and bottom. The lieutenant also used these labels for his French record slips.

Gianni Bettini was granted an audience with the aged Pope Leo XIII on February 5, 1903 and recorded him reciting "The Benediction" and "The Ave Maria." Shortly thereafter, he marketed these cylinders through a distribution arrangement with the Paris-based edition of LE FIGARO and by advertising in periodicals such as La Vie Populaire. The recordings, which he later also sold in disc form, were initially in unmarked, white containers with the Pontifical Seal embossed in red on the top of their lids (see illustration 5).

Illustration 5

There are other cylinder cartons that, while not directly sold by the lieutenant’s talking machine businesses, remain indirectly linked to them. Included in this category are the brown, shortened Pathé boxes used by the Columbia Phonograph Company to house Bettini’s papal recordings. The precise remuneration Bettini received by signing over the rights for their sale may be an amount lost to history, but the June, 1905 issue of The Columbia Record announced that Columbia had initiated distributing them: "For a time, at least, they will be within the reach of all, the price...having been fixed at the extremely moderate figure, considering their great desirability, of two dollars each." Record slips, in both English and Latin, separately present the text of these two distinct cylinders, but identical labels appear on the lids of each.

A very different Bettini-associated cylinder container was issued by the firm of F. J. Schwankovsky, of 238-240 Woodward Avenue, in Detroit, primarily a wholesaler-retailer in musical instruments. Sometime about the year 1899, Schwankovsky’s Music House, and Schwankovsky’s Temple of Music, as the establishment, was variously known, used the box to indicate it was a proud distributor of Bettini’s micro- reproducers, recorders, and speed indicators (see illustration 6). I do not know if Schwankovsky also sold Bettini recordings, and within this carton, which was recently auctioned on Ebay, was a very moldy Edison brown wax cylinder. The Schwankovsky management, who sometimes had large display ads in the DETROIT CITY DIRECTORY, must have been quite the innovative entrepreneurs, as they also etched “Schwankovsky” into the wax.

Illustration 6

I know of only three collectors who own Judge Publishing Company Record Department cylinders, with their accompanying boxes (see illustration 7). These recordings may well have been made in Lieutenant Bettini’s studio, as the Judge Publishing Company, was also located at 110 Fifth Avenue, more commonly known as the Judge Building. Moreover, William J. Arkell, president of Judge Publishing (which produced the humor periodical JUDGE,as well as LESLIE’S), had a close friendship with Bettini and in both 1892 and 1899 LESLIE'S ran very complimentary articles about the lieutenant’s phonographic achievements. Gianni Bettini, in turn, placed advertisements for his phonograph attachments and records in four of that magazine's 1899 issues. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Arkell, frequently attended Metropolitan Opera House performances and were known to have owned Bettini cylinders, thirteen of which are now in the U.S. Library of Congress’s Recorded Sound Section. In his "The Legacy of Gianni Bettini," published in the September, 1965 issue of The Record Collector, William R. Moran presented an encyclopedic inventory of surviving Bettini artifacts which mentioned the Judge-type of container: "Some key to Bettini’s relationship with a commercial phonograph agency may be found in evidence from a record carton. This is described as a standard Columbia cylinder box covered with a special label which bears the inscription: 'Record Department, JUDGE Publishing Co., 110 Fifth Ave., N.Y....Our records are the best on the market...good quality... excellent tunes...Bands...Orchestras... Vocal and Instrumental solos, quartete, stories, monologues by famous artists, 50c. each; $5.00 per dozen.’ ...Surely it is more than a mere coincidence that Bettini should establish his laboratory in the same building as a company with a 'record department' engaged in selling commercial records, and possibly also phonographic equipment." In 1993, the Polish National Library purchased, two verified Bettini cylinders, which are currently the oldest phonographic items in its holdings.

Illustration 7

Both were recorded in 1898 and feature violinist Dora Valesca-Becker playing separate opuses by composer Henryk Wieniawski. At least one of them came in a red, unmarked box, with a recessed lip (see illustration 8). The selection’s title and the performer’s name have been handwritten on circular white paper which has been glued to the lid. Although somewhat similar to the standard French Bettini cylinder containers,it is apparent that this box is not a genuine Bettini issue.

Illustration 8

On August 6, 1903 Lieutenant Bettini was granted French Patent No. 334,449 for a disc phonograph and in early 1904, he printed a thirty-seven page catalog of discs. In July ofthat year, as his Paris- based phonograph business collapsed, he placed an oddly capitalized, ungrammatical advertisement in The Talking Machine News and Cinematographic Chronicle, that indicated the extent to which his interest had switched from cylinders to discs: "The Disc Industry, as everyone knows, is to-day one of the most important businesses in the world...very large profits are guaranteed to any one which can produce Disc Records, and it would be of the highest value to all the manufacturers of disc machines to add to their special industry that of the Disc Records, the cost of manufacturing them being very small... After many months of hard study and work, I have completely mastered all these secret processes, and I guarantee to produce Records as good, and even better, than the best disc on the market at the present time. My name is already well known in connection with many important works and inventions relating to the talking machine business... I am willing to consider any proposition made to me to teach those interested all the details of how to make Disc Records...or I would under special conditions, accept an exclusive association with a Company or an individual giving satisfactory references."

This advertisement, as well as a similar one, in German, simultaneously placed in Phonographische Zeitschrift, produced no viable offers and the lieutenant, who had been experimenting with motion picture devices at least since 1897, began to focus most of his inventive skills on them. As for the cylinder cartons directly associated with his phonograph businesses, I believe they only came in the official five varieties discussed in this article: the U.S. standard and Concert boxes, the French standard and Stentor boxes, and the white cartons that housed his recordings of Pope Leo XIII. I feel certain that any other designs are bogus.