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Rare Canadian Berliner Discovered
The completed Berliner Nursery Gram-O-Phone. The domed front of the Turret reproducer is easily recognized. As on the original, the horn assembly is the same as that used on the Model "A" (Trade Mark) gramophone. The unusual cast-iron base rests on red felt pads.

Research contributions by Allen Koenigsberg and Wayne Kosovic

This past year has been exceptional for those of us who are interested in Berliner gramophones. A number of rare, sometimes unknown models of gramophones have been discovered so frequently that just about every issue of the APN this year has had one highlighted in it.

The incomplete gramophone
as found

This time, the gramophone that has been discovered is a long- rumoured Canadian model that up until now has been considered something lost to time. The model in question appeared in a full page ad in La Patrie, Dec 21, 1901. Advertised as "Le Gram-o-phone des Enfants" (the children’s gramophone), this fabled toy was a stripped-down hand- driven version, with a cast-iron base without any wooden cabinet or platform. The poorly rendered drawing in the ad does not give much in the way of detail but this gramophone was quite recognizable because of the unusual cast-iron V - shaped base.

I first heard of this machine’s unexpected appearance when I received a photo from a collector asking if I had ever seen anything like this before and if I had any information about it. The collector knew that it was certainly a Canadian machine because the embossing on the base contained the words "Montreal Can". I’ll be honest and say that I was not sure what to make of it with its truly unique and quite memorable design. I consulted with another collector who specializes in Berliner, and he immediately recognized it as the one shown in an ad reprinted from La Patrie on page 24 in a book every Canadian collector should own, Roll Back the Years, History of Canadian Recorded Sound and its Legacy: Genesis to 1930, by Edward B. Moogk; (National Library of Canada, 1975), once I realized what it was, its significance became apparent. This was possibly the rarest Canadian Berliner Gramophone ever to have been found.

Full page ad in the Montreal Daily Star, December 14, 1901
Showing the Nursery Gram-o-phone
Courtesy of Allen Koenigsberg
Full page ad in La Patrie,
December 21, 1901
Courtesy of Wayne Kosovic

The serial number of this instrument, 101, leads me to think that there should be at least 100 more of these toy gramophones around. Could its exceptional rarity be due to the fragility of its cast base and the fact that many of these may have succumbed to the same fate as other children’s toys?

Close up of Montreal Daily Star ad, December 14, 1901 Surprisingly, the weight is listed as 20 lbs which seems excessive given that the gramophone by itself only weighs 2.6 lbs.
Courtesy of Allen Koenigsberg
Close up of the children's records listed in the Montreal Daily Star ad from December 14, 1901

List of children’s records from Berliner’s 1901 Record Catalogue

Further investigation turned up two more ads that identify this 7-inch-playing disc machine as the "Nursery Gram-O-Phone", a December 14, 1901 ad in The Montreal Daily Star with English text but laid out the same as the La Patrie ad, and another Montreal Daily Star ad from December 21, 1901 that contained no images.

The ads that led to the identification of this gramophone indicate that this was marketed as a child’s gramophone and was supplied with 3 children’s records and 200 needles, all for $4, an excellent price compared to $15 for the spring-wound Type "A" (Trade Mark) model or $40 for the "Grand" model shown in the ad. The 3 records included were probably selected from the five children’s records shown in the ad on page 4. A sixth children’s record (#715 "The Wedding Of The Frog And The Mouse" by Messers Spencer and Childs) was listed the month prior Nov. 1, 1901, but absent in the newspaper ad.

Front and Back Cover of Berliner’s November 1, 1901 Record Catalogue Note: The child shown on the back cover is Emile’s daughter, Hannah
Courtesy of Wayne Kosovic
Berliner ad from the Montreal Daily Star, December 21, 1901. Note that the Grand, Ideal and Type A specifically mention the new Turret Concert Sound Box
Courtesy of Allen Koenigsberg

A little history, for those unfamiliar with Emile Berliner and his invention of the flat-disc record and gramophone. After much success with this innovation, which he brought to the American market in 1894 (as U.S. Gramophone Co.), Berliner had become disillusioned with the business, now entangled in protracted legal battles over his valuable patents. Having had enough, Berliner struck a deal with Eldridge Johnson, who had been the manufacturer of the gramophones that were being sold to the American public. Johnson was to take ownership of the patents in exchange for a 40% share in a new company. Upon prevailing in the courts, Johnson launched this new business in Oct. 1901 under the name, "The Victor Talking Machine Company", which went on to dominate the industry for many years.

Toronto Globe, December 15, 1900
Advertising the Berliner "Jewel" Gramophone
Courtesy of Bill Pratt

Wanting to keep his hand in the industry, Berliner kept ownership of his Canadian patents and began business here in 1899 under the name "E. Berliner, Montreal", opening a retail store at 2315-2316 St. Catherine Street, Montreal. Although his business began by assembling machines from parts supplied by Eldridge Johnson in the US, Berliner quickly began to produce a variety of his own models. It was during this period of intense activity that this little toy "Nursery
Montreal Daily Star,
December 22, 1900
Courtesy of Allen Koenigsberg
Gram-O-Phone" was conceived.

During the search for this machine’s origin, two earlier references to a hand driven gramophone were unearthed in a pair of Canadian print ads. These Berliner Christmas promotions describe a new Berliner "Jewel", or model "B", gramophone that appears to be the same model that later sold for $4 in 1901. Published in the Toronto Globe newspaper on December 15, 1900 and the Montreal Daily Star on December 22 of the same year, the ads list the machine and an accompanying three records at a price of $7.50. This seems to suggest that the Jewel was met with a cool reception from the public before being marketed as the Nursery Gram-O-Phone in December 1901 for just $4.00. However, neither of these earlier ads shows an image of this unknown machine, so we cannot say with certainty that the Nursery and the Jewel models are one and the same.

Close up of the hand driven pulley
The cast-iron base of the Nursery Gram-O-Phone

The collector that originally contacted me was brokering its sale for someone else. It has been speculated that the gramophone may have been passed down through Emile Berliner’s nephew Joseph Sanders (1877-1960). Joseph had worked with his uncle Emile Berliner and would have been involved in research and development with Berliner, as can be attested to by a 1902 reproducer patent that was taken out in both their names. If this was the case, then it is possible that Joseph obtained the gramophone through his work with Emile or even through his mother, Rebecca Sanders (née Berliner, 1855-1921), but this has not been confirmed. Luckily, this rare gramophone landed in the hands of Mike Lund, an American collector who didn’t hesitate to step up and acquire this wonderful piece. Mike is well known in the hobby, as he has one of the most magnificent collections of talking machines in the world. I connected with Mike and was thrilled that he was willing to share photos and information with me so that I could document this discovery here.

Video of this rare gramophone being played can be seen at the following link: https://youtu.be/Q0YTwd-GJpY
Video courtesy of Mike Lund

Although a few parts were missing from the gramophone when it came up for sale, thankfully, the essential parts were all present. The crank/pulley assembly had to be replicated but a tone arm, reproducer and horn needed to complete it were replaced with originals, bringing this machine back to its original state. The reproducer shown on the completed gramophone is the "Turret Concert Sound Box", which was introduced in 1901 to replace the "closed faced" reproducer that preceded it. If this toy gramophone had entered production, it is quite likely that it would have been sold with this new reproducer, since it appears from the text of the ads that this was what was being supplied on Canadian Gram-O-Phones at that time,

This discovery is a wonderful addition to the history of the early years of the talking-machine industry in Canada. Let's hope that these discoveries continue, and more previously unknown gramophones are found.

Special thanks to Allen Koenigsberg and Wayne Kosovic for their expertise, advice and research contributions to this article.