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The Berliner JT Mystery
Berliner JT
Note the absence of shield pin holes

After being legally prevented from selling his "Gramophones" in the United States, Emile Berliner established manufacturing facilities and a retail store in Montreal. He launched his Canadian business in 1900 with a catalogue of 7" Montreal-made Berliner records and the Model A gramophone, an almost identical version of his "Improved Gramophone", known more commonly as the Berliner "Trademark" model that he'd been selling in the USA since 1897. There's no reason to question the Montreal production of the records, but it's known that in the early days, some of the gramophone parts such as the motor and the Johnson soundbox were imported from Eldridge Johnson in Camden, NJ. Since the Trademark was the first and highest selling Canadian Berliner model, it has been possible to track the minor changes in the gramophone's features that took place during its life, such as the soundbox, the traveling arm and the modifications to accommodate 10" records. Tracking the introduction and subsequent modifications/variations of other Berliner models presents a far greater challenge. Nonetheless, Mark Caruana-Dingli has faced up to that task and succeeded in assembling a comprehensive collection of photographs with useful commentary in his book The Berliner Gramophone: An Illustrated History.

1904 Berliner ad
which includes the JT

As well as detailing Berliner's invention and development of the gramophone and disc record, the book includes all the known Canadian Berliner models that joined or followed the Trademark after it was eventually discontinued, maybe at the time of the move to the new factory in 1906, if not before. In some cases, there are early and late versions and / or front-mount and rear-mount versions of the same model. The model names followed the pattern begun by the Model A (Trademark), with B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, L, P and R, sometimes adding an actual name such as "Ideal" for the B, "Grand" for the C and "Bijou" for the E. The lack of models I and O may be due to their potential confusion with 1 and 0, and Q might have been avoided because of the popular Columbia Q. The writer is not aware of any M or N models that are absent from the alphabetical sequence, but is aware of a recently discovered Canadian Berliner child's hand-wind gramophone. The ID plate of some versions of some models includes the letter T, e.g. FT, GT, HT, JT, KT and LT. The T is thought to indicate that the gramophone was built and sold as a rear-mount only model or as the rear-mount version of a model first sold as a front-mount. However, there are more than a few examples of rear-mount Berliners with just the single letter, e.g. K. Since Emile Berliner was a major shareholder in the Victor Talking Machine Company, he need not have feared patent challenges when he used or made close copies of Victor parts, technology and gramophone style, so the similarities between American Victor models and Canadian Berliners are not surprising. It's the differences that are more interesting. The purpose of this article is not an attempt to detail them all, but to focus on one particular model, the Berliner J.

The reason for focusing on the Berliner J is to report a recent discovery and tell the story behind it. The first known version of this model is rear-mount with a rather plain case, a 10" turntable and black tin panel, or optional oak-grained fibre horn. This was followed by another version, a front-mount, but with pre-drilled holes for a back bracket. The case of the second version is unusually ornate, with moulded decorations in the style of European models such as the HMV Monarch #9 made for the French market. The Berliner J has been found with the strange cantilever tone-arm as well as the usual Victor-style tapered tone-arm.

A few years ago I received a call from someone who had bought a gramophone at a Toronto market in the late 1960's. He was not a collector and was not able to tell me much about it, so I asked him to send me some photographs, one of which showed a Berliner shield-style ID plate with the serial # P496. The other photos showed it to be a large gramophone with an imposing Berliner black tin panel horn and a 12" turntable. Clearly it was not a Berliner P, but what was it? It was certainly interesting and attractive, so I bought it, but not before trying to identify it through collector friends and by researching Canadian Berliner models in books and on the internet. None of these sources identified it, so I just had to live with my mystery Berliner, not knowing what it was. It measured 15.75" square and its horn was 24" diameter x 26" long, so all I knew was that it was a big machine and definitely a Berliner. The last patent date on the horn, which was clearly original, was October 9, 1906. The closest Victor model in terms of size, proportions and its three-spring motor would be the Victor V type A, introduced at the end of 1909 around the time when Berliner stopped making gramophones and continued selling only Victor machines.

Berliner JT horn connection with patent information
Berliner JT horn decal

I continued to live in a state of ignorance for a couple of years, until one day I saw a "for sale" ad for a Berliner JT. I was aware of the Berliner J, as per the two versions shown in the aforementioned book, so I assumed that this would be one of these, but with the T on the ID plate suggesting the rear-mount version. Again, I requested photos and was both astonished and delighted to see that case was identical to that of my mystery Berliner and that it was indeed a rear-mount version. So without further ado I acquired the gramophone, complete with its rectangular ID plate showing the serial # JT1105. The only differences between this and my mystery Berliner, were:

  • The JT-badged model had an oak-grained fibre horn and the other, a black panel horn
  • The JT-badged model had a cantilever tone-arm and the other a tapered tone-arm
  • The JT-badged model had a threaded crank and the other a slotted one

Canadian Berliner JT gramophone

Out of curiosity, I gently pried the incorrect shield-style three-pin P496 ID plate from the case of my first example, wondering if I would find four corner pin holes from an original rectangular plate, but there were none. So my mystery Berliner, now identified as a JT, had never borne a rectangular ID plate. I doubted there ever had been a correct JT shield-style ID plate on it, and that it would have been removed and replaced it with a similar plate from a completely different model. So I suspect it left the factory with no ID plate at all.

Now I had two examples of this previously unknown style Berliner JT, a gramophone that would seem to be the largest model in the Berliner range. This leads me to wonder if there are other models that have never been documented and that would fill the gaps in the alphabetical sequence.

As noted above, a T following the alphabetical model name usually identifies the Berliner gramophone as quite different from the front- mount G.

The shield ID plate appears to have been superseded by the rectangular ID plate by around the time of the G, but then it reappears on higher letter models that might be presumed as later. However, the term "later" may be meaningless, because the introduction and end dates of each model and the numbers produced can only be guessed.

The absence of Berliner Gramophone Company documentation on production dates, numbers and product specification inevitably invites speculation and guesswork. Compounding this lack of information is the apparent lack of rigour in consistency of design and assembly of gramophones, which might indicate that the main focus of the company was to make and sell records. Indeed, the relative importance of records to gramophones may lead us to some answers, or at least some reasoned guesswork, for the lingering questions we have about the sometimes puzzling range and model variations of Canadian Berliners. I'll explore this in a future article.