Recording and playing machines through time: a virtual exhibition

Today another guest post by Emilie Vaisman from National Library of France about the latest virtual exhibition created in cooperation with Europeana.  The text first appeared on Europeana Sounds blog on August 31, 2015. 

Visit a museum from home and travel back in time to explore a rich history of technical innovations and discover their social and cultural uses for both work and entertainment purposes. Try out this new Europeana Sounds’ online exhibition!  

This exhibition, drawn from the collections of nine major cultural institutions gathered in the Europeana Sounds project, offers a selection of machines that illustrate a wide range of techniques and technologies. From the days of the phonograph to the digital age, collections of machines from cultural institutions provide a thorough overview of the evolution of machines used to register and play sounds.

Radio Sets and ReceiversRadio set & receivers (left to right, top to bottom): Eumigette 382U radio set, Österreichische Mediathek,CC BY-NC-SA; Radio receiver from the Nederlandse Radio Industrie (NRI), The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public Domain; NSF radio receiver (type: 1261/08), The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public Domain; NSF radio receiver (type: 021-1), The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public Domain.

Marvel at the variety of phonographs presented. Several models, ranging from office dictation to home use, were manufactured by Edison himself. Those trumpet-like phonographs were soon in competition with the alluring Puck models with their graceful cast-iron lyre-shape and floral horns. German quality added to low prices made them widely popular until the beginning of the 20th century.

LoreleiLorelei, Statsbiblioteket, CC BY-SA.

RonéophoneRonéophone, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), CC BY-NC-SA.

Its French counterpart the Pathé Company used Edison techniques but then developed its very own recording formats, the inter cylinder, and its first wax discs. In 1938, the first really portable wax disc recording machine was invented for the delight of scientists, space consuming recording machines were to leave the scene. Phonographs were outdated by the 1920s but wax cylinders can be played on a playing machine from 1998.

The innovation of the recording disc made of shellac and later vinyl consolidated the iconic imagery of the gramophone as illustrated by the painting His master’s voice by Francis Barraud and later turned into the label for Gramophone records.

Dog looking at and listening to a phonographFrancis Barraud’s original painting of Nipper looking into an Edison Bell cylinder phonograph, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Gramophones grew lighter. One particular innovation was targeted at children providing three nursery rhymes alongside their picture roll to display illustrations alongside it. These handy gramophones flourished between the 1930s and the 50s.

Электрофон (Electrophone),Электрофон (Electrophone), Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka, CC BY-SA.Edison Bell gramophoneEdison Bell gramophone, The British Library, CC BY-SA.

Despite being known since the end of the 19th century, the magnetic recording tape was only developed in the 1930s. Evolving from wire to strip and finally tape, it was manufactured very notably by the company 3M and called “Scotch tape”.


magnetic-548x700Magnetic & digital medium (left to right, top to bottom): Crown tape recorder, The British Library, CC BY-SA; Scotch Boy tape, Tobar an Dualchais, CC BY-NC-SA; EMI dictating machine, The British Library, CC BY-SA; Studer A820MR studio tape recorder, Österreichische Mediathek, CC BY-NC-SA.

The disc and the recording tape lived happy together as the EMI dictating machine combined them both in one recorder. Tape recorders from the 1960s widely used by news reporters are still very evocative. Eventually, Philips launched the cassette and the CD respectively in 1963 and 1978. This ends our tour of recording and playing machines through time until the digital age.

Enjoy the virtual exhibition and share around!

One thought on “Recording and playing machines through time: a virtual exhibition”

  1. Hi,
    And where is a Magnetophone, the basis of development after World War ?

    Europeana’s sound machine display is in fact a somewhat one-sided view of technological change.
    Maybe a look at the English-language pages of Wikipedia for the entry on tape recorder would help ?

    Ever heard the names of BASF or AEG ?
    Just making a joke.

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