Removing the Horn from the Room


By Doug Boilesen, 2007

In August of 1906 a significant change took place that would refine and redefine talking the home. A new product-line called the Victor-Victrola was introduced and aesthetically it helped the talking machine to more easily find its place in the home. The talking machine's external horn was gone -- moved inside the cabinet -- and in so doing the Victrola in popular culture became fine furniture, a musical instrument and a trademark that would become a generic term for all talking machines, like Kodak for cameras and Kleenex for tissues.


Victor Talking Machine Company, 1910


The horn. "It's beautiful" says the elegantly dressed customer. "Yes, it's beautiful" says the salesman. The Talking Machine World cover ad, April 15, 1907


"Horns are distinct works of art. These Horns are hand-painted in a series of superb floral designs..." The Talking Machine World cover ad, May 15, 1907


This lovely 1908 poster advertising the Edison Phonograph shows Edison's attempt at elegance for his cylinder phonograph with the artist Guernsey Moore appealing to the popular culture interest in Japanese culture that had developed in the 1880's for Japanese prints, and parasols and paper lanterns. This image is particularly interesting because it included a flowered horn, something for which Edison's own dealers would complain about since Edison didn't offer flowered horns as standard equipment so that this horn is not something you would see in the Edison catalogue.



With the introduction of the Victor-Victrola, however, flowered horns would be the least of Edison's challenges. Internal horn machines that played disc records would soon dominate the market and period piece phonographs would become highly advertised options in the late teens and 1920's. Advertisements showing wealthy homes would be displayed as "suiting the music to the room."


Victor Talking Machine Company, 1913



"Throw out your horn machine..." The Phonola, circa 1919


Moving the horn inside a cabinet would be a revolutionary design change, however, there were other creative designs such as making a phonograph into a desk. The Columbia Grafonola "Regent" model, for example, advertised that it was not a "mere concealed-horn graphophone, but "a completely concealed graphophone" providing practically unlimited entertainment and utility "wherever people of refinement congregate."


The Columbia Grafonola "Regent," Scribner's Magazine, 1910


Period design phonographs with cabinetry "enthusiastically welcomed by connoisseurs of fine furniture" was a niche market with low expectations by the phonograph industry for high sales. Rather these were to be symbols of the quality that customers were to associate with the other phonographs made by that same company that cost considerably less. All phonographs could bring the "stage of the world" into the home. But the platform for that stage, or as one Columbia ad called it "an appropriate setting" for that music, could vary. As the following ad explains these period design phonographs provided elegant stages for listening to records that also met another "genuine need."
"More than ever American women are giving careful attention to the harmonious furnishing of their homes. In response to a genuine need, the Columbia Grafonola has led the way in worthily adapting to the uses of good music the best designs of the world's master craftsmen." The Ladies' Home Journal, October 1918

The elegance in phonograph cabinetry is an example of the phonograph's exclusivity marketing. Consumers could see these artistic phonographs in magazine ads and store windows but only a few would actually be purchased. Creating desires is an attribute of capitalism and much greater excesses in marketing than phonograph period piece furniture have certainly taken place. But as Naomi Klein asks in her book "On Fire" regarding the general unsustainable "consumption tidal wave" in modern society, are we now "ready to have a more probing conversation about the limits of lifestyles that treat shopping as the main way to form identity, community, and culture." (1)

For indeed, promotions effectively said that by purchasing period design phonographs consumers could acquire the identity of exclusivity, the community of privilege, and culture associated with the original period designs that "are among the chief treasures of American and European art museums."

Brunswick's supercraftmanship in their cabinetry was advertised as vying with the artistry of the middle ages "leading to unexpected adventures in suiting music to the room."

A period design phonograph, said another ad, was a 'musical instrument that was worthy of its music, a machine that could deliver the 'best music of all ages.'

For "connoisseurs" and those who wanted "Fine Music and Fine Furniture United" the period phonographs were advertised as having "ardent appeal."

In reality, however, owning a period cabinet phonograph did not improve the music nor the quality of recorded sound. Nor would there be the added charm of Louis XVI listening to the music with you.

Legacies of period design phonographs are the machines as artifacts, its associated ephemera and its contributions to consumerism of its time.

The marketing and shopping for those period design phonographs can be reviewed by time-traveling to circa 1920 and looking at their respective ads, visualizing the shoppers, and examining the period design phonographs that were built as artistic cabinets to fullfill what the industry said was "a genuine need" and "worthy of a place in your home."


"In response to a genuine need...Worthy of a place in any home." Period Grafonola - Italian Renaissance and Adam Designs, The Ladies' Home Journal, October 1918


Period Grafonola - Chinese Chippendale, The Ladies' Home Journal, March 1919


"A Musical instrument should be worthy of its music" and provide "an appropriate setting for the most beautiful records..." Period Grafonola - Queen Anne, The Literary Digest, February 8, 1919


Period Grafonola - Louis XVI Design 1919


Period Grafonola in 15th Century Gothic Design, 1919 (PM-2126)


Period Grafonola - William and Mary Design, Country Life, 1920 (PM-2011)



Period Grafonola - Japanese Period Design, "Beauty from the Orient," Country Life, 1920 (PM-2012)


Period Grafonola - Italian Renaissance Period Design, 1920



The Talking Machine World, January 15, 1917


In the two-page Edison ad the price the consumer is paying for the historic cabinets versus its functionality is made clear in an "announcement" that Mr. Edison was said to have required to be made in this ad:
"Those who are concerned soley in obtaining the best musical result need not pay more than $250, as the Official Laboratory Model, which sells at $250, is equal in musical sense to the most expensive models. It is in fact the model we have used in the public comparisons at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere between the living voice and our Re-Creation of it."


The Talking Machine World, January 15, 1917



"...Sonora period cabinets which are enthusiastically welcomed by connoisseurs of fine furniture."

Italian Renaissance Milano, Sonora 1921


Brunswick first by "achieving perfect phonographic turns its talent to combining fine music with fine furniture." 1922


Brunswick - a noteworthy combination of fine music with fine furniture, 1922


Aeolian-Vocalion (Elizabethan and Italian Periods), 1923 (PM-2019)


Aeolian-Vocalion (early Georgian Period) advertisement, 1923


Aeolian-Vocalion (Quenn Anne Period) advertisement, 1923


Brunswick Brochure, 1920


Brunswick Brochure, 1920


Brunswick Brochure, 1920


"Finer phonographs are unknown." Brunswick Brochure, 1920


Christmas Message from the World's Greatest Artists, Victrola 1919


"The Victrola -- the only instrument that brings the world's greatest artists into your home," Victrola Brochure, 1919


"The finest gift of all!" "The most brilliant opera house in the world can offer no such great company of artists as that shown above...Victrola" 1924



Edison Period Furniture, 1919


A Home Delight to Ear and Eye, The Modernola, July 1919


"Preference for the The Cheney," The Talking Machine World, August 1920


Custom Victrolas available, 1924



"Beauty to match the superb music" The Ladies Home Journal 1926

"With the introduction of the Orthophonic Victrolas in 1925, every standard console cabinet received a period designation. Most styles were Mediterranean or English in ancestry, with new Italian and Spanish influences prominent in the selection." from Look for the Dog by Robert W. Baumbach (2). For more information about Period Victrolas 1917-1925 see Baumbach's book and Endnote 3 - Period Victrolas.



The Radio-Phonograph

When the radio entered the home in the early 1920's you listened with headphones or an external speaker. Like the phonograph, the radio was advertised as a wonder and a necessity for lovers of fine music. The variety of what you could listen to on the radio, however, soon made it obvious that it's power to bring the whole world into your home had enlarged. Additionally, that entertainment 'over the air waves' was free.

By the late 1920's cabinets containing a radio and a phonograph were being offered and just like the evolution of the phonograph the horns of the radios moved inside cabinets. The cabinet became part of the marketing and period pieces for a radio were offered as an elegant option.


The RCA Radiola, December 1929

RCA (now the owner of the Victor Talking Machine) advertised their Radiola in combination with electrical phonograph as "Music from the air or record." Like the Victrola that evolved from the Victor, RCA called their radio the "Radiola." See the "Ola Brands" for examples of phonographs being named 'olas' and some examples of radio companies likewise incorporating that suffix.


Musaphonic Elegance

In the 1940's General Electric's Musaphonic radio-phonograph had an advertising campaign featuring the elegance and pleasure the Musaphonic could add to your home.

Notice in the following three ads, for "you who love music," how the designer dressed women are featured in elegant atmospheres with the Musaphonic offering the consumer "a new world of pleasure," and how dress designers and master craftsmen creating the period furniture were acknowledged for their contributions to this elegant room.

GE Musaphonic, The National Geographic Magazine, 1946 (Jay Thorpe original gown by Czettel). (PM-1753)


GE Musaphonic, The National Geographic Magazine, 1944 (Gown designed by Mildred O'Quinn exclusively for Gunther). (PM-1753)



GE Musaphonic, The National Geographic Magazine, 1944 (Negligee by Edward J. Macksoud Company). (PM-1757)



"'I can't think of a happier addition to home entertainment than this wonderful instrument." Irene Dunne

Capehart High Fidelity Phonograph AM-FM Radio, 1954 leader in the lively art of electronics, Life, December 1962

Featuring "this magnificent spiral staircase gives the impression it floats in mid-air above the reflecting pool. The kids are more interested in what they've found under the tree. Naturally."



2021 - The Flagship Phonograph Console "we remember from decades past."


Wrensilva® M1 January 2021

The phonograph continuum lives on with the record player in its cabinet 'reimagined.'