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November 19, 2019 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Apley Park gramophone & its discs

Family of W O Foster (1814-1899) family sledging in Apley Park

Kämmer & Reinhardt toy gramophone, c.1890

Its 15 five inch discs

I really only now have the time to write my blog very rarely & when something really extraordinary happens.

I work on a few things at once & the Apley Archives is an ongoing & never-ending project.

This is our latest archival discovery: In a recent clear out, we found [in a workshop, waiting to be fixed] a very early gramophone used in Apley Park (the house, now known locally as Apley Hall), with 15 discs.

I’ve recently visited the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments in Oxford, so asked them who could play the discs.

I finally found an expert (Norman Field*) who lives relatively locally, who is very knowledgeable on this subject. We met, I handed over the gramophone & discs, he took it away, made the recordings & handed it back to me. I came away knowing 100% more than I did at the beginning of the day & delighted to hear these very rare & almost globally unique recordings which I’m sharing here.

We have lots of photos, paintings & belongings of the house & its residents over the centuries, but silence. No recordings of either the sounds they made (speaking, singing, playing) or the sounds the heard. So I was keen to get these 15 discs played. Naturally, I thought it would have been in the drawing room & therefore the discs would have been of music recordings. But actually the very early gramophones of which this is one, were toys, played in nurseries.

A big THANK YOU, MR FIELD ! This is such valuable research & so interesting !

Click HERE to hear God Save the Queen (Queen Victoria), Auld Lang Syne & Rule Britannia. Other recordings are listed below which I’ll add asap.

Below I’ve pasted Mr Field’s “Final Report on [the Apley Park] Kämmer & Reinhardt toy gramophone ca.1889 – 1892, and the fifteen 5″ Berliner discs which accompany it.”

The above hand-wound machine is generally agreed to be the first ‘gramophone’ to be marketed in the U.K. The concept of sound recorded on a disc had been patented in the U.S.A. in 1887 by Emile Berliner, a young German engineer who had gone there around 1850. However, his brother had a factory back in Germany (Hanover) which was involved in making technical equipment, mostly electrical & to do with telephones. Therefore it made sense to do marketing development & early production work in Germany. As a consequence, the above machine was evolved. It was intended as a children’s toy, rather than the serious ‘musical instrument’ it was later to become. The discs were just under 5″ diameter, and bore a spiral groove in which the sound waves had been laterally impressed. It was manufactured by the toy company Kämmer & Reinhardt, between late 1889 and 1892. British examples, such as the one above, were imported by Parkins & Gotto of Oxford Street, London, W.

Toy it may have been; but since the ‘Gramophone outfit’ cost £1 including 12 discs, it was essentially a toy for the children of the upper classes. £1 was more than a week’s wages for e.g. a factory worker at the time. Nevertheless, some quantity of these machines were sold, so they do figure in museum collections of the higher order.

There is an on-line resource in France which has compiled an extensive listing of these 5″ discs, and short extracts of many of them have been uploaded & can be heard there. We have, naturally, consulted that site extensively:

The listing suggests there were something like 150 discs in German; around 50 in English; up to maybe 50 in French, and perhaps 20 or 30 in Spanish. A possible grand total of around 300 discs may thus have been issued, it is assumed, mostly between 1889 and 1892. (However, the company might have continued putting out records for some time after the gramophones themselves were no longer being sold.) There are many gaps in the listing, but around 170 titles are actually identified, mostly German material.

There is a consensus that these discs require playing at between 100 and 150 rpm. The problem is, that there are very few musical instruments to be heard. The discs are mostly of unaccompanied speech and song, and the latter don’t have to be in any specific musical key. Still, we had to begin somewhere, so found on the Archeophone site an extract of a piano solo on Berliner 121 ‘Bierwalzer’. Archeophone have their sample in E flat; so as they are a distinguished authority, we converted the Hamilton copy of ‘Bierwalzer’ to E flat. It sounds a little fast, but taking it down much further makes it too slow. (Of course, almost all of this is conjecture & can never be proved as in a court of law.)

One extremely curious thing emerged in this brief study. If transferred at a standard speed, which I did, using 78.26 revolutions per minute, all these Berliners lasted around a minute.

So be it. But the funny thing was, while quite a lot of them did need to be jacked up from 78 to around 112 – 120 rpm to sound plausible, there were a few that sounded quite promising even at 78; and these required very little speed increase – perhaps only 15 or 20% to sound OK. In that case, the resulting sound file was well towards a minute long, as opposed to ~35 seconds for the ‘faster’ sides.

We are therefore faced with the bewildering concept that, assuming a diligent child – i.e. a girl 8^) – has been put in charge of hand-winding the Kämmer & Reinhardt Gramophone, she will do this in a dedicated fashion, and adjust the speed of her winding, so that what emerges from the little horn is intelligible, and more or less in its correct pitch.

The further consequence of this is, of course, that with this type of hand wound gramophone, the speed at which the disc was originally recorded is entirely irrelevant; a good operator would automatically set very near the correct pitch, by their rate of winding.

Here is a list of the 15 discs, with a short comment against each one:

Cat No.                                  Title

26               Twinkle Twinkle Little Star                   Spoken.

Always reputed to have been spoken by Emile Berliner, the inventor of the gramophone. Sound quite good. He is usually said to have a pronounced German accent, but I can’t hear it. Suspect it’s a myth; after all, he had lived in the U.S.A. for twenty years…

28               Morning Hymn (Awake my Soul)          Spoken.

This disc plays well, but the speech is rather fuzzy due to the poor upper frequency response. It only extends to just over 1000 Hz. The mechanical system was always limited to about 200 – 2500 Hz on discs. (That is what today, is called ‘Telephone Quality’; it enables accurate transmission of information by speech, without excessive ‘High Quality’ that adds nothing to the intelligibility, and indeed, may sometimes detract from it.)  

29               Jack & Jill, Tom, Tom &c                        Spoken.

Archeophone have this disc on their site, but there is no sample of it. I thought it might well be by a girl or young woman, so chose that option.

30               Mary Had a Little Lamb + Humpty Dumpty

This plays fairly well; the speaker has a distinct English dialect: listen to how he says ‘agayne’ at the end of Humpty Dumpty. Archeophone don’t have this disc on their site, only the title.   

35               Who Killed Cock Robin                           Spoken.

Alas, not in very good condition.

36               Sing a Song of Six Pence (sic)                 Spoken.

I might have transferred this too slow… the general quality is poor, and I had to repair a couple of ‘skip grooves’.

37               Old Mother Hubbard                               Spoken.

A good ‘forward’ recording, but alas the disc is quite badly worn.

41               For You, For You My Darling                 Sung – Bb.

This singer seems to have a fairly high voice; I’ve followed the example of Archeophone and put him in B flat. 

42               Auld Lang Syne                                        Sung.

At last a good clear recording. Though unaccompanied, the song is published in G, which seems to work quite well. The singer is rather ‘Dickensian’? Archeophone have this title, but have seen no disc.

45 -1           Voix Animaux                                           Imitations.

45 -2           Voix Animaux                                           Imitations.

Two copies of this. The one I sent before was I think too fast.  -1 above is more plausible, while -2 is probably too slow.

48               Rule Britannia                                         Sung.

This is usually in the key of G, so used that. The singer is    enthusiastic if slightly wobbly. But it comes over well in spite of the wear.

88               God Save the Queen                                Brass quintet.

This is actually from the German catalogue. Its written key is F, so have used that. Of course, there were all sorts of variations in ‘standard pitch’ within Europe, but usually not large enough to cause serious problems.

121             Bierwalzer                                                 Piano – Eb.

An astonishingly good recording – the piano was notoriously difficult to record under the old mechanical system. How they made it this good in 1890, I have no idea!  

164             Le Père La Victoire                                  Sung, key of C.

Alas, the record is fairly badly worn; C is the published key, but our ami Français might have sung it an almost any key in 1890. But it sounds reasonable at this speed. Archeophone lists the title, but have not seen a disc.            

Also in this email is a complete set of the 15 mp3s, and also with this report will come some images – I think I lost a couple somewhere, sorry, but the fronts are rather boring anyway – the backs are interesting because most of them have the words printed there.

*Norman Field is a member of the CLPGS is the City of London Phonograph & Gramophone Society


Leave a Comment
  1. Lynne Blackburn / Apr 30 2020 2:11 pm

    My paternal great grandfather, George Brown, was born at Wren’s Nest 28 December 1854. He worked at Apley Hall as a game keeper before moving up to Longton, Lancashire where he met my great grandma. His parents were John Brown and Mary Ann (nee Cooper). If you come across any photos with them in (although they were both agricultural labourers) I would be most interested. I took my mum to Shrewsbury about 16 years ago and we discovered Wrens Nest and the wonderful riverside walk. Also met Mr Kyte! I appreciate your time.
    Keep safe and well
    Lynne Blackburn

    • Apley Estate - Hamiltons / Apr 30 2020 4:45 pm

      Dear Mrs Blackburn, We will soon upload all the material we’ve gathered into an Apley Archive website. If I come across any photos of them, I’ll certainly share them by replying again here. You can email me via too.

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