Black Wax (Gold Moulded) Cylinders
Edison Gold Moulded Cylinder, ca. 1907
Moulded cylinders, also called Moulded Records by other brands are the
most often found cylinder types and were first introduced in 1902 by
the Edison Phonograph Co. This new record type was made possible by a
recently developed molding process for mass (re)production of
pre-recorded cylinders. Edison had used this method already four years
earlier for internal reproduction of master cylinders. With the new
gold Moulded records, each single cylinder offered to the public was
now made this way.
manufacture of a gold moulded cylinder started as usual with the direct
(master) recording on a cylinder blank made from soft brown wax. Then,
this cylinder would not be duplicated by the common pantographic method
but was used to derive a metal master from it. For this, the recorded
cylinder was placed between two gold leaf electrodes and was then
brought into rotation. Now, a high voltage was put between the gold
electrodes, which caused to leave a wafer-thin gold layer on the
record's surface. This thin gold layer could then be strengthened with
copper by the use of standard galvanic procedures. No further
involvement of gold occurred during the whole production. The master
cylinder did not survive the metal mould production.
way, one would get metal master mould from which it was possible to
cast playable wax cylinders. But normally, these Moulded cylinders
would be used to produce second-generation metal sub-moulds to meet the
necessary production capacities.
to the new molding method, only one single recording had to be used
from now on. Thus, the cylinder that a customer would now buy was not
anymore directly recorded or pantographed and already features the very
same grooves of the original master cylinder. An important benefit of
this technique was that it allowed the use of a harder wax composition
usually not suitable for direct recording. The new harder wax was given
a black color and Edison introduced the new Model C reproducer at about
the same time. This reproducer had did not have a fully round shaped
bullet sapphire but look like tiny doorknob. The resulting smaller
elliptical contact surface did allow the stylus to follow the shape of
the more accurately. However, the new and heavier fishtail weight was
even more substantial for the slightly better playback quality.
1904, Edison's Gold Moulded cylinders did not feature a title end. They
were only distinguishable by their embossed Edison logo, patent note
and individual catalog number beside the grooves. In 1904, the end of
the cylinder was change to a beveled edge that would feature the
recorded title in white letters on the cylinder. The Columbia
Phonograph Company did follow quite soon with their own molded
cylinders that were made until 1904 by the use of the regular brown wax
and later changed to black wax composition. To the current state, it is
not fully backed weather Edison or Columbia did introduce the first
molded pre-black wax cylinders to the market.
the introduction of the 4-minute cylinder, the 2-minute cylinder did
loose a good portion of importance and Edison discontinued its
production by September 1912. Columbia had already decided to step out
of cylinder manufacture in 1910 to focus on the effectively promoted
disc record format.
labels existed in a huge variety in Europe beside Edison Columbia.
Germany's most active cylinder brands were Gloria and Excelsior while
England most widely spread with Edison-Bell and Sterling Records.
France, however features Europe's largest phonograph company, the Pathé
Fréres which stepped out of cylinder business as early as 1906 - after
only 10 years.
Edison Grand Opera Gold Moulded Cylinder, ca. 1906
Playing and handling
wax cylinders have a tougher surface than their brown wax antecessors,
but the material is significantly brittle and breaks much easier.
use with an old phonograph should be also reduced to a necessary
minimum. Especially high volume cylinders are pretty quickly affected
by distorsion. Digitization with the help of low-weight modern pickup
systems can be again very helpful in this case.
any acoustic playback of any wax cylinders at a temperature exceeding
25°C (77 °F) should be absolutely avoided as wear may increase
suitable reproducers must be used with gold moulded cylinders. In
general, the Model B reproducer does also work with these cylinders.
Even though the widely spread Model C reproducer was developed to be
used for black wax cylinders, it may cause quicker wear to the record
than the earlier Model B does. This is mostly caused by the doorknob
shape of the stylus, which literally files down a dynamic groove, thus
causing distortion. Already affected grooves can be usually recognized
by their brown shine.
With very few exceptions, the general playback speed is 160rpm.
destruction by mold is a well-known problem than can affect all kinds
of wax cylinders. Mold growth is often caused by humid conditions like
microscopic amounts of collected water inside a cylinder box, caused by
ordinary "basement/barn/attic climate". The destructive effect is then
done by the fungus, which eats the wax, usually starting at the surface
where groove was cut. The remains can be easily called a microscopic
lunar landscape. During playback one can hear a distinctive, scratchy
and hissing noise. Normally the mold is already dead and cannot be
reactivated. However, spores tend to be always in the air and
therefore, a cylinder should be given enough ventilation during
storage. This can be easily accomplished by not closing the box with a
lid. Just leave it loose on the top. Alternatively, a tight-closed
closed can be used together with a small package of silica gel to avoid
growing humidity. Mold affection can be easily determined by visual
inspection. Usually, it appears as white or light-brown spots of
various sizes. Heavy mold affection can also include the full surface
of a wax cylinder. Cylinder storage at normal living room climate is
generally not a problem. For very special cylinder records, acid-free
archival storage boxes are available. Bear in mind that these archival
boxes are under no circumstances appropriate for transportation or any
kind of shipping.
temperature changes must be avoided in any case; otherwise it may cause
hairline cracks and an economically total loss of a record. Never touch
the groove surface of any wax cylinders as even invisible fingerprints
can react with the wax composition over months and will cause
disturbing spots (not to be mixed up with mold). These spots cannot be
© 1998-2012 by Norman Bruderhofer