A 2-minute Columbia Indestructible cylinder
The so called "indestructibles" represent a further technical development of the predating Lambert cylinders which were licensed by other manufacturers after Lambert went out of business in 1906. Especially Columbia and US Everlasting showed excessive production activity in making their own celluloid cylinders. Compared to Edison's wax cylinders, the indestructible cylinders were clearly beneficial as it was a real effort to cause damage to them by rough handling.
The shrink problem of the Lambert celluloid cylinders must have been known that time. Chemically, no action was taken against this issue. However, some physical solutions were accomplished. Instead of a making a cylinders completely out of celluloid, Columbia used an inner core of wrapped cardboard with a metal ring on each end. That way, the celluloid was practically unable to shrink. US Everlasting went a similar way by using a more harder and thicker core made from black paper-mâché, which did not require additional metal rings. Because of the black color one could only distinguish them from a wax cylinder after taking a closer look. These indestructibles were fully compatible with the common 2-minute phonographs in use.
After discontinuing the cylinder production, Columbia sold its entire stock of cylinders which where then sold under the Oxford label until about 1912. Sometimes, period cylinders with a gray-blue color can be found. This was simply caused by wrong delivery of material, which Oxford was able to purchase for a lower price. Despite the color, it was still good enough for them to make cylinders from it.
Indestructible cylinders are the most common cylinders after the regular wax cylinders where the Columbia/Oxford indestructibles represent the vast majority. Other brands such as US Everlasting, Lakeside or Albany are somewhat less common. US Everlasting sold their products also directly to the mail-order house Sears & Roebuck for which it produced the custom label Lakeside. However, the selections were identical to the Everlasting series. Therefore, Everlasting's and Lakeside's can sometimes found mixed together.
Playing and handling
Indestructibles are very and safe to handle, as they are much tougher than any wax cylinders. Anyway, they should be treated with care, especially when being in good to excellent condition. As with wax cylinders, indestructibles should be also kept away from rapid and high variations in temperature. A cold environment can cause celluloid to being brittle. Dry storage is highly recommended and definitely required with indestructibles that carry cardboard core and/or metal rings. In general, mold will not affect celluloid but will easily settle down on cardboard and leaves some ugly remains.
The groove surface is often found to be dirty. An indestructible cylinder can be carefully cleaned with a drop of washing liquid and ordinary tab water. It must be ensured, that the cardboard/metal/paper-mâché core remains does not get wet! Avoid using alcohol or any solvent. Alcohol will dissolve the softener camphor and causing the celluloid to get brittle more quickly.
Metal rings are always subject to rust! Existing rust particles should be taken off with fine steel wool. Then, the rings should be rubbed with a tiny (!) amount of oil, intended for opto/fine mechanics. This will avoid the rust from returning under normal climate conditions.
For 2-minute indestructibles, a regular Model C reproducer is best suited for the use with an Edison phonograph. 4-minute indestructibles can be used with the same playback equipment as Blue Amberols. With only some exceptions, most indestructibles will play at a speed of 160 rpm.
© 1998-2012 by Norman Bruderhofer