Edison Amberol cylinder made from hard black wax, 1912
In 1908, the disc format was about to successfully rival the established cylinder. Advanced marketing campaigns combined with excellent musical selections had pushed back the cylinder market significantly. The approximate playing time standard 10" disc was about 3 minutes and therefore about 30-45 seconds longer than the maximum playing time of a standard 2-minute cylinder (2 minutes and 15 secs.) and Edison was now about to solve this problem. Columbia had introduced their own product of a 3-minute cylinder (also known as 20th Century), but used an extended length of 6", which required a special phonograph.
Edison's variant was based on keeping the standard size and length, which he accomplished by doubling the grooves which also doubled the playback time (4.5 minutes) at normal rpm. Instead of the common 100 tracks per inch, the new 4-minute cylinder was recorded at 200 tpi. Needless to say, the smaller groove would also require a smaller sapphire and because all Edison phonographs used a supporting feed screw, this had to be updated too.
As a unique name for his new long-playing cylinders, Edison used the made-up word "Amberol" which derives from the expensive amber. Like his 2-minute cylinders, the new ones were also made from black wax. However, this wax was different to the composition from 1902 and was harder. This was necessary as the wax had to cope with the increased pressure as the groove was smaller but the weight remained the same like with the 2-minute cylinders.
In order to encourage phonograph owners to spend the $7.50 it was going to cost them to play the new Amberol cylinders, the Edison Company included 10 so called "free" 4-minute Amberol records with each new conversion kit. They were always the same records, and the customer was not permitted to choose 10, but had to take the series of 10, which were given the letters A-H & J & K, instead of the usual catalog number.
The series went:
A: The Four Jacks (NY Military Band)
B: Father's Eccentricities (Murray K. Hill)
C: If I Must Say Farewell Kate, Let Me Kiss Your Lips Goodbye (Manuel Romain)
D: The Ninety and Nine (Edison Mixed Quartet)
E: Scenes that Are Brightest (H. Benne Henton)
F: Two Rubes Swapping Horses (Steve Porter and Ed Meeker)
G: Im Looking for a Sweetheart and I Think Youll Do (Ada Jones and Billy Murray)
H: Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (Harlan & Stanley)
J: Hermit's Bell Overture (American Symphony Orchestra)
K: The Peerless Minstrels (The Peerless Quartet) Additionally, the special series was easy to differ from the normal Amberols as they appeared in orange "Special Amberol" boxes instead of the common green Amberol boxes.
The Amberol cylinder was Edison's most short-lived cylinder product, which was only made over a time span of about four years. One of the major reasons was technical wear out problems. Even through normal use the cylinders tend to wear very quickly as even the new harder wax could fully resist the sapphire pressure. Furthermore, the harder wax made the already fragile cylinders even more brittle. But it was not prior to 1912 when Edison was allowed to make celluloid cylinders on his own. This was caused by the remaining Lambert patents that he finally was able to purchase which immediately made him to release his new so called "Blue Amberol" cylinders - made from celluloid and plaster.
Playing and handling
To play Amberol cylinders, a suitable 4-minute phonograph is required. Bear in mind that all Amberola phonographs with the exception of the model 1A were not designed to play any kind of wax cylinders, including Amberols! A suitable reproducer will be also necessary. It is usually safe to use the models H, K, R, S and O, where any acoustic playback should be reduced to a possible minimum to reduce wear. The playback speed is always 160 rpm.
© 1998-2016 by Norman Bruderhofer