Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Marconi Velvet Tone Record ..One of the great flops of the recording industry...It missed the boat on everything including Mr. Marconi's hair!!!

Marconi on the first label of his record without his hairpiece.

A fully haired Marconi was on the second label. It did not matter the record was still a disaster.

The Marconi Velvet Tone Record Of 1907 and only 1907!

In 1906 the Columbia Graphophone Company announced that it had hired the Inventor of the “wireless” Guglielmo Marconi to invent a new type of recording for the company. A number of grand dinners and celebrations were staged to promote the great work Marconi was anticipated to accomplish.

The records that Marconi would design were quite unique for the time in that they were disc shaped and made of a vinyl like substance and were flexible and unbreakable.
But, the product had immediate problems. The records were not cheap at seventy five cents, in those days and in addition required a special needle that would only play Marconi Velvet Tone records at a cost of twenty five cents more.

What became troubling to the consumer in that era was that these needles could not be reused after being removed from phonograph’s re-producer. Therefore the new system was nearly doomed before it could capture the fancy of the public.
Basically, the technology was inconsistent and not adaptable to the standards of the recording industry at the time.

Therefore the Columbia Graphophone Company had to return to producing the standard shellac record and the Marconi record was quietly abandoned. Mr. Marconi from that time on just focused on Wireless.

There was a humorous anecdote to this story. When the vinyl records were first released they used a picture of Marconi without his hair piece on the label. Marconi expressed his displeasure with the oversight (ie. He had a cow!!) and immediately a new label was released with his hair piece in place.
Sadly hairpiece or not the records were a big consumer flop although they did set the stage for change to come.

It would be many years before a flexible unbreakable record would make its re-appearance in the music marketplace and that would be in the wake of World War II.
This episode is a reminder that in the field of invention, what may fail or be rejected at one point in time, may end up a success at a future point in time.


Anonymous said...

"It would be many years before a flexible unbreakable record would make its re-appearance in the music marketplace and that would be in the wake of World War II."
Not so! In 1930 Prof. Hal Beans introduced "Durium" a varnish-like coating that was applied to a cardboard backing that became the "Hit of the Week" unbreakable flexible record of the day, selling for just 15¢.

Art Shifrin said...

Needles of that period were NOT supposed to be re-used.

Jack Stanley said...

Well it would be years. Those Durium records would not come out till over 20 years after these.

Danae said...

does enaybody know the songs in this record? i like this music so much and i'd like to knwo who the artist is.

Jason said...

@Art Shifrin: The proper term the author should have used is "styli", since the reproducing point could be used up to 25 times in a row IF NOT REMOVED from the reproducer (e.g. you had to use the styli up to 25 times playing just Marconi records, and could not remove it to use an ordinary steel needle to play shellac 78s instead). That's why this system flopped, but if you use a sapphire stylus and a lightweight tonearm to play them nowadays, they sound fantastic.

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