Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Some history to The Phonoscope and etc.

Well, it has been an interesting few days on this blog, with some heated comments below, how it's been something. Now to let that all behind me and to move confidently onward, I would like to do a post about how to navigate and fully understand a magazine that I often make reference to on this blog, The Phonoscope. It's something that not everyone will fully understand once delving into its pages, so many pages need some explaining. 
Here's the first thing about it, it was a magazine written by and for people who knew the record business or were in it. It was a magazine targeted at recording artists, and independent exhibitioners(or even some record buyers). Russell Hunting:
He knew what his audience was when he decided to go through with starting this magazine in 1896. His friends in the record business probably were skeptical about the idea, but once the first two issues went out, it proved to be a great success. Not bad for a jailbird redeeming himself. 
The first handful of issues were all written mostly by Hunting, but after that, he was only the (somewhat lousy) editor. The first three issues were a real "pot luck" of interesting topics and writing styles. Hunting was mentioned far more than any of the other artists in the first few issues, for obvious reasons, and the sections that are in the first two issues are really a great way to look at the early recording business through Hunting's eyes. The column of Our Tattler was absolutely scattered and absurdly hilarious in the two 1896 issues, here's a section from the November 1896 issue:
these are all hilarious, you've got to admit. And that was the point! The Our Tattler section was oftentimes the comedic section of the magazine where short phonograph-related stories were and little studio mishaps could be read about often. This magazine is a greater resource of information about the inner workings of the early recording business more than anything else that's in a modern book, as it contains great descriptions of the studios, locations, scandal stories, reports on lawsuits and court battles, and everything else that can be thought of when referring to the early recording business. Sometimes the descriptions of recording studios then are better than any I can give on this blog, like this one here from the December 1896 issue:
Could not have been said any better Mr. Hunting. 
That should give you a pretty good picture. That sums up much of the studio recording process of that time, seemingly slow and incredibly social, even though thousands of records were made and sold every week. The General News section was then where all phonograph related news and studio doings went after the beginning of 1897. 1897 was also the year that all the recording stars began to actually start their own record companies, such as the Universal Phonograph Company, of which you can see those involved here:
Yep, most of those can be read easily(I hope!). You not only get to see the modern and stylish signature of Russ Hunting, but also the graceful and gorgeous one of Len Spencer's! Many more ads for this company lasted into the middle of 1897. One thing you can also find that is really helpful in this magazine, it the sequence in which certain things of importance happened, like when the Columbia announcements changed from "...of New York city" to the more well-known "..of New York and Paris", and that's an important event in Columbia's history. You can also find when Issler's orchestra morphed into the Columbia orchestra, which that can be officiated in the April 1897 issue here:
"picollo" ha! That's some nice editing Mr.  Hunting. 
The Phonoscope really helps the fact that no ledgers from 1890's Columbia exist, so some things can be pieced together. Things that were lost with the burned ledgers. You can find a great description of Columbia's new headquarters at 27th and Broadway in New York at the beginning of their July 1897 issue, which is where that illustration I used a few posts back about the Columbia clan came from. As many magazines go, there are some issues that are full of important sections and information, and there are some that are not really as informative. They didn't exactly state when Columbia hired Fred Hylands, but it was certainly later in 1897. 1898 was really when the business started to become heated, and I would even be willing to argue that 1898 was one of the most important years of the acoustic era in recording. It was the official death date of the  "round" era, and it was an extraordinary year of exchange, progress, and gossip. It was when the dynamics of the exhibitions became more uniform, depending on the company that was hosting them. Edison had their fancy and gilded ones with a few sly hustlers from their staff doing theirs, whereas at Columbia's
they were lavish gatherings with drinks and food offered, and hosted easily twice as many people as the Edison exhibitions. The only downside to the Columbia exhibitions is that they lasted until after midnight each night, unlike the Edison ones, that went until about 10 or 11. In fact, speaking of the 1898 issues, here are some of the best sections from 1898 issues of The Phonosope:

(absolutely love this one, as the drinking habit can finally be proven with Spencer!)

Yes indeed, all the 1898 issues have something interesting to offer, no matter of what it happens to be that they are describing. Once 1899 came upon them, that was when Fred Hylands was getting the most attention in the issues. He is mentioned a substantial amount of time in 1899 issues, much more than in the 1898 issues. That just goes to show you how important the whole publishing firm jag was to the Phonoscope writers, to record companies and other jealous publishers. Hylands was able to stick his tongue at the other publishers who wanted to have the studio artists exclusively tied to their music. Hylands had all the studio stars on strings, something that the other big publishers( like Leo Fiest, Joseph Stern, and George Spaulding) were drooling over with envy. The amount of attention Hylands Spencer and Yeager got in the 1899 issues is really amazing, as in some issues, there are two or three pieces in the General News column that speak of various doings with the firm. It really must have been a good way to spread the recording business to more than just the studio. It was a good idea, for a short time frame(I will do a post exclusively on the full history of Hylands Spencer and Yeager soon!). The magazine was becoming much more complicated and tangled up by the end of 1899, which the December 1899 issue is the latest one that you can look at online for some reason. The 1900 issues are just as fascinating as I have heard, as one of the sections I have read from it describes how the artists think they can sing any songs, even though they cannot really. For example, George Gaskin singing "coon songs" rather than his usual Irish songs. I have not read any others of the 1900 issues, but I would certainly like to! 

I anyone knows how to access the 1900 issues of The Phonoscope, pleas comment on this post! 

I hope you enjoyed this! 

1 comment:

  1. The Phonoscope through June 1900 is available on Google books here:

    I don't know if any more were published after this. Do you?

    I just discovered your blog, by the way. I love it! Thanks for all your work!