The very first disc (as opposed to cylinder) talking machine that Columbia introduced, in 1901, was called the "AH."  Columbia had spent years trying to break into the increasingly-lucrative disc market -- by hook or by crook, so to speak, with a certain amount of "crookedness" included.  Finally, when Columbia got enough patent protection to launch its disc line, it created a formidable flag-ship to lead it into battle.  The "AH" was big, with a heavily paneled oak cabinet that included stately pillars and deeply ribbed molding.  The "AH" was an instrument of the early "front-mounted" style, with a horn that resembled an orchestra horn, with a round brass bell.  The horn extended straight out from the side of the cabinet.  

Within a couple years, talking machine companies began switching over to a new design arrangement for their disc instruments.  Known as "back-mounted," this arrangement put the horn over the top of the cabinet, so it no longer stuck out into the room.  Columbia had a big stock of magnificent oak cabinets for its "AH" machines, and just like Victor did with its existing cabinets, Columbia "converted" them to a back-mounted configuration.  Thus was the instrument you see above created -- a back-mounted "AH," which became the very first version of the "BI," a machine that would be one of the most popular Disc Graphophones ever produced.

Today, this "transitional" model is one of the most rare and beautiful instruments in the world.

At the Columbia factory in Bridgeport, CT, the existing "AH" cabinets were expertly modified.  In this image, you can see the crank hole for the previous "AH" model on the left side of the cabinet.  Protruding from it, in the presently shown early "BI" incarnation, is the on/off/speed-control.  The crank hole has been relocated to the right side of the cabinet.  The fancy carrying handle, which was on the rear panel of the "AH" is now at the front of the early "BI."

Here, you can see how the purposely-designed motor has been arranged to work with the existing cabinet.  At the very bottom of this image, the on/off/speed control has been set up to it can emerge through the former crank hole.  This "transitional" motor was only used in this early version of the "BI."  Fascinatingly, it carries over elements from the very first Disc Graphophone motors, while introducing components that would become signature styling in Columbia motors to come.

Columbia had envisioned its Disc Graphophone motors on the same order of the ones they were already producing for the cylinder talking machines that had made the company famous. The components were mounted on a nickel-lated brass motor plate, originally intended to act as the top of the cabinet.  Here, this plate is affixed under a wooden top board, specially created for the "transitional" "BI."  Note the governor is vertically arranged -- this concept originated with the Berliner Gramophone, the very first disc talking machine.  Victor continued the practice, and so Columbia naturally incorporated the vertical governor into its early motors.  To quiet governor noise, Berliner had introduced a fiber gear.  Early Victor motors also used fiber (that is soft, composition) gears.  Columbia's fiber gear can be seen just above the governor, red in color.

What Columbia did not foresee was that this transitional motor would become one of the hardest to regulate.  In actual use, the soft fiber gear which was intended to eliminate noise, would become noisy!  We spent hours and hours carefully taking this motor down to its constituent parts, replacing both mainsprings, and tightening, calibrating all the tolerances to get this motor running smoothly and as quietly as possible.  The average "home handyman seller on eBay" could never have then skill we have accrued from 47 years of experience.  This is why phonophan instruments are always superior to others you find on the Net.

Original factory banner decal.  The cabinet finish is original, and a lovely, rich oak color.

The "oxidized bronze" carrying handle -- note also the beauty of the quarter-sawn oak cabinet, with original factory finish.  This cabinet was one of the most substantially constructed of the period. Veritably a master act of craftsmanship.

Columbia, with the advent of this machine, introduced the nickel-plated back-bracket and shiny aluminum arm that would characterize its Disc Graphophones for more than a decade.  This early version of the Columbia soundbox has a conventional thumbscrew to hold the needle, rather than the famous "spring clip" that the firm would soon adopt. Do you notice a shiny, flat component just to the left of the back-bracket?

Yes! The tapered bracket that once held the support arm of the previous "AH" model is still in place.  This is interesting as it applies to Columbia because it is rarely seen, commensurate with the overall rarity of this model.  However, Victor did the very same thing -- the cabinets Victor converted to the new "back-mounted" configuration retained the holes that had been used to secure the "front-mounted" arms.


As was common with talking machine firms during this transitional period, the "Grand Prize" decal which had already been applied to the "AH" cabinets was all but covered up by the new back-bracket.  The same can be found on various Zonophone models.  Note, the bracket is mounted off-center, as would be all "BI" brackets henceforth.

On the arm, opposite the soundbox, is this mechanical volume control.

We want to make special note of the solid-brass flower horn.  Our job is to preserve and protect these precious instruments.  This all-brass horn is of special historic value.  It precedes the nickel-plated brass horn that would become signature styling on the later "BI."  Consequently, it was of the utmost importance to preserve it.  Brass is subject to separating along its seams, and the surface, unprotected by nickel plating, can grow very tarnished and rough.  With the care one would put into restoring a Rembrandt, we spent hours and hours and hours painstakingly returning this beautiful horn to vitality.  We soldered some split seams, worked tirelessly to remove corrosion, put the brass through several chemical baths, and then scrupulously polished and lacquered the surface of the panels.  The resulting success -- a antique without doubt, not brand spanking new, but with the unmistakable charm and character of age -- can be seen here. And, most-importantly, we saved it for future generations to enjoy! 

Price: $2150.00 US, plus s/h. (NY State residents must add sales tax, if applicable.)


Telephone: 585-244-5546

US Post: phonophan

               PO Box 747

               Henrietta, NY 14467 USA

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