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VITAPHONE, MODEL 12


"Vitaphone" may sound familiar to you -- several recorded sound devices reused the name.  The instrument pictured here was the inspiration of Clinton B. Repp. In 1899, he had been involved with marketing a failed disc machine known as the Vitaphone, from which he borrowed only the non-trademarked name.  In 1909, he had applied for a patent which was issued on September 19, 1911 (No.1,003,655) for a wooden sound-conducting arm, stationary reproducer and amplifying horn. Repp would go on to receive at least four German patents for his acoustic talking machine designs. Mr. Repp's odyssey into the talking machine business is the first of two stories that this amazing machine has to tell.  Note -- the chestnut wood cabinet, original finish, the orangey felt of the turntable (which we have replaced with the correct shade), and the translucent original factory finish on the horn.



Here is the Vitaphone as it appeared in an original catalog.



In 1912, the Vitaphone Company began manufacturing at a plant in Plainfield, NJ.  A contemporary catalog rhapsodizes about the innovative design: "
The violin, the flute, the organ pipe, the ‘cello are but common types which prove the soft, mellow tones of wood which improve as time goes on. The Vitaphone is constructed along this distinctive line, and owes much of its distinctive tone to the use of the patented WOODEN ARM which carries all the sound waves from the delicate needle to the patented STATIONARY SOUND BOX which is not swaying with the wave of the record… One can feel the every tone vibration throbbing through this wooden arm..."  Attention, today's readers, it's true!  This unconventional -- actually pretty whacky -- sound reproducing system produces perfectly competent results.  Of course, we have meticulously restored all the consituent parts of the system to get it operating just as it did over 100 years ago -- this is a job not everyone is qualified to do. At phonophan we understand and have had hands-on experience with the Repp system. The wooden arm must be kept under precisely calibrated tension with the reproducing diaphragm.



Within the cabinet, this mechanism maintains the arm's tension.



The patent plate lists Repp's seminal patent, plus some "not exactly accurate" wording.  Victor had gone after Repp and enjoined him from starting up during 1912.  Victor was so overbearing and litigious it believed it could actually forbid people from playing Victor records on any instrument they disapproved of!  We see here Repp's suggestion that Victor records would not be played on this machine (something he could not guarantee, of course), because who needs the Victor Talking Machine Company, dripping with money, deciding to sue you into oblivion?!



But wait -- there's more!  The second story this machine has to tell begins now.  Saul Birns (formerly Birnzweig) ran a talking machine kingdom on Second Ave. in the Lower East Side of NYC.  Birns was an "otsider" like Repp.  A self-made man.  What better man to push Vitaphones during the 1914 period than Saul Birns?  The fact that Birns kept changing the name of his business (here shown as the Metropolitan Gramophone Co.) tells us he was "bending some rules" (a a few laws) in his race to success.  Yes, Birns was even convicted of mail fraud, though it hardly dented him.  The story of Mr. Birns and his immense success in the talking machine enterprise is available BY CLICKING HERE for anyone who would like to read more about this quintessential American saga.

Regarding the design of the above plate -- yes, Mr. Birns was selling Vitaphones (among other brands), but if by viewing this plate the customer got the idea he was buying a Victor or a Columbia machine... well, who could have predicted that?!
 


Speaking of Victor --- The Vitaphone's spring motor was the spit-and-image of a Victor "I" motor--  but improved!   Note the four ball governor, whereas Victor used three.



The Vitaphone surpasses all expectations for a machine of such bizarre complexity.  The sound is "mellow" (not sharp or harsh), and it produces healthy volume.  The Vitaphone plays any ordinary 78 rpm  record, and it can even play electrically-recorded discs without the distortion that can be associated with acoustic reproduction.
A triumph for Mr. Repp, AND Mr. Birns, too!

Price: $3250.00 US, plus s/h. (NY State residents must add sales tax if applicable)

Contact: phonotim@gmail.com

Telephone: 585-244-5546

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