25

August

2017

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Sounds of the Phonograph

by Alexia MacClain

Imagine it is 1918 and you are resting in a comfortable chair with the phonograph playing. Perhaps this trade catalog will give us a glimpse of what that might have been like almost a century ago.

The catalog, titled Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World, is from 1918 and is by Sonora Phonograph Corp. A quick flip through it will reveal page after page of phonographs. Above each image of a phonograph is another image of a room in a house where perhaps it was kept.

front cover of trade catalog showing a Sonora phonograph and large porch with chairs and sofa

Sonora Phonograph Corp., New York, NY. Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World, 1918, front cover showing a phonograph and large porch with chairs and sofa.

title page of catalog (left page shows a street scene with the Sonora building)

Sonora Phonograph Corp., New York, NY. Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World, 1918, title page.

 

As stated in this catalog, “tone is the essence of a phonograph,” and according to the catalog, the Sonora Phonograph won the highest award for tone quality at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Sonora Phonograph Corp. had their own system to grade the phonographs’ tone quality. It was based on cost, meaning the more expensive the model, the higher the grade. This meant a $1,000 model had a grade of AA while a $50 model had a grade of F. The difference in grade level was due to “added fullness and depth.”

The Baby Grand, illustrated below, received a Sonora Grade of C for tone quality. The design of the cabinet included a bulge. Manufactured of wood, the Baby Grand was made of Golden, Fumed, Early English or Mission Oak, Brown Mahogany, or Mahogany.

Baby Grand Sonora phonograph with an image of a room with desk, chairs, and fireplace behind it.

Sonora Phonograph Corp., New York, NY. Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World, 1918, pages 24-25, Baby Grand.

 

The illustration below shows features of the Sonora phonograph, including the sound amplifier, automatic stop, and envelope filing system. The envelope filing system was a way to store and organize records. After a record was pulled out of the filing system, the envelope remained in a slightly forward position making it easier to find the proper location when returning the record. The filing system also came with an index book to help locate records easily and efficiently.

explanation of features of the Sonora phonograph with arrows pointing to each feature on the phonograph

Sonora Phonograph Corp., New York, NY. Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World, 1918, pages 30-31, features of the Sonora phonograph.

 

Sonora also made a portable phonograph. Whether it was for a child’s birthday party, a picnic, or a trip to the mountains, the Sonora Portable was easy to take along for the ride. Weighing only fifteen pounds, it measured 10.75 inches long, 10.75 inches wide, and 10.5 inches high.

Sonora Portable phonograph, open view in playing position and closed view, and outdoor scene of people listening to a phonograph

Sonora Phonograph Corp., New York, NY. Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World, 1918, pages 42-43, Sonora Portable.

 

Sonora: The Highest Class Talking Machine in the World and other trade catalogs by Sonora Phonograph Corp. are located in the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library.

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