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A phonograph is a device that plays back sound using a stylus to trace grooves cut on a cylinder. Introduced in 1877 by Thomas Edison, phonographs are favorites of collectors due to the wide variety in appearance and style. Early phonographs have wooden cases and large horns that amplified the sound produced. Some phonographs were designed to look like pieces of furniture, allowing them to fit in with existing home décor.

The phonographs most prized by collectors are those produced by Edison and sold by the National Phonograph company in the late 1890s. The Edison Home Phonograph was one of the first products offered by the company. It used wax cylinders that played about two minutes of music each. The Edison Gem Phonograph was introduced in 1899 and was very small with a horn that was larger than the machine.

Another early phonograph company was the Columbia Phonograph Company, which used the graphophone technology invented by Chichester Bell, cousin of Alexander Graham Bell. The Columbia Eagle and the Graphophone Grand were models offered by this company. Cylinders used with early phonographs are also highly collectible. These cylinders were made of wax with grooves cut on the surface that held the recorded music. Besides Edison, other manufacturers of wax cylinders included Vitaphone, Euphonic, Ecophone, and Bettini.

Quick Facts

  • Phonographs that used cylinders became obsolete around 1910, abandoned by consumers in favor of gramophone technology that used flat disks to record sound
  • An Edison Amberola cabinet phonograph from around 1913 used an amplifier inside the cabinet rather than a large horn. This phonograph is valued at around $700
  • A Bettini #4 phonograph was sold at auction in 2012 for $11,500

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