Poignant late-19th-C ad for a newfangled talking-machine


Look at that awkward typesetting, with the last line of the paragraph suddenly thrust back over to the left. If this ad was made recently, I’d question the computer skills of whoever was doing the layout. But apparently some slow, deliberate typesetter purposefully thought this was a good idea.


The old late 19th century man looks at a phonograph and smiles and says, “They didn’t have anything like this when I was young.”

The old early 21st century man looks at a Wii and frowns and says, “Dammit, why didn’t they have anything like this when I was young? Stupid kids get everything good. Well, I’ll show them. I’ll trash Social Security.”


I don’t think they will get punishment. In fact they can monitor their location with gps tracking.

1 Like

Columbia started out as a distributor of Edison’s dictation-oriented cylinder phonograph. Like a lot of the others they started selling them, and selling a lot of them, for entertainment purposes. They eventually started selling recordings.

Edison didn’t like it, but by the time he lowered himself to become a record producer he had lots of competition. He stuck with it a long time, though, selling cylinder records up to 1928! (Mostly of what Edison referred to as “Coon Shouters,” and mostly in the deep south.) He also stuck with vertical recordings even after he deigned to release a disk record.

1 Like

One of my favorite components of the novel “Dracula” (1897) is that the character Dr. John Seward, keeps a personal diary on phonograph cylinders. At the time, reading that novel must have been a bit like reading the near-future sci-fi of today.


Demands shooping.

Ha! I’d say the same goes for a lot of 19th century graphic design choices. Their wonton mixing of ornate and clashing typefaces screams of someone with too much access to a “free font” directory site, and their little embellishments like the pointing fingers of yore seem like Microsoft clip art gone awry.

1 Like

Meh, Columbia Graphophone didn’t have a gold plated spindle or use oxygen-free wax… Just try to get good sound out of that thing.


Personally, I’m kind of fond of ads for medicinal preparations from before the time of drugs prohibition. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, Perry Davis Pain Killer, Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, Wistar’s Balsalm of Wild Cherry… These were all over the counter opiates containing morphine. A reminder of a time of my grandparents’ youth when cocaine, heroin, morphine, opium, & cannabis could all still be purchased legally at the local druggist. The worst so-called drug problems today are prohibition problems, direct outcomes of ill-conceived drugs laws, not due to drugs themselves. So, we shouldn’t be surprised there were far fewer “drug problems” prior to foolish prohibition laws than after. We had it more right 100+ years ago before the historical & cultural aberration known as drugs prohibition, & the failed & counter-productive war on drugs began. Ah, to return to the good old days of Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral!


The thing is, that wasn’t near-future technology at the time – it was available. It seems weird to us now, but that’s what the phonograph was actually invented to be – a dictation recording device. Only later did it become clear that the “killer app” for the device was prerecorded music. It’s kind of like VCRs – they didn’t really take off when they were just devices to record shows, but when you could rent/buy movies…

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.