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The Fairy Phonograph

PhonographLate in the 19th century, Oscar Wilde furrowed the brow of many a creative genius when he declared, "all art is quite useless." Had he lived until the 1910s and the invention of Roman Gonsett's combined electric portable (also known as a lamp) and phonograph, he may well have changed his mind.

At the time, few would have argued that a phonograph was particularly useful. It brought the beauty of music, which could previously only be enjoyed in concert halls and such, into the home. It was not, however, living up to its potential, in the mind of one Albertan, Roman Gonsett. As one of the promotional pamphlets for the device lamented, "few attempts have been made to make phonographs real works of art, appealing to the eye as well as to the ear."

Fairy Phonograph Lamp Company AdvertisementThe lamp/phonograph was patented in the United States and marketed as the Fairy Phonograph, manufactured by both the Fairy Phonograph Lamp Company and by the Endless Graph Company of Chicago. It featured a phonograph arm that could be turned up when not playing a record, blending in to make the whole device resemble a lamp. The base of the machine doubled as the horn of the phonograph while the upper component housed the electric motor that drove the record turntable.

As for the lamp, there were three light sockets that could be used while playing the phonograph. Each individual light had its own switch, so that one, two or three bulbs could be turned on.

To add to the Fairy Phonograph's aesthetics, customers could choose finish in gold, silver or mahogany. When not in use, the turntable was covered by a plate topped with a small statue. The shade of the lamp was made of silk in an oriental pattern, although customers had the option of buying without a shade, if they themselves had shade-making skills, not an uncommon skill at the time.

The Fairy Phonograph came in two models, A and B, the former somewhat smaller than the latter. Model B measured 39 centimetres in diameter, 81-86 centimetres in height and weighed 9.8 kilograms.

No surviving records indicate how many Fairy Phonographs went into production or were sold.

Was the Fairy Phonograph art? Some might argue with such an assertion—art is, after all, entirely subjective. Was it an invention? That, it most certainly was.

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