The Fairy Phonograph
Late 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
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."
The 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 assertionart
is, after all, entirely subjective. Was it an invention? That, it most certainly was.
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