When I was about ten years old, I became the proud possessor of an Edison Diamond Disc phonograph. This was under the objection of my mother, who of course did not want such a huge and ugly piece of junk in her house. It had been bought by my Aunt Betty at a sale, with the appropriate records, and sat at my grandmother’s house taking up prime floor space. Because I had early on been bitten by the old music bug, and had enjoyed a Pathé portable that gave me hours of pleasure until the spring snapped, I was besotted with the beast. My fascination with it was frankly an annoyance to my relatives.
In the fashion of the time, its dark finish had been coated with a thick green antiquing, itself painted over a coat of pink. It seemed a ghastly thing to do to a piece of furniture, but the old machine played loud and clear. I discovered immediately that it would not play standard shellac records but that I had to content myself with Edison’s
proprietary Diamond Discs, vertically recorded and pressed on a quarter-inch sawdust sandwich coated with a thin lamination of shellac.
My mother allowed this monstrosity (which I loved) to be delivered into our basement, where it and dozens of its records managed to endure dampness and yearly flooding. The diamond needle stayed true and I enjoyed the limited Edison repertoire endlessly. Only when I acquired a portable Victrola VV-50 was I diverted from this wonderful contraption, since I could play all my other records on the new acquisition.
Since I never have been able to leave bad enough alone, I eventually attempted to remove the layers of paint. I got it down to something resembling its wood finish, but it looked worse than before. It still played perfectly, of course.
After my mother died, I had to clean out her house, and I spun a record on the old machine—with requisite lump in my throat—before removing it to my garage. It has since been in and out of our house, and is back in the garage. It’s still unfinished. A few years ago I tried to hire a refinisher who gave me a steep estimate (which I accepted), and he never returned to do the job.
Fast forward to this year. My friend Ed Clute, a wizard of a stride piano player and a fellow accumulator of records, called to inquire if I might like to buy his own Edison Diamond Disc player. Unlike my childhood machine, Ed’s Edison was in nearly perfect original condition. A 1919 Model C-19, the vaunted “Laboratory Model,” he had taken exquisite care of it through the years. I had seen it on a previous visit to his home, and its pristine golden oak finish was a true joy to behold. I didn’t hem and haw very long. Nor did I haggle.
On June 28th my wife and I drove the U-Haul van to Ed’s with a blanket, an appliance dolly, and eight large plastic crates. What I had forgotten was how huge the C-19 is. It is a massive—and massively heavy—piece of furniture. A Diamond Disc as Big as the Ritz. It stands as tall as an upright piano and weighs only slightly less. While we were at Ed’s our mutual friend Bryan Wright called and asked who I had to help me move it. “Help?” I said, “I am the help.”
Through physics, resourcefulness, and sheer force of will, my wife and I managed to get the phonograph into the van. Following that were six long crates of Diamond Disc records, which also were a challenge. (The Diamond Disc sawdust core doesn’t much help lighten the load.)
The Edison C-19 now occupies a place of pride in my front hall. I am deeply grateful to Ed Clute for entrusting me with his treasure. It is indeed a magnificent phonograph, even if my knees still remind me of how much fun I had in moving it.
And my old Edison Diamond Disc phonograph—still working, of course —will be entrusted to a worthy recipient whom I hope gets as much joy out of it as I did.
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