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Edison Blue Amberol Cylinders (1912-1929)

Edison Blue Amberol

The Right of the People to Rule / Teddy Roosevelt. Edison Blue Amberol: 3707. 1919.

The rapid rate of technological development in the cylinder era culminated in a shift to a new cylinder medium--celluloid. Albany had begun selling celluloid-based Indestructible cylinders as early as 1907 and the Lambert Co. in Chicago had sold them as early as 1901. Nonetheless, for Edison, the switch was more complete and long-lasting than it was for his rival companies: the Blue Amberol, introduced in 1912, would be the last incarnation of the cylinder line for the Edison company. Like the Amberols, the Edison Blue Amberols had a playing time of around four minutes (200 TPI). When they were first introduced, durability was seen as the chief virtue of celluloid media; a misstep with a celluloid cylinder, unlike the fragile wax recordings, wouldn't cause it to shatter. While resistance to breakage was rightly considered to be progress in 1912, today it is viewed as the celluloid cylinder's only redeeming quality. Shrinkage and deformation over time have rendered the cylinders difficult to play, and their sound today often is worse than that of the earlier wax cylinders.

Nevertheless, Blue Amberol cylinders fought the emerging dominance of the disc format, introduced by Emile Berliner with the Gramophone in 1888. By 1912, Edison's fiercest competitors were the Victor Talking Machine Company and the Columbia Phonograph Co. (which had stopped making cylinders in 1909). By 1915, following years of resistance, the Edison Company began manufacturing its own disc format, the "Diamond Disc." After July 1914, most Edison Blue Amberols were dubbed from disc masters, and selections from then on were usually issued in both disc and cylinder format. The decline of cylinders was long and slow, and they continued to be produced until Edison left the record business entirely in October 1929 (several days before the stock market crash), ending a remarkable run in the development of sound recording. Very late Blue Amberols, which by this time were being produced in tiny quantities, were actually dubbed from electrically recorded discs and sound like the more familiar electrical recordings of the 1920s. An electrically recorded cylinder by the Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra is an example.

The main domestic series of Blue Amberol Records, running from number 1500 to 5719, were issued between 1912 and 1929 and featured everything from popular music and band selections to light classics. There were other series for concert and operatic music as well as series for ethnic and foreign markets. These series include the 22000 Mexican series, the 28000 Concert series, the 23000 British series, and the Royal Purple Amberol series, pictured below.

Edison Royal Purple Amberol

Träumerei [Kinderscenen. Träumerei] / Schumann. Albert Spalding. Edison Royal Purple Amberol Record: 29050. 1920. (Dubbed from Diamond Disc matrix 5749.)

Essentially celluloid Blue Amberols of a different hue, these cylinders were dyed purple and were marketed as a series of higher-end recordings, featuring operatic and classical selections.

Duane Deakins, an early discographer of cylinder records lists the following numerical series of Blue Amberol records issued by Edison:

Popular, Domestic 1501-5719
Popular, Domestic (Specials) A-K
Norwegian 9225-9251
Swedish and Danish 9425-9462
Holland-Dutch 9650-9669
Bohemian 9850-9867
Hebrew 10050-10066
Polish 10750-10760
Hungarian 11025-11029
Russian 11225-11231
Finnish 11700-11712
Greek 11800-11805
Welsh 14201-14212
Mexican, Spanish, Cuban, Portuguese, and Argentine


Italian 22046-22478
Puerto Rican 22511-22534
Hawaiian 22535-22539
Australian 22540-22544
British 23001-23403
German 26050-26196
French 27001-27195
Concert and Grand Opera 28101-28290
Special Grand Opera 29001-29006
Royal Purple 29007-29080

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Some of the rarest of all cylinders are "pink" Lambert cylinders, early celluloid cylinders made between 1900 and 1902.

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