Marconi Velvet Tone Records
1907-1908

Marconi Velvet Tone Records were recorded and pressed by Columbia, which used the same masters for them as it did for its main catalog. However, Marconi was not a budget reissue label like Standard or Harmony. These records were instead meant to be a technological leap forward in sound and durability. In 1906, the famous radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi was brought over from Europe for a well-publicized dinner and consultation with company executives and engineers. However, no concrete commitments were made and he left for Italy, only leaving his name on the project. Actually, Columbia engineer Thomas H. Macdonald had already patented the exact process to be used weeks before Marconi's visit.

The Marconi Record was a big departure from the solid shellac discs then dominating the market. It was made of celluloid laminated over a cardboard core. Celluloid produced less surface noise than shellac and there was no need for a fine grinding agent in the material to shape the needle to the groove in the first few seconds. Gold-plated needles had to be used instead, standard steel needles would shred such records. They were also supposedly semi-permanent and didn't have to be changed after each play. The cardboard core added strength to the record and the two materials made the Marconi semi-flexible, unlike shellac records that are as rigid and brittle as glass. However, too much bending can cause creasing. The Marconi was mostly single-sided like other discs during the first decade of the 1900s but a few double-sided issues were released. Single-sided ones had a rough, crosshatched blank reverse that was meant to better grip the felt of the turntable platter to prevent slipping during play. After all, they were much lighter than shellac records. However, a large patent sticker on that side took away some of the pattern's effectiveness.

The Marconi's time on the market was brief. They and their gold-plated needles were more expensive (75 plus 25 needle) than standard Columbias (60 plus needles that came in packs of 100 or more and were small fractions of a penny each). Regular Columbias also offered all the same recordings anyways. Many who did buy Marconi records didn't heed the warning and used regular needles to damaging effect. After lagging sales, production ended in 1908 and by 1910 the remaining inventory ended up in clearance at a New York department store for 17 each with the gold-plated needles being given away as a compliment.

However, one innovation from the Marconi did find a home in Columbia proper. Columbia started pressing a paper core into all its records, adding strength and crack-deterrence. Even if a crack did happen, it often wouldn't appear on both sides. It also often remained hairline and wouldn't show up in the sound when played. Columbia used this innovation in their 78 RPM records all the way into the late 1950s when the format was discontinued.

Encoded Speed: 192 Kbps


Larger Image
Amoureuse Waltz (Blank)
Columbia Band
Marconi 042
Matrix# (Columbia 1376) 042-2-4, Take 2
ca. 1903-1908
New York, New York
Note: Rough start. Worn.


Larger Image
Old Oaken Bucket (Blank)
Columbia Quartette
Marconi 0367
Matrix# (Columbia 521) 0367-17-3, Take 17
ca. 1902-1908
New York, New York
Note: Rough and abrupt start (abrupt to exclude scratches).

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