Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Transcription Mystery Disc #121

It is rare that I Google a brand of acetate recording disc and find nothing. This is a 10-Inch 78 rpm recoding on an acetate. It starts at the outer edge.  The song is clearly labeled but the artist was not. However it came in a batch of other mixed acetates that seem to have a common origin in a collection of Helen Olheim demos. Others in the lot are dated to 1935 and 1936. She studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester in 1925 so these were recorded after she graduated. A couple are labeled clearly for WJZ and WEAF.  This may have been recorded in a radio studio, but the mix of this specific side makes me doubt that.  I purchased them near Rochester and I suspect they may have come directly from her or her families collection.This one contains only vocals with piano accompaniment.There are pauses in the playing and singing that make me think she's pulling double duty.

But the brand of blank, Tonex is totally  unknown to me. The stroboscope on the label makes me think it might have had some kind of audiophile marketing.  The manufacturer is listed as "OH &A Selmer Inc. Elkhart, Indiana U.S.A."  that I found a little bit about. In a February 1967 issue of billboard I found an article on H&A Selmer Inc. It was a write up for an electric saxophone. They were described as making a wide variety of wind instruments by company president Jack F. Fedderson. In fact Their Bundy model clarinets are said to be among the best selling in the world.

Alexandre was one of 16 siblings, several of which were musicians, most notably Henri-Chery, Charles-Emile and Alexandre-Gabriel.   Henri and Alexandre were both clarinetists. By 1890 Henri was a maker of clarinet reeds. In 1895, at the age of 31,  Alexandre came to America and performed with a number of orchestras including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the above mentioned the New York Philharmonic. Around 1900 he opened a retail musical instrument store on Third Avenue in Manhattan.  It was founded as H&A Selmer Inc. in 1904. If you didn't guess, the H and the A stand for Henri and Alexandre. In 1918 Alexandre returned to France and left the American side of the business in the hands of one of his students, George Bundy. You can read a very detailed biography here that skips acetates entirely.

Their Elkhart plant was built in 1927. In the 1950s they began making brass instruments in addition to woodwinds.They made bassoons, Clarinets, trumpets, oboes, trombones, fluets, and saxophones. They had over 200 different models of just mouth pieces. Benny Goodman played a Selmer. John Coltrane played a Selmer. Coltrane actually played a Mark VI which was assembled in Elkhart, IN.  Thsi is all very interesting.. but when did they start making acetates?  Well I found an ad in the June 1943 issue of Popular Science that included one crucial detail...
"Glass recording discs are the latest answer supplied by the phonograph industry to shortages of critical details. The new disks are made on a transparent base of ordinary glass with a coating of slow-burning ethyl acetate.  They were developed by H&A Selmer of Elkhart Indiana."
So we know for certain that they were making glass acetates by 1943. It's reasonable to think they were already making standard aluminum core blanks before that, perhaps even in the mid 1930s. By inference I'll assume the Tonex blanks date similarly to the others.  it's not certain, but there is enough context to corroborate at least that inference. I do have one lingering question.  Why is there an "O" in the company name on the acetate?


  1. Sure that's an "O" and not a copyright marking?

  2. Looking at the 3 other sides (across the 2 Tonex discs I'd say it's possible. At first I thought a copyright would be impossible on a blank disc, that this is a scenario for a TM. But in fact Selmer did have the copyright on at least one process for making acetate blanks... so maybe?

    The right side of the "O" is always thinner than the left making it C-like. So that's a maybe too...

    I'm just more accustomed to seeing the symbol to the right of the text and within a circle. But 50 years ago that may no have been the norm. In my quick reading it looks like Ⓒ​was only codified in 1971. But was in popular use even in the late 1940s. http://books.google.com/books?id=P0AhAQAAIAAJ&dq=%22copyright%20symbol%22&pg=PA308-IA3#v=onepage&q=%22copyright%20symbol%22&f=false

    ...but still a maybe. Whoel lotta maybe here. Still might be a misprint.. an errant typesetter adding an O to make "OH for Ohio because Selmer in Elkhart.