The invention of the gramophone in 1887 — following that of Thomas Edison’s phonograph a decade earlier — revolutionised the enjoyment of music. People had more opportunity to listen to recorded versions of it in their own homes.
To anyone fortunate enough to have such devices, the musical world became more accessible. Previously you’d have to go out more to experience what it had to offer, by way of live concert performances or the opera, perhaps, or the local music hall.
HMV gramophone models of the late 1920s/early 1930s type pictured here added a further dimension to musical appreciation. In its own compact suitcase — with space for record storage in the lid — it was portable and relatively easy to shift around the home, or to other locations. As such, it was an early form of recorded music on the move.
Then again, not many people could afford it. This model’s cost of about £7 (£350 in today’s money) amounted to three and a half times the weekly wage of the day — a little under £2 — for those lucky enough to have a job, as the 1930s depression set in.
The German-born American Emile Berliner had invented the gramophone, which came to be considered the basis of the modern record player. His company adopted the His Master’s Voice — HMV — trademark, featuring Nipper the dog listening to a wind-up gramophone.
Berliner’s innovations led to the mass distribution of recorded sound technology. Design features included the turntable — replacing the phonograph’s unwieldy cylinders — and the flat-disc recordings to be played on it. Initially these might be made from such as rubber or glass, and later vinyl.
HMV’s early 1930s model reached the market just as record players were having to compete with radio, a rising source of musical entertainment since the 1920s. Through the second world war and beyond, the gramophone also had to vie for popularity with the upright piano. Not all families had one, though many had someone who could knock out a tune for a knees-up.
Many prewar gramophones lingered on into the 1950s. Increasing wealth, rock ’n’ roll music and hi-fi sound, however, were among factors leading to the success of the automatic turntable in the 1960s.
With the growth in use of cassettes in the 1970s and CDs in the 1980s, vinyl and the turntable went into retreat. Technological advances from the Sony Walkman to MP3 players later gave people near complete mobility as they listened to music. Millions now choose to stream it from such providers as Spotify.
But thanks to DJs finding ways to use turntables to produce new sounds, and audiophiles returning to the not-quite perfect sound of vinyl for the music they want, both forms have bounced back.
HMV has undergone the revolving fortunes of the years. With the pandemic taking its toll on vinyl sales and the high street, much depends on whether the company’s present owner, Canadian businessman Doug Putman, can scratch out a path to survival.
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