The vinyl analysis; A trip to one of France's finest fleamarkets uncovers some fantastic phonographs among the many bargains on offer.
Over the years, traders followed. Today it's possible to buy everything from a new pair of shoes to last year's skis, and more antiques and collectables you're ever likely to see in one place. If Lille Braderie is not the biggest street market of its kind in the world, it is certainly the biggest in Europe, fuelled by moules and frites - mussels and chips to us foreigners - tasty French bread, good beer and good humour. It's also massive fun. Our O-level French gets us by, so long as the seller is prepared to write down the prices - we still haven't mastered numbers - but more importantly, we met many lovely people. There were more American and Asian voices than before - we've been going off and on for 20 years or more - and even one or two British dealers who clearly believe there's money to be made in renting a van (which doubles as a dormitory) and selling antiques driven across the Channel for the weekend. And then there was the ebullient Patrick Villain, whose surname is most certainly a misnomer. He is the proprietor of La Grange aux Phonographes, a private museum of mechanical music machines in Luynes, outside Tours, a five-hour drive south in his camper van.
The deals he offered us on a number of rare pieces he had for sale were generous to a fault... but sadly still out of our reach. My favourites were a trio of childfriendly wind-up gramophones, intended for the playroom or else a picnic in the garden. Pick of the bunch was a "Pygmomall" machine with tinplate horn and charming faux snakeskin cover. It dates from about 1926 and was made by the German tinplate toy manufacturers Gebruder Bing (Bing Brothers). Primitive, yes, but it worked beautifully. It was mine for [euro]120 (PS96) with two appropriately small 78 rpm records. We currently own an adult-sized HMV horn gramophone, which cost us PS180, so it was hard to justify a second purchase. It did get me to thinking about forming a collection of mechanical music, though. The gramophone was invented in 1888 by Emile Berliner, a German American, and first appeared on the market as a toy. It had a horn and was driven by hand, playing five-inch discs that contained short nursery rhymes.
The first spring-driven gramophone appeared in late 1896 and by the following year its popularity was beginning to overtake that of its predecessor, the phonograph which played small, tube-like cylinders. In 1898, when sales began to pick up in Europe, Berliner founded the Gramophone Company and a year later, what was to become probably the most famous trademark in the world was seen for the first time: Nipper the dog listening to His Master's Voice. At the turn of the century, the company was renamed the Gramophone and Typewriter Company and began producing the Lambert Typewriter. The venture was short-lived, though, and typewriter production ceased in 1904, although the name remained until the end of 1907. Up to then, the horns through which the sound was amplified were usually of brass and quite functional in appearance. Late in 1904, however, the "Morning Glory" horn appeared. It was made from separate panels of brass or tinplate, held together with folded joints and had a petal appearance, hence its name. The early type brass horn was hardly seen after 1905, so if your later machine has one, it's probably a replacement.
The business end of the machine was now firmly established, and things changed little until the 1920s. owever, in 1907, Gramophone and Typewriter began to produce a machine that had an internal horn. This meant a larger cabinet was needed to accommodate it and it was then that gramophones developed as pieces of furniture. There were some marvellous creations: the Gramophone Grand Sheraton of 1907; and the HMV Library Bijou Grand, which looked like a bow-fronted stand for an aspidistra. Further development followed to make a more compact machine and this appeared in 1909. Called the HMV Pigmy Grand, its tone arm could be quickly removed and the machine carried to a picnic or wherever. About a year later the Table Grand appeared with the further space-saving idea of fitting the clockwork motor in the internal soundbox. This was to survive in some cheaper machines until the 1920s. It's probably the one most of us remember best. Wind-ups to look out for today are the HMV 101 portables of 1929, which were compact and sophisticated (relatively speaking). When they were introduced in 1925, you could have any colour so long as it was black.
By 1929, for an extra charge you could pick either green, blue, red, grey and brown The business end of the machine was now firmly established, and things changed little until the 1920s. However, in 1907, Gramophone and Typewriter began to produce a machine that had an internal horn. This meant a larger cabinet was needed to accommodate it and it was then that gramophones developed as pieces of furniture. leather cloth or, for the really upwardly mobile, red leather. They are sturdy machines, ready and waiting to be used with wonderful tone that makes listening to contemporary 78s a real joy. It is still possible to buy one for around the PS45 mark and finding the right needles is not a problem either - enterprising companies are starting to manufacture them again.