Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Angelophone recordings



With the success of the Photodrama in mind, and the realisation that records were now highly popular, a few Bible Students set up the Angelico Company in 1916. Ostensibly it was to manufacture and sell phonographs, but with each purchase came a set of 50 Angelophone recordings. For some reason they were numbered 49-98, although it is certain that no 1-48 were ever issued. The records were small seven inch discs using the ‘hill and dale’ method to squeeze two minutes on a side at 85 rpm. They were advertised as ‘Old Fireside Hymns’ sung by the celebrated baritone Henry Burr. On the reverse side (also at 85 rpm) were a series of two minute sermons to explain the hymns. These were uncredited, but were Pastor Russell’s own voice. Those who had questions could write to a ‘Free Information Bureau for Angelophone Patrons’. This of course was the Watch Tower Society.

It must have sounded a good idea on paper; reaching people who might be prejudiced by the words Watch Tower. In practice, it was a disaster!

For a start, Henry Burr sounds rather the worse for wear. The hymns contain some high notes that his baritone had considerable difficulty in reaching. Limited to two minutes many hymns were abridged. The reverse side, Pastor Russell’s short sermons – and the only reason the Bible Students would purchase – was even worse! Russell was now in very poor health and died in October 1916. His voice, unsuitable for the Photodrama, was even more unsuitable now. The recordings were very poorly made, and today (without a transcript) much of what is said is indecipherable. It appears to have been the same at the time because complaints flooded in, and the Watch Tower had to announce they had been re-recorded. This time, Harry Humphries was hired again. His voice was slightly slower, so the speed for his recordings was reduced to 80 rpm. There is some improvement, but not a lot, and the records soon ceased production. The Angelophone Hymnal disappeared from the Society’s cost list after 1919.


Note for collectors: there are two issues. The first issue has dark blue paper labels for the ‘Old Fireside Hymns’ and an embossed title for the lectures given (uncredited) by Russell. The second issue has light blue paper labels for the hymns (the words ‘Old Fireside’ are omitted) and off-white paper labels for the lectures given (uncredited) by Humphries.


Taken from “The Watchtower (IBSA) Recordings” published in “The Historic Record” issue 27 (dated April 1993) with kind permission of the author.



9 comments:

jerome said...

An error in the original article has the replacement speaker listed as Harry Humphries. The correct name is Harry E. Humphrey. He was a recording artist active on record between c. 1912 and 1929, and of course had been hired to make the main Photodrama recordings.

Brian said...

The second lecturer's name was Harry E. Humphrey, not Humphries.

Brian said...

Sorry for the correction. I should have read your comment!

Brian said...

I have digitized a full set of these and applied enough noise reduction processing to make them audible. They will soon be available on a 2 DVD set. The video portion follows the text and music on the "Angelophone Hymns" book.

Anonymous said...

Henry Burr was a tenor, not a baritone. He was an active recording artist from 1902 to the 1930s.

jerome said...

I note that the Wikipedia article describes Burr as a tenor - it was my ear listening to scratchy old Angelophone records that made me list him as baritone. From current listening I would not call these recordings Burr's finest hour.

What was interesting in the Wikipedia article was the link with Edison recordings - both Burr and Harry E Humphrey recorded for Edison - perhaps there was some link there.

jerome said...

On the issue of whether Henry Burr was tenor or baritone, I just noticed that the Angelophone Hymnbook advertises the hymns as sung by that "celebrated baritone Henry Burr."

Celebrated or not, I repeat that they were not his finest hour.

Anonymous said...

I am a collector of WT material and am looking for an original Angelophone player. I have lots of extra old hard to find stuff for trade. mshewitt@telus.net

jerome said...

I'm afraid I've got to the point in life when I am only selling, not buying, and alas, never had an Angelophone player. I am in the UK and it is doubtful that this material ever reached here at that time.