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Thomas Carlton Blake <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 2 Aug 2004 07:39:45 -0700
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Sorry if this thread is burnt out; I only get the digest.

Presumably there is no question of Twain's awareness of recording
technology, because of Reginald Selkirk's reference to "the Liograph ... the
Hellograph ... the Mumble'n'screechograph" and his subsequent mention that
these things "turned out well enough by and by." (_Letters From the Earth_,
p. 95.)  The last item is clearly a sound reproduction device that had
undergone great improvements.

(Question:  Did Twain ever satirize the phonograph directly, as he did with
the telephone?)

Couple technical points:

The "phonograph" defined a cylinder machine.  From this we might conclude
that the "Mumble'n'screechograph" meant a cylinder machine specifically; but
of course Twain was playing with the "graph" suffix so it's impossible to

Cylinders were typically of hard wax.  But they were originally of metal
foil.  All engraved cylinders are wax.  Many embossed cylinders are metal.
Wax recording was perfected well within Twain's lifetime, and a wax cylinder
could have survived, despite Wes Britton's experiences (they survive
differently in different environments, like any other archeological find).
Commercial cylinders were reprocessed by shaving the groove off and
re-recording on the underlying wax!!  But this was a cost-saving measure for
popular stuff and archival recordings would not have been subjected to it.

It is just barely possible that Twain could have been recorded on a disk.
Disk machines were "Graphophones."  ("Phonograph" and "Graphophone" were
trademarks; the companies were at pains to keep them in proper usage, though
we don't know how well the public did so.)  These were much cheaper than
cylinder machines at the start, and Twain could have recorded on one without
having to go into the Edison studio.  But the early disks had near-zero
survival value, precisely because they could be made in an uncontrolled

I'm afraid the the strongest argument against Twain's having made a
recording is the fact that the Edison Co. didn't shout about it to high
heaven as they were wont to do when they released titles of popular

But one shouldn't give up hope.  Despite the vast number of early recordings
that have been unearthed and restored, it seems to me that we can't possibly
have scratched the surface (so to speak) of the recordings squirreled away
worldwide.  Archives in New York and England particularly should be searched
and searched again, not only for missed recordings, but for recordings that
would have been considered sonically irretrievable as recently as ten years
ago.  Identification might not be an easy matter, but can you really imagine
not recognizing Twain's delivery, if not his voice?  :)