Cylinders: More Than A Series Of Tubes

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been flooding the databases with cylinder recordings. I figured I would take some time to bring everyone in on what I’ve been working on and what I’ve learned so that if you see any in the field or if you have a collection yourself that you’re trying to make heads or tails of.

History Of The Collection

This story begins with a music store on the other side of the state going under and it’s contents where moved to a storage facility north of where I live. Eventually, the family that had ownership of the contents of the storage lock had decided that it was time to sell the contents and end their rent on the storage locker.

The first party to be involved was a vintage instrument repair shop, which purchased a good percent of the musical instruments and their assorted parts. They in turn, tipped off the record store I spend way too much time at that were were thousands of records.

Upon return of inspection of said storage locker, the reports I got were promising. The place was apparently a total mess and stacked nearly to the ceiling with everything from boxes of clothes and tools to records and books. Everything had the odor of a chain smoker years making for a light brownish sticky coating on some of the less properly stored articles.

I was informed that there were “hundreds or thousands” of cylinders. I had never purchased a cylinder before but the prospects of adding not one but hundreds to thousands of releases of a format I’ve never added to the database will some day be the death of me. I put down a sizable offer, sight unseen and waited a week to hear if the owner would accept it.

The next week, I had received the news I was waiting for and, with the grateful help of my roommate and his trailer, received the delivery of 20 odd sized boxes of various origin.


To date, I’ve gone through all but five of the boxes of cylinders. Here’s the different types I found:

Pabst Blue Amberol Cylinder shown for scale

This is the Edison standard sized cylinder. It’s four inches long and two and a half inches in diameter and play between 120 and 160 RPM depending on manufacturer and era of production. Initially these could hold two minutes of recording, but eventually a method of fitting four minutes was developed. By far, this is the single most common format of cylinder produced, but there are some other formats you may encounter as well:

Now in a tallboy can

These are six inch long versions of the Edison Standard that Columbia marketed between 1905 and 1908 that holds three minutes prior to the development of the four minute four inch cylinder known as a Twentieth Century Talking Machine Record. Less than 200 titles were issued in this format and they are generally very rare.

Could actually be real pigskin. Not sure.

It's heavy. I think it's silver painted plaster of paris.

These are three and a half by four inch cylinders made by the french company Pathé known as Salon records. Pathé also manufactured two other sizes of cylinders, including the largest manufactured cylinder “Le Céliste” which measure nine inches long by five inches in diameter! Salon cylinders are very scarce in America, but I would assume these would be more common elsewhere. Also pictured is what I believe is a third party Edison to Salon adapter.

Hoog. Massiv.

These are Concert cylinders which are a whopping five inches wide and play between 120 and 160 RPM depending on era. These were produced in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. As there is more surface area to these, they were recorded louder and with more fidelity for public performance, almost like a modern 12″ single, except you might be able to fit all of four in your crate. These too are also generally rare.

a.k.a. Barbie Doll or Pepto-Bismal Pink

This is a pink cylinder by the Lambert Company. Lambert was an early competitor to Edison and used Celluloid instead of Wax, making them less fragile. The most interesting of these are pink ones, however I found a black and a brown one as well. These are also incredibly scarce.

Collect 'Em All

Pictured above is some of the different brands of cylinders that I encountered as well. In edition to the Edison brand, I found U.S. Everlasting and Columbia’s Indestructible Record. Also pictured is the Edison Blue Amberol cylinder which can hold four minutes as well. Some Blue Amberol cylinders are black as well.

IBM Format

Blank brown wax cylinders were also produced for home recordings. The collection contained a fair amount of these, some copies of existing cylinders, others home recordings, some as recently as the 70’s from the last collector who owned them!

The Recordings:

Generally, from what I’ve found, the recordings also are extremely interesting and entertaining. Personally, I have very little experience from music from prior to the invention of the 7″/LP, so I found this to be very educational. There are many early folk and ragtime jazz recordings which are desirable. Famous opera singers from the 19th century are also captured here and some are very rare and valuable as it is those artists only known recording. Generally, like modern recordings, popular ballads are generally not hot ticket items, but I am sure there are exceptions to this rule. I personally enjoy the rural comedy of Cal Stewart, but that’s also because I like Bert & I type records, which is the subject for a future post.

Resources For Submitting:

I found the following sites absolutely wonderful in getting dates and recordings of cylinders for assistance in adding them to the database, as the cylinder alone usually has minimal information and a good percent of the time the cylinder container lid which contains more information is long gone. Fortunately, as recordings made prior to 1925, to the best of my knowledge, full under the public domain, many universities and government resources have exhaustive recordings of these cylinders if you are unable to locate a player personally.

  • This has been my primary resource. Very thorough collection, many with sound recordings.

  • This page has dates for Columbia Twentieth Century 3 Minute cylinders.
    There are a great deal of other minor resources out there that can be cross-referenced to confirm information. Please let me know if you find more resources and I can add them to this list!

TL/DR: Field Guide For Buying

  • Concert, Salon, Twentieth Century cylinders can be worth hundreds.
  • Buy any pink cylinder.
  • Edison standard sized cylinders can be rare, but also have a great deal of common titles as well.

Now go forth and explore! I finished adding the collection this past weekend with a total of 434 cylinders into the database. Advice, feedback and commentary more than appreciated as always! I hope you have found this to be of some use. Let us know if you do!

UPDATE I got a friend who works at the store to provide some footage of one of the cylinders in action:

Resources Used

Keep Digging

Want to join the Discogs Community of music lovers?
Sign up for an account, subscribe to Discogs newsletters, and discover music articles, exclusive news, limited-edition offers, and more.
Return to Discogs Blog