The Albany Indestructible Phonograph Record

During the years I wrote for Goldmine Magazine (1996-2006), I always wanted to delve into an article on the earliest sound preservation format – the cylinder record.  Unfortunately, my editors at the time, while recognizing the importance of cylinder records and their existence from the 1890’s to as late as 1929, felt that the format would be too narrow for its readers to grasp.  Yeah, nothing says “music collector’s magazine” like an article on a music collecting genre that would be too obscure for modern readers.  Feh.

With that in mind, I should relate that not only are there several different websites out there that are devoted to the preservation and audio transfer of those original cylinder recordings ( is one of my favorites in the field), the recordings themselves were often rare, one-of-a-kind treasures.  While the two major players in the industry were Edison and Columbia (a third music company, the Victor Talking Machine Company, made flat discs instead of cylinders), there were several other competing companies, including Amberols (the pink Amberols are worth hundreds of dollars today), and a company from Albany known as the Indestructible Phonograph Company.

At the time of its operations, the Albany Indestructible Phonograph Company produced celluloid 2-minute and 4-minute cylinder recordings.  The company began manufacture of its products in 1907, staying in business until a fire destroyed the factory on 236 Hamilton Street in 1922.  Albany Indestructible cylinders often had a cardboard core and two metal bracing rings on each cylinder.

Would you like to hear what one of the cylinders sounded like?

Click on the highlighted link to hear a violin recording of several songs, including Pop Goes the Weasel, as performed by violinist D’Almaine.  This is a four-minute cylinder, catalog number 3194 in the Albany Indestructible catalog.

Albany Indestructible’s celluloid cylinders were actually a by-product of a legal battle between Edison and another cylinder company, Lambert.  Edison’s wax “Gold Moulded” cylinders were very popular – and very fragile.  Edison held the patent for cylinders made from durable celluloid, and actually tried to run other companies out of business – including Lambert, whose cylinders were both lighter and more durable than Edison’s.  The legal strategy backfired, as the court ruled that Edison’s celluoid patent was invalid.  This allowed Albany Indestructible to manufacture celluloid cylinders and enter the market.

Albany Indestructible advertisement from Everybodys Magazine, 1907.  Image courtesy Google Books.
Albany Indestructible advertisement from Everybody's Magazine, 1907. Image courtesy Google Books.

In 1908, barely a year into production, Albany Indestructible worked out a distribution agreement with the Columbia Phonograph Company, who also manufactured cylinder recordings.  Columbia bought the entire Albany Indestructible product line, and manufactured and distributed the cylinders until 1912, when Columbia stopped production of cylinders in favor of flat disc records.  Albany Indestructible continued to make the cylinders, until a fire in 1922 destroyed the factory.

If you think you’ve found a cylinder recording from 1902, be aware – the 1902 mark is the year the cylinder process was patented, it is NOT the year of release.  In fact, sometimes it’s very difficult to identify the contents of a cylinder – the name of the song and the artist singing or performing it are often found on one end of the cylinder, and that’s it.  There might have been a paper insert in the cylinder case, but those inserts were often lunch for mice.

There are companies, such as, that have the technology to digitally transfer your cylinder into an audio file.  Not all cylinders were manufactured under the same specifications or standards, and playing a cylinder on a machine designed for another playback format can damage your cylinder, so it’s best to let the experts transfer the files for you.

And despite their claims of indestructibility, cylinder recordings often suffered from mold, rust, decay and temperature fluctuations.  Once the mold chews on that sweet stearine, it actually eats away at the information contained in the grooves, making the record almost unplayable  The earlier cylinders – those that were not made out of celluloid or cellulose – can fracture at even the gentlest of squeezes.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this clip below.

For more information on cylinder recordings, visit the following sites below.