We recently acquired a small collection of seven rare Pathé vertical-cut disc records featuring recordings by Melbourne-born music hall star Billy Williams – one of the most popular and most widely recorded entertainers of his era.
Discs unlike any others
Pathé Records was established by brothers Charles and Émile Pathé in Paris in the 1890s, initially selling Edison and Columbia phonographs and accompanying cylinder records. The brothers were soon designing and selling their own phonographs, and producing cylinder records.
In 1905 the Pathé brothers began producing disc records radically different from their competitors. Whereas other discs from the period were produced as lateral cut recordings, the Pathé discs were recorded vertically in the groove, and required a special ball-shaped ‘sapphire stylus’ to play them.
This was a key marketing difference to their rivals, as it meant there was no need to change the needle after each playback. Attachments were produced to allow Pathé phonographs to play laterally-cut records, and to allow standard phonographs to play Pathé discs.
The discs produced by Pathé from 1906-1915 rotated at 90 rpm, rather than the more common 75 to 80 rpm, and they played from the inside out. From 1915 to the end of production Pathé brought their discs into line with those of other manufacturers, so they rotated at 80 rpm and played from the outside inwards. This change also saw their labels, which till that point had been engraved lines filled with white pigment, change to the more common paper labels.