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The Story of the Manufacture of Wax Cylinder Blanks - Part 4

Phoenix Brand Record boxes-standard and operatic series.By 1983 I had returned to Exeter where I had been teaching for nearly two years at the College of Further and Higher Education. I had also bought a house at 2 Nelson Road, and lost no time in converting the upstairs back bedroom into a laboratory. This was a dream come true for me! My own laboratory with gas and water laid on, and enough space to mould and finish wax cylinder blanks. At about this time the “Phoenix Brand” and “New Enterprise” records were first produced. Always in black coloured wax, the former were re-issues of vintage records, and were electrically recorded using several processes that were largely of Duncan's devising.
Wax New Enterprise Record.The masters were held on cassette tape, and there were two series-regular, and operatic. Both were often advertised in the “Hilandale News” at that time, and sold in quite large numbers. Of less commercial success were the “New Enterprise” records, which featured modern artists performing things that we thought in keeping with the format of a wax cylinder. I have already discussed my input to these, and in addition Duncan furnished comic songs as “E.E. Fielder” and some very nice duet records of him and Clarissa Rowland were also made. There was also at least one reed organ solo “Riding on the Land” and I think that was about it. These records were electrically duplicated from acoustically recorded masters.
Peter Dilg recently arrived from USA walking  with PM.Late that year, we were contacted by Peter Dilg and Dennis Valente of New York where they ran the “Electrophone Record Company”. We had been supplying them with wax blanks on a pretty regular basis, and Duncan had received a 'phone call with a business proposition. It was suggested that we sell the New Yorkers the rights to our process, for an agreed sum, and that we then just supplied large quantities of wax as and when needed.

This was a good idea, all things considered at the time, and news reached me during a late night party via a taxi operator! In order to contact me immediately (I had no telephone installed at this time), Duncan had 'phoned an Exeter taxi firm, and had the driver ring on my door bell. I was to pay him, and rush out to the public 'phone box around the corner and get in contact with my decision. It was a clever way to find me, and not long after that I got my own telephone.
DBM and PM recording young tallent.1984 saw the first reorganisation at the college, and at times, moulding wax cylinders was a good way to escape the changes that seemed to threaten my way of life. Actually, not much was changed at this time, but it was a harbinger of stormy times ahead, and I recall putting my thoughts onto a blank-which makes for very interesting listening nearly a quarter of a century later!


By this time the name of Miller, Morris & Co. had become quite well known to collectors as far away as Australia, Tahiti, South Africa, Japan, the USA and much of Europe. It was very exciting! Duncan and I were also regular exhibitors at the record fairs at the Wandsworth Boy's Club, and later Fairfield Halls, Croydon. We met, recorded and sold to a wide variety of people and the reputation grew by leaps and bounds. 1984 also saw the start of the development of “Concert” sized cylinders and the evolution of a new process of manufacture of the standard size blanks.

Because of the increased demand for our products, and the decreasing time that Duncan and I were able to spend on their manufacture, I decided to devise a new process for the manufacture of wax blanks. I wondered if I could re-engineer our moulds to be used in a centrifugal or “spinning” process rather like Peter Curry had used in the 'sixties. As it happened, new aluminium moulds were obtained, and a “spinning machine” devised and built by an engineer friend, Andy Bartram. It was rather like an Edison “Home” phonograph, with the mould on a spindle where a phonograph mandrel would have been. It was powered by a spin-drier motor, and the top board hinged up so as to charge the mould with molten wax. No pictures of this device exist.

There is no totally safe way to make wax cylinders, because of the temperature, and flammability of the wax, but it is also probably true to say that the spinning process I devised in 1984 could not be equalled in terms of the dangers it presented. You were supposed to put a shell or outer tube onto a tightly fitting boss whilst it was considerably hotter than 160 degrees Centigrade, fill it with the correct amount of very hot wax, screw down the tightly fitting lid, lower, and lock the top board and switch the motor on. All this had to be done quickly in order for the wax not to congeal. When the motor started-which it did very rapidly (this was, after all a 240v motor used to ten or twenty times the load it now had) there was every chance that hot wax would be sprayed at high speed if the mould had not been assembled properly.

The wax took ages to cool, and nothing else could be done whilst the spinner was in motion (apart from hide) and so this new process was never exploited for more than one or two batches. The spinning process had two curious advantages, however. Rather nicely, but of little use, the moulds were such that both ends of the cylinder were formed. This resulted in castings of exactly the same length, with precision moulded leading edges. I liked that! Far more importantly, however, since no core was used, I also had to devise a system for tooling the inside of the castings.

The resulting hand operated lathe, its associated tools, and the cooling rack (based on a sketch of Duncan's and soon nick-named “the Dog”) all worked very well. Blanks made using this set-up had raised rings or bearing surfaces inside them, and are readily differentiated by those made in the old process. By the end of the year, then, cores had been re introduced, but plain ones that did not require an intricate spiral cut on their surface. Many more moulds could now be used at one time, and the process was such that it could cope with the larger demands now being placed upon it. That year, additional labels in the form of red banners around the lid cap stated “this phonogram is made by a new process” By the time the 500 or so banners that we had had printed had been used up, the process was no longer “new” and this additional label was dropped.
Later plastic New Enterprise Records.Duncan was again in Devon in December, and he had several samples of injection moulded plastic records made from moulds he had produced at home. It would be hard for most people reading this to understand just what an achievement this was, and how much work it entailed. These plastic records were a real tribute to him.

More products were added gradually to our range of recording accessories, such as wiping fluid to erase recordings if you didn't have a shaver, recording horns (“special fibre material”) and the curiously under subscribed “master recording blank” of a lead based mass. More titles were added to the Phoenix catalogue, and a rather less than completely satisfactory 5-inch concert cylinder process was devised. Only one mould was available to us, and our second attempt at a shaving machine was only partially successful. Box design for these large cylinders proved difficult, and several designs were tried out at this stage. Concert Cylinders were now available, however, but were very difficult to make and we dreaded getting orders!
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