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"Henri Lioret, Clockmaker and Phonograph Pioneer"
Reviewed by Tim Fabrizio
The world was waiting for Julien Anton to bring Henri Lioxet to its attention. You might say the world had languished in sepulchral darkness until M. Anton gave us this book. Do you think Im going overboard? Then you haven’t read the book — and you really must.For decades, M. Anton studiously collected artifacts and information having to do with French engineer and scientist Henri Lioret. The author carefully compiled everylast known fact about the man, about 99% of which will be new to most history of recorded sound aﬁcionados. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that even the most avid among us knows virtually nothing about M. Lioret. And quite a story it is to learn.
Henri Lioret began as a cloclcmaker of the finest sort. One of his clocks was even presented as a gift to Czar Alexander III in 1893. Yet, Lioret’s life had begun to take a different turn in 1890 when he was approached by a famous maker of dolls, Emile Jumeau, to ﬁnd a way to make the toys talk — a phonograph small enough to ﬁt inside the body of a doll, as the Edison Toy Manufacturing Company had recently attempted. Lioret was already 44 years old before he ever set his hand to the phonograph industry that he would change forever. In 1893, Lioret received a patent on his tiny phonograph, and the talking doll business began in France.
Lioret’s agreement with Jumeau meant that the inventor could not market the doll himself for ﬁve years. Having whetted his appetite for the phonograph, however, Lioret was irresistibly drawn to creating more sophisticated models, for home entertainment. In 1895, he began manufacturing a steadily improving line of Lioretgraphs. They were marvels of precision in the midst of an inexact science. The cylinder records were unbreakable, celluloid, at a time when such a concept was at least ﬁve years away from any other inventors grasp.
The apparatus and ephemera pictured in Julien Anton’s book are jaw—droppingly amazing. The color photographs are of the highest quality. The book design is stylish and convenient. The work contains text in French, and captions in both French and English. An accompanying English translation book of the text completes the package.
So, what became of Henri Lioret? He did reasonably well until around 1900. At that point, the great momentum of better-capitahzed phonograph ﬁrms really began to take its toll on the inventor, who was running a small, precision workshop. His Lioretgraphs were expensive; they had to be, considering all the work that went into them. Hisrecords were expensive, and he never managed to record any artists of note. Lioret realized he could not compete, but he continued to do everything he could to economize and to streamline his catalog. He marketed his last machine in 1904, and moved to smaller working quarters in 1905 to pursue scientiﬁc studies in acoustics. The subsequent story of his work in acoustics is extremely interesting.
Julien Anton gives us ten appendies, including Lioret’s family tree, a list of his patents, a chronological list of the Liorvetgraph models, types of reproducer, types of horn,etc. Although most anyone reading these words will have already seen a Lioretgraph (most memorably, the famous weight-driven model mounted on a tripod), the full understanding of the line, which included extraordinary coin-ops, toys and even a modiﬁed,improved Graphophone, inspires awe.
I know I should ﬁnd some part of this book to criticize, but I will not do that for its own sake, since there’s nothing I dislike about it. Buy a copy — you’ll be happy you did.
Reviewed by Tim Fabrizio
Association for Recorded Sound Collections
ARSC Journal Volume 37, n° 2 Fall 2006 (Book review)
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