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How should I clean wax cylinders?

To remove dirt, use a soft lint-free cloth lightly damp (not soaking) with pure (de-mineralized, filtered) water.   Let the water warm up to room temperature to avoid a rapid temperature change to the wax cylinder (they could crack!).   Give a gentle cleaning.   Allow to dry completely – putting a moist cylinder back in its carton yields mildew and mold.  

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How do you remove mold from wax cylinders?

Bad news: Mold eats the wax, some of the wax is therefore physically gone.   There is no feasible way to repair that type of damage.   The resulting effect on the reproduced sound is more "pink" (random) noise.   I've tried using liquid Pledge applied with a cloth on mold/mildew-damaged cylinders.   It seems to slightly reduce the noise.   Probably because the Pledge partially fills some of the "pits" of damage.   But reduction in noise by this means comes at the expense of a slightly more "muffled" sound due to the Pledge also filling in the "good" pits of actual high-frequency recorded sounds.   Now, if someone could invent an intelligent product that only filled in the mold pits, then we'd have something!  

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How do you figure the date of a two-minute wax record?

It can be a bit complicated to date wax recordings, especially brown wax cylinders.   Broadly speaking:
  Commercial brown wax cylinders     date from 1889 to around 1904
  Unlabelled black wax                         1902 to 1904
  Labelled black wax                           1904 to 1912 

  (see Gallery of Two-Minute Wax Cylinders).

The following selections provide more detailed information on wax cylinder dating:

Summary table for dating cylinders by cylinder type and playback speed (revolutions per minute - RPMs):

  For Edison two-minute wax cylinders:

	If the cylinder is           The dates could be
	==================           ==================
	Brown wax (120-rpm)          1897 to 1898 (varies)
	Brown wax (125-rpm)          Late-1898 to 1900 (varies)
	Brown wax (144-rpm)          1900 to July 1902
	Unlabelled black wax         Mid-1902 to July 1904
	Labelled black wax
	   (with hand-etched tag
	   under selection #)	     August 1904 to 1908*
	Labelled black wax
	   (with stamped tag 
	   after "PAT'D" markings)   1908 to September 1912*
* Note regarding "tags" on Edison black wax cylinders:
These tags – "take" or "mold" numbers – on Edison 2-minute black wax records are found typically just below the engraved selection number for pre-1908 records, and after the patent marking for later recordings.   They seem to be assigned chronologically.   On some of the more popular selections, tags numbering in the 30's have been found.   This suggests some correlation to re-recordings, molds, or takes – but I don't know.   However, I've not noted duplicate selections with identical tag markings that containing different recording takes; which would argue for tags being mold numbers.
  For Columbia and other two-minute wax cylinders:

	If the cylinder is           The dates could be
	==================           ==================
	Brown wax (120-rpm)          1890 to 1900
	Brown wax (125-rpm)          1899 to 1900 (varies)
	Brown wax (140-rpm)          1900 to mid-1902
	Brown wax (185-rpm)          1901 to 1902
	Brown wax (160-rpm)          Mid-1902 to July 1904
	Unlabelled black wax         Mid-1902 to 1904
	Labelled black wax           1904 to 1909

Dating wax cylinders by their selection number:

  A basic dating table for Edison two-minute wax records
  Summarized from Allen Koenigsberg's Edison Cylinder Records, 1889-1912):

    Cyl selection #    Date             Cyl selection #     Date
       1 - 7403        1897 to 1899     9170 -  9433        1906
    7404 - 7650        1900             9434 -  9721        1907
    7651 - 7999        1901             9722 - 10031        1908
    8000 - 8281        1902            10032 - 10276        1909
    8282 - 8573        1903            10277 - 10455        1910
    8574 - 8855        1904            10456 - 10530        1911
    8856 - 9169        1905            10531 - 10575        through September 1912

        NB: Edison cylinders date before mid-1902 if brown wax and 
        afterwards if black wax.  Many brown wax titles were reissued after 
        1902 as black wax often using the same selection number.

  A basic dating for Columbia two-minute wax records
  Taken from Duane Deakins' Cylinder Records):

	Cyl selection #   Date
	    501	- 31502   1898 to 1901
	  31503	- 31705	  1901 to March 1902
	  31706	- 32053	  April 1902 to January 1903
	  32054	- 32574	  Feb 1903 to October 1904
	  32575	- 32949	  Nov 1904 to June 1906

	NB: Columbia cylinders date before July-1904 if brown wax, 
	after 1902 if black wax.  Many brown wax titles were reissued after 1902 
        as black wax.

Dating early brown wax cylinders:



Sound quality

Playback speed (revolutions per minute - RPMs)


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How do you figure the playback speed of a two-minute wax record?

For black wax cylinders, the answer is easy – 99+% are 160-RPM. Rarely, some of the earliest unlabelled black wax records ran at 140/144-RPM.
There is no single answer for brown wax recordings. Here are some broad guidelines –
• For Edison records: Earlier records (1900 and earlier) were generally 120/125-RPM, 144/160-RPM afterwards.
• For Columbia records: Earlier records (1900 and earlier) were generally 120-RPM, 140-RPM (1900 to mid-1902), and 160-RPM afterwards.
However, many pre-1900 brown wax recordings were recorded at other odd speeds, often to meet the time requirement of the recording.   For example, many spoken word recordings will be at 100-RPM or lower.   Another interesting wrinkle are the so called "jumbo" brown wax cylinders of 1901 to 1902 vintage; these standard-sized cylinders were recorded at 180-RPM.   Jumbo recordings provided a short one and one-half minute duration, but delivered a crisper, louder (jumbo) sound.  

There are a couple of tricks to help determine the proper playback speed.   One approach that works with vocal recordings is to find a known-speed recording by the same performer, and match it to the unknown brown wax recording.   Black wax records, always 160-RPM, are great for providing this benchmark.   Another approach is to identify the key a piece of music is written in, and use that as a reference.  

Of course, if all else fails, adjust the speed until it sounds "right"!

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How should I play my old brown wax cylinders?

The less they are played the better (because the wax is soft) and not with a "newer" reproducer (model C or newer) because they are either too heavy, or the stylus is too fine, or both – use an early model B reproducer (with the lighter weights).  

See also Note to early recordings collectors which discusses how you can get your brown wax cylinder recordings digitally transferred to CDs.  

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How does Tinfoil.com preserve wax cylinder recordings?

See . . .
Tour the preservation process, and
Note to early recordings collectors
Details on the methods and equipment used to preserve wax recordings
The method I use to digitally record the sound off of cylinders involves use of a custom four foot tone arm fitted with a phonograph cartridge modified to pickup vertical undulations only and sends out a monaural signal.   The tone arm tracks very lightly upon the cylinders, usually less than 3 grams and can be used for many varieties of cylinders, including concert (grand) cylinders (see Tour the preservation process).  

The stylus is changeable, but for most 2-minute cylinders I use a hand-ground stylus that is slightly narrower than the groove standard.   I also occasionally use a stylus fitted with a standard 2-minute sapphire (best for older shallow groove brown wax records).   I also have hand-ground styli for other cylinder types including 4-minute wax, celluloids, and Blue Amberols.   In fact, with a simple stylus change, I have used this system on and received excellent results with vertical cut disks such as Edison diamond disks, Pathe, Phono-cut, et al.   Using a lateral pickup, I also work with occasionally with Berliner and other early disk recordings.  

My approach is different from most, which tend to place a pickup in place of a cylinder player's reproducer.   My approach of an exaggerated tone arm tracks much better and yields a cleaner sound – better tracking yields less groove wall noise, and a detached tone arm greatly reduces machine noise.  

The shielded monaural signal is sampled directly, without amplification or filtering, and digitized at 44kHz using 16-bit samples.   A typical 2-minute cylinder takes up around 13Mb of disk storage.  

If a cylinder is badly out-of-round, or otherwise a problem-child, it can be spun at less than normal RPMs in order to get the signal, then digitally re-sampled to the correct playback speed.  

The recordings are made "flat" with no filtering, and have greater clarity and articulation than any other recordings of wax cylinders I've heard.  

As all my preservation work is digitally mastered, I store all my masters on CD-recordables.   CD-R technology has matured, with 30-75 year shelf-life estimates.   Being optical, CD-Rs are not vulnerable to EM radiation, etc.   Plus is it does not suffer some of the other drawbacks of DATs and other tape-based media (print-through, tape damage/breakage, etc.).   Even if one doesn't buy the shelf life figures, a clincher for me is that I can make any number of perfect master copies (in effect, another master) as I wish and they do not have to be in CD format.   Thus, when something better comes along in 5 or 10 years, I can transfer my masters to that technology without loss.  

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How can I get my old recordings (cylinder, disks, wire, etc.) transferred onto CDs?

Wax cylinders, early disks
You can get your brown wax cylinders digitally transferred to CDs for no charge – see Note to early recordings collectors for details.

Wire recordings, Gray autodisk, Dictabelts, tapes, disks, and cylinders
You might contact the Library of Congress, Division of Recorded Sound, Special Formats Division (202/707-5508, or 202/707-9146).   They are experts in transferring and preserving odd format sound recordings, and may offer sound transferral services or know those who can.

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