THE TEN-CENT
CARUSO RECORD

    
I t was only a snippet, but what more could one ask for a dime?

In mid-1915, the newly formed Emerson Phonograph Company took the audacious step of issuing a ten-cent record by Enrico Caruso, Victor's exclusive and highest-paid star. Victor H. Emerson had developed the five-inch Little Wonder record while employed by Columbia, so it was hardly surprising that he would try to duplicate that success with his new company. To get his label off to a quick start, Emerson turned to another recent arrival on the scene, the American branch of Pathé Frères. Pathé was eager to gain a foothold in the U.S., and the Talking Machine World for May 15, 1915, announced that Emerson "will have the right to reproduce six-inch records from the Pathé Co.'s record repertoire, which will be retailed at ten cents." Access to Pathé's internationally acclaimed catalog must have seemed like a windfall to Emerson.

The inital list of little Emerson discs was headed by a single Caruso release but featured several other luminaries from the European Pathé catalog as well, including Florencio Constantino and Harry Lauder. Like all Pathé discs of the period, the little Emersons (called "Green Label Records," although the primary color was often closer to turquoise) were vertically cut and played with a sapphire ball, which Emerson offered its customers for twenty-five cents. And like all Pathé discs made prior to the introduction of electrical recording, the Emersons were transcribed from cylinder masters by means of the pantograph, a mechanical copying device that permitted Pathé to remaster a single recording in an endless array of formats and sizes.

For Emerson's Caruso disc (# 301, Tosca: E lucevan le stelle, issued simply as La Tosca), Pathé copied the 1903 Anglo-Italian Commerce Company cylinder # 84004, which had already been widely reissued in Europe on full-sized Pathé discs. Lacking sufficient playing time on Emerson's six-inch disc, Pathé simply truncated the performance to begin at the phrase, "Oh dolce, dolce." Thus reduced to a playing time of approximately 90 seconds, and dubbed from a primitive (and by then quite worn) master, the Emerson is of little musical value, although it is certainly a rare and intriguing curiosity.

The six-inch Emerson-Pathé celebrity recordings seem to have run only through # 311, and many were anonymous. At # 312 an abrupt shift is apparent, with the remaining fifteen issues being undistinguished pop and "standard" fare. The six-inch vertical-cut series seems to have disappeared around early 1916, the last known issue having been an anonymous duet of "Silver Threads Among the Gold" (# 326). By that time, Victor Emerson was recording his own masters using a universal-cut method that successfully skirted the lateral-cut patents (see American Record Labels and Companies for details of the court decision in this case), and the Pathé connection was severed.

For many years a theory has circulated that Emerson's Pathé-derived celebrity records were discontinued under pressure from the Victor Talking Machine Company. Unfortunately, no documentary evidence has been found so far to support that contention, although such behavior would certainly have been in character for Victor. It is perhaps telling that Pathé itself never risked issuing its Caruso discs in the United States.



For more information on Caruso's AICC-Pathé recordings, see John Bolig's
Caruso Records: A History and Discography



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