Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mechanical toys of a bygone era: dancing and boxing figures powered by rotating phonograph

I've posted in the past about this interesting variety of mechanical toys which were powered by a rotating record. I'm not exactly sure how this one works but in others the toy is mounted on top of the record player and a friction wheel behind the figure rides along the edge of record album causing it to "dance" to the music.

It may seem like folly to place a dancing figure on top of a delicate stylus and record. One little mishap and the needle might be broken or the record scratched. The existence and popularity of this type of toy says something about the time in which it was created. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

1 - The early phonographs were among some of the first automatic music machines to enter the home, but was auditory medium only. The addition of the mechanical figures added an interesting visual element.

2 - Most early phonographs were spring-driven, suggesting that electric motors were not yet commonplace. The relatively rare motor in the gramophone, Victrola, or phonograph could do double-duty by also powering the dancer or boxers.

3 - Toys often represent popular trends. I expect the ones shown here are no exception. Dancing and boxing were probably both popular forms of live entertainment at the time.

Photo of gramophone toy

The toys shown here dates to the early 20th century and were made by National Co, USA. The dancing figure is interchangeable with the boxers. The set is currently up for auction on eBay.

Here's where you can learn more about this set of phonograph-powered mechanical toys.

[ Thanks McDrunk! ]

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Blogger McDrunk said...

There are plenty of examples on Youtube on how these wonderful contraptions work. The piece with the two figures can be found by searching "Photograph Toys the Boxers Fox Trot" and others by searching "Phonograph dancing toy".

July 11, 2012 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger McDrunk said...

Oh, and the figures don't sit on top of the stylus, they rest on the center spindle so the needle is safe (although the vibrations might affect the stylus during play).

July 11, 2012 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Dug North said...

Thanks McDrunk! I've added a video to the post. It's much better to see the figures in action.

July 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Dug North said...

Right, I see that now. Seems like it might cause your records to wear faster.

July 11, 2012 at 12:29 PM  

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