RED CLOUD, NEBRASKA: The extended Brogan family has announced the permanent donation to the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, Nebraska, of an operating Thomas A. Edison, Inc., brand Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph having a Patent Date of May 23, 1916. According to Biba and Brogan family lore, and the serial number on the unit, William A. and Anna Biba purchased this part-furniture, part cutting-edge musical technology, in 1919 from the Miller & Paine Department Store in Lincoln, Nebraska. The phonograph, a new Model C19 (the “Chippendale” Model), Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph, which was an upgrade of the earlier C-250 Model, and cost $295; a very substantial sum in 1919. The C19 model had just been introduced that year and was known as “the Official Laboratory Model”. This phonograph, quite deluxe for its time, featured in addition to the diamond stylus, a variable speed turntable, volume control mechanism, double spring motor, 15-inch internal horn, and a lower cabinet to hold 72 records. Mr. and Mrs. Biba turned its side crank to tighten the springs that produced the power needed to operate the phonograph. A search of relevant Internet Web sites indicates that this particular model, the Chippendale, and its 1919 date of manufacture and sale, could have an asking price market value today as high as $4,500.
According to an expert on the subject, Mr. Richard Dinsdale, “The Edison Diamond Disc phonograph used a specially designed reproducer with a diamond stylus and a laminated rice paper diaphragm. It had a gear mechanism to advance the reproducer across the record rather than forcing the record grooves to bear the weight of pulling the reproducer. This resulted in very little wear to the records, and reduced surface noise. The records were 10-inches in diameter, a quarter inch thick, and had vertically cut discs designed to play at 80-rpms. These discs held up to five minutes of recorded sound on each side as compared to 3 minutes for the 78-rpm records of other companies at the time.
Mr. Dinsmore went on to say that, “In terms of the quality of sound reproduction, the Edison disc technology was far superior to that of other manufacturers, as the company demonstrated repeatedly through a series of public tone tests. All recordings during this time (1877 thru the mid-1920’s) was by the acoustical method. Singers or musicians stood before a recording horn which focused the sound waves to a recording diaphragm connected to a stylus which cut the master wax disc. Edison was acknowledged to be the master of the art of acoustical recording.”
William A. and Anna (Laun) Biba, having grown up in rural Exeter and Milligan, Nebraska, respectively, married after attending the University of Nebraska, in 1916 and soon made their home in Geneva, Nebraska, where they built a new house and detached garage at 610 N. 11th Street. At the time of the Edison phonograph purchase, “Bill” Biba was serving as the first appointed Highway Engineer for Fillmore County. The Edison Diamond Disc phonograph always had an honored place in the family’s dining room long after its technology had become obsolete and it became merely a reminder of the couple’s earlier times. Mr. Biba, a licensed civil engineer, later owned, managed, and was the president of the W.A. Biba Engineering Company which he started in 1931 that grew into one of the most respected highway construction firms in the state; a concrete and asphalt highway, street, road, bridge, culvert, and excavation company for several decades throughout the states of Nebraska and Kansas.
W.A. Biba had instructed his visiting young grandson, Byron Brogan of Madison, Nebraska, about the principle he followed in making purchases, that “if you buy the best quality you can and take care of it, the product will be with you longer and make you more satisfied than purchasing less-expensive merchandise, not as well made, which won’t last; it’s why I still have all the nice things you see here in our home.” On this 100th year after the purchase of the Edison Diamond Disc phonograph, Grandfather Biba’s words ring true; the phonograph still winds up, is a beautiful piece of furniture, and plays. Bill and Anna would have been pleased to know that their 1919 purchase would, 100-years later, become part of the Willa Cather Foundation permanent collection and available to display for the benefit of future generations at one of the historic properties constituting the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud, Nebraska.
In response to the Brogan family donation in honor of the late William A. and Anna Biba, Ms. Tracy S. Tucker, Education Director & Certified Archivist for the Willa Cather Foundation, and an Affiliate Fellow, Center for Great Plains Studies, said she, “loved accepting such a donation,” and that “we appreciate your thinking of us for this gift!”
QUESTIONS TO: WILLA CATHER FOUNDATION – The Willa Cather Foundation is headquartered in the National Willa Cather Center located at 413 North Webster Street, Red Cloud, NE 68970, and can be reached at Phone: 402.746.2653 | Toll Free: 866.731.7304 and www.WillaCather.org | www.VirtualCather.org
This well-known and highly respected Nebraska nonprofit is led by Ms. Ashley Olson, its Executive Director. Ms. Tracy Sanford Tucker is the Education Director & Certified Archivist for the Willa Cather Foundation, and an Affiliate Fellow of the Center for Great Plains Studies. Her e-mail address is: email@example.com
QUESTIONS TO: BROGAN FAMILY – Spokesperson: Byron J. Brogan, 401 Walnut Point Dr., Matthews, NC 28105 – Ph. 704.488.8175 – E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Brogan is the eldest son of the late daughter, Roma Aileen (Biba) Brogan of W.A. and Anna Biba, and was raised in Madison, Nebraska. As a child, Byron enjoyed visiting his grandparents at their home in Geneva for 1-2 weeks each summer.