The coin-operated cylinder phonograph, or nickel-in-the-slot machine as it was known in the trade, dates to the early years of the phonograph industry. A coin-operated Bell-Tainter machine had been exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and a few such machines had been tested in the Chicago area.
In 1889 and 1890, during the Consolidated Era, entrepreneurs representing the regional phonograph companies introduced working coin-operated phonographs in New York and California. The nickel-in-the-slot machines proved quite successful, earning hundreds of dollars per month, and generated a market in new record titles as the phonograph came to be seen not just as a novelty or an aid to business, but as a medium of entertainment.
The identification of early coin-ops can be difficult, as cabinets could be manufactured by independent or regional companies and then fitted with Edison works.
By November 1889 Edison was advertising a machine known as the Edison coin-slot M, which evolved into a genus of coin-operated electrical phonographs. These machines employed a Class M upperworks, advanced by an electric motor.
By 1906 there were at least three similar models: the Windsor, running off battery current; the Eclipse, running off direct current; and the Acme, running off alternating current. These machines were relatively expensive, the Windsor, for example, costing as much as $80 in 1904, although the proprietor of a business would more often lease the machine than purchase it.
There was also a series of spring motor Edison coin-ops.
The machine depicted here bears some similarities to a Windsor, but the cabinet on this example is believed to be of Hawthorne and Sheble manufacture.
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