Uncle Josh
The above Uncle Josh drawing is from 1898!



How Late Did Columbia Use Brown Wax?

By Tim Gracyk

When a friend reported to me that he had a Billy Murray performance on a brown wax Columbia cylinder, I was surprised. I think of the tenor's recording career as post-brown wax (I don't count the handful of brown wax cylinders made in San Francisco in the late 1890s--none survived, as far as collectors know). Since Murray's recording career began in earnest with the release in August 1903 of two Edison black wax Gold-Moulded cylinders--"I'm Thinkin' Of You All Of De While" (8452) and "Alec Busby, Don't Go Away" (8453)--finding Murray on brown wax is unusual. Edison placed on the market--or at least announced--black wax molded cylinders in January 1902. Allen Koenigsberg informs me that Columbia followed a month later with a brown wax molded product. When Columbia brought out black wax cylinders over a year later, in late August 1903, the company sold off at least many (perhaps all?) of its remaining brown wax cylinders to Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Yet my friend has a brown wax item that is significantly later, evidence that Columbia continued to use brown wax for some time, no doubt using up old stock. He owns the Columbia cylinder of Murray singing the World's Fair song "Meet Me In Saint Louis, Louis" (32488), which a Columbia supplement--the one duplicated in V78J's debut issue--establishes was issued on June 1, 1904. That is late for brown! Does anyone own a black wax version? (Were black ones sold by Columbia and brown ones shipped to Sears?)

Aside from color, the cylinder is the same as any black Columbia cylinder of its time, with numbers and "Columbia" molded on the cylinder's surface. Asking around, I learned about other post-1903 brown Columbia cylinders. Bill Klinger has one issued around September 1904: #32551.

The highest number I've seen is 32601, which is "Heinie," a Collins and Harlan duet. It was cut for Victor by Billy Murray on October 11, 1904. We can assume Collins and Harlan cut it for Columbia (for disc and cylinder) around that time.

In short, Columbia used black wax by 1903 but also used brown wax in 1904 for at least some molded cylinders (for titles provided to Sears, Roebuck?). There was inevitably overlap between the introduction of the new product (black) and discontinuation of the old (brown).

Just how late did Columbia use brown wax? Does anyone own a Columbia brown-colored cylinder that is higher than #32601? Any of 1905 vintage? Perhaps we should use the term "brown wax cylinders" for pre- molded cylinders and use some other name for the later product ("molded brown cylinders"?), including the mid-1904 Murray item found in brown wax.

Notice I say that Murray's recording career began in earnest in 1903. He made brown wax cylinders for Peter Bacigalupi in San Francisco in 1897 but none are known to have survived. Cecil has cylinders that seem to be Bacigalupi products--no Murrays, sadly-- and I may write about these soon. If Bacigalupi cylinders fail to announce at the beginning that they are Bacigalupi products, how can we know they were made by Bacigalupi? I'll discuss that soon.

Cal Stewart

Cal Stewart popularized Uncle Josh on records, beginning with brown wax cylinders in the late 1890s (the character of Uncle Josh was popular outside the recording industry--he was featured in cartoons, books, and even silent films that are now lost).