Cleaning and repairing an 1898/9 Edison Home Model A
by Wyatt Markus
I am an odd egg in that I like to photograph my preservation work. I
don't do this entirely for personal satisfaction,
although it eliminates any question as to how the machine was restored back
to operable shape. Also,
it is a means for me to share my knowledge and ideology of how to restore
phonographs as an act of
PRESERVATION. I absolutely loathe the thought of stripping off original
finish, and more importantly
the original decal. Over the past few years I have developed a very
gentle patience for restoration, and
hopefully through the pictures below, you will gain an appreciation for
my way of doing things.
I subscribe to the Fenman school of thought when it comes to restoring cabinetry.
I am “ not performing a master class in shiny wood finishes, satisfying
though that would be.”
I am “RESTORING AN ANTIQUE to what it WOULD LOOK LIKE had it been well looked
Not to how it looked when it was new and certainly not to some sort of super-shiny
fantasy state that
rivals the paintwork on a Rolls Royce! If your friends, on seeing
your work, say, ‘that’s in nice condition’,
then you’ve succeeded: if they say ‘you’ve made a good job of restoring
that’ - you’ve failed - ‘cos they shouldn’t be
able to tell that it’s been restored.”
With that said, we will commence.
This 1899 Edison Home is in a very dirty state. After its secondary
pinion gear cracked, it was put on a shelf
out in the barn to sit....and sit......and sit....get bird shite spattered
on it, and get dirtier than the hull of the Titanic.
And, things aren't much better under the lid! Thankfully, the original
brass mandrel is virgin, untouched, and the feedscrew
section of the mandrel shaft is unmarred by scratches or damage. The
bad news.....missing its original Automatic
reproducer and original crank. But, not to fear, gentle reader! Those
parts are available from the vast world of the
phonograph parts trade. :-) But, oh...LOOK at this mess!
Several people PASSED on purchasing this machine, and I don't
blame them.......it is disgustingly dirty and cruddy. The flash on
my digital camera actually makes this look CLEANER
than it actually is!
So, I started in on the lid. I use a product called Kotton Klenser.
It is a fast acting dirt solvent that does not harm the
original shellac or decals.....IF USED CAREFULLY. If left on too long,
it will do some serious damage.
Here is the lid, half cleaned. OOOOhhhhh, do you see what I see?????????????????
Ahhhhh, much better. Now, let's reflect for a minute. If given
to any "regular Joe" antique restoration shop, they would
strip the lid, and strip the original decal and replace it with some crappy
knock-off decal that looks like it should be on the
flap of a cereal box instead of a 108 year old phonograph, AM I RIGHT!?!?!?!?
So, as we see, in the picture below,
the decal is actually pretty stinking nice! The red letters are strong,
and so is the banner. In a few places, you can see the
silver foil peeking out from where some of the gold overlay has chipped
To pique your curiosity, I do not touch the spots up with gold paint. So,
sit tight, I'll show you how its done later!
Don't you love it when this happens? That dirty upper casting was
not just dirty, it was downright FILTHY!
Filthier than your
Again, I used Kotton Klenser with NO ABRASIVES. All patiently applied
by hand, carefully
using the sunlight from the window to spot-check areas that have more dirt
than others. Extra caution should be taken on the gold
lines and painted trim. These will dissolve if you leave the Klenser
on them too long. These castings were first painted black
at the factory, then a coating of shellac was applied to add that protective
shine that is oh-so--famously Edison. The Kotton Klenser
will dissolve the dirt, but because you are cleaning shellac that has been
applied to a painted finish, you will notice grey edging
around the edges where the original shellac dissolved away (from oil that
dripped off the carriage rod and mandrel shaft). Over
the course of the machines original operating life, this oil dissolved and
weakened the shellac coating that sat directly underneath it.
In this case, I have angled the camera so you can better see what I am illustrating.
In my experience, it is best to leave it as it is,
because any further tampering will only remove the existing shellac, and
increase the possibility of ruining the original gold accents.
Now, I'll move on to the bed plate, and do the same operation. Notice
the hardened gummy blotches that were at one
time black rubber insulators (that the top works sat on). DISGUSTING!
Mandrel barrel has been cleaned in Kotton Klenser to remove dirt. I
WILL NOT POLISH IT. The threaded feedscrew
has been cleaned of all dirt and grit, and all carriage parts have been
cleaned and adjusted as well.
The lid needed attention. I used a gel gold tint paint to fill in the
missing areas on the decal where the top layer of gold
was missing (and silver tin was showing). Then, flashed the top with
a thinned shellac (added denatured alcohol to thin
it out) to make up for the dryed areas, and to balance the sheen with the
Installed motor, and reinstalled top works with new rubber insurators.
NOW! Let's review. :-) Here's a BEFORE: