Charles Pathé came across the phonograph at the Vincennes fair in 1894, was totally smitten and set about obtaining an outfit of his own. A month later he was an exhibitor himself and was so successful that the following year, 1895, he was able to rent a shop and keep it supplied from London with machines and blanks. At this time he began to make pre-recorded cylinders for sale. In September 1896, the four Pathé brothers founded the Pathé Frères company. Two of the brothers withdrew soon after, Charles became deeply involved in the new cinematograph and his brother Emile looked after the phonographic business. Taking a shop in Rue Richelieu in Paris, the demand for records and machines grew daily, so a first catalogue was produced with some 800 titles. To sustain and build on this, the brothers turned to an investor, Claude Grivolas, who enabled them to found the Compagnie Générale de Cinématographes, Phonographes et Pellicules, (films) and take over a factory at Chatou close to Grivolas’ own establishment. The company went from strength to strength and had one of the most brilliant catalogues of artistes, domestic and international, of any record company in the world. A peculiarity of Pathé technology was to cut the master recording on a huge cylinder approximately 8 inches long and 5 inches diameter. The masters for the moulds were pantographed from the giant master and these could be made in standard, intermediate and concert sizes. When the company later produced discs from 1906, they too, were made from the same giant master and pantographed onto any thing up to 7 different sizes of master disc moulds. The churning of the original master can often be heard in the background noise of both their cylinders and discs.
In the Good Old Summer Time (G. Evans) sung by Burt Shepherd on a British Pathé 60.389, circa 1903. This should be a familiar song to many people. Written in 1901 by George Evans and lyricist Ren Shields, it became a huge hit and is still recognised and enjoyed more than a century later. Pathé cylinders are very susceptible to bad storage and perfect examples are extremely hard to find a hundred years on. This record is one such and gives a fair example of how well they could sound in their prime. Note the saloon bar style of piano playing used to fill out the recording at the end. With this pianist, even concert songs can receive this treatment in the London studio!