Gilbert Gramophones

While the Sheffield Music archives concentrate on the bands and music, we sometimes find our attention drawn into other avenues of Sheffield’s popular musical heritage. Few people today know that amongst the cities manufacturing heritage, Sheffield produced what are still regarded as excellent quality phonograph players in the 1920s. Gilberts were based on Arundel Street (in another vintage factory needlessly erased by the University). Gilberts bought in some electrical components and the turntable, but otherwise built their machines including patented designs and innovations which were at the forefront of gramophone technology during the Twenties.

For example Gilbert gramophones used a patented “Bugle” shaped tonearm, a Mother-of-pearl faced soundbox, which was named the “Tone Reflector”, and a deep Saxophone shaped internal horn which resulted in impressive sound reproduction (opening or closing the front door to the cabinet regulated the volume on all early 78 rpm players). Sheffield had a large pool of skilled cabinet makers, who had worked for the cutlery trade making boxes and cases to house large sets of knives and forks, often sold as wedding gifts. Gilbert’s early history is not especially well documented, but they were established at least prior to WW1. It is their machines of the late 1920s which collectors most treasure today.

The Gilbert name was derived from the middle name of the company’s founder, Mr Charles Gilbert Hibbard, who rearranged his initials to call the company “C. H. Gilbert” & Co. The Gilbert logo was a globe, with a music stave across and the name in the middle. This appeared in colour as a transfer on their gramophone cabinets. What we have here (above) is a mono version from a 12″ record sleeve. We are fairly sure Gilbert did not make records at any time but very likely sold blank record sleeves along with their gramophones so you could keep your discs safe inside.

Their wind-up gramophones stopped being made at the end of 1931, as electrically operated gramophones took over, which Gilberts also made, along with radios. They also sold electrical components, including valves, resistors, aerials, and cabling, with depots across the north of England. One researcher suggests the firm closed in 1937 although a branch related to the family continued in Hull into the Fifties. Trivia – Apparently a Gilbert machine was seen in one of the Harry Potter movies!

The Gilbert machines are advertised on one of the Sheffield record shop sleeves (see gallery), you can find out more on this page. We recommend this site as the source of information on these machines.