Author Topic: Bell & Howell Console History and Timeline  (Read 2291 times)

Pat L

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Bell & Howell Console History and Timeline
« on: October 19, 2015, 03:01:12 PM »
Hi all,
Here is my attempt at beginning a history of the fabulous Paul McCobb designed Bell & Howell and later Columbia consoles. I consider this a living document and will update it as new information surfaces.

Chicago Daily Tribune: Wednesday July 20th 1955

Bell & Howell Is Entering "HI-FI" Field

Sale of Recorders Set for September
By Philip Hampson

  Bell & Howell company, leader in the movie camera business, is further diversifying its operations thru entry into the expensive "hi-fi" field, Charles H. Percy, president, said yesterday at a press conference in the Palmer House. 

  He disclosed that in September the company will start selling high fidelity radio-phonograf-tape recorder instruments ranging in price from $500 to $2000.
Whistle Interrupts
  Percy's comments were interrupted 2 minutes ahead of schedule by an extremely noisy blast from the whistle of the liner Queen Mary which was intended to show the sound producing quality of one of the new machines. The whistle came from a recorder tape.

  After calm had returned to the audience stunned by the thunderous noise, Percy continued by recalling that Bell & Howell had been founded in 1907 with an investment of $5000 by Albert S. Howell, a young mechanic, and Don Bell, a moving picture theatre camera operator.

  That $5000 has been expanded to 20 millions by the success of the Bell & Howell company.
Enters Amateur Field
  Percy told the group that the electronic machines developed by the company are aimed at catering to moderately wealthy and wealthy "audiophiles" - People who are fanatics with respect to the high fidelity of the sound which comes from their phonograf, radio, and tape recording instruments.

  Percy recalled that in 1923 when the company dominated the movie camera business in the movie industry field, it decided to produce equipment for amatuers. The home movie cameras were priced at $300 as were the projectors.

  Company officials were told the products wouldn't sell because of the high prices, but in a few months Bell & Howell had a backlog of orders extending 6 or 7 years.

The Billboard: July 30th 1955

Bell & Howell in Initial Entries...

  Bell & Howell made its initial entry into the hi-fi field at the Chicago Music Show this week with the introduction of six hi-fi consoles, all with cabinets designed by Paul McCobb. The new units will be marketed thru a limited number of department stores and music specialty stores, with deliveries in late September or early October.  Howard Cushing, formerly with Lyon & Healy, has joined Bell & Howell in the new post of hi-fi sales director.

  Prices on the six hi-fi consoles range from $595 for a phono, to $1800 for one of two radio-phono-tape recorder combinations. The other three models are radio-phono combinations. All components in the new models, including speakers, are housed in a single cabinet, and all six models are available in blonde mahogany, red mahogany, silver walnut sandrift, and teak cabinet finishes, with prices the same for all but the silver walnut finish.

The Billboard: December 24th 1955

Phono-Units Count in Bell & Howell 5 Mil... Hi-fi phonos, phono-radio-tape recorder console units contributed to the one-month record sales total established by Bell and Howell in November. According to Charles H. Percy, president the November high of over $5,000,000 should be exceeded this month. Percy also predicted that 1955 sales will break the $40,700,000 record set last year.

« Last Edit: October 19, 2015, 05:05:23 PM by Pat L »


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Re: Bell & Howell Console History and Timeline
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2015, 03:26:01 PM »
I found it interesting that the B&H units were being marketed to the moderately wealthy and wealthy "audiophiles," people who are fanatics with respect to the high fidelity of the sound from their phonograf...."

I had no idea there were audiophiles back in 1955.

Deke Dickerson

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Re: Bell & Howell Console History and Timeline
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2015, 04:47:59 PM »
Thanks for posting this, Pat!

I'd also be curious to know when the last tube Bell & Howell/Columbia console was made.

Magnavoxland, yes there were audiophiles back in those days, and quite a bit of product was made for them!  The Thorens TD-124, the Garrard 301, McIntosh preamps and amplifiers, JBL, Altec, etc. etc.

The only difference is that generally the audiophiles then and now bought components and pieced together their own music system, as opposed to buying consoles.  Consoles were never highly regarded by "real" audiophiles of the day, except for a few really high-end systems.

I love the story in the newspaper clip about the Queen Mary horn startling the audience, coming from the tape recorder!!  Great!!