The 1928 HMV Model 1 Automatic Gramophone

A look at the first British record changers

Watch the HMV Model 1 Automatic Gramophone in Action:


The HMV Model 1 Automatic record changer – introduced to the British market in 1928 - was the largest and most expensive acoustic gramophone offered by the Gramophone Company Ltd.
This elusive machine is rare in the United Kingdom, and virtually unknown to most collectors.
An exquisite example recently surfaced in California with a unique Hepplewhite style custom cabinet in dazzling inlaid satinwood veneer and gold plated hardware. The author would like to take this opportunity to present this very special machine and the history of the HMV changer.


The first record changers for home use


Even though major companies and hopeful inventors had patented designs for disc record changing mechanism since the early days of the Talking Machine, none actually made it to production. The HMV patent for a changer filed in January of 1927 (and the US patent duly assigned to Victor), was the first design to see actual production. However, it was Victor with their famous Model VE 10-50 who was first to the market in April of 1927 with a practical and reliable record changer. With the customary patent sharing between Victor and HMV, both companies used their ideas in the development of their respective models.



The Model 1 Automatic Gramophone

From the patent filing date it can be assumed that by the end of 1926 HMV had a working changer sitting on a test bench in Hayes, but it was yet a changer without a gramophone:
Until late 1927, HMV only produced relatively small cabinets, while the changer mechanism required a very wide cabinet and a horn to fill out the space underneath it. Once HMV had licensed the Western Electric large “orthophonic” re-entrant horns, the means were in place to build an impressive machine: Using the layout of the Victor VE 10-50 as a model, a large stamped metal horn of 10-50 dimensions was laid sideways under the mechanism; cabinet dimensions, and even selling price were close to the Victor model.
The HMV Model 1 Automatic Gramophone finally hit the British market in early 1928; its convenience, sound quality and reliability made it one of the finest machines ever to come out of the Hayes, Middlesex, factory.


A reviewer of THE GRAMOPHONE trade magazine gushes in December of 1927:


“This is one of the most uncanny instruments we have ever seen. The gramophone part of it contains an improved form of orthophonic horn, equivalent, we were informed, to a straight horn 9 feet long. (…) The special feature (…) is the automatic record changer and repeater. The “magazine” will hold 20 records. 12 inch or 10 inch records can be mixed up indiscriminately. (…) The record is picked up from the magazine and placed on the turntable, the sound-box and needle are gently carried down into the first groove and the band begins to play. When the record is finished, the sound-box is lifted up, the record ejected into a compartment lined with rubber and felt, and a new record is placed on the turntable. (…) If you don’t happen to like any particular record you just press a button and it is summarily dismissed and the next record is played. Or, if you like the record so much that you want to hear it again, you just touch a lever, and the record is repeated. Could anything be more convenient? It only remains now for H.M.V. to add an attachment which serves out coffee and cigars.”


Indeed, the “bells and whistles” of the Model 1 Automatic were bound to impress the public and - in fact - were rarely equaled by any later record changer:

Up to 20 records were stacked on a magazine on the left side, a Tungstyle needle (the HMV term for the Tungs-Tone stylus) was inserted in the sound box, and the reject button pushed to start the machine. The Model 1 would now play uninterrupted for up to 90 minutes, automatically sensing the size of each 10” or 12” record. The played records were gently deposited in a felt-lined drawer. At any time during play the drawer could be emptied, and the magazine replenished. All controls for the machine were on the outside, and one only needed to open the lid to replenish the records or to change the needle.


A lever on the outside offered three playing modes: “Continuous” – changer mode, “Repeat” – repeating the same record, and “Ordinary” – the changer is disabled and the machine plays like a regular gramophone. A push button on the front panel started up the machine, and was also pushed to reject a record. A main switch would allow quick shut-off should an unlikely mishaps happen.
The ultimate convenience - a remote stand on a 30 foot long cable - allowed the user to start the machine, reject a record, or shut off the machine from across the room - the first time an electric remote control was used to operate a phonograph.


Even more amazing is the speed of the changer: While the Victor changer takes about 30 seconds to play the next record, the Model 1 has only a short 9 second interval, while on the “Repeat” setting the gap is as small as 3 seconds.


Function of the Model 1 record changer

The HMV changer uses a slider bar (the “oscillating member”) which moves back and forth through the cycle. This slider powers the swing of the transfer and tone arms, and the tone arm lift.


The transfer arm has two sets of claws that grab the rim of a 10” or 12” record. While the arm swings over from the magazine to the turntable, the rim of the record pushes a see-saw kind of design of two “size feelers”. This indexes the tone arm correctly for the 10” or 12” record.

When the transfer arm arrives above the turntable, it dips slightly so that the turntable spindle touches a spindle inside the transfer arm, which spreads the claws and releases the record.


The changer also contains a main cam wheel above the motor plate, which raises the eject finger, and a large cam wheel underneath, which governs the vertical movement of the transfer arm.
On the “Repeat” setting, the slider is pushed slightly outward, so that it does not engage the transfer arm, and the eject lever is similarly moved off the central cam, on the “Ordinary” setting, changer is locked and cannot be started.


For ejecting the played record, a finger lifts the record on one side, while the rotating turntable flings it down a short chute, from where it hits the thickly padded side of the felt-lined box, and then gently bounces into the stack of played records.


The HMV Model 1 is powered by a very quiet universal motor, and a bank of three variable resistors allow the machine to be used with AC or DC mains voltage from 40V to 260V.


The machine runs on three different voltage circuits: 40 V for the motor, 60 V for the booster switch, and a third Voltage (32V) for the operation of the remote solenoid and compartment lamp. These three circuits plus the additional cabling for the remote control make the wiring inside the machine quite complex.



HMV Model 1A in Hepplewhite Period Style



The cabinet design of the regular Model 1 with thin turned legs and some perfunctory appliqué carvings was somewhat unconvincing. Therefore the present machine is stunning in its unique deep-luster satinwood veneer with inlaid stringing. In the tradition of British fine furniture making the trim, legs, grille, and especially the remote stand have been completely redesigned to fit with the classical appearance. All hardware is gold plated.
The machine has no serial number, just a model number plate, which indicates a likely production date of summer 1929. One can only speculate about its origin: Was it a factory prototype, a special exhibition piece, or a custom order for a very wealthy customer? Inquiries with the Royal Household are continuing …


Regular Ivorine Tag with Serial Number

Metal Tag without Serial Number used only from Summer – December of 1929


Tag for the Model 1:operating and oiling instructions



HMV Automatic Gramophone – Production and Variations


The very first examples of the Automatic Gramophone were called the Model 1, and then - after a slight redesign - the Model 1A. Both had the “Repeat” function.
The price of £ 125 plus an extra £ 10 for optional doors (equivalent to $ 608.75 – the same price as the Victor 10-50) was high for the British market. The rather plain cabinet was available in walnut finish with the hardware in “Florentine Bronze”. Mahogany finish was £ 15 extra. Despite successful sales, margins were most likely slim: The Model 1 cost just £ 25 more than the largest regular Gramophone, not enough to cover the complex changer and large cabinet. Later catalogs show the Model 1 Automatic without the “Repeat” function (a minor reduction in parts) still at the same price (called “1B” in internal documents, or “1C” with doors/ no Repeat.)
The Model 1 changer – though flawless in operation, had one problem: It would only work with HMV/Victor records. Larger records (like Columbia) may get stuck, smaller continental 25 cm/30cm records would not get picked up by the claws. Special claws were provided for continental European locations.

Apparently this problem was so significant, that HMV published a whole series of patents to make the record pick-up more reliable. One patent, British Patent No. 316,418, proposed a vacuum pump and suction cups to pick up the records. Finally, HMV solved the problem on the second record changer picking up the records in the spindle hole, instead of at the rim.


It was available in the catalogs until 1930. There is strong evidence that significantly less than 1,000 units of the Model 1s were sold in the home market.

In late 1929 the Model 1 changer was offered as a electrically amplified Gramophone with a 4 vacuum tube amplifier and an electrodynamic speaker at a price of £ 200 and over depending on options selected.


Model 1

Model 1A special period style finish

Model 1A – Production Finish

Model 1B/1C

First half of 1928

Unique Prototype, Summer 1929

September 1928 Catalog

October 1929 Catalog, replaced in the June 1930 Catalog with the electrically amplified HMV Model 15 changer.

With doors, w Repeat Function, lamp in lid, with remote

No doors, w Repeat Function, lamp on motor board, with remote

No doors, w Repeat Function

with remote

No doors, no Repeat Function

with remote [with doors 1C]

Walnut Finish.

Hardware Florentine Bronze Finish.

Inlaid satinwood Finish,
custom remote and cabinet.

Hardware gold plated.

Walnut Finish.

Hardware Florentine Bronze Finish.

Walnut or optional Mahogany Finish.

Hardware Florentine Bronze Finish.


Price: not known


Walnut: £125, Mahogany: £140

Doors £15

W1 – Mechanism – Florentine Bronze

W1 – Mechanism – Gold Finish

W1 – Mechanism – Florentine Bronze

W2 - Mechanism with no “Repeat” and “Ordinary” function

(note the smaller panel above the horn).

Internal EMI literature designates the W2 “Repeaterless” changer as a mainly export model.




The 1929 Second HMV Changer Model 10/ Model 12



Additionally, in 1929, based on joint experiences with Victor on changer development, and driven by the economic need to reduce the complexity and size of the changer and cabinet, HMV offered a smaller changer, the Model HMV 10 (£90 in oak, or £95 in walnut) as acoustically amplified Gramophone. This machine was produced in very small numbers, and not offered in the HMV catalogs. This second HMV changer is better known as the electrically amplified HMV 12, £150 in oak, £155 in walnut.


This second changer addressed some of the issues of the HMV Model 1:


·       Space requirements were drastically reduced by placing the record magazine above the reject drawer.

·       The transfer arm now gripped the record at the spindle hole, thereby allowing non-standard size or continental European records to be played.

·       Similar to the Victor 10-50, this second changer was stripped of most features: The only thing kept was the automatic 10”/ 12” record indexing. Otherwise, it was just a changer with no repeat and no remote control. This made the changer to be much less complex: All movements were now regulated by a single big cam wheel on the top, and a second cam wheel at the bottom.


Many thanks to Robert Baumbach, Jochen Kaiser, Jeff Lee, Christopher Proudfoot and James Tennyson for their help and critical advice.

The author welcomes your interest in this unique Gramophone: sgimips1 “at” yahoo “dot” com


Further Reading and Sources:
Robert W Baumbach: Look for the Dog, Los Angeles, Calif., 2005
Christopher Proudfoot: Collecting Phonographs and Gramophones, New York, 1980
Barry A. Williamson: HMV Gramophones 1921 to 1936, Liverpool, 1999
No Author: Victor Talking Machine Co. – Service Bulletin No 24, Camden, 1928
No Author: Victor Talking Machine Co. – Service Bulletin No 24A, Camden, no year
No Author: Service Manual covering “His Master’s Voice” Automatic Acoustic Gramophones Models W1 and W2, EMI Technical Information Division, Hayes, Middlesex, no year
UK Patents: 188,787; 192,723; 291,480 US Patents: 1,968,927; 2,047,160