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Assistant Curator Esme Loukota unwraps the story of a rather unusual phonograph from our collection that was specially designed to play records made from chocolate.

As we all take a moment to recover from the inevitable whirlwind of the festive period, you may find yourself looking again at some of the gifts you received; maybe you received the perfect present, that one thing you’ve patiently waited for since October, or perhaps you’re questioning whether your family knows you at all after yet another pair of novelty socks!

With that in mind I thought I’d take a look at something a little unusual in our collection that was once marketed as the perfect Christmas gift for kids. Although this might look like a regular record playing machine it is actually designed to play a very special disc made out of chocolate!

Phonograph from the Science Museum Group Collection. This phonograph was produced by the German confectionery firm Stollwerck to play chocolate discs.

This gimmick was the brainchild of Ludwig Stollwerck, a German chocolatier and entrepreneur, who was connected with none other than the famous inventor Thomas Edison in the early 20th century.

Whilst their relationship was initially based on Stollwerck having sole right to make use of Edison’s phonographs in Germany, it seems it also prompted the Stollwerck Bros chocolate company to branch out into novelty chocolate discs. These discs would have been wrapped in foil and it was on the foil that the ridges were stamped to enable the music to be played through the phonograph (rather than the needle touching the chocolate directly).

The discs were advertised as “Stollwerck talking chocolate”, an ideal gift for children who could eat the record once they were tired of listening to the song (a wax copy of the record was included as well, so that getting peckish wasn’t the end of the musical fun).

Image of a Christmas advert in German for the Stollwerck phonograph

It seems that the original owner of our phonograph succumbed to their sweet tooth as we only have the wax copy of the disc in the collection, but this does mean we know what tune caught their eye (or ear); knowing that someone marched around to the tune of ‘British Grenadiers’ before sitting down for a sweet snack gives us a wonderful insight into what Christmas might have been like for the owner, long before this object came into the Science Museum Group Collection.

Despite appearing much the same as a normal phonograph, these versions were a fraction of the size.

The example in our collection is less than 30cm tall and as such is a very delicate piece of equipment; this raises the question of how well it would have withstood the attentions of excited children who were ready to both dance and eat!

Illustration from French a magazine showing how to use the toy phonograph

Stollwerck did go on to produce a larger (and sturdier) version of his phonograph, presumably for this very reason, however even this did not launch the edible record into success and after a couple of years production ceased completely.

Luckily for us, this is not the end of the story for delectable music as various attempts have been made since to bring this unusual tradition back to life, from a 1980s entrepreneur to a record released in 2011, and even if you don’t have a record player you can still get in on the fun by grabbing your favourite chocolate bar, blasting out your best tunes and dancing around like you’re 5 years old again – it’s what Stollwerck would have wanted.