Background

In his book, Gillett published the designs for two phonographs - a very simple tinfoil machine and a much more complex electrical model. In 1996/1997, a batch of 15 units of the tinfoil model were fabricated and sold by Neil Maken at "Yesterday Once Again" in California. But as far as we know, no one has built a complete Gillett electric phonograph in recent years - or even during the last century. Only one Gillett electric phonograph is known to exist nowadays in the collection of Richard Scott, Chairman of The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (www.clpgs.org.uk) and it has several very interesting modifications such as a different spectacle and the use of an Edison mandrel and feedscrew.

Gillett describes his electric phonograph as follows:

The phonograph to be now described is much more complicated than the "Tinfoil phonograph," and consequently will call for a higher degree of skill in workmanship. As a matter of fact, the instrument when dismounted will be divided into between 100 and 200 parts; and some of these parts are made up of several smaller pieces soldered, or otherwise fastened together.

(Pedro's note: the total number of pieces is over 370)

The first tiny steps: The Gillett bedplate and supports.
The first tiny steps: The Gillett bedplate and supports.

The instrument is not exactly a copy of the form given to it by Edison, but a modification designed by the writer. There is the usual revolving wax cylinder, across which the stylus travels parallel to the axis. In this one, the phonograph itself is built on a brass bed-plate, and this is mounted on six ornamental brass pillars. The space beneath the brass bed-plate is occupied by the necessary driving gear and motor; the latter being in this case a special electro-motor.

All the parts of this instrument can be made on any good lathe above 21-inch or 3-inch centres, which is fitted with a compound slide rest. The sheets of working drawings in this book are exact reproductions on a smaller scale of the original sheets which were drawn to the exact size of the various parts. In fact, I have taken the drawings from a phonograph that I have already constructed to this design.

It will be seen that I have not gone into the various details of instrument-makers' work connected with this machine, as I naturally suppose the amateur will not attempt the work unless he possess the necessary skill and knowledge.

About William Gillett

Sadly, very little is known about the talented William Gillett. In 2018, Francis W. Pratt published two articles in The Antique Phonograph with his research. The following information was extracted from these outstanding articles:

Gillett mandrel and repeating lever
Gillett mandrel and repeating lever

William Gillett (1869-1894) resided at "Faraday Cottage" in Slough, London, he received a seven-and-a-half-year education (and apprenticeship?) under a man by the name of Mr. Henry Middleton

He was only 21 or 22 years old when he published the articles and plans of his electric phonograph in the The English Mechanic and World of Science magazine in 1891 that were later part of his book, The Phonograph and How to Construct It, published on October 14, 1892.

By 1891, the young Mr Gillett had become established and respected in his own right, and had later published a series of articles in The English Mechanic And World Of Science entitled "Elementary physics" - throughout the scant three years between his phonograph plans, right up to his untimely death on Sunday, August 12, 1894.

As an entrepreneur, he was involved in the business world, as can be seen with this advertisement printed in the November 25, 1892 issue of The English Mechanic and World of Science "Exchange Column": "Gillett - Faraday Cottage, Slough: Dynamo Carcass, thorough good magnet circuit, cost 30s. Excellent for three-speed lathe wheel (20in.) and vice, or tools."

To put Gillett's Phonograph articles into the greater historical context, a month earlier than Part I of his series was published, The English Mechanic and World of Science featured in their January 2, 1891 issue, an article titled, "THE NEW MICROGRAPHOPHONE" - extolling the virtues of an invention by a "Lieutenant in the Italian navy Gianni Bettini." And only six months prior, in August 1890, the same publication had printed a short article, illustrating two separate mechanical devices described as: "THE GRAMOPHONE." Among instruments for recording and reproducing speech and other sounds, the invention of Mr. Emil Berliner, of Washington, D.C., known as the gramophone, is remarkable as being distinct from the others in both form and principle.

Gillett's untimely death

On August 18, 1894, The Slough, Eton, and Windsor Observer magazine, published the following article on page eight:

DEATH OF A PROMISING YOUNG MAN AT SLOUGH.

It was only in our issue of Saturday the 14th July that a very interesting article from the pen of Mr. W. Gillett, author of a work, entitled "The Phonograph" appeared upon the subject of "The Electric Telephone; a brief account of its history, construction and working," and we now regretfully record the fact that this promising young writer on Sunday evening last joined the great majority, after suffering a brief but painful illness. Mr. Gillett, who at the time of his death was only 25 years of age, pursued with intense application the study of mechanics and science, and suitably enough both the house and the street in which he lived were associated names of most distinguished scientists, the house being known as Faraday Cottage and the thoroughfare in which it was situated being Herschel Street. So high an opinion did a well known firm of publishers of scientific works entertain of his manuscript on "The Phonograph" that they not only undertook the responsibility of an issue at their own expense, but offered to pay royalty on all sales above a certain number. To those who have any knowledge of the publishing business this will be acknowledged to be a most encouraging start, as publishers are as a rule extremely wary, and instead of promising royalties are more likely to require indemnification against loss. For seven and a half years Mr. Gillett had been in the service of Mr. Henry Middleton, the well-known engineer and inventor of Wellington-street, Slough, and had applied himself to his work with a fidelity and zeal which could not fail to command the approbation and commendation of his principal. In his leisure time Mr. Gillett wrote articles upon elementary physics, and a series of articles from his pen has lately been appearing in the English Mechanic, the subjects treated being "Sound, Electricity, Light, and Heat."

Gillett electro-motor
Gillett electro-motor

He was the teacher appointed for the class in "Magnetism and Electricity," one of the subjects taught in connection with the Slough Technical School, and was so popular with the students that on the occasion of the funeral at Deal on Wednesday last, prominent among the floral tributes was one from the students in his class, including Miss Newlyn, Mr. Lovegrove, Mr. Cherrie, Mr. Ball, and Mr. Porrie. It is a singular thing that the funeral service of the deceased young man whose career, so prematurely terminated, gave evidence of so much promise, was christened and married in the same church where the funeral obsequies were performed on Wednesday afternoon last, He had made every arrangement for experimentally illuminating his own house, and those of one or two of his nearest neighbours by electricity, and the motive power was to be furnished by a petroleum engine, with which he had provided himself, but his good-natured designs were frustrated by death, the immediate cause of which was peritonitis, or inflammation of the bowels (sic).

Also, In the August 17, 1894 issue of the The English Mechanic and World of Science magazine, a short but respectful memorial was published:

Our readers will greatly regret to hear that Mr. W. Gillett, who has for some time contributed to our columns, passed peacefully away on Sunday last after a short illness of only eight days. His constant readiness to impart information has made his name familiar to all readers, and his memory will live as one of the many who have so heartily helped to build up "Ours" as their common monument, and to benefit their fellows and humanity at large.

He is buried at St. Andrews Church, Deal, Kent, England