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Premier Cabinet Company


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George M. Willson, the founder of the Premier Cabinet Company, was born in Willet, New York in 1876.[1] After serving in the New York National Guard, Willison began apprenticing in the woodworking industry and by 1900, was overseeing the design process of furniture for a company in Camden, New York.[2][3] He later moved his family to Montoursville, Pennsylvania to work with the Crandall-Bennett-Porter Company, a table maker established in 1906.[4] At the time, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, was a hot bed for the furniture industry; with almost a dozen respective companies listed in trade directories through the turn of the century.


In 1909, Willson, partnered with Charles Bennett and S. P. Porter, to establish the Willson Bennett-Porter Company.[5] Together, they manufactured an array of furniture; from chairs, tables to entire dining room sets. In 1912, Willson built up enough personal capitol that he was able to establish a company of his own, the Willson Chair Company.[6] Within two years, Willson was seeing success and even claimed to have designed more chairs than any other person in the United States.[7] But with the popularity of home phonographs, George Willson saw another opportunity on the horizon. Around 1914, the major phonograph patents held by the Victor Talking Machine Company and Columbia (The American Graphophone Company) started to expire. This opened new channels for phonograph manufacturing without fear of legal retribution, and a variety of businesses wanted to enter this rapidly growing market, especially furniture companies.




(1913 Willson Chair Company advertisement.)


In 1906, the Pooley Furniture Company of Philadelphia, under the direction of the Victor Talking Machine Co. built their first internal horn “Victrola” cabinet. The “Pooley Victrola” was designed to resemble a music box set on top of a disc storage base. This first design was economically out of reach for most Americans, but the popularity allowed Victor to redesign the cabinet into a line of more affordable models which increased in popularity with the American middle class[8]. The following year Victor’s main competitor, Columbia, introduced their own internal horn phonograph, the “Symphony Grand.” Columbia took a different approach with their first internal horn machine, making it resemble an upright piano. Being too large for the average home, Columbia quickly copied Victor’s design with their second cabinet iteration the “Mignon,” which more closely followed the design of the “Victrola.”[9] Columbia experimented with a few models reminiscent of home furniture; releasing models resembling desks, tables, even one shaped like a baby grand piano.[10] Having limited success, Columbia soon matched their model line up with Victor, a business model which George Willson would also emulate.




(1907 patent for the Columbia Symphony Grand.)


Following the success of Victor’s design, nearly all internal horn phonographs stayed within the general cabinet style resembling their updated music box design. Though unconventional phonograph cabinets were still desirable to many Americans as a way to display wealth and set themselves apart from their neighbors. Drawing from Columbia’s “Symphony Grand,” George Willson designed his own smaller upright piano shaped phonograph cabinet. To begin manufacturing, Willson organized the Premier Cabinet Company in May of 1914 with $5,000 in capital.[11] Their first workshop was located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with the business offices remaining in Montoursville.[12] A. F. Meisselbach & Bros. of Newark, New Jersey supplied the phonographs mechanical hardware and all Premier was responsible for was the manufacturing and design of cabinetry.


Willson attempted to release the first model in late 1914, but the launch stalled as Columbia brought a suit against him for patent infringement.[13] In court filings Columbia claimed Willson’s design was too close in style to their “Symphony Grand.” While the court case initially prevented Willson from releasing his first piano shaped model, it came with the benefit of promoting the brand and buying time to build up interest in this new company. While awaiting the court’s decision, in early 1915, Willson’s prior business experience helped increase Premier’s stock, and the decision was made to move the company offices to Williamsport, Pennsylvania with plans to construct a new factory.[14] In the meantime, Premier began introducing other models unrelated to the Columbia case. Willson filed his cabinet designs with the Patent Office in April and presented his first lineup to the trade in July. By August his patents were pending, allowing Premier to begin gradually sending out piano shaped models to dealers without fear of action from Columbia.


The full Premier lineup was presented September 02, 1915, at the annual Pittsburgh City Exposition with three separate cabinet designs for piano shaped models.[15] Eight models in total were in the first lineup, they ranged from the tabletop model “C” on the low end which could be purchased for $27 all the way to the top-of-the-line piano shaped model “J” costing $150.[16] Finally by October 1915, a decision was made regarding the Columbia lawsuit. It was determined that Willson’s design differed enough from Columbia’s that the Patent Office could approve a separate patent for Willson, ending Columbia’s litigations.[17]




(The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana, Dec 26, 1915)


With the ability to manufacture without legal consequences, Willson began actively using his connections to the furniture industry to get his line of phonograph sold through furniture stores across the country. This came with the added benefit of national advertising. Setting his company apart, Willson showcased Premier as a piece of home furniture that could blend in better than the average conventional cabinet phonograph. Designing multiple models that broke from the norm, resembling music-boxes, cupboards, one model’s lid opened like a flip top desk. All of Willson’s work was paying off, by December 1915, Premier increased its capitalization from $5,000 to $50,000 and the Willson Chair Company was reorganized to back up Premier.[18][19]


Through 1916, the plan to construct a cabinet factory in Williamsport stalled. To make up the shortfall, the West Branch Furniture Company’s factory in Watsontown, Pennsylvania, was acquired by Premier for the purpose of cabinet manufacturing.[20] From Watsontown, the pieces would be shipped to Williamsport for assembly. By late 1916 advertising changes identifying the models by an alphabetical designation to a numeric to correspond with prices. Furniture stores across the country were carrying Premier through 1917, prompting them to have a booth at the National Furniture Exchange in Chicago, Illinois.[21] It was soon becoming evident that having an unconventional cabinet wasn’t going to be enough to stand out. With the outbreak and continuation of World War I, manufacturing in Europe was disrupted; leading to a small economic boom in the United States. Victor and Columbia transitioned to manufacturing supplies for the war effort before the U.S. officially entered the conflict. This led to them not maintaining demand, allowing hundreds of new brands to flood the market to fill the shortage, leading to an oversaturated market. Fearing they wouldn’t be able to fill the supply for the 1917 holiday season, Premier’s prices were steadily increased to the dismay of their dealers.[22]




(The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana, Dec 11, 1916)


Premier ran into trouble in 1918. Its charter was repealed in January for failing to pay taxes over the last two years.[23] The growing market wasn’t helping either. With changing aesthetic tastes following the close of the war, furniture and department stores began presenting Premier as more of a novelty or dropped them completely for other emerging brands that were more established, like Vocalion and Brunswick. Through February the company was hemorrhaging employees and began placing “help wanted” ads in the national trade journal, the Talking Machine World.[24] While sorting out their charter and tax issues, production slowed and the decision was made to sell the company. In December 1918, Premier was sold to the Independent Talking Machine Co. of New York.[25] In the period shortly after Premier was sold but before the Independent Talking Machine Company took full control, the remaining upright cabinets were sold off and rebranded under multiple names, using parts from different suppliers: “Jewel” (Stern Talking Machine Corporation, San Francisco), “Rich-Tone” (Great Eastern Mfg.'s Co., Chicago), “Universal/NEFCO” (New England Factories Co., Cedar Rapids), and “Musician” (Appearing sometimes with a New England Factories Co. tag, but not always). This marked an end to the upright models, by 1920, the few remaining were discounted to deplete the remaining stock. Independent didn’t continue manufacturing in Pennsylvania for very long and soon moved operations to New York and returned to more conventional cabinet designs, with Premier being converted into a budget brand sold through various department stores.[26]


George Willson continued to stay in the phonograph trade, founding his own supplier company, the Willson Sales Co. in 1919, where he supplied and dealt phonograph motors and other motor parts for a few years.[27] The Willson Chair Co. was sold off in 1919, becoming the Montour Furniture Co. Through the 1920s Willson travelled back and forth between Pennsylvania and New York clinging to the furniture trade, never seeing the success he once had. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 impacted the entirety of the country and the furniture industry was no exception. By 1930, Willson was unemployed and living in Irondequoit, New York, before his death at the age 59 in 1935.[28]




(Adam Cabinet Style.)



(Colonial Cabinet Style.)



(Louis XVI Cabinet Style.)





1. "United States Census, 1880," George M. Willson in household of Franklin Willson, Willet, Cortland, New York, United States; citing enumeration district , sheet , NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)

2. Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York 1900, Volume 8, P. 252

3. "United States Census, 1900", database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MS2J-93T : 13 January 2022), Geo M Wilson, 1900.

4. Wood Craft: A Journal of Woodworking with which is Incorporated "The Patternmaker.". Gardner Publishing Company. 1906. p. 221.

5. Commonwealth, Pennsylvania Secretary of the (1909). List of Charters of Corporations Enrolled in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth ... p. 184.

6. American Lumberman. American Lumberman. 1912. p. 70.

7. Wayne News, Nebraska · Thursday, December 03, 1914

8. Bilton, Lynn. "Victrola Type VTLA (Flat top Pooley)" https://www.intertique.com/Pooley_demo.html

9. Bilton, Lynn. "Columbia Symphony Grand Graphophone".https://www.intertique.com.

10. Talking Machine World, October 1913, P. 44-45

11. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 May 1914, P. 3

12. The Talking Machine World, September 1914, P. 38

13. The Scranton Tribune, 27 March 1915, P. 2

14. The Talking Machine World, October 1914, P. 47

15. The Pittsburgh Press, 02 Sep 1915, P. 9

16. The Star Press, 26 Dec 1915, P. 3

17. USD48021S, George M. Willson, Design for Talking Machine cabinet, issued 1915-10-19

18. The Wilmington Morning News, 06 Dec 1915, P. 10

19. Department Reports of Pennsylvania, 1916, P. 578

20. Furniture Manufacturer and Artisan, October 1916, P. 190

21. Furniture Worker, Volume 34, 1917, P. 93

22. The Talking Machine World, September 1917, P. 31

23. Marvyn Scudder Manual of Extinct or Obsolete Companies, Volume 1, 1926, P. 995

24. Talking Machine World, February 1918, P. 106

25. Talking Machine World, December 1918, P. 61

26. The Indianapolis times, October 29, 1925, P. 5

27. Talking Machine World, August 1919, P. 43

28. "United States Census, 1930,"), George M Willson, Irondequoit, Monroe, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 222, sheet 5A, line 3, family 91

(Edited by Zach Kinslow)

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What a comprehensive look at an uncommon brand!  Thanks for posting this, Ben - -


George P.

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Fascinating. Thanks for presenting this!


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The history of off-brands is quite interesting.   Premier is far from the only furniture maker to produce phonographs, but reading your research adds a great deal of interest for the machines they produced.  Thanks for posting this article.

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