Francis James (27 April 1940 – 15 Dec 2020)


Francis ‘Frank’ James was the author of the 1998 ‘bible’ for EMG collectors, The EMG Story. He was also a treasured friend and advisor to countless gramophone collectors.

Through his iconic book, Frank shone a light on the little-known history of the very British company that built the world’s best bespoke gramophones. His meticulous research to uncover the intrigue and shenanigans that surrounded the production of these giant-horned gramophones has become legendary.

This selfless dedication to preserving British history was a hallmark of Frank’s life. Not only did he bring us The EMG Story, he also spent a large part of his life in the restoration of dilapidated historic buildings. He saw a desperate need to preserve the quality and integrity of the past, for future generations to study and learn from. He often lamented the throwaway consumerism of modern society, and wanted to celebrate and enlighten his community about the skilful workmanship of the past. I’ve heard him describe himself as a “Luddite”, but in fact he was more of a teacher who believed in education through deeds. This he did gloriously.

Looking at some of the before and after pictures of his work in building restoration clearly points to a man with singular vision and dedication. I once asked him how he found time to do restoration work, write books, and run a farm full time. With typical humility, he said it was all down to his wife, Jan. I will always remember having a delicious homemade lunch with the pair of them. The best British bangers & mash and the best British cheeses.

I was honoured to be offered Frank’s personal collection of EMG gramophones. He knew I would expand it and keep it together. There will be an EMG museum one day dedicated to the memory of Francis James – the EMG guru.

For posterity, the James family has kindly agreed to give The EMG Story in PDF format to anyone who wishes to read it.

Forum link: FRANK JAMES 1940-2020.

Known books published by Francis James:

  • 1975: Walter Hancock and his Common Road Steam Carriages
      “An important first biography of Walter Hancock who produced steam vehicles of many types, from his steam phaeton of 1836 to the five ton Automaton. Here is his life and work written by his great grand nephew Francis James who has gleaned the evidence from information as diverse as Viennese newspaper and old family sources. In addition the second half of the book contains a reprint of Walter Hancock's "Narrative of Twelve Years' Experiments (1824-36) dealing with Steam Carriages on the Common Roads, together with the original engravings as published in 1838. This work besides being rare, is considered to be the most fascinating of all early steam locomotion books”
  • 1998: The EMG Story
      “Francis James groundbreaking 1998 book The EMG Story about the famous EMG and Ginn Expert Handmade Gramophones. THIS Rare BOOK IS NO LONGER IN PRINT. Francis James superbly written and illustrated book follows the story of Ellis Michael Ginn of E.M.G. Hand-Made Gramophones and Expert Gramophones fame. The book outlines the state of Gramophone technology in the early 1920s, and then introduces the major players of the handmade Gramophones market, among them EMG, the conflict that leads to the formation of Expert Gramophones, and their slow demise after WWII. In an appendix, Francis James lists all Gramophone models produced by EMG and Expert, as well as photos of all their soundboxes. An indispensable companion book for those owning one of these great machines.”
  • 2010: The Hancocks of Marlborough - Rubber, Art and the Industrial Revolution - A Family of Inventive Genius (co-author John Loadman).
      “This book began with the aim of telling the almost forgotten story of Thomas Hancock, the rubber developer who in his own day was acknowledged as one of the great scientific pioneers of the Industrial Revolution. But as research progressed, it was clear that Thomas and his five brothers, the Hancocks of Marlborough, together constituted a unique family which made a tremendous yet virtually unknown contribution to nineteenth-century science and art. Walter designed and ran the first steam carriages to carry passengers on the common roads of England and so began the age of mechanized transport. Thomas founded the UK rubber industry when he discovered how to vulcanize rubber reliably; his company survived for some 120 years before being taken over. Charles was a well established painter who was also instrumental in the manufacture of gutta percha-coated undersea cables, used by the electric telegraph to begin the global information highway. Other brothers, John, James and William all made significant contributions to the development of Victorian science and culture. This book tells the story of the family and the remarkable people in it, from the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653 to the present day, using the Hancock family archive of many unpublished and previously unknown documents.”
  • 2015: Marsh Court - The Missing Chapters
      “Author Francis James a pupil at Marsh Court preparatory school has produced this book around his own memories and written accounts from others. The house is little more than a century old, yet twice it has lain empty, unwanted, unloved, and once sold for demolition. He wanted to create 'The Missing Chapters' to show the lives of the people who have been intimately linked to the building and who have played a part in its history. Illustrated throughout with pictures and sketches.” Review