Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
These are a list of the questions I've most commonly received over the Internet over the past 6 years.
Click on the question to get the answer:
Q. Where should I go to sell or buy a Victrola? Will you buy it?
A. Accurately appraising a Victrola sight unseen is an impossible task. To get a rough idea of value, the reader is asked to determine the model, serial number and finish. With this information, the reader can get a rough idea of worth from the "PRODUCTS" link on the home page. However, this will only give an approximate idea of general valuation and rarity, and will not give an exact appraisal. Quality and type of finish, originality, as well as the production volume, condition and current demand will determine the ultimate selling price, and this information requires that a qualified appraiser see the machine in person (or at minimum, a lot of GOOD pictures). A common Victrola can command a high price if it has an uncommon finish, and/or if the condition is mint original. High-quality refinishing work can often appear to be original to the novice, and small flaws in a machine can make a great deal of difference in the overall price. In addition, what is "excellent" to one person may be "mediocre" to another; thus, I refrain from providing an exact price guide on these pages. Go to the SERVICES page to get information regarding paid appraisal services.
A. The more common Victrolas that were produced in huge quantities (VV-IV, VV-VI, VV-IX, VV-XI, VV-80, VV-210, etc.) in average "attic" condition (alligatored or worn finish, some scratches, etc.) will rarely bring over $300 at phonograph auctions, and often sell for considerably less. Since 2007, phonograph prices have fallen considerably, due to changes in the economy, and a "glut" of common machines on Ebay and elsewhere. In the past couple years, prices for VV-XI, VV-IX or other common Victrolas, in good condition have averaged around $150 or so on the auction circuit. In absolute mint original condition, these machines can be worth more than triple this value depending on who is buying. Although you may see common Victrolas in average condition with asking prices of $1000 or more at antique dealers or on Ebay, no knowledgeable collector would pay that kind of price for these models.
External horn Victor phonographs sell, on average, for more than their Victrola counterparts. Nice Victors can range in price from $500 up to well over $3000 depending on model and condition.
There are rare special Victor and Victrola phonographs that sell well into the tens of thousands of dollars, but these require a detailed appraisal to determine actual value. I avoid making price guesses, which may be very inaccurate if the machine is actually better (or worse) than it is described. In addition, the requestor may not know if the finish is original, and may not recognize aftermarket parts or reworked cabinet details.
It is my policy not to provide price "guesses". If you are interested in an accurate, professional appraisal, please click here.
Q. Where should I go to sell or buy a Victor or Victrola? Will you buy it?
If you are trying to buy or sell a Victor or Victrola, there are several alternatives that can work well. Ebay and other internet auction services have a lot of visibility with collectors, and can draw reasonable prices for the seller. It is best to add pictures and detailed descriptions of the machine in question, including model and serial number. If you are buying from Ebay, use extreme care that the Victrola is as described, and I strongly suggest the use of an escrow service. I've been burned more than once by machines that have been blatantly misrepresented. Also, on the "RESOURCES" link on my home page, there is a link to the "Phonograph Companion" which is a free posting service to buy or sell Phonographs.
Alternatively, local or national auctions are a great source. There are auction services that specialize in antique phonographs (for example, Stanton's Auctioneers in Vermontville, Michigan) which hold regular auctions that draw good attendance. The Antique Music Machine show at Union Illinois (near Elgin) always has a lot of machines for sale, and is basically a giant phonograph swap meet. This show is usually held on the second weekend in June each year.
Rarely does one find the corner antique store to be a good source to buy or sell a phonograph, as prices tend to be prohibitively high and commissions are equally burdensome. Regardless of where you buy it, be very careful that you know what you are getting. Unfortunately, the antique business is loaded with individuals who are somewhat less than knowledgeable about phonographs, and what is sold as a rare original may be nothing more than a common attic phonograph.
I get about 10 email solicitations per day from this website to buy Victrolas. Unfortunately, unless it is one of exceptional rarity, I am not interested in buying at this time.
Forgeries of external horn phonographs (Victors) are rampant on Ebay and at flea markets. These can usually be spotted a mile away by any serious collector; the horns are often plated in a phony brass or gold and the angle of the horn is high and very incorrect. Most are made in India from a mish-mash of old and new parts. Before a novice purchases an external horn phonograph online, an expert should be consulted to provide an assessment of the machine in question, as there are many fakes on the market today.
There are not a lot of fake Victrolas currently on the market, primarily because they are not as valuable as the earlier external-horn Victor machines. Recently, I have seen a few misrepresented Victrola machines on Ebay and elsewhere. The most frequent "forgery" is to take a cabinet from a common model, and simply attach a dataplate from a rare model, to make it appear more valuable. I've also seen phony Victor dataplates attached to phonographs that are bastardized combinations of components from who-knows-where. These fakes are easily identified when a good Victor reference book (e.g. Look for the Dog) is used to verify the machine type.
Nipper on Steroids: A Chinese "Rip-Off" Dataplate from a Fake Victrola
A more problematic and common forgery is not really a forgery at all, but more of a misrepresentation. Machines that have been restored incorrectly, or which have been re-veneered with inferior materials are becoming more and more common on the market. There is nothing wrong with buying or selling a restored machine...ANY restored machine...as long as the buyer knows that it was restored. However, since original Victrolas usually command a higher price than restored Victrolas, devious sellers will often misrepresent a restoration, with hopes of "fooling" the buyer and getting a much higher price. Obvious indicators of a restoration include:
Poor color matching between cabinet parts, under the lid, or weak, washed out "red" shades on Red Mahogany Victrolas. This is a good indicator that the machine was refinished with the incorrect stain, or wrong staining process was used.
Runs or drips. Victor's quality control was fantastic. I've seen a few originals with small runs that got by the Q/A inspector, but they are few and far between. If a machine has a lot of runs, or uneven finish coat, it's likely a refinish job.
Dust specs or blobs dirt in the finish, especially in corners or crevices. It's somebody's basement refinish job, most likely a pretty bad one.
Not likely. Victor patented the internal-horn phonograph in 1906, and this patent date (along with others) is found on virtually all Victrolas. Only the earliest (and relatively uncommon) Victrolas date prior to 1910. Using the "PRODUCTS" link on the home page will assist you in determining the date of your machine. Most Victrolas date from the 1915-1928 timeframe, since this was when the highest volumes were produced.
A. Victrola was the copyrighted term for internal horn phonographs made by The Victor Talking Machine Company, and thus, there is no such thing as an "Edison Victrola", just like there is no such thing as a "Chevrolet Ford". Literally hundreds of companies made phonographs, some were quite famous, while others were obscure. Victrola was only one brand amongst many.
I have no information on other makes of phonographs; however the reader may find assistance via some of the links provided on this website.
Victrolas were designed to use steel needles, which are still readily available through the sources listed on the Repair and Refinishing page on this website. They are usually available in loud and soft tone versions. Steel needles should be used only once to avoid excessive wear on the record. Victor manufactured a multi-play Tungstone needle in the late 'teens and early 20's. These needles lasted for many playings without replacement. In addition, soft fibre needles were also available from Victor in the heyday of the Victrola, giving a very subdued sound. To my knowledge, only steel needles are being manufactured at present. I know of no current manufacturers of either fibre of Tungstone needles.
Any of these sources can supply you with needles and most other Victrola parts and accessories:
Great Lakes Antique Phonograph
5092 Muskego Drive
Newaygo, Michigan 49337
Antique Phonograph Supply Company (APSCO)
Davenport Center, New York 13751
Wyatts Musical Americana
Lakeport, California 95453
Victrolas will play any laterally-cut 78 RPM record. This would include most flat records, with the exception of the early Edison and Pathe discs, which used a vertical cutting method. Don't play thick Edison discs, as these are vertically cut, and the Victrola's needle will ruin them. Victor, Columbia, Regal, Paramount, Banner, Aeolian, and a host of other brands will all play correctly. The reader is warned that playing 78's made after 1935 on a Victrola will cause the record to wear very quickly, as these records were designed for the lighter tonearms that were used on later electric phonographs. Thus, it is not wise to play "big band" or Frank Sinatra 78's on any pre-1929 acoustic phonograph.
Early Edison and Columbia machines used cylinders as a recording medium, which are obviously completely incompatible with the flat record format. The interested reader should search for Edison websites for further information on cylinder recordings.
Steel needles were designed to be used ONLY ONCE, and should be removed and discarded after every play. Using a worn needle will cause rapid record wear.
First, make sure that you have a true Victor product, and not a phonograph from some other manufacturer. Also make sure that it isn't an RCA Victor product, which are not covered on this website. If you see the words "RCA" someplace on the machine, it isn't a Victor. If you are certain that you have a true Victor which isn't listed on here, email me and I'll get back to you for some further discussion. Perhaps you have discovered a new model!
In most instances, Victrolas with electric motors are not more valuable than the wind-up versions. While it is true that Electrolas were made in much smaller numbers than the wind-up machines, they sell for about the same price as similar wind-up machines at auction and shows. Some collectors prize the early electrics, while others shun them and prefer to do the winding themselves. Regardless, there is rarely a significant value advantage for the electrics.
I'm not active in the record collecting hobby, and thus do not keep up with pricing. There were literally hundreds of millions of 78 RPM records produced, and it is quite unusual to find ANY 78 record that sells for more than a couple of dollars. In fact, in most cases, they are bought and sold at auction by the boxload, at very low prices. Records that MAY have some serious value would include very early (pre-1905) records (these are one-sided records, usually with a license sticker on the blank side), picture discs, or an occasional rare release. As a reference, even very rare Victor or Columbia records seldom sell for more than $20. There are a number of good websites on 78 RPM records.
There can be many reasons why your machine won't work, but the usual causes are:
1. Broken spring(s)
2. Solidified lubricants in spring barrel or gears
3. Damaged governor
4. Missing, worn or damaged gears
Instructions for repair are beyond the scope of this website, but the reader is strongly encouraged to purchase a copy of Eric Reiss' book "The Talking Machine Companion" (see the Recommended Reading page) for simple diagnosis and instructions. Alternatively, a number of excellent repair services are available, listed on the "RESOURCES" page.
There can be several causes for bad sound:
1. Worn record or needle (don't forget: steel needles are good for playing only ONE record!!)
2. Damaged diaphragm or mis-adjusted stylus linkage
3. Dried-out soundbox gasket (around the mica diaphragm)
Instructions for repair are beyond the scope of this website, but the reader is strongly encouraged to purchase a copy of Eric Reiss' book "The Talking Machine Companion" (see the "RESOURCES" page for simple diagnosis and instructions).
Don't forget that the Victrola isn't ever going to sound like your CD player or cassette player. These machines have a pretty unique sound quality that takes a little getting used to!