Identifying Victor Products
Note: To date and get an idea of rarity of a Victor Product, please read this page carefully, and then click the "Product Information" link at the bottom of the page! If you have already read and understand this information, click here to skip this page.
Before the age, history and value of a Victor product can be determined, the phonograph must be correctly identified. Fortunately for collectors, the process of identifying a Victor phonograph is not difficult. The Victor Talking Machine Company did an excellent job of providing model identification, along with a unique serial number for most models, which makes dating their phonographs a relatively easy task in most cases.
Every Victor phonograph has a metal dataplate affixed either on or near the motorboard (for machines with lids), on the side of the phonograph (for most external horn and lidless models), or under the turntable (for low-priced and some portable models of the 20's). The turntable must be lifted straight up and off the motorboard to view some plates. Every dataplate contains both a model identification (stamped on the left) and a serial number (on the right). Every model has an individual serialization.
Most dataplates will appear similar to the pictures below:
The model number is shown first, followed by a serial number. On the leftmost plate above, the model is a "VV-XI" and the serial number is "836749". "VV" stands for Victor-Victrola. Some external horns have just a "V" for Victor, and others use "Type" or "Style" to identify the model. Some machines use names rather than numeric model designations. Using this information, the hobbyist can proceed to the next page (linked below) to determine specific details.
In some cases, the dataplate may have corroded over the years, and the small stamped serial numbers may be nearly impossible to read. It is usually possible to use a piece of very fine steel wool and GENTLY rub over the number so that it becomes visible. Too much pressure will damage the plate and could remove the contrasting black paint on the plate. In other cases, cautious use of an exacto-knife can prove helpful.
Serialization of external horn Victors likely began around s/n 100. Accurately dating these very early external horn machines is difficult, as the serial numbers were reset in 1905 and some were reset again in 1909, and thus, there can be 2 (or more) identical serial numbers for a given model. In addition, factory records for the earliest machines are incomplete. In these cases some educated guessing is needed to accurately date a phonograph. This is only the case for external horn Victors...not for Victrolas.
Most Victrola (internal horn) phonographs started production at s/n 501, and ran consecutively until the model was discontinued. Each model has it's own serial number during the sequential production run. During production, large blocks of serial numbers were skipped in some instances, but since these "skips" were well documented, we are still able to accurately date virtually all Victrolas. The exceptions to the "501" starting serial number for Victrolas occur on prototype models, and many of the Canadian-built and Export models, which can have serial numbers below 100.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The presence of decals, metal tags, etc. with a dealer logo (e.g "Wurlitzer", "Hudson's", "Lyon and Healy", etc) are simply advertising applied by the selling dealer, and do NOT signify that the Victor product was made by these sellers.
Some Victrolas that were produced from late 1917 through 1918 will have an "A" suffix after the model number, which indicated some improvements were made to the motor (along with a price increase). This suffix was discontinued after 1918. The picture below shows a typical "Type A" plate: in this case a VV-XI-A. The "A" can be seen as a small letter after the "VV-XI" model designation. The presence of this A-suffix makes dating a machine a simple task. In some instances other letters were used to indicate export to foreign markets. The "A" suffix neither adds nor detracts from value or rarity, as it simply indicates a small design change.
Many Victrolas have a suffix letter after the serial number. In many instances, this letter is located far to the right of the serial number, and can be difficult to see. This letter indicates the "Model Type", and can be useful in dating a machine. Each Type" indicates a small iterative design change to the model. Although the serial numbers are small and hard to read on this photograph, the "A" suffix (indicated by the arrow) is visible to the far right of the serial number (12698). This indicates Type "A" of this particular model, and should be considered a part of the serial number for reference and valuation purposes. This plate is from a VV-XVI, and uses the early small stamped numbers, which are very hard to read. In many instances, the plate will have to be cleaned in order to read the serial number information.
In some instances, a letter prefix may be found before the serial number (see Canadian machine tag below).
Victrolas that had electrically powered motors in place of the wind-up spring used a "VE" prefix, and a slightly larger dataplate. These were called "Electrolas" on the dataplate, but still retained the Victrola decal under the lid. Orthophonic Victrolas with electric motors used either an "X" suffix when the AC-only motor was used, or the "VE" prefix when the older-style AC/DC motor was installed.
Victor products that were intended for sale in the Canadian market will have an additional "Berliner Gram-0-Phone" tag underneath the ID tag. Some of these phonographs were produced at the main Victor Camden NJ plant, while others were made in Canada. Note that some Canadian machines have a "C" prefix prior to the serial number. Machines with an "E" prefix usually signify that they were intended for export to foreign markets. Note that many of these Canadian and export machines have serial numbers well below the standard "501" starting point of Victrola serialization. Please note that the original production logs for machines with a "C" or "E" prefix have not been located, and we currently have no production, dating or rarity information on any export or Canadian phonographs, or on any other models intended solely for sale outside the USA. The detailed dating and rarity information contained on this site is for US production models only. Some Canadian and export models are covered for informational purposes only.
As stated above, most Victrola (internal horn) serialization started at 501 for each model, and ran sequentially through the production run. The example on the right is from the very first VE-360 sold to the public. Blocks of serial numbers were sometimes skipped when design revisions were made to a particular model. External-horn Victors introduced prior to 1909 started at much lower numbers; surviving examples of external horn phonographs have been found with serial numbers of less than 100. In addtion, serial numbers from early production Victors were "reset" around 1909, and thus it is possible to find two different vintage machines of the same model with identical serial numbers. Consequently, accurately dating these early machines is a very difficult task.
Another piece of important information in identifying a Victrola is the license sticker. Every Victrola left the factory with a license sticker attached, and this can provide further information about the date of manufacture, particularly on early machines. Locating the sticker can be tricky; sometimes they are placed under the machine, sometimes on the back, sometimes inside the record storage area (on the inside cabinet). In the late 1920's, the stickers were placed underneath the larger machines. A date will appear on the bottom left corner of the sticker as shown in the photograph below. There are often other dates elsewhere on the sticker, but these have to do with the dates of patents, not with the building of the phonograph.
In this case, the date is February 1, 1908. Unfortunately, the sticker is often damaged or missing completely, since it is made only of thin paper and did not last long if the Victrola was stored outside or in humid conditions.
The "sticker date" is usually accurate within approximately 1 year for older Victrolas (1906-1914), but becomes less reliable in subsequent years of production. If a sticker reads "February 1, 1908" the odds are quite good that the machine was made in 1908 or 1909. During the mid-teens, Victrola dealers often replaced the stickers of phonographs in stock with updated versions, due to patent or license changes. In addition, Victor ceased regularly updating stickers on many models after 1918, and thus it is not uncommon to find a 1922 Victrola with a 1918 sticker attached. Dating via the serial number is a far more accurate method.