The Value of Phonographs

NOTE: I never assess value of machines, so please don't phone or email me. I like to share information about my hobby through my internet homepage, but I am unable to help individuals with assessing value.

What is the Value of My Machine?
Best Price Guide
General Tips
Reasons to Invest Mostly in Edison and Victor Machines
Victor Machines--Outside Horn Machines Made By The Victor Talking Machine Company
Victrolas--Made by the Victor Talking Machine Company
Crash course on some Victor machines
Edison Machines
Brunswick Machines
Columbia Machines
Additional Materials
Concluding Thoughts

What is the Value of My Machine?

"What is the value of my machine?" is the question I get most often. It would be wonderful if I could reply with something short such as, "Your Victrola XI is worth $600" or "Your Brunswick upright model is worth $450." But truthful answers are not this simple! Different sellers get different prices because they sell in different ways.

Determining values for machines is not easy. People write to me asking this question: "I just paid $400 for a Victrola XI in very nice condition--how much is it worth?" It seems to be worth $400! I suppose they are hoping I'll reply, "Wow, you paid $400 for a machine that is really worth $700!" But value does not work that way. I have paid as little as $300 for a Victrola XI (there is a hidden price for bargains--you have to work hard to be in the right place at the right time). Meanwhile, some dealers get as much as $800 or more when selling a Victrola XI. Dealers have contacts and methods for getting a machine in the right place at the right time, with everything fixed, shiny, and ready to go. So is a Victrola XI worth $300 or $800? There is no right answer.

Everything depends on circumstances. If you want to know the value of your machine, you cannot worry too much about what dealers get for the same machine. What a well-connected dealer gets for a machine is not what you can get selling the same machine from your living room. Location of the machine is one of those "circumstances" determining price or value. Is your machine in your home (not many potential buyers will see it there) or it is for sale at an antiques plaza (lots of foot traffic!)? Also, we must consider the region of the country you live in. A machine that sells for only $500 in a rural section of Michigan might sell for twice that amount in New York City.

I receive, via email, the familiar question of "What is my machine worth?" about a dozen times a day. I used to reply to questions about value back in the old days when the internet was a novelty and I had some time. I am no longer able to do that. However, I have written (and revised) this article, which I believe should help many people. In fact, I wrote this article because I found myself saying, in email, many of the same things over and over again. So I might as well as say everything I know in one article!

Victor V Booklet

Above is a rare instruction booklet for the
the Victor V. The correct term for the above is "Victor
talking machine." It has an exposed or outer horn. It is not
a Victrola! See further below for a discussion about Victrolas.

I suppose if I could give good assessments without this eating into my time, I could provide more assessments over the internet. But good answers are never truly simple. Giving a good answer can consume several minutes, and I cannot spare that time. I'm pretty busy raising my two little kids, spending time with my wife, doing my best at my teaching career, researching phonograph topics that interest me, and writing articles. Most readers will understand!

Why does it take so long for me to answer, for a stranger, a question about a machine's value? First, I need to look up the machine in phonograph books on my shelves to remind myself of its history, to recall all of that machine's special features, to know what type of wood was used, to know whether pot metal was used, to remind myself how many were sold when the machine was marketed. Next, I would check price guides that I've bought. I might ask a friend or two who owns the same machine how much that person paid (of course, if that person got a bargain, or paid very little 30 years ago, that is not much help today). Then I would compose a carefully worded answer, pointing out what might increase or decrease the value of a particular machine.

Sadly, there is no incentive for me to give such assessments, and I never give quick estimates, or "guess-timates," off the top of my head since such answers are helpful to nobody. Value depends upon many variables, including condition and how you sell it. There is no "one" price for any machine.

The best I can do here is give some general tips, citing some ranges for some machines. They are only ranges to guide "newbies." You might get higher prices if you work hard at selling your machine (of course, you might also get lucky finding the right buyer with no effort). Likewise, you might have trouble selling your machine despite hard work. Suppose nobody in your town is looking for that model, or you have no luck finding the right buyer for some other reason?


Best Price Guide

Victor Dog

The best price guide to phonographs is Ray Wilenzick's book titled Phonograph Auction Prices. That guide's subtitle indicates how information is organized: "An Alphabetical Listing of Cylinder and Disc Phonographs Sold at Auctions of Major Collections."

It is 66 pages, regular size paper, softcover, spiral binding. This book compiles prices for thousands of machines that have sold in the last year or two, mostly by auction. These are real prices paid by real people--not prices grabbed out of thin air, as in most price guides. In the book, we sometimes see multiple listings for a particular model--the Victrola XIV, for example, which pops up often in cities throughout America. Why differences in prices? Because there are no clear, set prices for phonographs. Price is determined by the circumstances under which a machine is sold. Where was it sold, how was it sold, how hard did the seller work to find a buyer willing to pay a high price? Sometimes at an auction a machine sells for a low price, perhaps because only one phonograph collector was at the auction. On the other hand, sometimes a machine will sell for a very high price because at a busy auction several phonograph enthusiasts bid against each other, with auction fever driving up the price to something far beyond what phonograph collectors might normally pay.

One way to figure out the value of your machine is to buy Wilenzick's book. Study the prices he cites, and you can figure out what your machine is worth, more or less. The postpaid price of "Phonograph Auction Prices--2004 edition" (it was published in April 2004) is $30. His email address is and he will be happy to answer your questions. Feel free to mention my name and homepage.

I also admire Gilbert Pasley's 26-page Pocket Guide to Antique Musical Machine Values, which is sadly out of print. It makes crucial distinctions between early and late versions of any given model. Like the more detailed Wilenzick book, it cites specific prices, all taken from ads and auctions, allowing reader to deduce what range is about right for any given model. For the exquisite Victrola XVI, Pasley cites the realistic figures of $1000 for an oak L-door machine (taken from a 1992 ad), $700 for another L-door machine (this time in mahogany--an 1993 ad), and so on, with one ad for a XVI in mahogany quoted at $575. Pasley shows--without making judgments about whether it high or low--that someone in 1993 placed an ad to sell an Edison A-150 in mahogany for $200. That is low. Not many Edison floor models sell for as little as $200, and I think $500-700 is more realistic today.


General Tips

When visiting some antiques shops, I am dismayed by high price tags attached to cabinet phonographs made by third-rate companies. Some of these companies were formed after WWI during a post-war boom. Whereas many Victrolas--that is, cabinet machines made by the prestigious Victor Talking Machine Company--are worth several hundred dollars today, the same is rarely true for machines made by companies that existed for only a year or two.

I warn all buyers that if a machine's name is not one you recognize, don't spend much on the machine, or don't expect to get much for the machine when selling it. You can get a good price for an oddball machine only if you sell to someone who doesn't know what he or she is doing. The Valuphone, Wolf, portable Cirola, Vitanola, Magnola, Harponola--I can name hundreds of nondescript brands. Machines made by small companies rarely produce great sound since big companies protected their patented technology. Worse, suppose something today breaks on an off-brand machine? Spare parts are difficult to find. An advantage of a Victrola or Edison machine is that spare parts are available. So many Victrolas and Edison machines were sold decades ago that today one can buy a spare crank, tone-arm, soundbox, or other small part.

I never assess the value of machines. But if I were to assess value, I would inquire about condition of a phonograph and then ask if the seller needs to sell items in a hurry. If you need to sell in a hurry, you can't expect to get the best price. Is the seller in a position to find that certain someone who will pay a premium price? Do you own an antiques shop where you can display your machine? Are you willing to spend money on advertising?

victor Parts

Prices cited here are for machines in fine working order--not necessarily mint but still handsome and with no notable flaws. All original parts should be on the machines (no modern or newly-made parts--however, it is good if soundboxes have been serviced in recent years by reputable dealers, with fresh gaskets in those soundboxes instead of original and now-hardened gaskets from the 1910s or 1920s). Prices do not include anything that is in a machine, such as original binders, extra reproducers, oil dispensers, needle cutters, and catalogs.

I cannot cite meaningful prices for machines with broken or frozen parts. Pot metal parts are especially difficult to repair, so price must sometimes be determined by how much a local machinist will charge to make a new part.

Some collectors in recent years have paid less than the prices that I cite for specific machines. It is a case of being in the right place at the right time, which is half the fun of collecting phonographs. Likewise, some people desperate for a phonograph have paid much more than the prices I cite here.

I do not cover "Crap-o-phones," which are too common these days. These are newly-made outside-horn machines, sold usually through mail-order catalogs. Some people are so worried about these poorly-made reproductions that they have asked me, "What about Victrolas? Are there some 'crap-o-phone" models out there of Victor's cabinet models?" After all, that is what a Victrola is--it is a cabinet model made by the Victor Talking Machine Company as opposed to an outside-horn model. The answer is no. Nobody is going to the expense and trouble of making a new UPRIGHT cabinet machine. There is too much wood involved. Crap-o-phones are OUTSIDE-HORN machines.

Who makes these? I don't have any names but I suppose the real answer is someone eager to make a quick buck. It is a case of someone yanking a motor from an old portable machine (usually one found in India, where portables were made for a longer period than anywhere else) and making a new machine, using new and cheaply-made parts--a "new" outside horn machine! These may be OK to display in a corner of the house if you are not fussy about whether your machine is a quality item or not. The motor will break if you play the machines often, the sound is bad, and the value of "Crap-o-phones" (that's my name for these--they are sold under various names) will only go down in coming years.

Allow me to say more about terminology. A Victrola should not be confused with machines bearing names like Brunswick, Columbia, Edison, or Sonora. "Victrola" is always capitalized since it is a brand name, or a machine made by a particular company, the Victor Talking Machine Company. Neophytes often refer to any phonograph as a Victrola, saying, "Do you know anything about my Brunswick Victrola?" For non-Victor machines, they should use the term "phonograph"--Brunswick phonograph, Sonora phonograph, and so on.

"Victrola" is not a generic term. Again, the generic term for non Victor machines is "phonograph" though "talking machine" is also good. The term "gramophone" is not good since the American industry stopped using this term by 1903 or so--the British continued to use the word, and when I hear the word "gramophone," I think of British machines.


Reasons to Invest Mostly in Edison and Victor Machines


I believe that machines manufactured by the Victor and Edison companies were the best in terms of engineering, sound reproduction, craftsmanship, beauty.

The Victor Company proudly stamped its famous Nipper on everything it produced. When people tell me they think they have a Victrola, I ask, "Does it have a picture of the dog listening to the horn?" An affirmative answer tells me it really is a Victrola. To refer to a Victrola as an RCA product is usually a mistake since RCA did not acquire the Victor Talking Machine Company until 1929, after the heyday of crank phonographs.

Columbia and Brunswick sold a few fine machines. But since I want the best, I make room in my house only for Victor talking machines (that's the right term for Victor's outside horn machines) and Victrolas (the right term for the Victor company's cabinet models, those machines with built-in horns, usually hidden behind doors).

Blue Amberol

I also make room for Edison cylinder and disc machines. An Edison disc machine plays only thick Edison discs (called Diamond Discs) though decades ago you could buy attachments to play non-Edison 78s (Victor and Columbia discs are called lateral cut records) on Edison disc phonographs.

I recommend Victor and Edison machines over all others partly because parts are available. Suppose a spring breaks, or a reproducer is cracked, or a crank is missing. The Victor Talking Machine Company and Edison company standardized so many parts and sold so many units that another spring, reproducer, or crank can be found with relative ease. Finding spare or extra parts for machines built by Columbia or Brunswick is difficult since not so many machines sold. I won't list the third-rate companies that sold machines in even smaller quantities. Finding extra parts for these brands or for machines made in Europe is often impossible.


Victor Machines--Outside Horn Machines Made By The Victor Talking Machine Company

These machines are among the most sought after. They start at $1000 and go up, up, up. When people ask me where they can buy outside horn machines, I first say "I wish I knew!" and then give the advice that they should settle for a cabinet machine. You won't bring home a vintage horn machine with all original parts unless you are rich or extremely lucky. As I warned earlier, avoid those new-looking horn machines sold through mail order catalogs, some of which end up in shops. These are hastily assembled outside of the United States from very cheap parts.

Victor machine

Above is a Victor machine (visual was taken
from a Victor V instruction booklet). This
machine is not a Victrola! A Victor machine
has an exposed horn whereas a Victrola has
an internal (hidden) horn.

Why is a phonograph with an outside horn harder to find than a cabinet model? Because relatively few were made, and everyone wants one. More cabinet models were sold (supply is relatively high), yet today demand is much higher for outside horn machines. Most people who love antiques prefer horn machines because they feel these evoke the past more than cabinet models.

From 1901 to 1920, Victor marketed about 20 outside horn machine models. That may seem like many models, but most were made in the first decade of the twentieth century, when Victor was a new company, and sales were relatively modest (the industry was roaring soon after the cabinet models were introduced). The best selling exposed horn model was the Victor II, with about 125,000 selling. A greater number of cabinet models were introduced, several of which sold in excess of 200,000.

The outside-horn models include the A, B, C, D, Monarch, P, Royal, I, II, III, IV, V, VI (this is the most prized today, worth about $5,000), and the XXV (the odd and rare "Schoolhouse Victor").

Sound Arm

Cabinet machines were introduced because many people long ago believed horn machines were clumsy and ugly. The upper classes who bought most machines resented how dust collected on horns and complained that the machines were eyesores. Manufacturers listened. Sales of outside horn machines plummeted when cabinet models were introduced, but horn machines did not disappear. The small Victor Junior stayed in production until 1920. As Victor's lowest priced spring-driven machine, it originally sold for $10. It is worth over $1000 today.

Many of Victor's outside-horn machines will deliver a better sound than Victor's earliest cabinet model since the latter's built-in horn was small despite a whopping $200 price tag. But by 1910, cabinets held bigger horns--that meant a bigger sound. A 1905 record will sound as good when played on a 1905 outside-horn machine (in excellent condition) as on any machine made at any other time.


Victrolas--Made by the Victor Talking Machine Company

A Victrola is a machine with a built-in horn (hidden, not exposed as with early machines) made by the Victor company. Terminology is important. Outside horn machines made by the Victor company (the early ones that everyone wants!) should be called a Victor talking machines. Later models with built-in horns are Victrolas. No machine made by a rival company, such as Columbia, Brunswick or Sonora, should be called a Victrola!

Among Victrolas, there are portables, table-top models, and (perhaps most common) full uprights. If you see a "VV" on a metal place before a number, that means "Victor Victrola." For example, a plate might say VV-XI. That means Victor Victrola XI (that's the Roman number for "11" or eleven").

Before 1921, the company used Roman numerals for Victrolas. These are the IV (table-top), VI (table-top), VIII (table-top), IX (table-top), X (table-top and upright), XI (table-top and upright, with the upright version being very common), XII (the highest Roman number to come as a table-top), XIV (upright--again, all numbers above XII are uprights), XVI, XVII, XVIII, and XX. The last three--what I call the 17, 18, and 20--are quite rare and sell for over a thousand dollars today.

If your machine has on the metal identification place a Roman number for the model (e.g., "II") as opposed to a regular Arabic number ("2"), it was made before 1921. On this plate you'll find the machine's serial number.


The portable machine above is a Victrola
50. The "-ola" was used by the company
for models with interior or hidden horns.

Two simple table-top Victrola models are the IV and VI . The IV and VI sold from late 1911 to 1926, when the Orthophonic models finally made these "acoustic" machines outdated. The IV and VI are fairly common since they were the most affordable Victrolas, with the IV originally priced at $15 and the VI priced at $25. They were inexpensive! Consider that most records were a dollar each, and that many Caruso records sold for $3 each. Each model went up ten dollars in price during an inflationary period, so the IV ended up at $25 and the VI at $35.

The VI was a little more expensive since it has a double spring motor, not a single spring. Also, it is slightly larger.

Roughly the same number of IV and VI models were sold--that is, you are as likely to come across a IV as a VI. In the 1980s, I paid as little as $100 for these machines, but the days of finding such machines at garage sales are over, it seems. The IV today is worth about $200 to $250, and the VI is worth about $250 to 300. Look for the original Exhibition sound box on each machine. If your IV or VI has a No. 2 sound box or any other kind of sound box, then someone made a replacement at some point. A Victor sound box in good condition (recently replaced gaskets, no mica problems) is worth about $50 to $60.

Again, "Victrola" means Victor machines with internal or hidden horns. There is no VV-V, or Victor Victrola 5, though there is a Victor V, which of course is an outside horn Victor talking machine, not a Victrola. Do not confuse the Victrola VI (a simple table-top model) with the Victor VI (a grand outside horn machine worth ten times as much).


Crash course on some Victor machines

V-V on the Victrola plate means "Victor Victrola" (or inside horn machine).

V-V IV is a common table top model, selling from 1911 to 1926.

V-V VI is also fairly common, selling in those same years but at a higher price than the IV.

V-V X comes as a table top model and as an upright, selling from 1910 to 1921.

V-V XI is the most common Victrola, with over 853,000 sold from 1910 to 1921 (then it was renamed the V-V 90, with a modest 85, 405 units sold from 1921 to 1924--the "console" style had usurped the "upright" style by this time).

V-V XII = rare (only 4,913 units sold)

V-V XIII = rare (only 662 units sold--I've never seen one!)

V-V XIV sold well from 1910 to 1921, when it was renamed the 110.

V-V XVI sold well from 1910 to 1921, when it was renamed the 120.

V-V 210 is a console model that sold from 1923 to 1925 at $100. It sold better than other console models, with 197,000 units selling in the two years it was on the market. It met popular demand for a "flat top" console unit--it sold better than the earlier console models introduced by the company, which were flawed by having protruding lids instead of flat tops.

V-V 215 is a console that sold from 1923 to 1925 at $150 (this and similar console models no longer sold after 1925 due to the introduction of the new "Orthophonic" line that played electrically recorded discs).

V-V 220 is another console model. It sold from $200 to $240, so it was relatively expensive in the console line though not as pricey as the 230.

V-V240 is a so-called "humpback model, as are the 260, 280, 300, and 330. They are called "humpback" models by collectors (not by original Victor dealers) due to the raised lid that prevent anyone from placing vases or other objects on the console. It was not a flat top, but consumers actually wanted flat tops, so the company introduced flat top consoles to meet demand.


Vicrola XI

The Victrola XI (that's the Roman number
for "11") is the easiest to find among
Victrolas since it sold very well from 1910 to 1921,
when it was finally renamed the Victrola 90. Nearly
900,000 units of the Victrola XI were sold!

The Victrola XI was the most popular or best-selling Victrola. It sold well because its price was "just right" for so many Americans--$100 when introduced in late 1912 though the price went up as the economy changed, with inflation raising price to $130 by 1921. In 1917 the letter "A" was added ("XI-A") though the company stopped using this "A" within a year or so. The XI was renamed the No. 90 in 1921. Price today is $400-700. Also popular and similar in design was the Victrola X (the "X-A" in 1917), renamed the Victrola No. 80 in 1921. Price today is $350-$650. The Victrola X is a little less desirable than the XI.

The Victrola XIV also sold well decades ago. It was renamed No. 110 in 1921. Price is $500-800. It matters little in price whether a XIV is an early one from 1910 to 1914; a mid-period one (for example, the Type E of 1915-1917); or the so-called "modified" XIV introduced in April 1917, which features the fat tonearm, the 4-spring motor (not 3-spring), the lower and lighter lid, the thinner doors

Console models--four legs, wide instead of tall--were popular in 1923 and 1924. These include the 210, 215, 220, 230, 240, 260, 280, 300, and 330 (the last five are so-called "humpback" models due to the traditional Victor lids that stick up). These console models are not as impressive as uprights. They were fashionable in 1923 and 1924, then went out of fashion. The horn is a little too low, too close to the floor, to satisfy those with discerning ears. Many Victrola collectors are a little snobbish when it comes to these consoles, refusing to make room for them in the house. In any case, few today sell for as much as uprights. Price is usually $400-700.

Orthophonic models--a whole new line of Victrolas, designed to play new electrically recorded discs--were introduced in November 1925. The Credenza held a very large horn and delivered Victor's best sound ever. These models are worth about $1500 today. See the article about Credenzas on my homepage.


Among knowledgeable collectors, high prices are paid for the Victrola XVIs models, up to and including the Model H.

XVIs began with doors shaped like L's, which were made from August 1907 until September 1912. One or two price guides out there may refer to these earliest models as "L-door XVIs," but the ideal price guide would make more subtle distinctions, citing letters.

The early models are the A and the larger-sized B, which are VTLA-like models featuring raised motorboards (notice that the B had two blued wood screws under the turntable--that would change with subsequent models), and the C and D, which are similar except the C has the old style on-off switch (which also acts as a bullet brake) whereas the D has the later style on-off switch moved to the 7 o'clock position--moreover, the D has four gold screws instead of the C's four blued wood screws. L-door models have drawers that are ideal for holding supplements and needle tins. I am sorry that Victor's engineers eliminated these pull-out boards when redesigning the XVI.


Higher prices are also paid for the rare E, which was the first of the newly designed XVIs, with doors no longer L-shaped and with the on-off switch at the 1 o'clock position (at the back) instead of at 7 o'clock (towards the front); for the rare F (the winder is thicker and longer than on earlier models) and G, both of which have a speed regular at the back instead of in the front like the E. (Speed pointers on the F and G are unenclosed, which turned out to be a design flaw since they can catch on someone's sleeve--eisenglass was subsequently used for speed pointers.)

Finally, higher prices should be paid for the XVI model H, which was made between late 1914 and late 1917. The H is different from preceding models in various ways--the winding key is put back in the middle instead of being forward as in the E, F, and G; all parts are gold-plated (the turntable platter is nickel on the A-G); the cabinet's back cornerposts are carved; the motor can be raised and suspended on hinges that allow for easy maintenance.

No XVIs are common but the later XVIs with fat tone-arms fetch slightly lower prices since they are more available than earlier XVIs. Victor stopped using letters after the H model, so collectors refer to such models as fat-arm XVIs (a few of these have an "A" on the identification plate). Also, lower prices should be paid for the Victrola 120, which is the XVI given an Arabic number beginning in 1921. A cabinet machine made from a rare wood, such as Circassian Walnut, is obviously in a higher price range than machines made from more typical woods.


Machine manufacturers offered small machines to meet the demand in the 1920s for portables. The demand rose as prosperity spread and more automobiles took people to picnics, beaches, and the countryside.


Above is Victrola's 2-55, worth around
$250-300 today. Original price in the late
1920s was $35. It was introduced to dealers
in The Voice of the Victor in April 1928. The
design includes the unusual "angle-wind," which
means the winding key (or crank) is at an odd angle.

Victor's suitcase-like portables, which weigh about 17 pounds, are cute, well-designed, and easy to restore. The built-in horn is small but adequate for playing 78s of small jazz bands or ukulele artists. If you take a portable to your next picnic, I recommend a Nick Lucas record such as "Tip Toe Thru' The Tulips"--fine crooning accompanied by solo guitar.

The first machine I owned was a portable. In 1986, I paid $100 for an offbrand called Academy. The sound was bad, and when a pot-metal device broke, I could not replace the part. I sold the broken machine for $8 and swore that, for portables, I would only buy Victors, which can be found for around $100 in sad shape to $200 in good condition. I now own over a dozen. If you have a chance to buy one at a low price, glue the broken seams, rub shoe polish into the vinyl-like exteriors, oil a few dry motor parts--these portable machines made by the Victor Talking Machine Company deserve a second life.

From 1921 to 1929, eight Victor portable models were introduced: the 35, 50, 1-5, 1-6,2-30, 2-35, 2-55, and 2-60. The 50, which sold from 1921 to 1925 (it was Victor's first portable, not the 35), is the most collectible model due to its exquisite wood exterior--mahogany or oak. Other models have fabric or vinyl-like exteriors (it reminds me of vinyl though I don't think vinyl was around as early as this).

I recently saw a modified No. 50 machine in a shop in Petaluma, California. Someone had slapped a bright red paint over the oak exterior. My wife, knowing how upset I get upon finding a machine irretrievably ruined, carries smelling salts for such occasions. It doesn't matter that it is a small machine. A piece of our heritage is lost.

The cutest non-suitcase portable machines is the Cameraphone, which is the size of a 1920s box-shaped Kodak. I also like the Mikiphone. Sound quality is bad but collectors want them for display, not listening. They sell for around $400-500.



I'll discuss some Edison cylinder machines, then disc machines.

A) Edison Cylinder Machines

One nice Edison cylinder machine is the Gem, which is small and lacks power. Call it the baby of Edison phonographs. It has a key-wound spring motor that is supposed to play a two-minute cylinder at a full winding, but I find that most Gem motors wind down before a cylinder is over (they had more power decades ago). A Gem sold in 1908 for about $12.50. More powerful models were priced higher. Today, a simple "black" Gem is worth about $600-700, maybe as much as $900 if in great condition. The last Gems made were the so-called "red" Gems (finished in red enamel). They are worth more than the more common "black" Gems because fewer of the red ones were made, and I think the springs are more powerful.

The Fireside model A was successful when introduced in 1909. It came with a 19 inch straight horn though a two-piece "cygnet" horn came with the later model B. "Cygnet" is French for swan, and the horn is elegant. This model could play "standard" records--that is, two minute cylinders--and four minute ones. Some people are surprised when they learn that cylinders came in either a two or four minute format and that each format requires the right equipment. I feel two minutes is too short for a song but four minutes can get tedious. Most Victor discs of popular tunes (issued on black label, not the famous Red Seal label, which was for classical) play for about 3 minutes, which I feel is just right.

In June 2000, I saw an advertisement for an Edison Opera machine with original wood horn, a record cabinet, and 92 Blue Amberol cylinders. The seller stated rather vaguely in the ad, "All in good shape." Price was $6,500. It sold right away. So that may mean an Edison Opera with original horn, and a few "extras," is worth $6,500? Or is the package worth more? Given the fact that it sold quickly, I guess $7,000 is the "right" price these days. I have an Opera but it lacks the original wood horn. Does anyone has such a horn for sale?

Many machines have the name Amberola, which Edison produced from 1909 to 1929 in various models. These have internal horns instead of exposed ones. The Victor company had great success with its built-in horn models--that is, Victrolas--and Edison tried to compete.

The splendid Amberola IA was marketed from 1909 to 1912 and played two- and four- minute cylinders. Both the A and B (the latter was introduced in 1912) were costly, selling from $200 (for mahogany or oak) to $250 (for walnut). The A was for 2 minute and 4 minute cylinders whereas the 1B was strictly for 4 minute items

There was no Amberola II. The Amberola III sold from 1912 to 1915. The Amberola IV is rare (around 150 were built) whereas the Amberola V table model is fairly common today since it sold very well. The Amberola VI came in three forms. Soon came the VIII and X. No VII or IX appeared.

These numbers get confusing, and in 1915 Edison consolidated the Amberolas into three lines named for the dollars needed to buy one: the 30 sold for $30, the 50 for $50, and the 75 for $75. The 30 and 50 were table models, the 75 a floor model. The model 30 pops up more than the other two.

Today, the Amberola 30 is worth $400-500, the Amberola 50 is $500-600, and the 75 is $600-800.

Edison Opera

Above is Edison's "Opera" model--one of the most desired of all machines!

B) Edison Disc Machines

Edison Diamond Disc records are thick because Edison needed a flat surface for the diamond stylus installed on a horizontal sound box to play them. Edison used an unusual diaphragm made of seven layers of rice paper impregnated with shellac. The rice paper used was not the rice paper made from edible rice, but from the rice paper plant, Tetrapanax papyriferum, a member of the Ginseng plant family.

This rice paper contains strong fibers (in Edison's day the modern macromolecule plastics were not yet available). The thick Edison Diamond discs are not made of shellac, as the old 78 rpm records were, but have surfaces made of Bakelite, an early thermoplastic.  The grooves on these records are narrowly "U" shaped and require a precision ground diamond stylus mounted into a metal shank to play them.  A steel needle would ruin these Edison discs because the recording is on the bottoms of the grooves (vertical-cut method), not the sides (lateral-cut method), as is the case for regular 78 rpm shellac records.  Edison discs have 150 grooves per inch.  Gearing from the internal spring motor advances the internal iron horn, tone arm, and sound box, across the records, a unique Edison feature. In other words, it was not necessary for the record grooves to move the stylus and tone arm forward.  Edison discs are meant to be played at 80 rpm.

Edison made several dozen models including upright floor models, low console floor models, table models, and even expensive art case models.

Let's consider the Edison S-19 as a typical machine--not the best, not the cheapest.  The S means "Sheraton." It is a half-cabinet upright.  A half-cabinet does not store as many records as the full cabinet models.  The S-19 was introduced in the spring of 1919, when all phonographs were selling like hotcakes since the war was over, rationing was over, and Americans, who had saved money in 1918 (not much was available to spend money on, due to rationing), had plenty to spend on luxury items like phonographs.  It has a single spring, so it was not top of the line, but it was a decent machine, like all mid-line Edison products.  Original price was $195 but that jumped to $200 in December 1919 (a hot economy often leads to this kind of inflation).  In 1922, phonographs were no longer selling, and the S-19 was priced downwards to $150, and it seems the model was discontinued by 1923.  Value today is about $500-600.


The Model C250 (later C19) Edison Diamond Disc Phonographs are referred to as the Chippendale style cabinet, based on designs of the famous 18th century English furniture maker (the grille pattern was styled after French Gothic arches).  The cabinet is a tall upright floor model. It proved to be one of Edison's most popular models.   The C250 was introduced in December of 1915 as the official Edison Laboratory Model.  Only models with a double spring motor and the largest size (No. 250) of internal horn qualified as official laboratory models.  Cabinets were available in red mahogany, English brown mahogany, golden oak, fumed oak, or walnut. The exposed metal parts were gold plated; a 12-inch turntable was standard. The initial price for the Chippendale phonographs was $250, a considerable sum at that time, but the price gradually rose to $285.00 due to shortages created during World War I.

In April of 1919 the C-250's designation was changed to C-19. The C-19 models were available until 1927 when the first electrically recorded Edison records were released and special Edisonic phonographs were produced to play them.  In 1922  Edison began the manufacture of a low, wide console version of the Chippendale cabinet phonograph, the Model CC32.

Value today for these fine machines is about $800-1200.

On June 14, 2000, my good friend Ron Dethlefson--the Edison expert--helped me restore the mechanism of my Diamond Disc model 200. Why did the Edison Company call it a model 200? Because original price, when the model was introduced in 1912, was $200. That was the A-200, made from 1912 through 1915. The B-200 was introduced after the factory fire of December 1914, and this model was available until the fall of 1915. Mine is a C-200 (with model B motor), probably from 1918 since the serial number is 18775 (that is a high number, and the C-200 was discontinued by 1919, which is why I deduce mine is from around 1918). The cabinet is the Sheraton. The C-200 was succeeded by the S-19. The company did not like to continue using names like "150" (for machines that sold at $150) and "200" (for $200 machines) and "250" (for lab models selling at $250) since prices had to be raised during the war. It was no longer practical to call a machine a "200" when it no longer sold for $200.

The 200 model is fairly rare because it competed against the $150 model and the $250. Most folks chose either the 150 model or 250 model, not the one in between. If you had to watch your budget, you chose the 150. If you could afford the better machine, you got the 250 since you got two springs (instead of one) and a larger horn, which was worth the extra money. The 200 model is fairly simple.

My C-200 has all original parts, and we have oiled all the right places, cleaned the inside horn with "turtle" car wax, spray-painted parts of the horn that were no longer black, sealed a few tiny holes in the horn (we don't want air to leak from the horn and thus lose volume--instead we want a sealed or airtight horn). The value of the machine today, we feel, is between $500 and $700.

A model 150 might be worth $350 to $600. A top-of-the-line laboratory model might go from $700 to $1200, but I should someday give more detailed information about these fine models, some of which originally sold for up to $6,000! So when I give the range of $700 to $1200, I am not including the Edison Art models that once sold for thousands! Edison made a few machines that sold for higher amounts than those by any other maker.

The Edison "LP" (long-playing) disc machines do pop up once in a great while. These console or "low boy" machines were made in 1926, lasting only a year on the market. It was Edison's attempt to introduce a long-playing record system. The company wanted something new to compete against radio and also the other companies' switch to electrical recording. But the experiment failed because the records, with 400 grooves to the inch, were too fragile to stand up to daily use. Also, one had to do a lot of winding to get the 36 foot long motor springs ready to play for 20 minutes for 10-inch discs and 40 minutes for 12-inch discs! These records, which played at 80 rpm, wore out too quickly and were too faint in volume, compared to Victor or Columbia records of the day, not to mention radio. Today, Edison 10- and 12-inch "LP" records sell for around $300 each if in pristine condition . The machines today range from $1500 to $2000. Remember, the machines must come equipped with the rare long-play reproducers. The words "long play" were stamped onto each reproducer.

Edison Diamond Disc Reproducers

The Edison portable Model P-1 from 1929 (it played only "lateral cut" discs, or needle-type--not Diamond Discs!) is worth about $300-400. It was originally priced at $35.

A range of $800-1200 is about right for the two Edisonic models--the Beethoven and Schubert models, which are late Edison disc machines, designed to play the now-rare electrically recorded Diamond Discs. In the popular series, these carry numbers above 52088, with 52088 being the last "acoustic" Diamond Disc

Edison expert Ron Dethlefson has, for sale, a reprint of the Edison Disc Motor Manual, which was published in 1920 for use by Edison repairmen. It is roughly 20 pages with many illustrations on how to do repairs properly and bring your machines back to original factory specifications. For a postpaid copy, send $5 to Ron Dethlefson, 3605 Christmas Tree Lane, Bakersfield CA 93306. It contains information that is available nowhere else. It illustrates how to repair and tune-up your Edison disc machine. Ron has also included information about the operation of the early model A Diamond Disc machines, produced from 1912 to 1915, which have different mechanisms than most Diamond Disc machines found today.

How do you know if your Edison machine has been "monkeyed" with in past decades by past owners? For fun, I like to figure out, after adding an Edison disc machine to my collection, if anyone has removed the motor board, or "bedplate," since the time the machine left the Edison factory. One thing I look for in disc machines (as opposed to cylinder) is the felt that was originally placed under the nuts that you remove in order to take the motor board out. The felt is gone? That means someone was in there and failed to replace the felt. That is a shame since it means metal is rattling against metal. The felt was put there by factory workers for a reason. Or does the felt look new? When I recently worked on my C-200, I discovered the old, original felt. I think nobody had lifted out the motor board since the time it was put together in the factory around 1918.



Brunswick machines are not as valued as Victrolas. They have well-designed motors, but the soundboxes and tone-arms are not impressive (an exception may be made for the remarkable Ultona reproducer).

A Brunswick table model might go for $200-350 whereas a Brunswick upright might go for $300-500. I confess I don't make room in my own home for Brunswick machines though I would make an exception for the superb Panatrope, which was introduced in 1926. Today, a Panatrope might sell for $1000.



Columbia horn machines are not as well-built as Victor horn machines, but all horn machines are in demand, so Columbia horn machines start at $1000. Columbia Grafonola floor models (there are too many to list here) are not as good as Victor models of the same size. The use of pot-metal, some relatively noisy motors, the straight-tube tone arms (in contrast to Victor's tapered arms)--Columbia quality rarely matches that of Victor. I know of no Columbia machines made from 1913 to 1925 that deliver as rich a sound as Edison Diamond Disc machines. Value today for the floor models is about $300-500.

Columbia employed a confusing array of names and numbers for its models. I suspect Columbia changed numbers at times for reasons meaningful only to the company, not the buying public. Adding to the confusion is the fact that when Columbia for a short period used model numbers that indicated the dollars needed to buy a phonograph (two examples are the No. 75 and No. 85, which cost $75 and $85, respectively--they are the same except the higher number has an electric motor), the company soon had the same phonograph with several different names.

I do not own Columbia machines but I would not mind creating some new space in my house for one of the three Viva-Tonal models introduced in late 1927: the Portable Model 160 ($50); the Model 602 ($90), and Model 711 ($175). Nor would I mind owning the Model 950, a combination of the Kolster Radio Receiving Set with an "electric phonograph." Introduced in early 1929 at $450, it is housed in a writing cabinet and is like no other model.


Perhaps this is the place for me to share observations about Columbia's use of "phonograph" as a word. I study advertisements for how "phonograph" and "talking machine" are used and notice that Columbia literature from the turn of the century to about 1923 proudly called machines "Graphophones" or "Grafonolas," and almost nothing else. For example, a full-page advertisement in the September 15, 1910, issue of Youth's Companion has much text praising Grafonola models--the Regent, De Luxe, Mignon, Elite--but "phonograph" is not used except once in quote marks ("If you are prejudiced against all 'phonographs,' please admit that you have not heard a 1910 Columbia Graphophone"), with the quote marks used to raise a question about the word's legitimacy. The text does refer to "talking machines," even claiming that Columbia was "Creators of the Talking Machine Industry"! In 1919-1920, when the Sheraton model was advertised in countless ads, the word "phonograph" is never used, at least not in two dozen ads that I recently examined.

In Columbia advertising during the first couple of decades of this century, the word "phonograph" is generally avoided although the word was used prior to 1913 whenever the company is named. After all, the marketing arm of the American Graphophone Company was The Columbia Phonograph Company, General. Having the word "phonograph" in the formal name was evidently an irritant to Columbia executives, who changed it to the Columbia Graphophone Company in January 1913. The name was changed back to the Columbia Phonograph Company around the time "New Process" records were introduced in October 1923 and around the time a new trademark--the one word "Columbia" sitting above tied musical notes--was adopted. Why the name change to the Columbia Phonograph Company? Creditors took over after owners of Columbia shares, alleging that the company was insolvent, applied for a receivership on February 9, 1922. Perhaps this led to the name change though I do not know how. After the British firm Columbia Graphophone Company, Ltd., headed by Louis Sterling, took over the American company in early 1925, "phonograph" was used fairly often in Columbia ads.


Additional Materials

"A Big Book About Phonographs" is a history of Victolas and other vintage machines--do a search on the internet and maybe you'll find a copy for sale. It is over 230 pages, spiral binding, unique! Subtitled "Original Articles & Rare Talking Machine Advertisements."

It compiles newly-written articles from experts (R. J. Wakeman, Ron Pendergraft, David Spanovich and others who had contributed regularly to Victrola and 78 Journal) and rare visuals from elusive trade journals such as Talking Machine World as well as Voice of the Victor, which was the house organ of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Articles cover Victor's Orthophonic machines ("Victor's Orthophonic Credenza--the King of Machines?"), the portable (or suitcase-like) machines that were made by various companies from 1921 to 1926 ("A History of America's Portable Talking Machines"), the different types of phonograph needles (steel, Tungs-tone, fibre, cactus), how to restore Victrola cabinets (good discussion of HOW to apply lemon oil to make a cabinet shine again), off-brand phonographs introduced from 1917 through 1922 (nice illustrations!), much more. Articles from The Voice of the Victor include "The New Victrola XVII" (December 1916). Information about reproducers (Victor called them "sound boxes").

You'll learn about machines made by Victor, Columbia, Edison, Brunswick, Cheney, Artophone, Trumpetone Company (soundbox looks like a trumpet!), Sonora, Cathedral Phonograph, Swanson Portable Phonograph, Peter Pan, Claxtonola, the Lampograph Company (machines made like lamps!), Magnola, Pathe, Bluebird Talking Machine Company, National Talking Machine Company, Charmaphone, Fulton Talking Machine Company (maker of the Maestrola), Aeolian-Vocalion, Buehn Phonograph Company (this was mainly an Edison distributor), Plaza Music Company (learn about the camera-size "Kompact"!), Hiawatha Phonograph Company (Chicago firm), Player-Tone Talking Machine Company, Modernola, Kodisk ("Snapshots of Your Voice"--early home recordings, with Irving Kaufman featured in advertisements!), Consolidated Talking Machine Company. Many Victrola guides are duplicated, too--for example, manual for the Victrola 50, "Instructions for Unpacking a Victrola 215," "Instructions How To Opeate the Victor Fibre Needle Cutter," "Instructions for the Operation of the Victor Automatic Brake." Sonora literature, Cheney literature, early Edison cylinder and disc machines, etc. This is a book about MACHINES (not about records or artists).


Concluding Thoughts

When friends visit me, they marvel that my home has a Victrola in every corner. I collect these wonderful machines partly because they are so attractive but primarily because they deliver the best sound when I play 78s. An Enrico Caruso record played on high-fidelity equipment can sound good, but I get a warmer tone from the same record played on a vintage machine.

Motor Repair Instructions

"Instructions for Repairing the Victor Motors and Exhibition Sound Box" (with wonderful visuals as well as informative text!)!