Sonora Victrola Phonographs

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wikicollecting

2015-06-26 10:49:08

Sonora Victrola phonographs are Victrola-type phonographs made by Sonora.

Background

Phonographs were invented by Thomas Alva Edison – “the Wizard of Menlo Park” and inventor of the electric light bulb. The phonograph was created in 1877, patented in 1878 and subsequently produced in fairly small numbers. The phonograph was among the earliest machines able to record and reproduce sounds. Its creation led to the formation of General Electric.

Edison’s early mechanical phonograph consisted of a spinning wax cylinder whose whose grooved surface transmitted sounds through a stylus and into an amplifying horn. It preceded the gramophone, which played flat, shellac records and, due to its diminutive sides, was much cheaper to produce. The Sonora Victrola phonographs represents a product that sits somewhere between Edison's invention and the gramophone.

In 1885, Edison formed the North American Phonograph Company, which would become the National Phonograph Company in 1896.

These antique Edison phonographs are highly prized by collectors today. One of the first products offered by National Phonograph was the Edison Home Phonograph, which was a nickel-plated machine in a mahogany case that held wax cylinders, each of which contained about two minutes of music. The Gem was introduced in 1899. Unlike the Home, this model was tiny, with a horn that was bigger than the machine itself.

The first Victrolas had cabinets manufactured by the Pooley Furniture Company of Philadelphia. They had flat tops, which meant the gramophone was set deep into the cabinet, making use of the gramophone itself awkward. Though the Pooley flat tops are now highly collectible, the domed-top models that followed were more practical to early 20th-century consumers.

Lower-priced tabletop Victrolas followed—by 1913, the company was producing 250,000 tabletops per year, including some new Electrolas that did not require hand cranking but did require access to electricity, which most people still lacked. By 1917, Victrola production topped half a million. Though very popular with customers, Victrolas are less popular with collectors of antique phonographs today, in no small part because there were just so many of them made.

The party for Victor, though, would not last. In the 1920s, increased competition, electrically amplified sound, and, above all, radio all conspired to kill the Victrola, which is why in 1929, the Victor Talking Machine Company was sold to RCA and RCA Victor was born.

Collecting information

Damage should be reflected in price.

To get a rough idea of value, the reader is asked to determine the model, serial number and finish.

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.

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.

If you are trying to buy or sell a Victor or Victrola, there are several avenues available: 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.

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.

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. 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. Fake Victor dataplates might also be 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.

Be aware of poor colour 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. 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 are also likely to be the result of bad restoration jobs.

Victrolas were designed to use steel needles, which are still readily available, especially using online retailers. 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.

Price guide

Table models are smaller than floor models and are therefore worth less.

The price of phonographs varies dramatically, however, as a general rule, basic, common models can be worth between $40 and $100. More attractive models may fetch up to $400 at auction. Exceptional examples can be worth up to $700.

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