Collecting Phonographs

Collecting phonographs combines many interests, such as antiques, technology, history, music.

It is because of its many facets a very fascinating and interesting hobby, whether one collects one or more machines, cylinders, accessories, or follows the history of 1 particular manufacturer.

And having 1 phonograph often leads to the purchase of another that plays a different format, or a disc machine, and so the collection begins to grow.

The best advice is to buy what you enjoy, some people would say, buy the best you can afford, but this depends if you are buying for interest or investment. If you buy for investment your money may be better spent buying gold coins! Remember, not everyone will understand this passion and interest for old technology.

Take care that the collecting activities do not become overwhelming, and remember it is for fun & interest and not become an obsession, with the risk of alienating friends, misusing ones time and misspending money.

Buying a first machine

For the prospective first time phonograph buyer or new collector there are an amazing number of different machines made by various makers in the heyday of cylinder phonographs and disc gramophones (in Europe disc phonographs are called gramophones). Though there may be an urge to buy whatever you see available, the best advice you could get is to familiarize yourself with the different types of disc & cylinder phonographs, and develop a ‘feel’ for the different machines, their history and value.

Starting out, you should keep to the better known makes, like Edison & Columbia for cylinder machines; and the Gramophone Company (HMV) in the Europe or Victor in the USA, for disc machines.

Of course there are hundreds of other different makes, however for reliability and quality, the leading manufacturers above will not disappoint.

Starting out, it is not easy to know all the checks that one sould carry out to ensure the machine is genuine and working properly. A genuine machine may be up to 100 years old and as such, it should bear some evidence of age. Though for a novice this may be also a difficult task. Highly polished cabinets, new looking chrome plating and fresh paintwork are not right unless of course the machine is described as "fully restored". Some collectors eschew machines with obvious restoration, while other collectors prefer completely restored machines that look like they just left the factory. We prefer it that machines are left as original as possible and the patina aquired over 100 years, respected!

Ensure that the named components of a machine all have the same name. A Victor or HMV machine should only have parts – especially the motor – made by that particular company. Understand what the name “Crapophone” symbolizes.

If buying from a shop or dealer at a market, insist on a demonstration and walk away from the “do not find the winding handle” excuse as you can bet the motor is suspect. The machine should play, at the very least, one side of a disc record or a complete cylinder. If buying from a dealer, insist on a descriptive receipt, which ensures that, should the phonograph be a fake, you can get your money back.

With cylinder machines there is less chance of totally fake machines due to the higher complication of the mechanics, but there are machines made up from bit parts.

Buying a phonograph (gramophone ) with a brass horn on an online auction is dangerous, with a 99% chance of throwing good money after a bad fake. And of course never pay for anything bought on the internet with payment forms that you cannot trace, Western Union being one of the worst!

As the best first cylinder machine to buy, an Edison Standard or Fireside would be the best recommendation.



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