Talking Machines

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Victrola model G: the outtakes Sept. 30, 2016

Published October 1, 2016 by AntiqueMystique1

In all of my nine plus years of amassing a huge 78 collection that vary in condition from playable to excellent, there are a certain few that fly under my radar that are in extremely poor to terrible condition. There’s surface noise and that’s to be expected for a 78 that was released eighty-eight years ago. There’s no buyer’s remorse on my part. I buy 78’s if I feel they are in ‘playable’ condition at the very least. Condition-wise, I’m not too terribly picky if the 78 is near mint, very good, excellent condition, etc. And I do realize I could be doing my Victrola more harm than good opting for the undesirable 78s. So long as there’s no needle drops, huge scratches or gouges that would render the 78 unplayable, then I will buy it if the price doesn’t exceed $5 per record and even at that I find that’s a tad steep for the more common 78s.  Oh, yeah, if they’re cracked, don’t waste your money just some helpful first-hand experience. 😉

I don’t know what possessed me to stop in a used furniture store on a day I had to be somewhere. Normally, I don’t like to browse when I know I really can’t make the time. But it was the same place I acquired my Victrola model G. I was very excited that I finally got it fully repaired from the mainsprings to the sound box that required an overhaul and new rear flange gasket. That much about it was well worth it and I knew it would require some extensive work that was beyond my capabilities since I haven’t serviced any of my antique phonographs in over nine years. Yet again, none of them require any work since I had them restored professionally eons ago.

I glance at my wrist watch, counting off the minutes. I appear to be in a hurry, but I still have time to look around before I head off and start my day. I always try to make it a point to take in the beauty of various antiques at least once a day. I always use antiques in my daily life. Its what brings me happiness. Some people can’t start their mornings off right without their favorite cup of coffee or a latte, maybe even a cappuccino. And other folks probably don’t get off on the right foot without their nicotine fix before their lunch break.


I don’t smoke. I don’t consume caffeine. I will, however, pack some toothpicks on me and some steeped hot tea for when its cold outside. Otherwise, I keep my creature comforts to a minimal when I have to be at work. I reward myself when I do arrive home after work. And here I found myself in the small second hand store on the corner. I browse through the books and a dusty, massively thick Webster’s dictionary catches my eye. The binding has come completely loose from the spine. The pages are all there and in tact. I gingerly remove the antique dictionary. It was an “Original Webster’s Unabridged” dictionary published in 1874. The price scared me. $39.99, holy mackerel! Are they serious? :O

I scrutinize the antique dictionary for a long moment, then glance at the time. I needed to be on my way. Another day, another dollar so the saying goes. I return the dictionary to the bookshelf and get ready to leave when something small catches my eye. I’m gazing at two 5 ½” Little Wonder one-sided disc records from 1909. These were actually tiny shellac records made for a child-sized upright antique phonograph. However, I couldn’t say for certain whether or not they’d play on Victrola since I didn’t have any Little Wonder discs in my collection to say for certain. I know from past experience I had difficulties with similar 7” Parakeet shellac records manufactured sometime during the early 1900 to mid-Teens, so naturally, I wrongly assumed the same would hold true for these Little Wonder records. And there was a Cameo 78 that called out to me.

I ask the man at the counter how much for the 78’s and was told $2.99 per record. Uhm… I feel that is asking a bit much. I politely thanked him, placed the records back and waited until I could do some research. Depending on the rarity of the Little Wonder records and who the artist was that recorded the song(s), I surfed onto eBay and did some price-comparison. $2.99 was looking okay for what these tiny records are. And so I bide my time. I return to the store when another person is working. I’m quoted a steeper price for the records. Again, I kindly thanked the person and went on my way.

Yeah, they’re one of a kind. Okay, they’re “special records”, but Cameo 78s are common to run across although inferior in sound quality and material-wise. Little Wonder shellac records don’t turn up all that often, so I’ll give credit where its due on that for being extra special. But the prices for the Little Wonders online vary in price and their condition were no less than what I discovered in this store. I think about it for a long while. If they’re still there come some other time then I’ll know it was meant to be.

And they were there when I returned, so I bought them and the Cameo 78. Another Fox Trot song and who is the artist this time? Sam Lanin and His Orchestra “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” and the flipside “He Ain’t Never Been to College” by the Varsity Eight. Both songs were released in 1928. And last night I finally made the time to do more recordings, something I haven’t done in quite a while. But the recording process doesn’t always run smoothly, thus the outtakes and bloopers happen.

Oh, the Little Wonders played excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed the songs, “I Want to Go Back to Michigan” duet disc No. 60. It sounded a lot like Ernest Hare and Billy Jones from the Edison Diamond Discs I have of them. And the other song, “Beets and Turnips” – [Little Wonder] Band disc No. 30. Both songs were released sometime in 1914. The Michigan song dates somewhere between 1914-15. The flipside of the one-sided Little Wonders have patent dates of Nov. 1909. These are some incredibly old tiny disc records pushing 107 years old (if going by the patent dates, that is). The sound quality of the Little Wonders exceeded my expectations. I was satisfied and my little one-bedroom was full of cheerful music for a little bit. I tried the Cameo 78 next. The song He Ain’t Never Been to College recorded nice in one take, no problems there.


Then the unexpected happened and it worried me when I played the flipside of the Cameo 78. It sounds very worn out due to the surface wear and tear that’s common for a record that’s likely been played many times over. But until last night I never encountered a 78 that would make the sound box lag and the turntable slow down and eventually stop all together. Worried doesn’t cut it. I was almost heart sick thinking of all the problems that can happen to a Victrola. The mainsprings might have hardened grease, but this would have been eliminated since the machine was completely overhauled by a professional in July. Another troubleshooting idea popped into my head; maybe the mainsprings slipped out of alignment in their barrels. Yikes! That’s an invasive and costly repair. Then I decided to try playing the same 78 on a different baby upright Victrola of mine that’s been my secondary recording machine. Surely, two machines are not alike.

Well, same problem occurred on the baby Victrola. And I couldn’t figure it out.

How can two machines encounter the same exact problem? Was this particular song cursed? Is the past deceased owner of said 78 trying to send me a message from the great beyond? What about the… oh, heck. Just try a lighter weight reproducer and so that’s what I did. Now the final recording didn’t come from the Victrola G as I had planned. I had to record the 78 playing it on my Edison C-19 with the proper 78 Ken-Tone attachment and it played okay. Not good, but its late. I’m tired. I want to get this last song uploaded to my MP3 player so I can call it a night. Edison has always been my ‘go-to’ phonograph when making recordings. In the beginning I didn’t always have a Victrola to fall back on. Therefore, my Edison C-19 picked up all the slack of my recording processes. I was relieved to know that my expensive Victrola G didn’t fall to crap after all and neither had my baby Victrola. Do I care to try Cream in My Coffee Fox Trot on my other upright?… Nope. So, hopefully I haven’t bought a cursed 78 and if I did, then eh, oh well. I suppose if the darned Fox Trot is cursed it wouldn’t be the first song to go down infamy for that. Thanks for reading, commenting, blogging, sharing, tweeting. I truly appreciate it a lot! 🙂



What could possibly happen?

Published January 10, 2016 by AntiqueMystique1

Vic hacked I speak in terms of the ‘talking machines’ that are less fortunate when they’re the victim of a ‘shabby chic’ craft person that totally decimates the phonograph as shown in the picture.

I gravitated to this small upright low end Victrola cabinet in a used furniture store and felt sorry for it. The mainspring and all components were gutted. The only remote thing that lent to this Victrola giving itself away was its spindly legs, carved moldings and the record storage was in tact. Whoever ruined this antique phonograph disassembled the lid (chopped it up), then nailed it to the cabinet so it couldn’t be lifted up.

This particular antique phonograph was once a gorgeous dark mahogany. By outward appearances though, its battle ship gray paint job, missing back bumpers, screws, and original sticker license (found glued to the back of these machines) was absent. What model was this phonograph? Might have ended with the suffix “J” very similar to a Victrola I had for a long time and later parted with.

So what happens to the off-brand and low end model antique phonographs that don’t get restored when they’re not being butchered for something ‘shabby chic’ and will have lost all value on the collector’s market?

As I spoke with a good acquaintance that deals strictly with antique phonographs of all makes and models they told me most are gutted and the cabinets chopped up for firewood. The reason being most of the lesser known antique phonographs don’t have much appeal (collector-wise), and some, if not all of them back in their heyday were built with plate and pillar mechanisms and very cheaply outfitted with odds and ends that are very obsolete to find nowadays. Sure, some of the more obscure phonographs might be worth looking into, especially if it’s a Brunswick model 350, for example that were so ornate and expensive to produce that not many sold in 1918 and therefore that particular model was phased out a year later in 1919.

But this little Victrola I happened across is a lost cause. Don’t ask me why people chop these up and ruin them. Thanks for liking, sharing, re-blogging and commenting. I sincerely appreciate it as always! 🙂

Creepy Antiques, part 2: They talk!

Published May 13, 2015 by AntiqueMystique1

I don’t mean the Edison Talking Doll produced for a short time in the 1880s, although this blog will focus on “Edison” phonographs and all things early phonograph related. I refer to talking machines as well.

What makes them creepy? Even though the ‘Euphonia’ is far from being a phonograph. For starters talking machines very misunderstood mechanical contraptions to a younger generation nowadays. Secondly, talking machines give off an almost supernatural quality about them probably because they don’t use electricity to operate. And third, they were built to stand the test of time and show off their elegance, carved moldings, spindly legs and wood finishes. Talking machines are mainspring driven, hand crank phonographs, although Victrola didn’t call them ‘phonographs’. There was also a huge debate when Edison created the first tin foil phonograph in 1887. Both Victrola and Edison were rivals when it came to producing sound recordings. And some of the more obscure and hard to find cylinder records were made by companies such as Lakeside Cylinder company, Oxford, Columbia, Sears and Roebuck (later known as ‘Silvertone’ once disc records came into production), Brunswick, etc.

How much did I know about a Victrola talking machine back when I first listened to one play when I was a teenager? Nothing. I thought my great grandmother was trying to scare the daylights out of me and she succeeded in doing so. I loved old music! That was evident as we got to talking. There was enjoyment hearing old music that pre-dated anything I was aware of back then. My [then] young ears were introduced to a late vaudeville/ comedian Cal Stewart ‘Uncle Josh’ as he recited having troubles with a newfangled contraption he called a ‘bicycle’. [Uncle Josh on a Bicycle]. Flip side: Uncle Josh in a Chinese laundromat.

I had no idea why this comedian would laugh when falling off a bicycle. I had a very serious attitude back then it seemed and didn’t get this late comedian’s humor until years later. While I glared at this ‘talking machine’ with a studious, somewhat worried expression, I was curious to know how it was possible this 78 record was playing by itself. I carefully looked behind the machine and the hairs on my nape stood on end. I backed off immediately, turning a shade of white. There was no electrical chord. This Victrola didn’t plug into a wall socket. It certainly didn’t run on batteries.

My cassette tapes and LP’s played on electronic equipment. Even my cassette ‘walkman’ ran on two double ‘A’ batteries. But this ornate spindly-legged wooden ‘box’ with a coffin-shaped lid, laughed, sang, cried, played a snappy Fox Trot without any glitches. The only two unpleasant things I heard were the mainsprings caused a loud annoying thump, thump, thump as they wound down. This was due to dry, hardened grease on the gears I would later discover thus taking away some of the Victrola’s supernatural allure.

Also, the volume level and how harsh it was on my ears. But wait… don’t all teenagers crank up their stereos and drive their parents nuts at home with loud, obnoxious music? I was a headphone potato 90 percent of the time. I remember before my great grandma even wound the Victrola, she asked me if I knew what I was staring at that was caddy-cornered in the ‘parlor’ of her house And yes, she had the exact period furnishings to match which I found a little out of place for being modern times. I had no idea what I was gawking at, but I sincerely expected to see something frightening when she raised the lid.

I replied, “Well grandma, it looks like a record player,” I carefully approached the Victrola like discovering a new life form. “It talks.” She said happily. I very carefully flicked the wooden louvers (where the horn is located internally) with my finger.

I said “hello” to the Victrola, then a crease of worry formed on my young face. I turned back to my great grandmother and said on a sigh, “It doesn’t like me. It’s not talking.”

“What’s that logo say under the lid?” she asked, all spry and curious.

“… oh, talking machine—hey, is that the same thing as a “talking board” [Ouija]?” Oops! I just told on myself and spilled the jelly beans admitting that! I was also in serious trouble for messing with those.

I suspect but won’t ever be able to prove this wasn’t a ‘visit’ I was having with my great grandmother more of a lecture that lasted the whole day. My great grandmother answered, “Not really, but it will play 78s.”

“They’re called records,” I kindly correct her. “It’ll play LPs—long play records, right?” In my [then] young uninformed mind I thought every phonograph was created equal and the Victrola would have no problem playing a plastic record of mine. Then my great grandma placed a 78 in my hands.

“It’s heavy.” I stated, now awed by the Victor logo (not so much the band or song title). I flipped the record over gently. On the back it was embossed “V-I-C-T-O-R”.

“It’s made of shellac. That’s how records were made.” She was herself, a well spring of information and quite the historian.

“Where’s the rest of the songs?”

My grandmother pointed to a stack of 78 record album books in the lower part of the Victrola. She let me pick out another song, an early jazz or foxtrot. It was instrumental, but it certainly didn’t sound like the devil’s music that great grandma told me about from her days. I didn’t see why it was called the devil’s music back then but there was a correlation between the music of her generation and mine, sadly enough.

“What happens if I play one of my LP’s on this?” I pointed to the Victrola.

“The steel needle will destroy your records.” Yep, I heard right. The needles are steel and very sharp like a sewing needle! I wouldn’t really say that I warmed up to the Victrola at all. I was intimidated by it back then. The room she had it in also didn’t have a light fixture and it was kept semi-dark. My great grandmother had a lot of tall standing floor lamps with delicate fringe shades likely from the Roaring Twenties. And she had several Gone with the Wind glass globe antique kerosene lamps dotting the room on dollie-covered pie crust end tables.

My great grandmother ran her house like a museum and kept all the lights off during the day. She would brighten the interior by pulling back the heavy drapes and pinning them back to allow sunlight through the sheer cream-colored curtains. Her motto: “you break it, you pay for it.” And she would work you very hard and take it out of your weekly allowance money to make up for the damage.

What began as an incredibly long lecture actually turned out to be fun time spent with her. Oh and she was an original flapper so I learned a lot about Roaring Twenties makeup from her (thanks, grandma 🙂 ).

It was too hot to mow her lawn and my great grandfather told her not to work me in the heat. So we stayed in the air-conditioned comfort of her museum… err, I mean house and I helped her wash the dishes. She showed me her doll collection (not the creepy one I displayed in my antique doll blog though). I did see a couple of rubber Kewpie dolls with crocheted dresses displayed on her bed. I also noticed her half-doll bed light and the current sewing project she was putting the finishing touches on: her Hungarian cultural dress with green and red trim against the brightest white I’d ever seen. It was such a beautiful handmade dress. If only I had a camera, what memories we could have captured that day! Years went by and we became steady pen-pals though I’d never stop by and see my grandma again and I truly regret not doing so as the day is long.

The day she passed away in 2004 I cried nonstop, ate very little (if anything) for a week or more thereafter and felt another piece of my heart wither and die. I lost a true friend who I connected with on many levels not just musically. It felt like we had solidified a strong bond that traveled through the passages of time, and I’d like to believe quite inseparable even though we lived miles apart. We had a closer relationship when I grew up until the day she passed away at 92 years young. Great grandma never liked using the word ‘old’ when it came to age.

Well, the talking machines didn’t happen overnight for me. It was full of ‘almost’ had it and ‘the one that got away’. Before I invested anything at all, I wanted to arm myself with knowledge and know what the best windup phonographs were ever created in the history of music. I also based my decision on how are parts restored/ re-built and maintained. And are they easy to locate? Yes and no. I went at it alone because antique windup phonographs are a man’s hobby and women aren’t taken seriously, if at all and certainly they aren’t supposed to fall in love and preserve these phonographs, that’s absurd. This is what I was faced with.

Don’t worry, I don’t plan to take over the world, Seesh! I got zero help on my search and did what any sensible woman in my situation would do— I blazed my own trail. I do that quite often whenever I’m sent on a wild goose chase.

Does a Victrola and/or Edison really sound like ‘tin’? No, thank goodness! If ever they duplicate one in a movie they make the sound projecting from it ‘tin-like’, soft and scratchy. This, I feel is a bad representation of how either a Victrola or Edison sounds and it’s larger than life to hear them play in person, especially when they are meticulously cared for and kept up well for their age. Edison disc phonographs have a baritone sound that’s very easy on the ears. The Victrola Talking Machines can have different pitch and tone depending on the needles: soft, medium, and loud. Even the reproducers on a Victrola can make a world of difference such as the “Orthophonic” sound box, for example on a Credenza model.

What about those morning glory horns? The only time you’ll see those is if they go to a wax cylinder phonograph (often supported by a floor crane in some cases). Other times you might see a morning glory horn mounted on a bracket of a Victor Monarch II, Columbia table top phonograph, etc. The most sought after external horn would be wood. And these sell for an insane price that are unattainable and difficult to locate.

I never did know whether or not my great grandmother approved of me buying an Edison phonograph. I later discovered she was suffering from the onset of dementia a year before she passed away and shortly after her husband died a year before that and she was never the same without him. She had her good days and bad. One thing she never stopped asking about was me even though I did write her letters regularly and never received a reply. I have no clue if her caregiver (a terribly abusive one at that from what I was told) ever gave my letters to my great grandmother or just tossed them in the trash. I was never more excited to let great grandma know that her old 78 music had bridged that generation gap in the early 2000’s.

I’m now left wondering if she was angry with my choice since her parents went with Victrola in 1907. I erroneously thought they loved Victrola and hated Edison phonographs. I later found out that Edison phonograph dealers were few and far in-between back in the day depending on your geographical location and where you lived, be it in the city or rural you may not have even seen one. Also, the later made Victrolas were dubbed, “Electrolas” and some of them could plug in and play and some had the option of hand cranks as well.

As for Edison, I believe he got into the radio market a little too soon too late just before the stock market crashed in 1929 as for making phonographs, not too many were produced post- 1920s and the company ceased by the Thirties. Sadly, RCA (Radio Corp. of America) bought out the Victrola Talking Machine company within the same time frame and changed the record company and dropped the familiar ‘bat wing’ logo design.

Did you know trivia: JVC (Japanese Victor Company is a subsidiary of the Victrola Talking Machine company?) 😉

Hint of the supernatural: Edison touted his phonographs, “The phonograph with a soul!” While Victor Victrola had their mascot “Nipper”, a fox terrier listening to a phonograph (actually it was a Berliner depending on variations of the Victrola company story) and the slogan: “His Master’s Voice.” The original depiction of Nipper was actually viewing his master’s deceased body in a coffin, but it was way too morbid to be advertised so, as the legend goes, it was changed to a Berliner phonograph instead.

On an eerie note: a year before my great grandmother passed away I began to buy a lot of old 78s. Some of the songs are ‘new old stock’ which means they were never played and most were overstock. I stumbled across a few new old stock 78s and noticed some original dealer stickers. Little was I aware at the time I was duplicating nearly every song title/artist my great grandmother had in her 78 collection sight unseen. I only discovered this by happenstance when comparing the two lists recently (hers and mine) and a slight chill ran down my spine (not in a creepy way though). Thanks for reading!