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The Victor Talking
Some phonograph collectors especially those at the 'accumulator
stage' will make any excuse to buy yet another phonograph. I began accumulating Edison machines looking
over my shoulder at the wide variety of Victor Talking
Machines. Determined not to get caught up accumulating
one of each Victor model- letters A through Z or roman
numerals I through XX or arabic 1-1 through 15-1 or any of
the colorful names such as Alhambra through Revere, I would
always look the other way. Not me, I'm an Edison man!
But then this absolutely beautiful Victor VI came along.
Actually, it wasn't beautiful; it was in pretty bad
shape, tattered but untouched, unrestored. The shellac
finish was not only gray and alligatored it must have survived a
house fire because it was covered in black smoke and was so
dirty that the gold-plated hardware that someone had covered
with shellac long ago now looked a drab mustard.
I found this Six aka "Victor the Sixth" in an antique store
in Maine. The owner said, I just got her,
she'll clean up nicely, ya interested? Not me, I'm an Edison
man, I said. He said, too bad, I got it for a song,
don't have much into it and willing to sell it today.
I asked- how much? So the dance begins.
He rattled off information that he gleaned from an old
Official Price Guide to Music Collectibles. He chose a
mid-range price, bumped it up "for inflation" and fired his
firm, fixed price at me. It was so low that I wanted to
blurt out, "I'll take it" but he was a little brash,
so I thought he might tack on a bit more for the horn or
whatever. As part of the dance I had to counter-offer
a bit lower, acting casually interested.
He smiled, a BIG smile and said, "Done, I'll take it".
He was a knowledgeable antiques dealer; we were both happy
with the deal of a lifetime.
I got it for a song!
Victor Outside Horn Machines
Victor VI early model
Robert W. Baumbach's book Look for the Dog, an
Illustrated Guide to Victor Talking Machines describes
the Victor VI "to be the finest talking
machine the company could make and when introduced was their
top-of-the-line instrument. The cabinet was fashioned out of
solid mahogany a more expensive and luxurious wood than oak
at the time. All exposed hardware was gold-plated (the
first on a Victor machine), even the normally hidden
motor parts were nickel-plated". I think many
phonograph collectors that focus on Victor Talking Machines
would agree the Victor VI is the finest of the Victors.
Except for the rare compressed-air Victor Auxetophone
that is outside the physical and financial reach of most
collectors, my pick for the very best is the Victor VI.
Robert Baumbach's more recent the Victor Data Book has a
treasure trove of additional information about Victor
Talking Machines and provides more details about the later
Victor VI configuration. As I have both versions of
the "Victor the Sixth" I was eager to learn more. To
differentiate the two, I use the terms "early model" and
"later model", not used by VTMC. Both
machines have gold plated hardware, 12" nickeled turntable,
round-style speed regulator, bullet-brake, mahogany
wood horns. The earlier model has an arabic number 6 on
the ID data plate while the later model has a Roman
Comparing two Victor VI Machines
||size chg Oct.
||to top of
|22" Diam. Horn
|Exh. Sound Box
||Victor No. 11
||Victor No. 12
Victor VI later model
Victor VI commentary
The Victor I or
"Victor the First" introduced in 1902 was the first and
smallest of the family of six Victor Talking Machines that
helped spur the early, fast, sustained growth of VTMC. The
original list price was $22 for this light oak cabinet
having dimensions of 12" wide, 12" deep and 5⅞" high.
The popular interchangeable, rigid tapering tone arm used on
this VTM family make it easy to attach a variety of horns
and orient the horn for best sound. The original 8"
turntable was upgraded to a 10" size in 1910. Serial
The "Victor the Second" introduced in 1903 had a list price
of $30 for a slightly larger golden quarter-sawn oak cabinet
with dimensions of 13⅝" wide 13⅝" deep and 6½" high. It has
an optional 8" or 10" cast iron or pressed steel turntable.
Configurations included single and double spring motors, and
Bevel or Spiral Double cut drive/gears. The horn on this
particular machine is an "H" black and brass with a
Serial No. 31347.
The "Victor the Third"
represented a major upgrade over the Victor I & II with a
more powerful double spring motor capable of playing 5 ten
inch records per winding, on its standard 10" turntable.
The original $40 list price was appealing to those wanting a
larger cabinet, dimensions 14⅛" wide by 14⅛" deep and 75/16
This larger cabinet and large oak horn combination is a nice
balance. The horn was hand crafted by Don Gfell and
although not original, its virtually impossible to see the
difference. I believe Don's quality and workmanship
exceeds the original.
Serial No. 38549.
Victrola Inside Horn Machines
By 1902 Victor's primary competitor was Columbia who had a
low-price advantage over Victor's outside horn machines and
through a series of acquisitions and agreements they had
exclusive rights to the lateral-cut record market in the
United States. Eldridge Johnson wanted to establish
Victor Talking Machine's reputation as the company with the
highest quality home phonograph available; so VTMC's prices
were much higher than Columbia who was emerging as a tough
competitor selling large cabinet floor models.
In 1907, by eliminating the large external horn and introducing
a new internal (hidden) horn that was designed into the
basic cabinet, Victor reduced its manufacturing costs and
solved a home-decor problem. In spite of some dealers'
concerns that the sound quality was inferior to the larger
external horn machines, there were many comments from wives
who preferred the smaller table top space and one less
chore, dusting those large external horns. Perhaps
this is why Sony and Bose's tiny cube speakers are making a
strong play into today's high performance surround sound
systems. Going forward all members of this
family of internal horn machines would have the suffix "ola"
indicating an internal horn.
It wasn't until 1909 when Victor introduced its Victrola XII then
premium priced at an astounding $125 that
Johnson made his intentions clear to enter a new undefined
market. Then the following year in a move that would
help them quickly dominate this new market, VTMC
introduced a family of lower-priced (still expensive)
table-top phonographs- the Victor IV through IX.
The "Victrola the Fourth" introduced in September 1911
(note- higher numbers were introduced earlier) was VTMC's
response to Columbia's new low cost lateral cut phonographs.
Priced at only $15, it was particularly appealing in the
dealer's showroom when placed next to VTMC's recently
introduced Victrola XI and XII priced at $125-135.
Needless to say, the IV was an immediate best-seller.
Commentary: This particular Victrola IV has a
'factory-dull' golden oak finish, a single-spring motor,
nickel-plated 10" turntable and Exhibition sound box. Dimensions are 155/16" wide by 16⅜" deep and 819/32" high.
The only restoration work was to
clean and lubricate the motor, rebuild the Exhibition sound
box, buff the nickel plated the tone arm and edge of the
turntable removing rust and oxidation and clean all other
parts with Furniture Masque.
Most collectors tell an interesting story about acquiring
his/her first phonograph. Mine is not that unusual.
It's not some high value machine that has been passed down
through the generations, rather it is a relatively
non-descript Victrola acquired by my Dad or perhaps his Dad.
But it played a very important role in my family. My
grandfather, a very bright guy with a great sense of humor
enjoyed amusing his grandchildren with tales of long ago,
describing interesting people and things. 'The old
Victrola' tucked away in the cellar was used as a prop in
tales about pirate ships, buried treasure, time and travel
machines and most important Barney Google. If you
don't know Barney Google, then
Google "Barney Google".
The Victrola VI, not be confused with Victor VI was VTMC's
most popular phonograph produced. During its product
life through 1926, more than 697,400 were sold. That
enough for every man, woman and child in San Francisco, CA
today. There were twelve basic versions of this high
quality, highly reliable, first introduced on May 15,
1911. Dimensions are 15 5/16" wide by 16⅜" deep and 8⅛
Commentary: This particular machine was manufactured some
time after 1918 because mahogany cabinets were introduced
that year, previously the only cabinet wood options was
golden oak. The only restoration
work was to clean and lubricate the motor, rebuild the
Exhibition sound box, buff the nickel plated the tone arm
and edge of the turntable removing rust and oxidation touch
up the mahogany finish blending scratches and then clean all
other parts with Furniture Masque.
I've never met an
experienced phonograph collector in the USA who hasn't owned
at least one Victrola VIII or IX. C'mon fess up,
did/do you have one of these? The IX was introduced in
May 1911 to augment the expensive Tenth. Stripped of
many of the extra-cost features of its more expensive
brethren, the plain IX could be ordered in red
mahogany or golden oak. There was a wide variety of IX
machines differentiated by Types A through M indicating the
variety of motors options, springs, tone arms and minor
differences in dimensions. These phonographs were
configured with the popular #11 nickled Exhibition sound
box; some had Vtla #2 sound boxes in the later years.
Commentary: Using Robert Baumbach's Victor Data Book
and Look for the Dog to it was easy to
identify and research each of these VTMC phonographs.
It gives enough detail to accurately identify each machine.
For example, this particular machine a Victrola VIII-A Type
D was manufactured sometime between its first shipment date
of May 21, 1922 to its discontinued date of April 29, 1924
from a "letter to the trade" from VTMC. The cabinet
dimensions shown in the book align with my measurements at
15½" wide by 19½" deep and 13⅛" high. The lowest
serial number in the range is 148800, the high-end is not
specified but my machine's serial number is 170528,
consistent with the production volume given. This
machine is noticeably quiet when the cover is closed, also
because it has quadruple cut gears and spindles which gives
a smoother contact pattern as the gears and teeth engage and
disengage. It also has the later Victrola No. 2 sound
box, better sound than the Exhibition #11.
The Victor Credenza was introduced in
1925 in time for the Christmas Season the best seasonal
quarter for the phonograph industry. More to
The Victor Auxetophone was designed by English
steam turbine inventor Sir Charles Algernon Parsons. It 's
interesting that none of his biographers devote much time to
Parsons' auxetophone invention except to describe this
"diabolical invention" as one of his least successful.
The Auxetophone uses compressed air supplied by an electric
motor to amplify sound. According to Robert W. Baumbach's
book Look for the Dog and Illustrated Guide to Victor
Talking Machines only 850 of these most unusual talking
machines were produced. There is still a real
possibility that one can be found tucked away in some dark
corner of a cellar, attic, barn, warehouse or wherever.
I hope to get permission from Robert Baumbach and the
publisher of Look for the Dog to
include a photo of the Auxetophone on this web page.
I don't have an Auxetophone, but I'm looking for one!
contact me if you find an Auxetophone.
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