Part One: Digital Audio!

Lots of fans of antique music are looking for digital recordings of cylinder and disc music from a hundred or more years ago. As professionally produced LPs, tapes, and CDs have been few and far between, and the content limited, the best source for such recordings are being made by amateur and academic projects. Here are some of particular note:

Lance Christensen in Colorado: makes excellent audio transcriptions of 2 minute and 4 minute cylinders on an Edison and Columbia phonograph and 78 rpm records on a Victrola.

The University of California - Santa Barbara: Cylinder Digitization project has many audio files of Edison and other cylinder records from the 1890s to 1920s.

There are many methods for obtaining the audio source on such digitization projects. You may wish to contact those responsible for making audio transcriptions in order to discuss the pros and cons of various methods. Of course, one simple way to obtain sound is to use a handheld microphone. Alternatively, electronic pickups are available for use on a cylinder phonograph, and modern turntables exist for playing 78 rpm records and allowing an audio-in cord to provide the sound track for your computer or audio tape system.

Part Two: Restoration and Repair

A frequent question is how to repair an antique phonograph. Often this is not a task that can be done by the novice as it requires some special skills and experience. After one hundred years, many phonographs have acquired enough hardened, dirt-laden oil to throw them out of proper regulation. Moreover, sound-box components wear out or detoriate and need adjustment. Finally, a very common complaint is one or more broken springs, which necessitates replacement and rebuildinf.

A word of advice: phonograph repair and restoration is a highly labor-intensive skill requiring much experience and special fabricated parts. There are very few people who can ably handle the restoration of antique phonographs, although many "so-called" fixers do more harm than good. The time and talent needed to work on an old phonograph is worth something, and reputable restorers will charge a fair and honest price for their parts and labor. Do not be surprised if a repair costs a hundred or more dollars... indeed, just think how much a simple task such as an oil change on your modern car costs, and you'll see what a bargain these restorers are!

My recommendations are: George Vollema does excellent work on spring motors of all types, and also specializes in parts and literature dealing with antique disc and cylinder phonographs.
John Nagy is an expert in all types of phonographs and can handle motor repairs and restorations. He is also THE expert sound-box adjustment and repair specialist.

Part Three: Value of Antique Phonographs

Many phonograph owners seek to know the value of their instruments. Value is, of course, an essentially meaningless term as it can only be known after a willing buyer and a willing seller come together. Most owners are not willing sellers, just "curious" as to what some (imaginary) person might pay for their antique.

However, antique phonographs are (1) unique and never exactly like other antique phonographs and (2) usually in someone's home, not on an open market. That is, collectors who really know their field will notice particular attributes of one individual machine such as condition or model type that make it different from other, even superficially similar-looking items. The difference in "value" can be significant! Additionally, collectors will generally not consider a large and cumbersome item desirable if it needs to be transported any distance. Therefore, a phonograph worth $300 in a major metropolitan area may be worth ABSOLUTELY NOTHING if it is located in a very rural area with no interested collectors nearby.

If you are interested in establishing the value of your antique phonograph, the best thing to do is to use a specialist Antique Phonograph Appraisal Service who have the experience to handle your request.

Free advice from people on the internet or a dealer's "best offer" is NO ESTIMATE OF VALUE. Appraisal is a professional activity requiring much experience and a fine sense of market conditions. Remember, you get what you pay for, and free advice is just "hot air" --- worth exactly what you paid.

Part Four: Records

What are your old records worth? Chances are: nothing. Millions and millions of records were made and there just are not that many collectors out there. Think about what a cassette tape or eight-track is worth today... not a whole heck of a lot, except for some very special albums or performances. But don't take my word for it:

Check out:

For 78 rpm records: Hawthorn's Antique Audio
For Little Wonder Records: Little Wonder Records

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