The Victor-Victrola PageHow can I tell if my Victor or Victrola is a fake? How can I tell if it is original or has been restored?
ANSWER: Forgeries of external horn phonographs (e.g. Victors) are rampant on Ebay, at some antique stores and at flea markets. These can usually be spotted a mile away by any serious collector; the horns are often made of stamped tin and plated in a cheap-looking brass or gold, and the angle of the horn is usually too high. There is often a pattern or design embossed in the horn. A sharp angle at the horn "elbow" (the area at the base of the horn) is a dead-giveaway. Victor's elbows always were formed with a gradual (smooth) rounded transition, not a sharp, sudden corner.
Most fakes are made in India or China, some using all-new parts and some with a mish-mash assembly of old and new parts. Before a novice buyer purchases an external horn phonograph, an expert should be consulted to provide an assessment of the machine in question, as there are many good-looking fakes on the market today. Some of the reproductions can look pretty impressive (picture on left); others are artificially "aged" to look old and can be quite convincing. When the builder uses components (e.g. cabinets and/or horns) from a actual antique phonograph, and assembles them using newer motors and hardware parts, it can be difficult for the non-expert buyer to determine authenticity. Reproduction or "fake antique" machines have a nominal value of about $100.00 at resale today, mostly as decorations or movie props. In most cases, repair services and motor rebuilders won't touch them, as the parts are often impossible to find, and are often "jury-rigged" together to make the motor functional. So it it quits working, you are probably out of luck.
There are some highly-skilled craftsmen in South America who are now producing exceptional reproductions of rare external-horn machines, including authentic-looking wood horns and base cabinets. These are quite expensive to purchase new from the sellers, but the prices are not nearly as high as purchasing a true original example. We have seen some of these phonographs at shows, and the attention to detail and finish-work is nothing short of incredible. Even the hardware and dataplates are perfect. In a few years, after these reproductions have "worn-in" a bit, it may become increasingly difficult to discern them from originals.
There are not many fake Victrolas (internal horn phonographs) currently on the market, primarily because they are not nearly as valuable as the earlier external-horn Victor machines. Recently, we have seen a few misrepresented Victrola machines on Ebay and elsewhere. The most common forgery is to attach a dataplate from a rare model (or to use a reproduction dataplate) to whatever they are selling, to make the phonograph appear more valuable than it is. We have also seen swapped or reproduction Victor dataplates attached to phonographs that are bastardized combinations of components from who-knows-where. These fakes are easily identified by any knowledgeable collector.
Nipper on Steroids (left) A Chinese Reproduction Dataplate from a Fake Victrola. Poor Nipper is suffering from "muscle bulge" syndrome. Note that the model "type" and serial number areas have been left blank, allowing the seller to stamp any information they wish. Mystery plate (right) A reproduction plate from Mexico made by someone who has been sampling too much tequila. Both Victor and Edison brands are represented on this plate, along with the meaningless term "Graphonole" and a pointless 1884 date. RCA is also mentioned just to make it more confusing.
RESTORED PHONOGRAPHS. A more problematic and common issue is not a forgery at all, but more of a misrepresentation. Original machines in good condition are almost always worth more money than a restored one, even if the restoration was done correctly. What we usually mean by "restored" is that the original finish was removed and re-done using modern materials (shellac, varnish, etc.). In most instances, collectors do NOT consider the completion of necessary mechanical repairs or the correct replating of worn hardware parts to be a "restoration", whereas, any process which strips-off the original varnish and stain and/or replaces veneer is considered to be a restoration. Many sellers on EBay and elsewhere are marketing machines as being "original" when they have obviously been restored. In some instances, the seller may be completely unaware of this fact if he/she purchased it as an original and didn't really know what they were buying.
Please be aware that there is nothing wrong with buying or selling a restored machine...ANY restored machine...as long as the buyer knows that it was restored. For a machine that is showing severe wear or damage, a restoration is often necessary to make the appearance acceptable. A correct (e.g. authentic) restoration, using proper finishing materials and techniques, can result in a machine that looks like new, and which will maintain a reasonable amount of its original value. On the other hand, phonographs that have been restored incorrectly, (typically by using polyurethane or other modern varnish products) may look very nice, will have very little value. These are becoming more and more common on the market. Once it has been restored (well or poorly), it can never become original again. Dishonest (or clueless) sellers will often misrepresent a restoration, with hopes of fooling the buyer into believing that it is original, and thus securing a much higher price. Obvious indicators of a restoration can include:
Poor color matching between the under lid or inside areas and the outside of the machine cabinet. If the "under-lid" colors are significantly different than the exterior cabinet colors, than that's a possible indicator of a restoration, although it is common for exterior portions of an original cabinet to have faded over time and exposure. See pictures below. If you notice that the area immediately surrounding the "Victrola" decal under the lid is darker than the rest of the under-lid area, that is a certain sign of a not-so-hot restoration where they masked-off the decal during stripping to protect it, and refinished the rest.
Dust specs or blobs, especially in corners or crevices. It's somebody's basement refinish job, most likely a pretty bad one. Poorly fitting parts. Doors, lids and other items should fit snugly and operate smoothly.
Runs or drips. Victor's quality control was fantastic. We've seen a few originals with small runs that got by the Q/A inspector, but they are few and far between. If a machine has runs, or an unevenly applied finish coat, it's likely a refinish job. Poor application of finish materials can also result in a "wavy" appearance.
"Too good to be true". It is the extremely rare 100 year-old phonograph that appears completely 'as new'. We have seen a few incredible originals on occasion, and they can bring some very good money. But in most instances, if the machine has a perfect mirror-smooth finish, bright gleaming hardware and absolutely no signs of wear or use, than it has quite likely been restored.
See the GETTING STARTED section for more information
Signs of a Restoration. Victrola on left: The under-lid area is dark red while the cabinet is "brownish". This could be due to fading of the external cabinet due to sunlight or heat, but given the fact that the external cabinet finish is glass-smooth and shows no damage, this machine certainly was restored. Many restorers have trouble matching wood colors to the original, and most want to leave the under-lid area in original condition to preserve the decal. Victrola on right: under-lid area is glossy and dark. Cabinet is not at all glossy and shows a far different coloring, but does not appear to be age-faded. Also, the trim pieces on the side are darker than the doors. Had the cabinet been faded from sunlight, the surrounding trim pieces would have faded as well. This example has been ruined from a collector's standpoint.
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