The Victor-Victrola Page
Wood Veneers and Finishes
Victors and Victrolas were available in a wide variety of different woods and finishes. The earliest Victors were available only in oak, but before long, a few models with mahogany cabinets were introduced. When the Victrola debuted in 1906, wood veneers in light or dark shades of red mahogany became available. As more and more models were introduced, and the Victrola became more integrated into homes around the country, many different veneers and finishes were made available to suit a variety of tastes. Some were plain and inexpensive, others were quite elaborate and costly. Some of the custom "Period" models, with burled woods and elaborate inlaid sections sold for more than $1,500.00, which was quite a sum of money at the time. Obviously, collectors today seek-out those special Victrolas with rare and exotic woods and finishes that were made in small quantities for wealthy buyers.
While not every hobbyist can afford the rare-finish phonographs, the Victor Talking Machine Company did outstanding cabinet work on virtually all the phonographs it produced, and even some of the more common veneers can be quite beautiful. It is impossible to show every type of wood that was available on Victrolas, but some of the standard and custom finishes can be found in the links below. This will also help the new collector determine what kind of wood finish he or she may have on a Victrola. It is very important to note that, due to the natural variations in veneers, wood grains, and the dye stains used at the time, one may find many different colors and textures for each particular classification. There can also be considerable "overlap" between types of finishes, and even experts can be fooled at times. For example, there are many variations within a given finish category; "Golden Oak" was available in a glossy or dull finish, or only with wax over the stain. We've seen many long-time collectors get into heated arguments about what type of finish they have on their Victrolas.
Most Victor products were not made of solid wood. Excepting for small side panels used on some external horn machines, the cabinets are made of a composite-wood core, covered with veneer. This was done to keep costs reasonable, as well as to reduce the tendency for panels to warp (common on solid wood panels).
When Victor introduced the Orthophonic phonographs in 1925, the old shellac and varnish-based finishes were replaced with a blended stain and lacquer combination. While this combination produced an elegant look, it did not quite match the "craftsman-like" appearance of the earlier machines. Some degree of cost-cutting also took place via the use of thinner veneers and the use of stained maple wood trim on some models. In addition, the hand-carved details were often replaced by the use of machined legs and trim parts.
Hobbyists should note that Victor always used high-quality finishing techniques on its phonographs. It is extremely rare to find a factory finish that has runs, sags, or major finish blemishes , and most (excepting oak and a few of the coarser grained woods) originally had mirror-like surfaces. Over time, the finish will often become 'crazed' or faded due to long-term exposure to the sun, or storage in hot attics. Collectors who are buying a machine that is claimed to be "excellent original" should be wary of finishes showing defects, runs or uneven application of top coats. A "wavy mirror" appearance is a sure sign of a bad restoration.
As an overview, about 80% of external-horn Victor machines were produced in oak. The remainder were made of mahogany, with some low-cost models having pine or ash cabinets, stained to a darker color.
About 80% of internal-horn Victrolas were produced in mahogany. About 15% were produced in oak, with the remaining 5% in walnut or other optional finishes.
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