Victrolas were produced in two different walnut finishes. On higher priced machines, walnut was an extra-cost option, and very high quality, figured veneers were used; some were spectacular in contrast and color. Walnut can be identified from mahogany by a lack of a linear (straight) parallel grain pattern. This wood often has a characteristic "blurred-swirl" grain pattern with soft contrasts (left). Some walnut grains (depending on cut of the veneer) can appear "choppy" (right), while walnut veneers on lower-priced models lack a strong grain contrast altogether (below). However, some degree of "swirl" effect is almost always present. Note that, on all examples here, the closely-spaced, strong parallel grain lines that are indicative of mahogany are not evident. After 1918, American Walnut was available at no extra cost on the less expensive models, however the veneer quality was much lower than used on the flagship machines.
Circassian Walnut was available as an extra-cost option on many of the more costly floor model Victrolas, typically for an extra $50 above the standard price. This wood has a very distinctive and strong banded grain contrast, with a most striking appearance. It is often lighter in shade than American Walnut, and has a much higer degree of contrast and patterns. This finish is highly sought after by collectors. Some models with the Circassian veneer that are in excellent original condition have sold for very high prices (depending on rarity of model and degree of figuring). This wood was imported from Russia. During World War 1, shipping wood from Europe became impossible due to wartime conditions and U-Boat activity in the Atlantic, and the American Walnut option become far more common. Once the war was over, the Circassian veneer never regained the popularity it experienced in the 1910-1914 period. NOTE: American Walnut is often mistaken for Circassian Walnut, and some sources will attempt to misrepresent American Walnut machines in order to derive a higher selling price. In some cases, even experts can have difficulty discerning the correct finish, as there are some examples of Circassian Walnut that do not show strong contrasts and appear similar to the American Walnut patterning. This is particularly true for machines made in the early 1920's. However, as a rule for valuation, a machine that has the very strong patterned appearance (left) will almost always bring more money than examples with less grain contrast. Some machines have shown-up with a mixture of American and Circassian Walnut on the doors and lids. While this was an unusual practice, it was probably done to "use-up" remaining stocks of veneers in the plant (and it actually looks good in some cases!)