New Sounds of the Past - Reproduction PhonographsBy

New Sounds of the Past - Reproduction Phonographs

Outside-horn phonographs have been manufactured in India and Pakistan since the 1980s. Here are some simple guidelines anyone can quickly learn to avoid the fakes.

One of the most obvious signs of the new phonographs are the Phillips head screws used to attach metal parts to the wooden cabinet. Those modern fasteners were not used in the manufacture of any vintage wood cabinet phonograph. Screws used in old phonographs had single slots in domed heads. Similarly, pan-head screws, screws with very flat heads, were not used either.

The back bracket is one of the best places to look for suspicious screws. At this time, I know of no authentic phonograph in which the back bracket is attached with wood screws. Reproduction brackets are almost always fastened to the cabinet with Phillips head wood screws. Old brackets are generally fastened with bolts that go into a threaded metal plate inside the cabinet.

Many brackets also have a part number molded or stamped on them (which may be out of sight between the bracket and the cabinet). The new brackets do not have part numbers..

Horns of the new phonographs are solid brass. Only a very few original outside horns were made entirely of brass. Old horns may have brass rims and brass fittings, but the bodies of the vast majority of old horns are usually painted tin or steel, not solid brass. Most, but not all, authentic horns also have a part number or patent information stamped or applied on a decal. To date, no new horns have included part numbers or patent information. Old horns are have perfectly smooth surfaces; the only decoration is either plated or painted through stencils. New brass horns have an embossed pattern.

Cranks also differ between new and old. Most old cranks extend only a short distance out of the cabinet; many new cranks extend noticeably farther from the cabinet. Cranks on some new phonographs project diagonally from the case as opposed to a right angle. This usually means the new mechanism has been replaced, or "married", with an old ca. 1940s mechanism which used a diagonal crank.

The majority of new phonographs come with a "His Master Voice" decal which was never used on the authentic machines. There are also new outside-horn phonographs with another style of decal which usually reads "Columbia Viva-Tonal". This is also incorrect; the Columbia Viva-Tonal machines were inside-horn machines developed in the very late 1920s and 1930s. The Columbia company stopped manufacturing outside-horn phonographs long before developing the Viva-Tonal system.

The reproducer, the part on the end of the tone arm that holds the needle, is frequently replaced in new phonographs with a vintage reproducer especially if the phonograph is being intentionally misrepresented.

Fake outside-horn phonographs sell on the open market from $225 to $700, but most often trade in the $300-400 range. Authentic outside-horn phonographs usually sell at a minimum of $1,000 to a high of $6,000 for some models.

As with everything else, there are definitely exceptions to the rule, but the above guidelines will help readers separate the majority of fake phonographs from typical originals. Don't rely on any one single test to decide age or authenticity. Examine all the features of a phonograph including horn, back bracket, cabinet, manufacturer's label and internal mechanism before making a purchase.


Fig. 1 Reproduction outside-horn crank phonograph. Wood base with all brass horn. This and other models of reproduction phonographs are currently made in India and Pakistan.


Fig. 2 Original Victor VI phonograph by the Victor Talking Machine Company, ca. 1904. Painted steel and brass horn. No vintage phonographs have all brass horns.


Fig. 3 Typical new back bracket found on most reproductions. Molded design of vines and leaves with poor detail. New brackets do not have model or part numbers and are attached to cabinets with Phillips head screws.


Fig. 4 Typical original back bracket. Cast iron painted black with stenciled painted decoration. Original brackets almost always have model and part numbers. Original brackets are bolted to cabinet with screws that go through the cabinet and thread into a metal plate on the inside.


Fig. 5 Front view of typical new phonograph. Note embossed pattern in brass horn. Vintage horns virtually never have embossed patterns. Also note how far the handle extends.


Fig. 6 Typical vintage phonograph. Decorations on vintage horns are painted, not embossed. This black horn has gold painted stenciling. Note handle length.


Fig. 7 Decal on reproduction. Decal applied on top of varnished finish. Any original decal was applied under the finish.


Fig. 8 The majority of vintage machines have metal tags or labels which include hand stamped model and serial numbers.