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MMD > Archives > October 1998 > 1998.10.20 > 06Prev  Next

Columbia Graphophone and Orthophonic Credenza
By Mark Chester

Dear MMD friends:  This is in response to yesterday's posting from
Linda, "How much is a tall red mahogany Columbia victrola worth?"

I assume it's a run-of-the-mill upright floor model.  They are now
going for a lot more than when I started collecting (1972) and when you
could get a floor model full of records for $25.  I'm not up on current
prices but if it's complete and nice and not an unusual model it would
be probably between $200-$400 depending on where you try to sell it.
In some markets, the right model will bring more than that.

** Note to all:  _Nothing_ is properly called a "Victrola" unless it is
an enclosed-horn (inside the cabinet) model made only by the Victor
Talking Machine Company.  It was their trademark.  Columbia marketed
_their_  enclosed-horn machines under the trademark "Grafonola."

> It has no horn, is this possible?

I assume when you say "tall" you mean it stands on the floor and is
about four feet high.  In that case it DOES have a horn, but not an
open "morning glory" type.  Rather, the horn (the only way they could
amplify the sound without electricity) is enclosed in the cabinet,
below the turntable but above the record storage compartment.  It may
be behind some small doors, behind a grille (with or without fabric,)
or, as is typical of Columbia machines, behind moveable vertical or
horizontal louvers.

Incidentally, the move to enclose the horn was championed, although not
technically begun, by Victor with the introduction of the Victrola in
1906.  Columbia followed suit by 1911 with the Grafonola.  Both
companies, and later imitators, were responding to consumer tastes of
the time which felt that the open horn machines (although providing
better sound quality, as we know today) were UGLY.  Viewed with today's
eye, the open horn models were generally very early (within the first
twenty years of the commercial availability of disc records) and are
considered quaint reminders of a simpler time.

> Its nameplate says Columbia Graphophone Co.

Then it was probably manufactured between 1911 or so and 1923 by the
Columbia Graphophone Company of Bridgeport, CT.

> It has no electric motor.

As was typical of virtually all home-use sound-reproducing apparatus
made prior to 1928 or so.  Beginning in about 1915, electric motors
were an option (cost $50 extra on a $200 Victrola XVI) on the more
expensive models, which few consumers opted for.  The reproduction in
those pre-amp days was acoustic, through the open or enclosed horn, and
a clockwork spring motor did a fine job of spinning the record beneath
the "reproducer" (which consisted of a mica diaphragm vibrated in the
center by a small transmitter attached to a steel needle.)

No need for electricity, which was just as well, because MOST middle
class American homes had either no electricity, or even as late as the
1920s had electric for lighting ONLY -- not a single receptacle.  The
electric motor was a convenience with a very limited market in those

I hope this information was helpful, Linda.  If you would like more,
feel free to email me.

>[ Would someone please tell me if "Graphophone" is a typo ? -- Jody

Sure, Jody -- It's no typo.  Edison invented the "phonograph" in 1877.
Chichester A. Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter "improved" it after a
decade of neglect by Edison, who moved on to other interests.  Chief
among their improvements was the replacement of the tinfoil medium with
a wax cylinder.  But in order to market it without infringing Edison's
rights to the name "Phonograph," they created a new trade name by
simply reversing the order of the syllables -- "Graphophone."  Theirs
was the forerunner of the Columbia Graphophone Company which, by the
time Linda's machine was made, had abandoned cylinders and was
producing disc records, Disc Graphophones and Grafonolas.

Similar trademark issues arose with the introduction by Emile Berliner
of the "Gramophone," the first commercially produced disc phonograph.
It's almost the same word as "Graphophone" but different enough that he
could use it.  A decade later, Eldridge Johnson, who had produced the
Gramophones for Berliner, won in court the right to produce his own
line of disc machines and records, but was prohibited from using the
"Gramophone" name.  He instead chose a trade name that bore no
resemblance to anything else in the industry, but rather, one that
connoted superiority and success: "Victor".

Also, a note to Lamar Boulet, who wrote:

> I am in need of a 'head' (I guess that is what it is called).
> The round thing  that  connects to the horn and holds the needle.
> The one with the machine does not look like it is the correct one.

I also seem to be in need of a 'head' -- the round thing that connects
to my neck and holds my brain.  I don't seem to use the one I have
nearly enough.  But, all joking aside, the thing you describe is called
a "reproducer." (Victor called it a "Sound Box.")  Your machine is a
spring motor Credenza model Orthophonic Victrola, circa 1925-6.  If it
has two doors, then it is an early Credenza.  It would have come with
an Orthophonic Sound Box.

I have a nice clear sketch (cross-section) of it which I would be happy
to email you if you would like to see what it looks like.  If you're
looking for additional info on parts for either machine, you may want
to check out, for starters, The Phonograph Ring at

There are currently 46 web sites in the ring, including a number of
dealers in machines, parts and services.

"Re-cordially yours,"

Mark Chester

(Message sent Tue 20 Oct 1998, 06:27:11 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Columbia, Credenza, Graphophone, Orthophonic

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