This is the page to start with if you are looking for some general information concerning value, age or identification of your records, sheet music or phonographs. It's also a good place for beginning collectors to get some ideas about the hobby. We have included the questions we are asked most often, and have provided fairly detailed responses.
WHAT ARE MY RECORDS WORTH?
This is almost impossible to answer without seeing the records in person. Factors such as condition, edition, and even certain variations in the label design can greatly affect the value of any record. However, here is a general guideline that may be helpful. If the record is a well known song by a well known artist, then it probably is not valuable, regardless of its age. For an example, let's use Louis Armstrong, the great jazz trumpeter. During his long career, he recorded hundreds of titles, many of which sold more than a million copies throughout the US. Now let's take one of those best sellers such as "Sleepy Time Down South" and pretend that 75% of the initial million copies of that record have been lost during the 70 years since it was issued. That leaves 250,000 copies still in circulation, which hardly qualifies it as a rare record.
This is not to say that all of Armstrong's records are common. He recorded a tune called "Terrible Blues" with a band called the "Red Onion Jazz Babies" on the Gennett label in 1924. This record was pressed in small quantities, had limited distribution, and is quite scarce today. Now, consider this for a moment. In the 40+ years we have been dealing with 78s, we have had about half a million records pass through our hands. We have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of "Sleepy Time Down South" but only one copy of "Terrible Blues". This is why we don't get excited about records by Enrico Caruso or a copy of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas". There were so many copies of these sold (and of many, many others also) that even 50 or 75 years later there are far too many copies still in existence to consider them as "rare".
Most rare 78s fall into the following catagories:
- Classical records made before 1910
- Jazz (not dance band) records made before 1930
- Voices of political or historical interest
- Rock and R&B records made between 1947 and 1957
- Blues records made before 1940
- Any record made before 1900
- Many picture records
Of course there are many exceptions to the above, but in general, the chances of finding a $50 or $100 record in Grandpa's collection of 1940s big bands and popular vocals are slim to none. The average value of most 78 rpm records offered to us is $1 or less. Remember, we had to go through 500,000 records to find a single copy of "Terrible Blues". We do offer an appraisal service with details on our Appraisals Page but this is mainly for very large collections. Quite often the cost of appraising a small collection is more than the value of the collection itself.
HOW OLD ARE MY RECORDS?
There are two factors to consider here. First, what was the date of the original recording session, and second, when was the record actually manufactured? Let's use Enrico Caruso, the great tenor from the turn of the last century as an example. He recorded many selections between 1904 and 1920 which were issued on contemporary 78s. However, the same recording sessions of 80 years ago have also been used for CDs, which are currently available. So it is possible to have a CD in your hand with a recording that is 80 years old, but that was manufactured only last month.
There are very few 78s that actually have the recording date on the label. What is often encountered are patent dates, specifying when a certain recording or manufacturing process was actually patented. This has nothing to do with either the age of the recording or the record itself.
These are a few of the general things to look for that can at least help you determine when a record was probably manufactured:
- Recorded only on one side - 1900 to 1925
- Label diameter 3.5 to 4 inches - before 1930
- Label diameter 3 inches - after 1930
- Eccentric "run-out" groove - after 1925
- Lead in groove - after 1930
- Record diameter 7 inches - before 1920
- Oversize spindle hole - before 1920
There are many more factors to consider, but these are the most obvious. Often the best way to determine the age of a record is to look at the title and artist, and then research some dates. The copyright date of a song will give you a general idea, as will the birth and death dates of an artist. Dating records accurately requires research in a number of specialty publications but by just using a few of the above ideas you should be able to arrive at a reasonably close answer.
HOW DO I CLEAN 78s?
Use two soft cloth or paper towels - cotton baby diapers are ideal. Place one of the towels on a flat, firm surface and place a record on it. Take a bottle of spray Windex (I recommend the brand name) and lightly spray the other towel - NEVER spray directly on the record. Clean the record as if you were polishing a pane of glass, being careful to keep the paper label dry. The Windex on the record surface evaporates quickly and leaves no streaks. Check your cleaning towel after a few records - you will be amazed how dirty it is! Windex works fine for all 78s, even Edison discs, as long as it is used sparingly and quickly wiped away.
There are other more involved cleaning methods, but this one works well when you just need to get the surface dust and fingerprints off. If you are determined to experiment with other cleaners, please keep one thing in mind - NEVER USE ALCOHOL! Nothing will reduce a good 78 to a blob of black mush any faster.
HOW DO I STORE MY RECORDS?
The best way is on edge, preferably in individual sleeves. Records stacked on top of one another like pancakes are difficult to get to, and are very prone to scratching. And be sure that when you store your records vertically that they are fully upright. Records stored at an angle less than 90 degrees are very prone to breakage. You may use the old type of storage album that holds 10 or 12 records, but be careful in turning the pages or laying the album flat when it is open. The record edges have a tendency to catch in the inner seam of the page and will easily break if they do. We have a selection of sleeves and storage albums on our Record Supplies Page where you can print out a mail order form for whatever you need.
HOW MUCH IS MY SHEET MUSIC WORTH?
Many of the comments about the value of 78s also apply to sheet music. In general, the popular songs with the pictures of the popular movie stars or vocalists have relatively little value. Again, most of the sheet music we see has a value of $1 or less.
Many of the valuable pieces of music were published before 1920 in the following catagories:
- Black and other racial covers
- Ragtime selections
- Invention or transportation covers
- Historical events
- Famous illustrator (ie: Norman Rockwell)
- Pre-civil war issues
Condition is also important, and if a piece of music has a written signature on the cover, split seams, tattered edges, has been taped or is otherwise damaged, it's value may be reduced as much as 90%. In fact, condition is probably the most important factor in determining the value of sheet music. We do offer an appraisal service with information on our Appraisals Page but the cost of an appraisal for a small collection usually is more than the value of the collection itself.
HOW OLD IS MY SHEET MUSIC?
There are two factors to consider, just as there are with 78 rpm records. When was the song written (copyrighted), and when was the music printed? The copyright date is often on the music, but the date of printing rarely is. These two dates can be as much as 30 or more years apart, and should not be confused. A single popular song was commonly issued in many different editions over the years. Just like books, a "first edition" could have some value, but a later "paperback" may be worthless. Look in the above question "How old are my records?" for some additional information.
One fairly simple way to tell when your music was printed is to measure the size of it. If it measures 11" x 14" (or close to it) then it probably was printed before 1920. Most of the music in the smaller 9" x 12" format will be from the 1920s and later.
WHAT IS MY PHONOGRAPH WORTH?
First, you should know that we deal only with hand wound acoustic phonographs. We define an acoustic phonograph as one that runs without any electricity whatever, either battery or AC, and therefore must be wound by hand. Anything that plugs into the wall is too new for us, and therefore we cannot provide any information on electric phonographs or any type of radio.
Price ranges given here are for phonographs that are in good original working condition, with no missing or damaged parts, and with no major cabinet damage. Phonographs in non-working condition or with missing parts or major damage generally have value as parts machines only. Another factor to consider is that market values for phonographs vary widely across the US. For example, prices in the San Francisco area (only 90 miles from us) can be as much as double the prices in the Sacramento area.
With these facts in mind, here are a few broad price catagories on several generic styles of phonographs:
- Cylinder model, small horn - $300 to $500
- Cylinder model, large horm - $500 to $700
- Cylinder model, wooden horn - $1000 up
- Cylinder model, internal horn - $300 to $500
- Cylinder model, upright cabinet - $700 up
- Disc table model, metal horn - $500 up
- Disc table model, wooden horn - $1000 up
- Disc table model, internal horn - $100 to $200
- Disc table model, with lid - $200 to $300
- Disc floor model, upright - $200 to $400
- Disc floor model, console - $100 to $300
Art cases, unusual model variations, and many other factors can greatly affect the price. Asking prices seen in an antique mall are only a general guideline, as most dealers in these malls are not phonograph specialists. Besides, there is often a great deal of difference between an asking price and the amount of money that actually changes hands. The best way to determine the precise value of a phonograph is through a personal inspection by a reputable dealer. We are happy to do written appraisals on phonographs we can personally inspect, but we cannot provide information based on photographs or verbal descriptions. See our Appraisals Page for more information.
HOW OLD IS MY PHONOGRAPH?
Most of the common cylinder phonographs were manufactured between 1900 and 1915. The earliest disc phonographs also appeared about 1900, and all had external horns. The switch in disc phonographs to internal horn models began in 1907 and by 1910 very few models remained that still used the external horn. Table top, upright and console phonographs of many makes and styles proliferated between 1910 and 1925, but with the coming of radio and the availability of electricity in many homes, hand wound acoustic phonographs were mostly discontinued by 1930. Some companies manufactured small portable acoustic models into the 1940s.
Many phonographs have model identification tags that give not only the model number, but list a number of patent dates. These dates are not a reliable guide to the age of the phonograph. Patent dates merely state when a specific feature of the machine was patented. The only information that can be obtained from patent dates is that the machine was manufactured sometime after the last patent date - sometimes as much as 10 years after. There are reference books available in many libraries that will assist in dating a phonograph.
HOW CAN I TELL IF A PHONOGRAPH IS AN ORIGINAL OR A REPRODUCTION?
Many reproduction phonographs are being imported from India and Pakistan that are blatently obvious, both in appearance and performance. These are generally made from a poorly running motor from an original machine, mounted in a crude wooden cabinet with a sloppy copy of the Victor trademark pasted on the front. The tone arm may be an original, but it is mounted on a new nickel plated back bracket that supports it, as well as a shiny new brass horn. Even the elbow on the horn exhibits evidence of a poor soldering job, and often breaks apart easily. These machines generally have a "cobbeled together" look, and a brief inspection will show fresh new wood in the cabinet, and many mis-matched metal parts.
Many collectors have a name for these machines that we do not want to print on a family website - we prefer to call them Phonyphones. If you are looking for a phonograph to play your 78s, these should be avoided at all cost. They run poorly, if at all, and generally cannot be repaired. Some folks buy them for decoration only with no intent of playing them, and this is OK. But we cannot recommend them as functional phonographs, and we do not do repair work on them.
WHAT TYPE OF NEEDLES SHOULD I USE IN MY PHONOGRAPH?
The majority of acoustic disc phonographs work well with a medium tone steel needle. Always change the needle after every record to prevent record wear, and NEVER attempt to use a needle unless you are certain it has never been used before. And unless you have precision grinding and polishing equipment in your garage, don't try to resharpen and reuse an old steel needle. New needles are readily available, and are not expensive. Visit our Record Supplies Page for prices and an order form. Remember, the quickest way to ruin your good 78s is to play them with a used steel needle. The second quickest way is to use a jewel point or any sort of "permanent" needle. Years ago, several companies manufactured bamboo or thorn needles which also worked well but are no longer available today.
There are two exceptions. Edison and many Pathe disc phonographs use a jewel point needle, and all cylinder players also have a jewel point. These can last for many years, but should only be replaced by a dealer who is familiar with these models, and has the proper type of needle for replacement. Visit our Phonograph Repairs Page for more information.
HOW CAN I SAFELY MOVE AN OLD PHONOGRAPH?
The first thing to do before moving any hand wound phonograph is to let the spring run down completely. The jarring motion of a move may cause a tightly wound spring to break, or possibly the winding ratchet may come loose, allowing the spring to violently unwind. Although this may seem like a small detail, it is an important one. The small table models are not hard to move. Use some loosely wadded newspaper under the lid or around the tone arm to keep it from swinging back and forth. Always unscrew the crank from the side and put it inside the machine. This keeps the crank from being damaged and also prevents loss. If the machine has a horn, remove it and pack it separately from the machine. These smaller instruments should always be shipped in an upright position. Upright phonographs are a little more difficult. If you are moving one and can keep it in an upright position, then the above instructions will suffice. However, if you must lay it on it's back (NEVER on the side) then add the following steps:
- Remove the turntable by lifting it straight up.
- Remove all the needles, the metal needle cups, and ANY other loose parts inside the record playing area.
- Secure the lid down by using a long piece of rope or a large elastic band and run it through the legs at the bottom, bringing the ends together and tying them at the top.
- Don't forget to remove any records from the storage area - the machine will be a lot lighter if you do.
- If you want to blanket wrap the machine to protect the cabinet, that is also a very good idea.
DO YOU SELL PARTS FOR OLD PHONOGRAPHS?
We have some parts available for the more common machines, but we do not carry a large inventory of parts. If we cannot help you, we will refer you to several dealers who have many good original and reproduction parts. Visit our Links Page for some excellent references.
DO YOU BUY OLD RECORDS, MUSIC OR PHONOGRAPHS?
Yes we do, but only certain types and in certain areas. Turn to the What Do We Buy page for more information.