The Victor Victrola

Our Victrolas
Note: If you came to this page looking for a Victor Victrola for sale please check the listings in the internal horn category.

Eldridge Johnson, owner of the Victor Talking Machine company, had probably been tinkering with the idea of an internal horn cabinet machine from as early as 1903. The rudiments of the idea had already been suggested by products such as the German Hymnophon. In 1906 Johnson introduced his first offering, a machine designated as the VTLA, probably a contraction of the word Victrola. The word Victrola itself was another coinage of Johnson's, most likely an amalgamation of the word 'Victor' and the 'ola' from 'pianola.' Only 200 were sold the first year.

The cabinet work of the first Victrolas was outsourced to companies such as Sheip and Pooley, for it wasn't until 1907 that Victor began to do most of its own woodworking in house. Victor's finest motor, the motor used in its top of the line Victor VI, was fitted to the new machine. The first model of the VTLA had an absolutely flat top; it wasn't until later that the familiar domed lid would appear. The sound-modifying upper doors were patented.

The VTLA and its immediate successors, the early versions of the Victrola XVI, featured distinctive L-shaped doors. Most later Victrolas featured rectangular doors and provision for record storage in the cabinet, often with factory albums.

Although the Victor Victrola was acoustically inferior to its outside horn predecessors, due to the horn being forced to conform to the shape of the cabinet, it met with great commercial success. People were encouraged to look upon the Victrola not as a sound reproducing machine, but as a fine piece of furniture. Models were introduced to cover every market niche, from inexpensive child's machines to fancy period Victrolas. Some of the more expensive models were sold in surprising large numbers, a testament to the good times and prosperity in America prior to the depression.

The outside horn machines of just a decade or two earlier went out of style, relegated to a few economy models. Only one outside horn machine ever carried a Victrola designation, the VV XXV or Schoolhouse Victrola, designed for institutional use and so not constrained by fashion.

Many models racked up impressive sales over their lifespans. The Victrola XI, for example, an inexpensive upright machine, sold over 800,000 examples. The Victrola IV, an entry level tabletop introduced in 1911, sold over 600,000 machines in a fifteen year span. Even the Victrola XVIII, an expensive $400 bombe machine that was a monument to the cabinet maker's art, saw more than 3000 sales.

In 1926 Victor introduced a series of Orthophonic Victrolas. The word was of Victor's coinage, and seems to have come from the Greek suggesting 'true sound.' These machines marked the first use of a scientifically designed, exponential horn. A special Orthophonic reproducer came with these machines. Used in a full size machine such as the big Orthophonic Credenza, this reproducer increased the frequency range of newly introduced Victor records by about two octaves, and yielded a resonant bass unheard until this time. The Orthophonic Credenza and the 8-30, an almost identical machine, remain a favorite of record collectors to this day.

Most of these machines were spring-driven, although electric motors were an option of some models. Electrical amplification wasn't feasible until the late 20s, and was then only used in some radio-phonograph combinations and some automatic record changing machines in the nature of early jukeboxes. The most common reproducers other than the Orthophonic type were the Exhibition reproducer and the Victrola Number 2 reproducer.

When looking at a Victrola for sale you may sometimes want to estimate the cost or complexity of repairs. In general, Victors were well made machines and may often require no more than cleaning and lubrication. Here are a few trouble spots you may want to consider:

*Mainspring. The old grease on the spring sometimes dries up and cakes. This causes the spring to stick to itself as it lets down, and gives out a thunderous, bone-numbing crunch. Sometimes playing the machine a lot will break up the grease; otherwise, you may have to remove and re-lubricate the spring, a messy and frustrating job.

*Drive gear. Some models used a brass turntable drive gear. A little wear may cause some rumble in the motor; too much wear may not provide proper contact with the drive worm. A traditional remedy before replacement is to smear a daub of vaseline on the brass.

*Broken tone arm bracket. Some of the Orthophonic models employed pot metal tone arms. Pot metal isn't repairable, but replacements are available for many models.

*Reproducer repair. Pot metal Orthophonic reproducers are, for all practical purposes, not repairable. This is why early brass Orthophonic reproducers have been fetching around $300. Exhibition and Victrola No. 2 reproducers can be taken apart and regasketed (your gasketing should be supple, not hard as a rock), and this will often make a world of difference in the sound. Check for broken vibrator bars on these reproducers, also.