Monday, December 11, 2023

The Victrola

 by Phoenix Andrews, Curator Assistant

A few weeks ago while looking  through some off site collections I came across a beautiful standing phonograph. With seemingly no visible accession number (that would allow me to look it up in our database) and a hope that we could put it on display, it was brought back with us to the museum. With it back in our main facility, it was time to do some research.

Starting off, this seemed like it would overall be a simple project. Having more time to look it over, I was able to discover that it still had the data plate containing its model and serial number, as well as its lid decal and patent sticker. I was swimming in information. The phonograph was made by The Victor Talking Company, It was a Victrola the Sixteenth or also known as VV-XVI. I was lucky in this aspect, there is a wealth of information out there about Victor phonographs. With it, I was able to figure out that our specific model was the fifth iteration in its design and was manufactured in 1910. This is however where my luck started to run out.

I noticed that none of the other phonographs I was finding pictures of had a piece that ours did. It seemed ours had a second tonearm that was quite different from the original.

After ruling out what I could about the second tonearm's origins, I decided I was going to need some outsider help identifying this tonearm. After asking for some help from a few knowledgeable sources, someone had an answer. They were able to identify it as a Vitaphone arm and sent me to a source to learn more about the company, if only I knew then just how much digging I was going to have to do to find more information.

As if sensing that the Vitaphone rabbit hole was inevitable, I switched sources for a bit. I was able to confirm in my original research that the original machine was fully intact; nothing had been removed for the modifications or broken over the years. Knowing that, I went through and oiled what was needed and wound the crank. It worked! I tested it on a few of the records that were housed inside of it and they played beautifully. It was also then that I realized that there was an accession number on it, just hidden away inside the machine. I went back to the database to see if it held any more information on the phonograph. While it did not tell me anymore about the phonograph itself, I was able to find out that it had been donated by Talitha Botsford (who, if you are unfamiliar with, you can read about here)!

 Having taken a step back, I was ready to return to my research into Vitaphones with newfound vigor. Now before I even get into my research into Vitaphones I want to make something very clear. This is not about the Vitaphone Company that is associated with sound film systems and Warner Bros., that is a completely separate entity that is much more well known and existed after the Vitaphone Company I will be discussing.

Clinton B. Repp was the creator of the Vitaphone. His idea was to make a new, distinctive sounds using his patented Wooden Arm and Stationary Sound Box. He believed it produced a softer, less metallic sound. Then, in 1912, the Vitaphone Company was in business. Manufacturing was done at a plant in Plainfield, New Jersey. A subsidiary of the Vitaphone Company also opened the next year in Toronto, Canada.

This is where my leads run dry for the most part. I was able to find some other minor information out there and some images of a few different models. Overall, it does not seem like this company has lasted in people's minds the way other phonograph companies have. However, if you know how to restore Vitaphone arms or know somebody who has worked with them in the past, I am still hoping that the Vitaphone tonearm can be used as well. Please reach out with any regarding restoration to



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