Cashing in on gramophone appeal


The last mass-market record player was made more than a generation ago. Or was it?

The gadget catalogues that drop out of many weekend newspapers suggest otherwise. Among the high-tech gizmos lurk reproduction wind-up gramophones with horn-shaped speakers and retro "radiograms" that play records and cassette tapes from inside a 1940s-style wooden case.

You might imagine that, if there's a market for reproduction machines, there must surely be a ready sale for the real thing. Perhaps that old wind-up gramophone that was heaved into your attic years ago will fetch a good price.

The serious money in sound reproduction machines is made from the earliest and most cumbersome equipment, which was made between the 1890s and about 1910.

Wind-up gramophones made in the 1920s and 1930s can be worth several hundred pounds, but there is much less collector interest in the electrical machines that started to replace them in the 1930s.

So what about that expensive radiogram that had pride of place in your parents' home in the 1960s? It would probably fetch even less than the few pounds that a collector might offer for the transistor radio that was kept in the kitchen.

Mr Steve Harris, director of On The Air, which claims to be "Britain's biggest specialist vintage technology centre", says that 1960s and 1970s radiograms do not attract collectors because "they are very common, big and not very attractive to look at".

He adds that "most gramophone collectors tend not to be interested in anything electric".

The trouble with much 20th century technology, from an investment point of view, is that it was mass-produced, usually with cheap materials. Quaint old gramophones can be delightful to use but give poor sound reproduction compared with today's equipment.

Nevertheless, there is a market for old gramophones, driven partly by wealthy enthusiasts abroad. Spare parts and the metal needles used to play records are still made.

Mr Howard Hope, a dealer in early gramophones based in Surrey in the UK, says condition is vital. Collectors will accept repairs to the mechanics inside the box but one-third of a machine's value can be lost through external restoration, such as repainting the speaker or polishing the woodwork and rubbing off the maker's label.

Mr Hope says there is no shortage of machines. "There are plenty of examples of everything out there, but good things are still fetching good money."

Mr John Sleep, who runs a gramophone workshop at Pentire, Cornwall, says the value of mechanical gramophones from the first two decades of the 20th century is rising. A plain HMV 102 portable model from the late 1920s might fetch as much as £200 (€296.50) today compared with £100 a few years ago. - (Financial Times Service)