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Rational Pricing for Old Phonographs

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One of the big problems on Ebay is the tendency for some sellers to want to avoid the auction format and price items at retail levels.   You've seen these auctions scattered among the true auctions, with opening bids of several hundred dollars or more.  Of course, we true Ebayers hate retail pricing, and this strategy fails with amazing regularity unless the opening bid is significantly below the actual value of the item.    For most sellers though, they waste money listing items that expire with no bids, even when similar items listed in a true auction format end with a winning bid higher than the other seller's opening bid.

One of the great myths of phonograph collecting is that older phonographs are very rare and valuable.   We active collectors know how common these old phonographs are, and some models like the Edison Standard and Home cylinder players and Victor disk phonographs like the VV-IX are just plain common.    Many sellers don't understand this and also fail to research their items, or try to start bidding at the unrealistic prices they see on antique retailers web sites.   Remember, just because an antique dealer thinks a $300 phonograph is worth $600 doesn't mean they can actually sell it at that price.   Sure, they might get lucky, but that's rare and most examples of a given phonograph will sell for the same general price, depending of course on condition and what's included.   After many years of visiting antique shops and malls, I've found that antique dealers almost never know the true value of phonographs and generally overprice them by factors of two or three.    Venues like Craigslist are even worse, and phonographs I see on Craigslist are routinely overpriced with very common models like the Victor VV-IX or VV-X with asking prices above $400.   These common, plain phonographs just not worth more than $100 in any condition. 

Also, phonograph sellers should understand that rarity does not equate to high value.    It's rarity coupled with demand that causes prices to skyrocket.    Crank phonographs are a great example.  During the golden age of crank disk phonographs, there were literally hundreds of small companies making phonographs.  They were often furniture makers who would buy the phonograph components from a major manufacturer like Columbia, and package the parts in their own cabinet.   On a trip through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan last year, I recorded and photographed more than 30 unique brands that I'd never encountered before, all of them rare, and none of them worth very much.      This is the kind of item where rarity equates to little interest or knowledge among collectors.     I only purchased one phonograph of the bunch, which has value because of two things--   It's a copy of the Victor VV-50 portable but has a bird's-eye maple interior, and is called "The Wolverine" phonograph and was made in Detroit, all of which make this particular portable stand out.     In fact, in many years of collecting, it's the only phonograph I've ever encountered made of such an interesting and attractive wood, and was built with very high quality as well.   However, all that doesn't mean it has "high" value, simply that it stands out among it's peers and should be worth more.   But is it worth more than a very clean, serviceable portable like the Victor VV-50 or Edison Army/Navy?   Probably not.   However, $250 to $500 certainly beats the $25-$75 that most portables are worth.

When trying to price your phonograph for sale, there are some things to do and things to look for:

1. Check ebay for similar items and watch the highest bid prices, even if the items doesn't sell.    When bid prices generally end around a certain price point, that's a good indication of what the true value is.

2. Watch for things like "local pickup only" and high shipping cost.    All of these things go against phonograph sales and can depress prices on internet sites.    A phonograph that is generally worth about $250 will rarely sell for more than $200 when shipping fees are $50 or more, so take that into account when pricing.

3. Cabinet materials count.    Don't assume your Victor VV-IX in Mahogany is worth that same as one in Oak.    Some case materials are much rarer and more valued by collectors than others.    Exotic woods like Walnut can make prices skyrocket.     An what is true in one phonograph line isn't necessarily true in another.    Edison cylinder player cabinets were typically made in Oak (in several finishes) and some finishes (like green oak) tend to be more valuable than others.    Edison didn't seem to sell many cylinder phonographs in Mahogany, so these can be more valuable than similar players than oak.  Some of the big Edison disk players in the nicer cabinets are much less common in Oak than Mahogany, and prettier too, while less expensive players like Silvertone are often found with very plain oak cabinets.

4. If in doubt, use the reserve system to protect your investment.    Because phonographs can be more costly to pack and ship, they are often harder to sell and may take more than one try, even when your prices are reasonable.     Avoid killing your sale before it starts with a too-high opening bid by placing a lower opening bid amount and using the reserve system to protect your minimum price.   Bidders are much more likely to bid on a $400 phonograph that starts at $49 than one starting at $399.   In fact, they are not likely to bid on the $399 auction at all.

I hope these are some good tips to help you price your phonograph.   There are some very experienced sellers on ebay too, and most are very friendly people who will be happy to chat with you and give you some ideas on what your phonograph should sell for.    If all else fails, add the "make offer" feature to your auction so you can get an idea of what potential customers are willing to pay.  Good luck and happy selling!

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