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Beware The Crap-O-Phone

I’ve recently found myself being asked, more and more, if I’m able to value or give further details of someone’s old, brass-horned, HMV gramophone. I’m sorry to report that in every case so far I’ve had the unfortunate task of explaining to people that their 'valuable' and 'antique' unit is a near-worthless, modern fake made in India or China and, worse still, it’s likely to cause serious damage to their collection of precious 78’s.


With this in mind I decided that it might be wise to create a page here to alert buyers and novice collectors to these machines and what they should look out for. However, before I got around to writing anything, I discovered that Mainspring Press in the USA have an excellent information page on their site and so below, reproduced with their permission, is everything you’ll ever need to know about fake gramophones and phonographs.

These counterfeit "HMV’s" from Asia often show up on online auction sites, at flea markets, and in other venues that attract novice collectors. Crap-O-Phones (so-named by the advanced collecting community) use a hodge-podge of parts scavenged out of junky wind-up portables, which were made in India well into the 1960s, and poor-quality reproduction parts. This motley assortment is then dropped into new boxes and finished off with a flimsy new sheet-brass horn and back bracket. The machines do work, but often not for long. They are produced solely to deceive.


Many dealers knowingly misrepresent these machines as the real thing, and price them accordingly. Others are somewhat more honest, calling them "reproductions" or "replicas," but this isn't correct either as no such machines ever existed in the open-horn era; Crap-O-Phones are historically incorrect bastardizations, tossed together from mismatched junk parts. In addition their unauthorized use of the "His Master's Voice" trademark is an infringement of copyright law.


Crap-O-Phones currently wholesale for $45 on average (down from about $75 a few years ago as the market got increasingly glutted), and eBay "Power Sellers" post dozens every week, fetching $100-$200 or more. Even at that price, these machines are no bargain. The cheap motors and flimsy new back brackets are especially vulnerable to breakage. Reproducers often have decaying white-metal parts and dried-out gaskets, or are badly out of adjustment and will damage your records. Costs to repair or replace these parts would exceed the minimal value of the machine.


A few things to look for when shopping for an outside-horn machine are:


• The elbow (the piece that connects horn to arm) should be a smoothly curved, heavy, high-quality casting. Crap-O-Phone elbows are sharply angled and fabricated of cheap, soldered sheet brass.

• The back bracket (the piece that supports the horn/arm assembly) should be a heavy, high-quality casting. Crap-O-Phone brackets are usually crudely cast of cheap, brittle white-metal.

• The reproducer should have an open face that reveals the diaphragm. Crap-O-Phones use much later, low-end reproducers (some from as late as 1940-1960) with metal face covers and diaphragms.

• The crank should be perfectly horizontal and not disproportionately long. Crap-O-Phone cranks are often angled and out of proportion to the case, since they are taken from machines with different dimensions.

• A stamped metal nameplate with model and serial number should be attached to the case of USA Victor's. Most Crap-O-Phones substitute a cheap, new coloured print or decal of "His Master's Voice."

• Beware of any outside-horn machine with a Thorens motor. This is a sure sign of a Crap-O-Phone.

• Watch out for lumpy, soft, or purplish finishes, like those seen on cheap furniture imported from India.

• Novelty cases (glass-sided, circular, hexagonal, etc.) are common on Crap-O-Phones but rarely occur on authentic machines.

• Watch out for cases with filled or non-functional holes; some Crap-O-Phones use old cases that have been reconfigured to accept parts that were never meant to be placed in them.




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