Frequently Asked Questions
What is a vintage record?
Vintage records fall into two categories: disc and cylinder. Vintage discs were made roughly from 1890 to 1960. In some countries they are referred to as coarse-groove or short play (SP) records. Most commonly, however, vintage disc records are referred to as ‘78s’, referring to the speed of 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). However, the 78 speed was not fully standardized until the early 1930s; prior to this time, playing speeds ranged anywhere from around 60 to 130 rpm! Most of the pre-1925 records one encounters today will play properly at speeds ranging from 72-82 rpm. (Edison Diamond Disc records play at 80.) Other vintage disc records include radio transcriptions (78 or 33 rpm, often 16" in diameter), movie soundtrack discs (33 rpm, 16") and Victor Program Transcriptions (10" & 12", 33 rpm). Most vintage disc records were made from a shellac-based material, though vinyl discs began to appear in the post WW II era.
Non-vintage disc records were made from 1949 to the present. They are commonly referred to as micro-groove records, and play at 45 or 33.3 rpm. Formats include 7" 45 rpm discs with oversized spindle holes, 10" and 12" long plays (LPs, aka "albums"), extended plays (EPs) and others. Most non-vintage records were made from vinyl. We DO NOT deal in microgroove recordings.
Vintage phono cylinders were made from around 1890 to 1929, and came in several different sizes. Most cylinders are about the size of a toilet paper tube, and are usually colored black or blue. These recordings should not
be confused with piano rolls, which are made of rolled paper punched with small holes.
Where can I sell my records?
To be truthful, unless you are a serious collector or have inherited an important collection, most of your records probably have little if any value. This is because the great majority of vintage records (like coins, stamps, postcards, comic books and other collectibles) are very common. Records were pressed by the bazillions, and there are many more records in existence than there are collectors seeking them.
Generally speaking, most records in the following categories have little value: big band, popular songs (including Bing Crosby), ethnic recordings, classical, opera (including Caruso), post-war country, sacred selections and album sets. Genres more likely to have value will include early jazz, blues and hillbilly music from the 1925-35 era, very early operatic and classical records produced overseas, and special types of records such as picture discs, rare labels, early 7" records and other uncommon categories. Cylinder records are plentiful, though there are certain types, brands and artists highly desired by collectors.
Our recommendation is that you check out any group of records before disposing of them, just to make sure that you have nothing of significant value. We offer a want list that describes the various types of records that may be valuable, and tells generally what we pay for them. You may acquire a copy of this brochure by sending $2 (cash or check) plus a legal-sized #10 SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to the address in the page footer below.
Click here for a short video about vintage record values
How do I dispose of records I do not want?
Assuming you have obtained a copy of our want list and determined that you have nothing of value, you could either try to sell them locally, give them away or toss them in a dumpster.
If you don’t have valuable records, you will find it very difficult to sell them. EBay is loaded with worthless records being offered by people trying to clean out their closets. And even if you find a buyer, you will likely find that the effort to list, pack and ship them is much more trouble than they are worth. You might find a local antique dealer or flea market that would give you a few dollars, or try offering them on Craigslist. But don’t expect to get more than 5 to 50 cents per record (less if you have a large quantity of them).
Giving your records away is certainly an option, but not always easy to do. Try the local Salvation Army or Goodwill. Some charities may even pick them up, though you might have to throw in some clothes or furniture to get them to make the trip. If any friend, neighbor or relative has the slightest interest in them, send them in that direction. We especially encourage donations to children and teenagers. With all the noise being listened to these days, what greater gift could you give a young person than an introduction to worthwhile music? (Of course, you will need to be sure that the child has a way of playing your records!)
If you're thinking about donating your collection to a university, library or archive, think again. Very few institutions will accept records of any sort, as most of them don’t even have turntables to play them. Unless you have a collection of real significance, you're going to have a very hard time finding any institutional interest.
Your last option is to toss the records, but we generally discourage that. Unless a record is broken, damaged or contains objectionable material, why throw it away? Try posting them on Craigslist or Nextdoor. They might still wind up in the trash bin, but at least your conscience will be clear!
How do I clean my records?
The vast majority of vintage disc records are made of shellac mixed with various fillers, compounds and dyes. Though you can purchase cleaning solutions, brushes and machines that will do a grand job, it is not necessary for the average person to go to this expense. Unless a record is really filthy or greasy, gently rubbing with a damp terrycloth towel in the direction of the grooves will remove most of the dirt. (A flat painter's pad from Lowe's or Home Depot would work even better.) This should be done on a soft flat surface to prevent cracking the disc, and the towel or pad should be rinsed out frequently if cleaning more than just a few records. Dry with a fluffy towel, and let the record air-dry for a few minutes before placing it back in the sleeve. If the record is really dirty, it is generally safe to wash it with soapy water. Use a mild liquid dish-washing detergent, and rinse well before drying. Whatever you do, don’t use alcohol-based cleaners or solutions such as Windex on your records, as you will damage the grooves!
It is important that records are not left immersed in water for any length of time. Some records (Columbias and Edison Diamond Discs, for instance) are laminated over a core that will swell if it gets wet. This causes peeling in the form of lamination cracks and edge separations. Additionally, certain labels can be damaged by water -- especially white labels -- and those with porous paper or water-soluble inks.
Cylinders may be cleaned with a soft damp cloth, but don’t attempt to remove what appears to be mold from the surface of wax cylinders, other than rubbing the record gently with a soft dry cloth. "Mold" on a cylinder isn't actually mold at all, but a chemical bloom formed by the long-term reaction of unstable elements in the wax itself.
How can I play my records?
Given the fact that we buy and sell antique wind-up phonographs, Nauck's doesn't wish to discourage persons from experiencing the thrill of listening to vintage records on period equipment. (There’s just something magical about playing 78s on old gramophones!) However, it can’t be denied that the heavy reproducers and steel needles used with vintage phonographs do wear records much faster than modern equipment. Therefore, it is probably best that rare, valuable or mint condition records should only be played on modern electric turntables. We are stewards of these artifacts for whatever period of time is allotted to us, and above average records should be preserved for future generations.
Having said that, there are zillions of records out there that are not valuable or rare, and if you want to play your Victrola, knock yourself out! Just be sure to use a properly rebuilt reproducer and a fresh new needle for every play. (We sell steel needles at 200 for $12.50; soft, medium or loud tone.)
If you are a serious record collector, you will want to invest in a quality turntable. You will be able to enjoy your records, digitize them and preserve them for posterity. We sell an excellent turntable ideally suited for vintage record collectors in addition to audio equipment designed to properly play all types of recordings, both vintage and non-vintage. Please visit our the Resource Catalog section of this website for more information.
How can I digitize my records?
You may transfer recordings in one of two ways: acoustically or electrically. To acoustically transfer your records, simply hang a microphone in front of the speaker or phonograph horn and hit the record button. As a bonus, you’ll also get the dog barking across the street, the traffic driving by and your daughter slamming the bathroom door.
To electrically transfer your records you will need a decent turntable with RCA phono plugs, a preamp and amplifier (or integrated amplifier), and a recording device (tape recorder, CD writer or computer with a sound card that has phono jacks). Alternately, some turntables have a USB cable that can plug directly into a computer.
Where can I find needles, sleeves & other accessories?
Nauck’s sells sleeves (new and used), record storage albums, needles & styli, cylinder boxes and various other products designed with the record collector in mind. Visit the Resource Catalog on this website for a full listing of available products.
How do I participate in a Nauck’s Vintage Record Auction?
Nauck’s auctions (also known as Nauctions) are held twice a year, generally in the Spring and Fall. These are mail auctions, so you don't have to be present in order to participate. Established customers receive free catalogs when the auction is published, and generally have one month to submit their bids. The auctions can also be accessed by going to the Auction page on our website. Bidding instructions and the Online Bidsheet will be found there as well.
What happens to Nauction records that do not sell?
Roughly six weeks after the close of an auction, we post a list of unsold lots on our website. Persons are free to pick and choose from these records on a first-come, first-served basis. All records are available at their minimum bid prices, and the minimum order is $20, not including shipping costs.
Does Nauck’s have a public shop?
Fort Nauck's is open to the public by appointment only. Visitors are free to browse the books and products available in our Resource Catalog, and they are also welcome to examine or listen to auction lots under the supervision of one of our staff members. Non-auction records are also available for purchase, generally at very low prices.
Where can I learn more?
There are numerous resources available to both beginning and advanced collectors. Obviously, the first place to start is the book section of our Resource Catalog. Here you will find a selection of titles specifically chosen with the vintage record and phonograph collector in mind.
A very inexpensive and enjoyable way of learning more about the music and the hobby is by listening to our Bidder Request Shows. These shows are broadcast over the Internet twice a year. Each broadcast features approximately 150 recordings, and we discuss the records; how we play them; the history behind the artists, labels and songs; and much, much more. It is one of the best introductions to vintage record collecting you will find!
You might also consider joining a society or club that shares your interest in antique audio. The following organizations would be happy to provide information on what they have to offer: the Antique Phonograph Society (APS), the Canadian Antique Phonograph Society (CAPS) and the City of London Phonograph & Gramophone Society (CLPGS).
In addition to the periodicals, newsletters and journals published by collector societies, you might also be interested in subscribing to magazines such as The Record Collector (which caters to opera collectors), The Syncopated Times (jazz & blues) and The Old-Time Herald (roots, country & folk).