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Victorian Furniture









This Starr disc player is a Victrola clone made by Starr Piano Company of Richmond, IN.














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As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, July 2009 

I have taken the liberty of answering two questions at once since the answers for each vary only by the name of the record player involved.


Q. Dear Sir - I have a client who is in possession of a Starr record player. Can you provide any further information - history, style, value, etc.? Thank you. Rhonda H.,


Q. Enclosed is a photo of a floor model record player has no identification except the dates on the playing mechanism, June 18, 1912 and November 20, 1915. This player was sold by N. H. Swanson, 69 Division Ave. S., Grand rapids, Michigan. There are some sayings on it that read  "SONOR _ CLEAR AS A BELL" and "THE HOUSE WITH A CLEAN RECORD". Any information you have about his player will be appreciated - make, model, age, value or original price. Thank you, Jim C


A. Both of these machines are known as Victrola clones from the early part of the 20th century. Emile Berliner patented the original disc record player called the Gramophone in 1895 to compete with the cylinder players of the day. The advantages of the disc player over the cylinder models were increased volume and longer playing time.


Few companies managed to compete with Gramophone in the early years. Victor was one of them and Pathephone in Europe was another. Internal horn machines appeared in 1906 and the old, odd looking talking machine with the top mounted horn was gone very quickly. Berliner's original patents expired in 1912 and the competitive race was on even though Victor owned some 229 additional patents related to the production of the players and the discs. Most importantly Victor owned the patent to the lateral cut record making process and that patent would not expire until 1919.


A number of companies still tried to compete with Victor in 1912 but none were successful except Edison who introduced a different method of cutting discs. By 1914 the real competition arrived in the form of Cheney (bankrolled by department store mogul Marshall Field), Aeolian (the maker of Aeolian pianos) and Sonora. Sonora Phonograph Sales Company was the successor to the Sonora Chime Company, a manufacturer of church bells and chimes. The "SONOR_" inscription on the second machine mentioned above actually should read "SONORA" and its motto, "CLEAR AS A BELL", was a reference to the parent company's former business. In 1919 Sonora opened an assembly plant in Saginaw, Michigan where Herzog Furniture Company, the maker of their cabinets, had a factory. Most other cabinets for talking machines were made in Grand Rapids by other major furniture manufacturers including Berkey & Gay who made cabinets for Cheney.


Between 1916 and 1920 more than 260 companies entered the phonograph business, including Starr. Like many musically oriented companies, Starr Piano Company, a maker of pianos in Richmond, Indiana, felt confident they could compete in the industry and for a short time they did, enjoying a national distribution. Starr's slogan was "The Singing Throat" referring to its sound horn which was made of silver grain spruce, called "the music wood of centuries" by the company. But attrition was swift and brutal.


By the mid 1920's over production had driven many companies out of the market and radio was beginning to take a big bite out of home entertainment money.


Both of the disc players in question are standard floor models from the early 1920's. In good working condition they have a market value of around $300. Operating manuals for both the Starr and the Sonora are available for viewing online at An excellent source for additional reading on old phonographs, even though it is a bit pricey at $69.95 from Amazon, is "The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium" by Tim Fabrizio and George Paul, Schiffer Books.


Q. I have some fairly expensive older chairs that I use with my kitchen table. They have the type of web seating that is woven in and out of the holes drilled around the edge of the seats and the webbing is starting to sag. I called one shop about re-weaving them but it was going to cost almost as much as I paid for the chairs. They charge BY THE HOLE! I really like the look and don't want to upholster them. Is there any other choice? Elma P


A. Naturally craftspeople charge by the hole for this type of work but they charge by the number of holes drilled into the seat, not the number of holes that show in the pattern of the cane. I am assuming from your description that your chairs have what is known as "hand" cane or "hole" cane, woven through the holes drilled through the seat frame, as opposed to "sheet" cane or "pressed" cane which is held into the chair seat in a groove and secured by a narrow piece of wood called a spline. But it really doesn't matter what kind of cane you have since the cure for a case of the "sags" is the same for both varieties.


Turn a chair upside down and place a warm, wet cloth on the unfinished underside of the cane. The cloth just needs to be wet, not dripping. Let is soak for about 30 minutes or so. Then turn the chair upright and allow it to dry overnight, preferably in a warm room. As the cane dries out it will tighten itself back up. This quick fix is good for only a couple of times during the lifetime of a cane seat. After that it will have to replaced.


Visit Fred's website at  Fred's book "HOW TO BE A FURNITURE DETECTIVE" is now available for $18.95 plus $2.00 S & H. Send check or money order for $20.95 to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

            Fred and Gail Taylor's video, "IDENTIFICATION OF OLDER & ANTIQUE FURNITURE", ($29.95 includes S & H) is also available at the same address. For more information call (800) 387-6377, fax (352) 563-2916, or e-mail

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