Frequently Asked Questions

Please note that the information presented here specifically concerns vintage 78rpm and cylinder recordings. We do not deal in 45s, LPs, tapes or CDs, nor do we offer advice on these formats.

What is a vintage record?

How do I clean my records?

How do I store my records?

How do I play my records?

What are my records worth?

How do I dispose of records I do not want?

How can I transfer my vintage records to tape or CD?

Where can I get needles, sleeves and other accessories?

How do I participate in Nauck’s Vintage Record Auction?

What happens to auction records that do not sell?

Does Nauck’s have a public shop?

Where can I learn more?

What is a vintage record?

Vintage records fall into two categories: disc and cylinder. Vintage disc records were made roughly from 1890 to 1960. They are also referred to as coarse-groove or short play (SP) records. Most commonly, vintage disc records are referred to as ‘78s’, referring to a speed of 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). However, the 78 speed was not fully standardized until the late 20s and early 30s; prior to this time, playing speeds ranged anywhere from 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 all 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.

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 rpm. Formats include 7" 45 rpm discs with oversized spindle holes, 10" and 12" long plays (LPs), extended plays (EPs) and others. Most non-vintage records were made from vinyl.

Vintage cylinder records 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.

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 collector 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. This should be done on a soft flat surface to prevent cracking the disc, and the towel should be rinsed out frequently if cleaning more than just a few records. Follow the cleaning towel with a fluffy dry one, 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 – you might wind up stripping off the surface!

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 quickly 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 those with porous paper or water-soluble inks.

Wax cylinders may be cleaned with a soft damp cloth, but don’t attempt to remove mold or mildew. These growths eat into the surface of the cylinder itself, and are impossible to remove without also removing the grooves. Mold growth can only be retarded or arrested, not removed. (There is some evidence to suggest that what we refer to as ‘mold’ on a cylinder isn't actually mold at all, but a long-term chemical reaction within the wax. Either way, care and prevention are the same.)

How do I store my records?

Most vintage records have proven to be remarkably durable over time, but they do have enemies: dirt, moisture, pressure and temperature extremes.

If possible, records should be cleaned before storage. Dirt will scratch records, dust in the grooves will cause premature groove and stylus wear, insects and organic compounds will react with the shellac and silverfish eat sleeves and record labels. Once records have been cleaned, it is best not to put them back into old sleeves. New sleeves for storing records are available from Nauck's, and should be used if you care about your collection.

Records should never be allowed to get wet, and even high humidity can be dangerous. Sleeves absorb moisture which promotes mold growth. More importantly, organic filler material was often used to give strength to the otherwise brittle record groove. This filler material will erupt into microscopic blisters if it absorbs water, and that creates a grainy surface which results in the ‘frying bacon’ sound frequently associated with 78s. So keep the records high and dry at all times.

Try to avoid storing your records flat, as this will cause grains of sand, record sleeves and other foreign objects to impress themselves into surface. Records should be stored upright on edge. Do not allow them to lean, and avoid keeping them in record storage boxes unless the discs are fully upright and flat against each other. They may be safely stored horizontally if the individual stacks are not greater than a couple of inches tall and the temperature doesn’t get too high.

High temperatures quickly damage records, so it is important to monitor the environment where your records are stored. Ideally, the ambient temperature should not be allowed to exceed 75° F, especially if the records are not clean and stored upright!

How do I play my records?

Given the fact that we both sell and collect vintage windup 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 old records on antique machines!) However, it also can’t be denied that the heavy reproducers and steel needles used on vintage phonographs do wear records much faster than modern equipment. We feel strongly that significant, valuable or mint 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 rare 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 – 500 for $20.00, postpaid.)

If you are a serious record collector, you will want to invest in a quality turntable. You will be able to enjoy your records, transfer them to tape or CD and preserve them for posterity. We sell a range of machines and audio equipment designed to properly play all types of records (vintage and non-vintage). Please visit the audio section of our Resource Catalog on this website for more information on the proper playback of old recordings.

What are my records worth?

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 millions, and there are many more records still 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 titles and album sets. Genres more likely to have value will include early jazz, blues and hillbilly, early operatic and classical records produced overseas and special types of records such as picture discs, rare labels, early 7" records, and similarly uncommon categories. Cylinders 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 what types of records are valuable and tells generally what we pay for them. You may acquire a copy of this brochure by clicking the Sell Your Records button on our homepage.

Click here for a short video that will give you a little information about vintage record values.

How do I dispose of records I do not want?

Assuming you have sent for a copy of our want list and determined that you have nothing of value, you have three choices: attempt to sell them, give them away or throw them away.

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 more trouble than they are worth. You might also try to find a local antique dealer or flea market that would give you a few dollars. If you have the time, try running a classified ad in your local paper. But don’t expect to get more than 10 to 50 cents per record. (Less if you have hundreds of them!)

Giving them away is certainly an option. Try the local Salvation Army or Goodwill. Some charities will 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 referred to as music being broadcast 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 think that you might donate 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 hard time finding anyone in academia who will talk to you.

Your last option is to toss the records, but we really discourage that. Unless a record is broken, damaged or contains objectionable material, why throw it away? Try to find a church hosting an annual rummage sale and drop them off there. They might still wind up in the trash bin, but at least your conscience will be clear!

How can I transfer my vintage records to tape or CD?

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 phono plugs, a preamplifier (or integrated amplifier) and a recording device (tape recorder, CD writer or computer sound card). More information on this topic is available in the audio section of the Resource Catalog on this website.

Where can I get needles, sleeves and 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.

Where can I get my phonograph fixed?

This depends on what sort of phonograph you have and what type of work it needs. Feel free to e-mail us with specific details, and we will try to provide a suitable reference.

How do I participate in 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 do not 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 from our website.

Directions and rules are available on the Auction Protocol page of this website.

What happens to auction 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, unless otherwise noted. The minimum order is $20, not including shipping costs.

Does Nauck’s have a public shop?

We do have a facility open to collectors 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. Records may also be available for purchase.

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 an extensive offering of titles specifically chosen with the vintage record and  phonograph collector in mind. Detailed descriptions accompany each listing, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have.

You might also consider joining a society or club that shares your interest in antique audio. The following organizations would be happy to send you literature on what they have to offer: the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC), the Canadian Antique Phonograph Society (CAPS), the City of London Phonograph & Gramophone Society (CLPGS), and the Michigan Antique Phonograph Society (MAPS).

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).