Ol' Nipper Perks Up His Ears Again

Times Staff Writer

With the Grammy Awards on tap for Feb. 24, this is one of Neil Maken's favorite times of the year. As he likes to say, he's a serious student of the "sights and sounds of the original 'Grammyphones.' "

Maken collects, refurbishes and sells antique phonographs through an enterprise aptly called Yesterday Once Again, which he operates out of his Huntington Beach home.

Also in Marketing

"I'm basically a collector, but I'm starting to sell more," Maken, 45, reports in a recent telephone interview. He is also a printing broker and has his own marketing firm.

"I also deal out of two malls, the Antique Emporium in Costa Mesa and the Old Chicago Antique Mall in Buena Park."

Maken started collecting antique talking machines eight years ago, and now he's obviously hooked.

He says: "Antique phongraphs, ranging from simple and rather austere (models) to those with bright, colorful outside horns, playing either flat, plate-shaped disc records or cylindrical records, have a fascinating history, as do the artists who made some of the earliest phonograph recordings."

Much of his collection, he says, is jammed into just about every room in his house, a veritable museum of collectible phonographs, about 60 in all--not counting a separate set amassed by his daughter, Tracey, 14, who collects children's phonographs.

Where does he find the space for all of these machines? "Just don't ask my wife (Carole, a teacher) that question," he laughs, declaring that his devotion to old talking machines has even encroached on her work space.

Maken's earliest prize is an 1895 machine called the graphophone, produced by a firm called Bell & Tainter (the Bell was the cousin of Alexander Graham Bell) of Washington, and which, ultimately, became Columbia Graphophone Co.

Unless one does some homework, it's easy to see that a beginning collector could get confused in separating the history tangle of who produced what models.

For example, Maken says, Thomas Edison, who invented the record-playing machine, was the first to use the name phonograph on his innovative talking machine. And Victor Talking Machine Co. used the label gramaphone to describe its product.

Speaking of Victor, Maken says, his most valuable machine is an 1896 Berliner used by the Victor firm in its logo. He recently acquired it, along with 17 other machines, from another collector.

(OK, trivia buffs, what was the name of the dog? Nipper, of course!)

In terms of collectibility, he said, a talking machine should be of the hand-cranked variety, which were produced through the 1920s until the electric motor put them out of business. Also, he said, they should definitely be in working order to maintain their collectible value.

"This past year," Maken says, "was a bonanza for sales of antique phonographs and accessories. I think they've been unrecognized for a long period of time."

Parts Available

An interesting sidelight are the parts Maken can supply for collectors. Manufacturers of early talking machines, for example, recommended that a new steel needle be used for each record. Today's collector changes needles every other record and can purchase 100 steel needles for $2.75 a package, he says.

Maken warns would-be collectors to "be careful of machines made of composite parts from other machines so that they look like originals." He says he will be happy to answer questions from collectors who are perplexed about whether they own an original.

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