Classic Jukeboxes Jukeboxes of the 1930s and 1940s were not just overgrown record-players, but fantasies of light and sound Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Classic Jukeboxes


Jukeboxes of the 1930s and 1940s were not just overgrown record-players, but fantasies of light and sound

1941-1942 Wurlitzer 'Wagon Wheel' model 780 jukebox

1948 Seeburg Jukebox 'Trashcan'

1948 Rock-Ola Jukebox

1948 Wurltizer 'model 110'

Though they are usually associated with the rock 'n' roll years of the 1950s and early 1960s, the golden age of jukeboxes was the big band and swing era of the 1930s and 1940s.

 Though various mechanical music boxes had been around since the 19th century, coin-operated electric phonographs with a choice of records only became widely available in the 1920s.

 They first found a home in bars and dives, and were christened jukeboxes from 'jook-joint', a black American slang word for a rudimentary dance hall. Their popularity soon increased.

 At first, they pulled the crowds on novelty value and the mesmerising effect of the synchronized mechanisms but as the 1930s progressed, the top manufacturers - Seeburg, AMI, Wurlitzer and Rock-Ola sought new gimmicks to attract customers.

 Early 1930s boxes had simple wool veneer cabinets, but Wurlitizer's Model 24, designed by Paul Fuller, altered all that in its introduction in 1937.

 Fuller's main innovation was the use of back-lit moulded plastic, and soon every manufacturer used plastic and coloured lights to transform their cabinets.

 Fanciful grilles of chrome and nickel protected the speakers, and in 1940 Wurlitzer introduced 'bubble tubes', sealed glass tubes full of liquid through which gas bubbles rose arid fell under the influence of heat.

World War 2 brought producticn to a halt, as plastics, metals and shellac, the main ingredient in 78rpm records, were all rationed.

 After the war, mechanisms were developed that were capable of playing far more records. For design reasons, those were housed in long, low boxes, rather than tall, narrow ones.

 Teenagers, a social group newly discovercd in the 1950s, were now seen as the natural customer of the juke box, a relationship cemeted by rock 'n' roll.

 This coincided with a change in the style of jukeboxes. The brightly-lit fantasy cabinets were replaced by sleek metal and plastic designs that borrowed from 1950s motor cars.


 All the classic jukeboxes of the 1930s and 1940s were built to take 75rpm, 10-inch records. The switch to 45rpm, 7-inch records did nor come until the mid-1950s.

 At this tune, many older machines were adapted to the new format. Today, although it can be comparatively difficult to find records to play on them, machines with the original mechanisms command the highest prices.

 The majority of 1930s machines held a maximum of 20 records (Wurlitzers took 24), only one side of which could be played.

  Most had racks of discs, from which the chosen one was plucked by a mechanical arm.  Again, Wurlitzer was the exception.  Their Simplex mechanism housed the discs in trays; the selected disc swung out and was carried to the pick-up arm by the rising turntable.

 Jukeboxes were exported to Europe from the USA or manufactured there under licence; Wurlitzer had an associated company in Germany.

 However, they did not really catch on in Europe until after World War 2, and most of the classics offered for sale in Europe today have been imported fairly recently by specialist dealers.


1948 Seeburg Jukebox 'Trashcan'

 In 1948, Seeburg introduced their model 100A, which could play both sides of 50 records, twice as many as any other jukebox.

 To fit the rack into the machine, the cabinet was made wider and lower. Seeburg's innovation fixed the shape of 1950s jukeboxes.

 The Seehurg 100B, released in 1950, adapted the design to the use of 45rpm, 7-inch singles. Machines made to play the rather clumsy, fragile and relatively expensive 78rpm records were phased out from this date, and were no longer made after the mid-1950s.

 During the change-over period, the major manufacturers marketed conversion kits so that their customers could update their old machines to take the flew records, a trend that further depleted the stocks of classic boxes.


 Wurlitzer in the USA no longer make jukeboxes, but some of their classic designs, including several by Patti Fuller, have more recently been reproduced, for a new generation of enthusiasts, by the German arm of the company.

 These machines, complete with 45rpm mechanisms, are now collectable in their own right, as are American Rock-Ola's reproductions of their own classics.

 European makers usually slavishly copied American originals.  The Belgian firm, Van den Eynde, did not. Their Discophonette, made in the 1950s, has a built-in radio and uses wood not only in the cabinet, but in parts of the mechanism.

Jukeboxes have usually been well used, and are likely to have some wear and tear on the cabinet. This does not affect the price overmuch. Even missing pieces can be restored, though this is likely to be fairly expensive.
Always insist on hearing and seeing a jukebox in action before buying it.
Remember that an original mechanism in working order adds greatly to the value of a jukebox.
Reproductions can always be distinguished from the originals because they have 7 inch mechanisms built in.



Vintage Jukeboxes the Hall of Fame
by Christopher Pearce

The Official Victory Glass Price Guide to Antique Jukeboxes, 1990 Paperback

Johnny's Jukebox Trivia: 1,001 Fantastic Questions from the Golden Age of Rock and Roll
by John Robinson

by Michael Adams, et al

Though they are usually seen today as part of the teenage rock 'n' roll subculture of the 1950s, jukeboxes first attracted a more mature audience devoted to swing and to the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s. 

The name Rock-Ola had nothing to do with music; Rockola was the surname of the firm's founder.