The Victor Talking Machine Company did an excellent job of providing model identification, along with a unique serial number for most models, which makes dating their phonographs a relatively easy task in most cases.
It is usually possible to use a piece of very fine steel wool and GENTLY rub over the number so that it becomes visible.
Too much pressure will damage the plate and could remove the contrasting black paint on the plate.
In other cases, cautious use of an exacto-knife can prove helpful. Accurately dating these very early external horn machines is difficult, as the serial numbers were reset in 1905 and some were reset again in 1909, and thus, there can be 2 (or more) identical serial numbers for a given model.
In addition, factory records for the earliest machines are incomplete.
On the leftmost plate above, the model is a "VV-XI" and the serial number is "836749". Some external horns have just a "V" for Victor, and others use "Type" or "Style" to identify the model.
Some machines use names rather than numeric model designations.
During production, large blocks of serial numbers were skipped in some instances, but since these "skips" were well documented, we are still able to accurately date virtually all Victrolas.
The exceptions to the "501" starting serial number for Victrolas occur on prototype models, and many of the Canadian-built and Export models, which can have serial numbers below 100.
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Most Victrola (internal horn) phonographs started production at s/n 501, and ran consecutively until the model was discontinued.