QUESTION: My husband recently purchased an old jukebox for a game room we created in our basement. It’s a Wurlitzer 1015, and considering it’s 68 years old, it still plays pretty well. He paid $3,500 for it. Can you tell me more about this machine and others like it? Did my husband get taken on this deal?
ANSWER: While the jukebox is more or less a thing of the past, a few still exist in arcades and roadhouses off the beaten path and in the private collections of people who yearn for a return to those happy days. The one your husband purchased is the most popular of the oldies but goodies and normally sells for twice that amount.
A jukebox, for those of you who may not know, is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that plays selections from self-contained media, at first records, then CDs. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers that patrons to restaurants, diners, and bars pushed in combination to choose and play a specific selection at first for a dime, then later a quarter, fifty cents, and upwards.
Although jukeboxes, in one form or another, had been around since an Edison phonograph with a coin slot was exhibited in San Francisco in 1889, the early machines were staid affairs.
In 1928, Justus P. Seeburg, who manufactured player pianos, combined an electrostatic loudspeaker with a coin-operated record player and gave the listener a choice of eight records. This Audiophone machine was wide and bulky and had eight separate turntables mounted on a rotating Ferris wheel-like device, allowing patrons to select from eight different records. Later versions of the jukebox included Seeburg's Selectophone, with 10 turntables mounted vertically on a spindle. By maneuvering the tone arm up and down, the customer could select from 10 different records.
The term "jukebox" came into use in the United States around 1940, apparently derived from the familiar usage "juke joint", derived from the word "juke" meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.
While jukeboxes had once been enclosed in wooden cabinets, the machines of the era beginning in 1937 were made of gaudy plastic, frosted glass, jeweled mirrors, and chrome ornaments. Many of those Art Deco creations were self-contained light shows with polarized revolving disks, bubble tubes, and flashing pilasters.
During those golden years, the Leonardo da Vinci of jukebox design was Wurlitzer's Paul Fuller, who was responsible for 13 full-size machines, five table models, and numerous speakers. The Golden Age of jukebox design ended when he suffered a heart attack in 1944 and died the next year. By then a new generation of larger jukeboxes had appeared, and the classic machines from the golden years—1937 to 1949—were, for the most part, relegated to the junk heap and forgotten.
Forgotten except for a small group of admirers of the design achievements of the 1937—49 period, who began busily picking up the pieces and reassembling the classic jukeboxes.
The popularity of jukeboxes extended from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, but they were particularly fashionable in the 1950s. By the middle of the 1940s, three-quarters of the records produced in America went into jukeboxes.
And even with all of today’s high-tech music devices, the sound from one of those old machines was fabulous. Nothing beats hearing an old 78 on a machine created just to play it. Those were the days.