Thanks to all the great advice here on the forum and in private messages, I've gone ahead and bought a Columbia Q to play my brown cylinders. Due to the terrible state of the cover, I got it on ebay for £148 but after adding in £35 postage, and £44 Import Duty, it's not so cheap, i suppose!
Can anyone make a guess as to its age please? The shiny metal base rather than black base led me to think it was pre 1900, but it has the ornate key, which I thought was only on later models. Perhaps the key is a later replacement?
The date on the side is 1897, and that's also the latest date on the cover. The regulator (?) is fixed to the body of the machine rather than the base, which again I thought was something you find on older models.
I don't see a way to show multiple photos here so I've put them on a page here:
You have the first model Q which was manufactured from early 1899 until sometime in 1904. The original key was the plain flat variety.
Check your serial number - - it's stamped into the metal base on the front right-hand vertical edge. There were two serial groups for this version. The known numbers range from approx. 321,000 to approx.360,000 in the first group. (No. 360388 was produced by May 23, 1900.) The second serial group of early version Qs ranges from approx. 600,000 to approx. 633,000. That should give you some idea of where yours falls.
As George pointed out, I think your serial # is under the crud at the front. I think I can make some of it out in your photo. Here is a photo of my Q's serial number and yours should be in approximately the same spot.
Is it my imagination, or does that area with the serial number look to have been deliberately ground off? If so, your Q may have a more colorful history than usual!
Back in January 1973 I bought a Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar (model 450-12) from a guy who was selling an amp to a friend of mine. The guitar was in beautiful shape, came with its original case, and was cheap. Maybe a little too cheap... It was only when I got it home and changed out the strings that I noticed something funny... The date code was still there (FA, which means January 1966), but the 3-digit serial number had been effaced by an electric drill. I thought about returning it to the guy and trying to get my money back, but I never did. For a year or two, I wondered what I'd do if an audience member ever yelled out, "Hey - that's my guitar!" It never happened. I still have the guitar, and I trust the statute of limitations has expired. Moral of the story? Beats me! That Q - if stolen - probably became contraband well over a century ago...!
The mess you see there was the result of my attempt to scrape off the corrosion. You may be suspicious that I have ended up destroying the serial number myself, but I assure you there was not a sign of one under there!
Looking at the photo that you took after you cleaned the area, I can see at least on number (which I circled) and possibly another to it's left. I doubt that whatever you cleaned it with made those grinding/file markings. If you notice, there is a visible scalloping of the edge of the base where it was ground.
I agree, and that number looks like a "3" which would place the machine within a known block of serial numbers. In the "before" photo, the edge of the lip has a distinct scallop, as Bill points out. It really looks as though someone wanted to efface that serial number. I've never seen this on an antique phonograph before!
You could try what the CSIs do with if the serial number is ground of a gun. I think they put a drop of hydrochloric acid on the spot and it should change color differently from where it was embossed (compressed) to the surrounding areas. I would remove it from the wooden base before. Andreas