I regularly use two horn gramophones from around 1905: His Master's Voice (the one on the right in the picture above) and a "Westminster" (on the left). In addition I have a number of 1940's travel gramophones and a cabinet gramophone ("Victrola") from around 1925. On occasion I even bring out my 1901 Edison Standard Phonograph!
There is a preconception that old sound gear is synonomous with "snap, crackle and pop". Actually as long as you use a proper machine (beware of Crap-O-Phones - see "buying a gramophone" below!), records in a good condition and - most importantly - sharp needles, the sound quality is really amazingly good, something my audience regularly comments on!
You tend to use a fair amount of needles, considering you're really supposed to change needles every time you play a disc! If you're feeling frugal, you can twist the needle a quarter turn between plays and thus re-use it up to four times, but after that you usually notice a clear drop in sound quality - plus of course the risk of damaging the record increases! The disc material, schellac, is rather soft and if you were to use a diamond needle (as in a vinyl player) it would tear right through the disc, more or less. Better then to destroy the needle instead, which is easily replaced! Needles come in four or five different "tones", ranging from extra soft (a very thin needle) to extra loud (thick needle). Remember that a loud needle wears down the record much quicker than a soft one! You either buy original needles in tin boxes, or newly manufactured ones. I get mine from John Sleep in England, you can visit his website here!
Vinyl was introduced in the late 1940's as a synthetic replacement for the old format, which became known as "78s" because they revolved at a speed of about 78 turns a minute ("rpm") - unlike the new LPs (short for Long Play) with its 33 1/3 rpm. 78s were made of shellac which is a type of resin and the supply ran short toward the end of the war.
The first vinyl discs hit the shelves in 1948, and from there it took about ten years for the new format to kick out the old. The last 78 was pressed in America around 1958. However, in other parts of the world (India and Africa for example), 78s were manufactured well into the 1970s!
When needed, I use an external, non-noticeable microphone to amplify the natural sound, so volume is not an issue. But most of the time, the loud tone needles get the work done. Maybe in the future I can get my hands on an Auxetophone...
You can find them at garage sales, antique stores and - of course - eBay, but you need to be informed enough so you don't get fooled into buying a piece of junk. Most of the gramophones you find on eBay are so-called "Crap-o-phones", cheap fakes put together of different parts, mostly in India, Pakistan and China. They can be spotted by their shiny but low-quality gold- or silver horns, and they are almost always passed on as "genuine" His Master's Voice machines. Actually whenever you see that famous logotype, you should be extra wary! Even if you can get it started, the machinery usually runs so uneven and loud that it is a pain to listen to anything! Here, you can read more about Crap-o-phones and learn how to spot them!