Trophies Among the Shellac | Newberry

Trophies Among the Shellac

So I’ve been pricing records again, and was struck by something even more alarming than the discovery that I had an LP called “Walt Disney Presents Famous Arias”. (I was so stunned by THAT I could barely etake note of “Richard Hrris reads Jonathon Livingston Seagull”.) It is a discovery that probably belongs in the list of Great Rules of (Book Fair) Life from Monday.

Things are older than they used to be.

See, I was working among the 78s, or shellacs, as the purists like to call them, and found, in a two foot long box of Columbia recordings, that I was dealing with records that had to be about 100 years old.

See, when we started this Book Fair, we never even thought about getting century-old records. Such a thing would have to have been a wax cylinder. But here was a record in a crumbling paper sleeve that reminded me to play the records at the proper speed. COLUMBIA records were recorded at 80 RPM, not 78. (Remind me to tell you about the evil days of format wars.)

Of course, as I have mentioned, age does not bring resale value. But these records show me another era, when pop music had not yet assumed the domination of the field that it would after World War I. Or at least pop music was not as mass market as it was to become. There’s as much variety in this collection as you’d find wandering idly through YouTube. Anything somebody out there might want to listen to could make it onto a disc: xylophone/bell duets, accordions playing hornpipe medleys, piccolo solos.

We have a small cache of the whistling virtuosity of Sybil Sanderson Fagan (who not only appears on her own records, but is the featured soloist on some orchestral pieces). We have the works of World War I-era stars like Oscar Seagle or Toscha Seidel. We have a drinking song by John Phillip Sousa (Come Fill Your Glasses Up) played by the Williams College Mandolin Club. The Royal Marimba Band is playing the Blue Danube Waltz, and there are three records by a Chicago Gospel Group conducted by “Father Finn” (who also wrote one of the hymns.) I’m not quite sure what to make of the record performed by the Remington Typewriter Company Band.

Not only is it fascinating to run through this world of the nineteen-teens, but it makes me feel a lot younger after having priced that special Jackson Five issue of Ebony Jr. and realizing it was published after I graduated from high school.


The Shakespeare quotation is simply running away with the whole thing. If you want to strike a blow for Mozart or Debussy or the Danicng Baptist, you have only a short time left to you. Come on, Amadeus! 

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