I must follow up on Monday column. I DID, on Tuesday, receive a banana box of books, but it does not count because it was a type of banana box I am not used to: small, without a hole in the bottom, and coated in wax. It’s the big hole in the bottom that bothers me about most banana boxes, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. What I have to say about wax-coated cardboard can wait for another day.
Several people had trouble with my use of the phrase “picture disc”. I believe the younger ones were thinking of some sort of antique CD-Rom which had pictures somehow embedded in the vinyl grooves. Actually, a picture disc is a record which had a transparent playing surface under which a picture could be placed. There were experiments with these in the 1930s, but it was Vogue Records in the 1940s which brought them, well, into vogue. They became popular again in the 1970s, partly because the substance which makes vinyl records black is a petroleum derivative, and we were suffering our first big oil crisis. So types of vinyl were tried without the coloring, with pictures of Elvis or Madonna or the Smurfs under them. The sound quality always suffered because that petroleum derivative that makes the vinyl black also lubricated the grooves enough to make the record easier to play. There’s always something.
Another type of record I get in is the Transcription Disc. These were often made by radio studios in the days before coast-to-coast hookup, so that nationwide broadcasts could occur at roughly the same time everywhere. They were not intended to last forever, and are therefore extremely fragile. In many cases, the adhesive holding the tiny layer of shellac to the glass or aluminum base has leeched away, leaving a brittle shell that will go to pieces at a bump. In my brilliant but somehow unpublished master’s thesis, I gave it as my opinion that transcription discs, being heavy, fragile, and nearly unique, represent a nightmare for the conservation librarian. Little did I reck that one day they would be my own nightmare. Right now I’m batting about .200: 1 in 5 of these records survives long enough, once in my hands, to be listed online for sale. (I never put them out at the Book Fair, feeling that if anyone’s going to destroy a unique bit of history through clumsiness, it will be the Manager and not a mere Customer.)
Some transcription discs were made 16 inches across, and some 20 inches. At the other end of the scale, I often get gimmick records, frequently made for children, which are a couple of inches across. The first talking doll that worked with a record inside was made in the 1880s, and recited the Lord’s Prayer (in German). The idea was revived many times until the computer chip came along and changed that technology forever. (The same thing happened to greeting cards which, like postcards, were sometimes sold with recordings or even record-it-yourself gimmicks inside, much more cumbersome than the computer chip versions of today. Um, none of you has yet donated the combination comic strip/bubble gum/tiny record sets that had some popularity in the 1920s. I’m in just about every day, if you want to drop those off.)
One reason I’m telling you this is that records are somewhat like books in that it is these oddities that can command extra money on the collectibles market. Any picture disc is worth a LITTLE extra, while those transcription discs MIGHT contain a bit of broadcast history not found anywhere else. And that doll in the attic that used to say the Lord’s Prayer in German until your Uncle Nicky’s terrier got hold of it…well, as I say, I’m in most days if you just want to drop it off.