Vocab II

This last summer, to deal with a rush of record donations, I tried putting the records out without pricetags. I gave instructions that LPs were one dollar per disc, unless otherwise marked. Any record that was not an LP was to be referred to me, so I could stick a pricetag on it appropriate to its format.

This is when I found out that an awful lot of people don’t know what an LP is. I had plenty of angry collectors of 78s on my increasingly clenched hands. So here are some record-collecting terms you might find useful.

LP: This is generally a 12-inch disc, meant to be played at 33 1/3 rpm. (If you don’t know what an rpm is, don’t sweat it. As things are going, you may never need to know.) It is almost always made of poly-vinyl chloride, or PVC.

78: This is a common term for a disc, often 10 inches across but sometimes 12, meant to be played at 78 rpm. Since they were usually made of shellac, some collectors prefer the term “shellac” for these, because in the days of the 1900s format wars, they might have played at anywhere from 60 rpm to 120 rpm.

45: This is generally a 7-inch record which became the standard format for singles in the days when LPs were taking over. Because of the huge hole in the middle, these were also known as doughnut discs. They played, as you might have guessed, at 45 rpm. During the format wars of the late 1940s, there were also 7 inchers that played at 33 1/3 rpm or at 78 rpm, as well as 10-inch EPs that played at 33 1/3 rpm, and so on.

rpm: Okay, if you have to know, that’s revolutions per minute, a revolution being the time it takes a record to go around one time. As Thomas Edison, who preferred cylinder recordings, pointed out, this is merely an average speed, since the outside of a disc takes longer to get around than the inside. (Because it has farther to go, see, not because different parts of the disc are moving at different…just take my word for it, okay?)

Jacket: This is the cardboard envelope used primarily for LPs: the front contains a picture while the back usually contains a long description of the record, which hardly anybody reads. This, for your store of obsolete knowledge, is called the “liner notes” An LP without its jacket loses a lot of its appeal.

Sleeve: This is a paper envelope traditionally used for 78s or 45s, sometimes (more often with 45s) including a picture of the performer and liner notes. An LP is often enclosed in a paper sleeve for extra protection inside its cardboard jacket. The paper sleeves for 45s, being easily lost or destroyed, are highly collectible if they have this picture, and are then known as “picture sleeves”. (These were often ruined anyway in dimestores and department stores, where a hole was punched through them so a chain could be run through all the spindle holes, foiling shoplifters from stealing these 29 cent items. NOW I suppose you want to know what a dimestore or department store is.) I have been trying to raise a laugh from people by pointing out that an LP has its sleeve inside its jacket. I’ll let you know if anything happens along those lines.

Picture disc: No, I don’t mean that CD-rom of pictures from your vacation trip to Elgin. Almost all LPs, 78s, or 45s were pressed in black plastic or shellac, but this was not required. (The black color in the PVC is a result of petroleum content, and when people tried other colors, they found the black vinyl actually played better because of the lubrication offered by the oil.) Sometimes a company would use clear vinyl and put a picture of the band or something relating to the song underneath. We do not deal in absolutes here at the Book Fair but, within reason, ALL PICTURE DISCS ARE WORTH MONEY. Yes, I will go out on a limb and say that this is one collectible you can almost always make a buck or two on. I’ll probably get the one exception in the next donation, but there’s always something.

That’s enough to go on right now. I think I could still explain the difference between a phonograph and a gramophone, but I’ll have to look up hill-and-dale recording. I may start a fight over what a “soundtrack” is, too, but the weather’s too pleasant today. Maybe next time. 

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