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Essential Books About Phonographs and 78s

By Tim Gracyk

I pick up most new books related to my hobby. So many books come out that I must build new shelves each year! I discuss here books that are especially useful for those interested in phonographs or 78s.



Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925

444 pages of rare information (plus a detailed index at the back!). This book won an award (from ARSC, the famous organization of recorded sound archives) for "best research"!

Five years of work went into this book. I listened to thousands of 78s, studied rare trade journals, studied company literature, exchanged letters with dozens of descendants of the old recording artists, located birth and death certificates--well, nobody had ever done this work before in a systematic way (the exception is Jim Walsh, who wrote for a magazine called Hobbies), and I felt it was time for someone to do it for a book! I have been delighted by the wonderful responses I've received from readers in America and overseas. Thanks for the comments!

Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925 is 445 pages and was published in late 2000 by Haworth Press. It opens with an introduction about the early recording industry, and this is the best discussion of the acoustic recording era in any book.

Following the long intro are DETAILED encyclopedic articles (organized alphabetically): 100 artists with separate entries in the book include the American Quartet, Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Cal Stewart (Uncle Josh), Nat Wills, Steve Porter, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (other "jass" bands of 1917 covered, too), Paul Whiteman, George J. Gaskin, Carl Fenton, Sam Ash, Aileen Stanley, Henry Burr, the Peerless Quartet, Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, the duo Collins and Harlan (separate entry--new info!), S. H. Dudley, Al Bernard, Edward M. Favor, Rudy Wiedoeft, Sousa, Walter B. Rogers, Vess L. Ossman, Sam Lanin, Bert Williams, Frisco Jazz Band, Olive Kline, J. W. Myers, Ben Selvin, the Green Brothers, Haydn Quartet (the quartet that sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for Victor), Marion Harris, Arthur Fields, Irving Kaufman, Will F. Denny, Frank C. Stanley, Nat Shilkret, Frank Ferera (did his wife and fellow recording artist Helen Louise die of foul play? she vanished during a ship voyage in 1919!), James Reese Europe (Jim Europe), Victor Military Band, Victor Light Opera Company, Werrenrath, Shannon Four (Revelers), Richard Jose...many more!

Cal Stuart Rare info here from descendants of the artists, from old letters sent to historian Jim Walsh (some never published by Walsh), from rare primary sources like birth & death certificates, from archives!

It ends with a bibliography. The book is carefully documented--all my sources, including the most obscure, are cited. Rare sources were used--trade journals like TALKING MACHINE WORLD, memos from the Edison, Victor, Zon-O-Phone, U-S Everlasting, and Columbia record companies, etc. There is also a detailed index of the book's contents so you can look up specific songs, record companies, and singers.

This is the ONLY book that covers artists who, from the 1890s to the mid-1920s, made records of music that was "popular" in nature, as opposed to records of operatic arias, symphonic works, or concert pieces. A pre-electric method for recording was used, with musicians performing into a horn, not a microphone.

Ada Jones

This encyclopedia covers American artists who recorded Tin Pan Alley numbers, Broadway show tunes, ragtime, "coon" songs, novelty numbers, quartet arrangements, parlor ballads, early jazz (sometimes called "jass"), blues, dance music, hymns, and early country.

This book makes a distinction between stage personalities who happened to make some recordings--when they found time in their busy schedules--and artists who made their living largely by recording regularly, perhaps finding a little time on the side for theatrical performances, vaudeville, or concert recitals.

Few stars of the stage made records regularly, exceptions being Bert Williams, Nora Bayes, and Al Jolson--even their output is minuscule compared with that of Henry Burr, Harry Macdonough, Lewis James, Vernon Dalhart, Irving Kaufman, and others who, for a long time, earned a living by recording. Over 100 of these kinds of artists covered in detail, with info available nowhere else! This book has a GREAT INDEX if you want to look up specific records/songs.

Popular American Recording Pioneers Book
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Phonographica: The Early History of Recorded Sound Observed

A book of great interest to phonograph collectors is titled Phonographica: The Early History of Recorded Sound Observed. It is the latest by experts Tim Fabrizio and George F. Paul. I love this volume of 224 informative pages! Gorgeous color photographs, solid binding (hardcover), quality paper, elegant prose, stunning images--this book has it all! Every year these two guys produce yet another volume. How do they manage it? This is the book all phonograph collectors must own!

Phonographica is a top-quality work issued by the prestigious publisher Schiffer (ISBN 0-7643-1985-X). This book is coffee-table size (nearly 9 by 12 inches), with color photographs of gorgeous machines on virtually every one of its 224 pages. Photographs are stunning because (as is the case with all of the Fabrizio-Paul book) high quality glossy paper is used.

See below for a review of the new book ANTIQUE PHONOGRAPH ADVERTISING: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY by Tim Fabrizio and George Paul!


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The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium.

Two of the best books about the hobby have been published recently. One is called The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium.

You can probably find a copy in a local bookstore and view it for yourself (the publisher, Schiffer, is good about getting copies into stores -- ISBN #0-7643-0241-8), which is not true for most other books mentioned here.

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Antique Phonograph Gadgets, Gizmos & Gimmicks

The other book is Antique Phonograph Gadgets, Gizmos and Gimmicks (ISBN #0-7643-0733-9. I'll discuss it in some detail here to help get the word out that the book needs to be on the shelves of anyone interested in the miscellaneous items that help make collecting fun. The books are by co-authors Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul, who are recognized authorities in the field. They were educating themselves about rare machines in the days when such machines could be bought (a few decades ago--not the 1990s!). Now they are publishing what they know, and the collecting community is the beneficiary. The Compendium features gorgeous color photos of various makes of machines (mostly rare machines--I wish one museum had so many rare machines!) and the text explains how talking machines evolved.

Victor V

Antique Phonograph Gadgets, Gizmos & Gimmicks is the kind of book that I wish had been around when I started collecting in the early 1980s. It would have given me at an early stage in my collecting years a full picture of what is "out there." It also makes me wish I had picked up certain items when I had the one chance long ago. Now, seeing some items again (in photographs), I ask myself, "Why, oh, why didn't I buy this thing and that thing when I had the chance back in 1986?"

With a list price of $49.95, the book is 228 pages (large size format--this is no small book!) with color photographs on each page although towards the back of the book rare photographs from early in the twentieth century are duplicated, and these are the original black and white. Never before has a book duplicated so many charming old photographs related to talking machines. We see kids listening to machines, shops crammed with machines, the outside facades of phonograph shops, even a machine in a canoe.

This book includes wonderful photographs of Bettini cylinder boxes, various soundboxes, rare and unusual needle tins and envelopes, fibre needle cutters, automatic brake mechanisms, specially constructed record cabinets...the list goes on. Name some kind of phonograph accessory and you'll find it here. The text that accompanies each illustration is thoughtful, the facts accurate. The price guide is helpful. Citing prices for hard-to-find items is tricky, but this does as good a job at citing prices as a book can.

To buy either one of these books, contact the authors themselves at "phonophan@aol.com" (Tim Fabrizio) or "gpaul2000@aol.com" (George Paul). Ask for a signed copy! Also out is a third book by these two busy authors: Discovering Antique Phonographs, which I review in another article on my homepage. What does it tell you that the publisher has issued yet another volume by Fabrizio and Paul, a third book in three years? It means they do quality work. This third one may be best one.

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Look For The Dog

The guide to Victor horn machines and Victrolas is Robert Baumbach's Look for the Dog. He revises this book periodically, so it gets better and better.

I'm looking now at my copy of the sixth printing (1999), which is 326 pages. I like the title Look for the Dog. I use this same phrase to non-collectors who happen to own a machine (usually passed on by some family member). These non-collectors sometimes phone and ask me if the machine in their home is a good one. I catch myself saying, "Look for the Victor trademark. Look for the famous drawing of the dog listening to a horn machine. If you find a dog in the trademark, you've got a Victor product. My favorite machines!" Baumbach's Victrola bible is a bargain at $19.95 or so--softback only.

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Columbia Phonograph Companion, Volume I and II

Baumbach issued a splendid Columbia Phonograph Companion, Volume II (can a Columbia machine be a "phonograph" given the company's reluctance to use that particular word for its machines?). Koenigsberg sells it for $29.95 postpaid. It is a wonderful hardback book that covers Columbia disc machines. Also available is Columbia Phonograph Companion, Volume I, by Howard Hazelcorn. It covers Columbia cylinder machines.

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Edison Blue Amberol Recordings: 1912-1914

Collectors of Blue Amberols need to own the book titled Edison Blue Amberol Recordings: 1912-1914, recently re-published. It mostly duplicates the rare paper slips, or "four-page folders," included with early Blue Amberols.

The cylinder slips were eliminated as a cost cutting measure in 1914. The book's compiler, Edison authority Ron Dethlefson, provides a wonderful service to collectors by making so many of them available again today in his book. The slips are full of information about the old songs and recording artists.

The book also gives fascinating details about how Blue Amberols were made. Release dates are cited. The book is packed with wonderful information! Dethlefson's explanatory text is excellent.

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Blue Amberol Companion

Dethlefson has also published a fine Blue Amberol "Companion" edition. Blue Amberol enthusiasts will want this also. You get 54 pages of record slips, catalog listings, information about Italian and Mexican Amberols, facts about eight-minute Amberols, and record production photos--all for $10.95, postpaid. This information is not in Dethlefson's other two Blue Amberol books--and, believe me, you want the complete set!

Contact the book's author/compiler:

Ron Dethlefson
3605 Christmas Tree Lane
Bakersfield CA 93306

Or phone him at (661) 872-1530.

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Edison Blue Amberol Recordings (1915-1929)

Ron has also revised his second volume of Edison Blue Amberol Recordings (1915-1929). This is a huge book (512 pages) and incredibly useful, with great illustrations!

The first edition, in hardcover, was considered a "holy grail" among collectors for decades because it was so well-done yet rare. I'm glad the book is available again (in softcover) to all collectors! He sells it for $49.95 plus $4 shipping, so $53.95 postpaid.

All 3 books are available as a set for $90 postpaid.


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Pathe Records and Phonographs in America,1914-1922

Dethlefson has been busy in 1999 and 2000. He co-wrote with George Copeland a definitive history of Pathe talking machines in America, Pathe Records and Phonographs in America, 1914-1922. For the first time, Pathe's activities in America--all the machines, the unusual record production methods, artists featured on Pathe discs--are discussed in detail in a book. Included are many superb visuals of the machines and of Pathe artists. I especially like the one of Wilbur Sweatman on page 72. There is also information about Actuelle and Perfect 78s.  So the book's time line extends past the mid-1920s.

Although the first edition sold out very quickly, I am delighted to announce that Ron and George revised the book, and the 2nd edition of the Pathe book is available. This 2nd edition is an improvement over the 1st due to information that has recently seen the light of day.

Collectors sent new information to the two authors after the 1st edition was published! The two authors ended up with 168 pages, sandwiched between splendid illustrated end papers.  What's new in this 2nd edition? There are 40 pages of new or revised material, including three new color pages. The book will delight collectors who missed the first edition. In fact, many advanced collectors will want the 2nd edition in addition to the 1st edition. The book is $40, plus $3.50 postage.

To get your copy, write to Ron Dethlefson, 3605 Christmas Tree Lane, Bakersfield CA 93306. Ron has a packet of the new or revised material available for those collectors who only want to update their copies of the first edition.  The packet of 40 pages is $18 postpaid.

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The Compleat Talking Machine

The best book about fixing machines is Eric Reiss' The Compleat Talking Machine. Photographs are good, information is accurate, his tips are sensible (well, I do not urge collectors to use glass styli, as Reiss does--glass can chip and ruin old cylinders), "extras" are given in fun appendices.

An expanded third edition is now available.



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The Collector's Guide to Victor Records

Want to know more about your Victor labels? Search hard for a copy of Mike Sherman's The Collector's Guide to Victor Records. I promised not to talk about out of print books but I think this will be reprinted eventually, so I'll say something about the book here. Well-illustrated, it defines all significant variations in Victor labels and cites dates for subtle changes. This helps us determine when most of our Victor discs were pressed, even what they originally cost. You'll learn when Victor announced its first double-sided discs (October 1908) and when purple labels were used for certain celebrities (1911-1921). You'll learn terms for different Victor labels, like "pre-dog" and "5-line patents label" (as opposed to 3 lines after 1910). You'll learn that on Victor's "wing" label from 1917 to mid-1918, a price appears to the left of the spindle hole. That price disappeared in May 1918 when ten-inch popular discs went up to 85 cents (if you find a sticker here saying 85 cents, you can bet the record is from mid-1918). Columbia, incidentally, continued to put prices on labels until mid-1920, stopping the practice shortly after the records went from 85 cents to a dollar.

There may be one change in the "wing" label that Sherman does not cover (by the way, he implies the wing label was introduced in January 1914 but I believe it was May or June 1914). For most wing label records issued from April to October in 1926 Victor had nothing to the left of the spindle hold--it was the last or next-to-last of the wing types. I mean when Victor dropped the slogan "For best results use Victrola Tungs-tone Needles" but before it went to the scroll (here is a complication: Victor added "Orthophonic" to the left of the hole on some wing labels, especially around 20044-45!). Victor dropped the plug for Tungs-tone Needles around 19989 though I have a Jan Garber record (19661) that does not mention Tungs-tone Needles. The Garber seems to be atypical. Anyway, Victor had a wing label during its Orthophonic era with the label having no information on the left of the spindle hole--roughly from 19989 to 20100, after which Victor went to the scroll (of course, you'll find earlier numbers than 20100 on the scroll label, but these are examples of Victor providing a scroll label to Orthophonic records originally issued on a wing label). It is strange how Victor added "Orthophonic" briefly and erratically to some wing labels. There is no meaningful pattern.

Sherman provides dates that are accurate, but one that should be changed. On page 56 he shows Victor 19964, which has the Tungs-tone slogan on the left of the spindle hole, and he says the slogan was "ca. 1925-1926" but it was added to labels in early 1924. When the Oakland plant began pressing records in May 1924, those early records had the slogan to the left.

Sherman and Kurt Nauck have recently published a guide to Columbia labels. Since they are planning to revise it in the future, I might as well mention here where the text could be more precise with dates. Consider records shown on page 20: Figure III.A.1 is from 1903, not "ca. 1904," and Figure III.A.2 is from 1904, not "ca. 1904-05" since Columbia was using a different label by early 1905. See Figure III.B.1 for an example of a label used by early 1905--the song on the label is "A Little Boy Called Taps," cut by tenor Byron G. Harlan in late 1904.

I am sorry that Sherman and Nauck show mere halves of labels on page 28 and 29 since this prevents us from reading the prices on the labels. I have memorized when prices for ten-inch popular Columbia discs changed in this period--from 75 cents (standard in 1917) to 85 cents around August 1918 (my copy of A2545, issued in July, states 75 cents, and there is no sticker placed over it saying 85 cents) to a dollar in mid-1920, soon after which (in October?) Columbia stopped citing prices on labels (the price dropped down to 85 cents again in April 1921, when Columbia began having tough times). These prices are important to the labels and the authors should talk about price changes on the labels. At the top of page 29 the authors state that Columbia dropped the "Note the Notes" phrase "after ...[a] relatively brief interval." I think this can be pinpointed: "Note the Notes" was used from December 1916 (during this month Columbia had the unusual transitional label shown on page 28) to late July or early August 1917 (A2241, issued in July, has the logo, whereas no copies of the ODBJ's A2297, issued on August 10, seem to have the logo). I am surprised that the authors claim "March 1921" as the date for Columbia introducing the phrase "Exclusive Artist" on labels. The trade journal Talking Machine World, an excellent primary source, indicates that Columbia made this change to its labels in late April or early May (see page 18 of the May issue). But it is a fine book and I recommend it. Allen Koenigsberg sells it.

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American Record Labels and Companies: An Encyclopedia (1891-1943)

What about other companies that made 78s? Pathe, Flexo, Romeo? If a book covering just Victor 78s or just Edison discs is too specialized, then get American Record Labels and Companies: An Encyclopedia (1891-1943), by Allan Sutton and Kurt Nauck.

This hardcover book (417 pages) was published in mid-2000 by Mainspring Press. Inside the book is a pocket containing a CD-Rom with over 1000 full-color label images.

The book covers over 420 U.S. record labels, giving information in a convenient A-to-Z format. It covers the first half of the 20th century, giving details about U.S. record labels and record companies. Obscure labels and common--they are here! Excellent use of primary sources, great documentation, a wonderful index!


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Columbia Master Book

I alluded earlier to the Columbia Master Book. This is a four volume set though you may buy individual volumes. Volume I was compiled by Tim Brooks. This covers ten-inch discs issued by Columbia from 1901 to 1910. Volumes II (1910 to 1924) and III (1924-1934) are credited to Brian Rust, the world-famous discographer. Volume IV covers twelve-inch discs and is credited to Brooks and Rust. The set goes for $395. All books published by Greenwood Press (800-225-5800) are expensive. The publisher's attitude seems to be this: "We are publishing specialized information, and not many copies are going to sell, so we charge a lot for the handful of copies we do sell." Obviously more people would buy the books if the prices were reasonable. I wish the folks at the publishing house understood that simple point! But I suppose they know what they are doing.

Columbia

Although the set was well-done, friends have informed me about missing titles. For example, matrix 4168 is "untraced," according to Volume I, but this is "Heintz is Pickled Again," sung by Bob Roberts. It was never issued commercially. The one existing copy has a blank label though you can read some information underneath the label. It is single-sided, which is unusual for something that should have been issued around November-December 1909. My friend Dave Rocco, who knows more about early Victor, Zon-o-phone, Berliner, and Columbia discs than anyone on the planet, owns the one known copy.

Some friends have asked for my views on the new four-volume Columbia Master Book, by Tim Brooks and Brian Rust. It is a superb set of books. I am slowly working my way through each volume, having spent the most time so far with Volume I, credited to Brooks. I learn something new each time I open this! Page 429 surprised me by reporting that George J. Gaskin made a trial or personal record on November 30, 1917, which was around the time he attempted a comeback, making records for other companies. Was it a trial record or a personal record? We do not know. Surviving logs do not say. But it seems that Gaskin was not guaranteed a commercial recording session when he approached Columbia with his plan for a comeback. From around 1895 to 1903, Gaskin had earned as much money for Columbia as any artist of that time. I wonder if company executives in 1917 failed to appreciate Gaskin's value to the company in earlier times? By 1917, A. E. Dovovan was in charge of Columbia's recording sessions, which I learned from a 1916 issue of Talking Machine World.

These are wonderful books, a stunning discographic achievement, the best books about old recordings to be published in 1999. It is as perfect as any project like this can be. I'll toss out some random thoughts along with a few bits of info not found in the Columbia set.

For folks who like to pencil in information, please note that on at least some pressings of Climax 53, "When the Harvest Days are Over," Harry Macdonough is the singer. I remember this much but I would have to go through my discs to say whether this is true for 7 inchers or 10 inchers, or both (the tenor's real name was John S. Macdonald); Columbia 688-take 8, "As Your Hair Grows Whiter," likewise has no artist shown but this is Gaskin on at least some pressings; Columbia 841-take 2, "The Duty of a Wife," is sung by Edward M. Favor, and I suspect that other takes of this are by Favor since he seems to have had a monopoly on "The Duty of a Wife" (that reminds me that a descendant of Favor informs me that the singer's middle initial, the "M.," was adopted specially for his professional name--the Favor family bible establishes that his real name was Edward Addison Favor!).

Tim Brooks repeats Jim Walsh's guess that "Miss M. Mayew" might have been a pseudonym for Elise Stevenson, but Bill Bryant had once phoned Quentin Riggs to report his discovery of the name "Miss Merle Mayew" in some Columbia literature. Riggs compared the voices of Mayew and Merle Tillotson--a perfect match! I know Quentin well enough to trust his judgment on this (if you recognize the name Quentin Riggs, it may be because of Jim Walsh's articles in Hobbies magazine) though I can also understand why the information did not make its way into the discography. It was a great loss to the record-collecting community when Bryant, a superb researcher, died suddenly in 1995.

I doubt that Steve Porter played the chimes on numbers 438 though 447, as stated in the Columbia book. If Porter had been a skilled chimes player, I am sure that Jim Walsh would have been told as much by the folks who had known this man nicknamed "the silent baritone." Porter was a vocalist, and if his name appears on these records, it must be to identify him as a singer, not a chimes player. Charles P. Lowe usually played chimes for Columbia around this time.

Having studied Volume I, my friend Dave Rocco informs me that he has filled in a handful of gaps. Dave loves this era, so it did not surprise me that he was able to come up with some bits for me to add in pencil to my books. (Dave asked me, "Why didn't Tim Brooks ask other collectors for help in identifying who is on early Columbia discs?" I replied, "He did--in ARSC Journal." Dave replied, "What's that? I never heard of it." Sadly, no journal or society connects all collectors everywhere.)

The Columbia books are great, and I am grateful that they have been published.

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Antique Phonograph Accessories and Contraptions

The best phonograph book of 2003 is Antique Phonograph Accessories and Contraptions by Tim Fabrizio and George Paul. This is another top-quality work issued by the prestigious publisher Schiffer (ISBN 0-7643-1763-6).

Flowers delicately painted on talking machine horns brighten pages in the early chapter devoted to horns (the chapter is titled "Horn and Horn Accessories"). The wood grain on cabinets in Chapter Four (titled "Cabinets and Storage") is visible! Even the teeth on tiny motor gears are clearly defined!

The book examines horns, cylinder machine gadgets, disc machine gadgets, cabinets, and much more. Lithographed cards, rare cylinder boxes, instructions for listening tube devices, needle tins, Lambert celluloid cylinders of 1900, floating reproducers, a Victor key (with Nipper) made for a cabinet, a Victor horn still packed in its original crate, a Hawthorne & Sheble needle tray, an HMV "Instantaneous Speed Tester," a Sonora record cleaner, record brushes for cylinder phonographs, the "Edephone" attachment allowing for Diamond Discs to be played on Victor machines--that list hints at the variety of items examined, discussed, even assessed (value codes are cited after each of the informative captions).

I like the variety of visuals on each page. For example, page 193 includes three photographs, with two of wonderfully preserved record cabinets but the third of rare literature, in this case a "Classified Cylinder Record Index" issued by the Herzog company of Saginaw, Michigan. Page 168 shows sheet music of a song titled "If I Were a Big Victrola and You a Little Talking Machine."

I like the Talking Book Corporation items duplicated on page 111 through 113--the parrot, frog, fox, and elephant. I like the discussion of Berliner discs on page 121--solid captions for photographs that are remarkable!

Now I'll discuss some of Tim Fabrizio and George Paul's phonograph-related books issued before Antique Phonograph Accessories and Contraptions, which is the sixth one.

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Antique Phonograph Advertising: An Illustrated History

Among my favorite Fabrizio-Paul volumes is ANTIQUE PHONOGRAPH ADVERTISING: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY. Issued by Schiffer, this has glorious photos and even a price guide. The illustrations are breath-taking: Berliner discs, rare ads in old journals, talking machine postcards, posters, talking dolls, Peter Bacigalupi cylinder boxes, Bettini catalog covers, Peter Bacigalupi oil bottles, phonograph handbooks, Nipper items, the cover to a 1902 Leeds & Catlin catalog, Zonophone (Zon-o-phone) posters, a rare pennant, porcelain enamel signs, advertising slides used in theaters, Victrola manuals, advertising placards, cast metal stands featuring Nipper, dealer posters, Edison flyers, Leeds & Catlin chinaware, Valentine's Day cards with prices of Columbia discs and cylinders, record sleeves, plaster Nippers, record supplements issued by major and minor companies, Music-Master Wood Horn advertisements, stuffed Nippers, rare record labels. Just amazing!

I admire the Glossary, which covers such terms as Amberol, lateral recording, repeating attachment, feedscrew, mandrel, trunnion, vertical recording, and two dozen other phrases used routinely by phonograph collectors.

The text is superb. I refer to essays at the opening of chapters and informative, detailed captions to the hundreds of color photos.

It is 240 pages, coffee-table size. I actually like the SMELL given by the glossy, thick paper used in these Schiffer books. It is the best book on phonographs since--well, since the last book put together by Fabrizio and Paul! Keep 'em coming, fellas!

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Phonographs With Flair: A Century of Style in Sound Reproduction

I'll back up and discuss the various phonograph books put together by Tim Fabrizio and George Paul. There are five books now--all issued by the prestigious publishing company Schiffer!

Phonographs With Flair: A Century of Style in Sound Reproduction is the 4th in the series, and it is superb. It has high-quality phonographs on glossy, thick paper--rare and mint machines from our past! This book covers, as the apt subtitle indicates, decades of style "in sound reproduction." Want to order it? Later on this page (and elsewhere on my homepage) I provide links to Tim Fabrizio and George Paul, enabling you to contact the book's authors for a signed copy.

A noteworthy feature of this book is that it covers just about every decade equally up to the 1970s. If you mainly collect talking machines from the acoustic era, you'll be content by the many pages devoted just to those type of machines, and the bonus is that this new book covers distinctive "modern" machines of the WWII era and a little beyond. Some machines of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s are as lovely and quaint in their own ways as the cylinder horn machines of nearly a century ago.

In early March, a group of California phonograph collectors gathered at Tom Hawthorn's home in Roseville--guests included Edison expert Ron Dethlefson, researcher R. J. Wakeman, collector Mel Alcorn, researcher Cliff Kennedy, soundbox expert Jeff Lutton, several others--and this book was a hot topic of conversation at that meeting. Tom himself has a copy, R. J. Wakeman had received his copy in the mail, and I had brought to the meeting my own copy. Everyone had a good time turning pages and pointing at details in these wonderful photographs! The text is extremely well-written, with captions being informative and the historical chapters being authoritative. Bravo to Paul and Fabrizio for another winner! ISBN 0-7643-1281-2. 192 large-size pages, hardcover.

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Discovering Antique Phonographs, 1877-1929

Let me repeat: Timothy C. Fabrizio and George Paul have produced several outstanding books. Let's consider the impressive Discovering Antique Phonographs, 1877-1929 (ISBN 0-7643-1048-8), published in early 2000 by Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen PA 19310 (schifferbk@aol.com).

It is the third book in a series of large volumes credited to these two phonograph historians, Fabrizio and Paul. (The first was The Talking Machine, an Illustrated Compendium (1997). The second was Antique Phonograph Gadgets, Gizmos and Gimmicks (1999).)

I'll say a bit more about this third volume. There are five chapters. The first covers the industry's infancy (1877-1893)--it was by no means certain that an industry would exist since these were perilous times, with even the North American Phonograph Company going into bankruptcy after the Panic of 1893. I love the photograph on page 22 of a box holding over two dozen cream-colored wax cylinders--perhaps your sole chance to see these one-of-a-kind items! Superb discussion of Augustus Stroh!

The second chapter covers 1894-1903, with a good examination of Columbia and Emile Berliner. Next is a chapter covering 1904-1911, which includes a discussion of what was happening in Europe. Chapter Four covers 1912-1919, which opens with a "Brief History of the Theory Behind C. B. Repp's Vitaphone." In this chapter we find many examples of cabinet machines, the kind still found in antiques shops today. Chapter Five covers the 1920s, with a good discussion of how radio threatened the talking machine industry (the title of one section in this chapter is "A Menace in the Air"). You might think that the Roaring Twenties had a personality of its own, with all the new products and new technology--the Peter Pan and Cameraphone, the Orthophonic models, the Viva-Tonal models, Brunswick's Panatrope, radio in the home! To an extent, it did, but the authors point out on page 208 that the Victor V with an outside horn made of mahogany was still being marketed in the 1920s! That is something we too easily forget when we think of talking machine of the 1920s.

All books by Fabrizio and Paul are superb. Which book is the best? I am unable to pick. This is not a case of two authors running out of steam or scraping any barrel for new material. Just the opposite: it is almost as if the first two books gave the two historians the practice they needed to compile perfect books when they did the third and fourth.

Their recent texts have none of the typos or grammatical boo-boos that are too common in books about phonographs. The text of each Fabrizio and Paul book is solid, interesting, often colorful and amusing. The treatment of machines, from rare to common, from early to relatively late, seems just about right, even-handed, fair.

The authors are very good about giving credit to those whose machines are featured in the superb photographs, and I notice some names in the third book that were not in previous volumes. They include Domenic DiBernardo, David Werchen, Sam Sheena, Michael Sims, Steve and Theresa Sposato, Michael and Suzanne Raisman. Is this a case of some advanced collectors contacting the authors, for the first time, after the earlier volumes had been published? That would help account for so much in this book that is new, fresh, unusual. I can hear, in my mind, some phone calls that must have been placed to the authors by some old-time collectors: "I read your two books--why don't you come visit me if you want to REALLY see something? Bring your camera!" As I earlier implied, the authors do not, in this third volume, cover ground that had been covered before. If you are a newbie who wants to sample one of the three books by Fabrizio and Paul, you should not necessarily start with the first one from 1997. This third volume is as good as any to start with, and the fourth book is also fantastic.

Will there be additional volumes? I do not doubt that Fabrizio and Paul have enough information and photographs to keep the series going for several more volumes. I suppose everything depends on sales of the published volumes. So, collectors everywhere, do your part by buying at least one of the four that have been published!

(I may eventually share here some of my marginalia, or comments I've added to the margins of my copies of the books. For example, the authors do not give a date for the two Rex records shown on page 168, but the later record must be from late 1916 since the song here, "The Trail to Sunset Valley," was recorded for other companies in mid-October 1916. That does not mean the authors are vague about dates. On the contrary, I learned much because many dates are cited. For example, page 167 quotes the February 1914 issue of the trade journal Talking Machine World to establish that the Rex Talking Machine Corporation had been formed by this time. The Rex company evolved from the earlier Keen-O-Phone Company.)

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American Record Labels and Companies

Another outstanding book on my shelves is American Record Labels and Companies: An Encyclopedia (1891-1943) by Allan Sutton and Kurt Nauck.

This hardcover book, which is thick (417 pages!), was published by Mainspring Press. Inside the book is a pocket containing a CD-Rom with over 1000 full-color label images, a real bonus! The book covers over 420 U.S. record labels, giving information in a convenient A-to-Z format.

It covers the first half of the 20th century, giving superb details about U.S. record labels and record companies. Obscure labels and common--they are all here! Excellent use of primary source, great documentation, a wonderful index--a superb book in every way! To order, take the link from my homepage to Allan Sutton's homepage or to Kurt Nauck's homepage.

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Brian Rust's discographies

I should not list here books that are out of print. After all, you are probably reading this to figure out what books might be nice to own. Little would be accomplished if I were to list elusive books. But I must make an exception for Brian Rust's various discographies since these are essential for serious collectors of 78s. You won't find these in used bookstores--usually it is a case of a collector dying and the books coming up for sale on ebay (the jazz and dance band sets usually sell for a few hundred dollars). Seek the Jazz Records set, the Dance Band set, and The Complete Entertainment Discography.

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Uncle Josh's Punkin Centre Stories


One of the most interesting publishing projects going on is by the "gutenberg" people, who are posting on the Internet all kinds of out-of-print book. Virtually none are music-related, but Cal Stewart's 1904 book titled Uncle Josh's Punkin Centre Stories is online, the entire text! The book itself is nearly 200 pages, and you would have to pay close to $100 if you wanted to buy an original copy (that is, if you could even find a copy). For free, you can read all of those Uncle Josh monologues!

Go to ftp://sailor.gutenberg.org/pub/gutenberg/etext97/ncjsh10.txt for the Uncle Josh monologues. Why, you may ask. would anyone want to consult the text of the monologues if one already has some of the original Uncle Josh discs and cylinders? Because it is nice to check on what Stewart actually says on those records, which often have pops or clicks. I own a copy of this rare book, and I've duplicated pages in my Companion to the Encyclopedia of Popular American Recording Pioneers since I like the original illustrations, which are not duplicated by the "gutenberg" folks. We must assume these drawings of Uncle Josh had been approved by Cal Stewart himself, author of the book. The monologues themselves are so faithful to the original recordings that I would not be surprised if Stewart himself relied on a copy of this book when re-recording the monologues in later years (that is, cutting new takes). Anyway, if you want to know how Stewart envisioned Josh, study the drawings!

I'm also delighted to find sheet music at my fingertips, via the internet.

Go to http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/advancedsearch.html and do a search on names of favorite songs, composers, artists--this is a wonderful reference tool!

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Little Wonder Book


A book by Tim Brooks titled Little Wonder Records was recently published by the New Amberola Graphic Phonograph Company. I have lots to say about this fine 95-page book. Given its small subject matter--Little Wonder discs measure only five and a half inches, the size of a modern CD--this seems to me to be a big book. It is more detailed than I had thought possible for any history of the Little Wonder Record Company, which was begun by Henry Waterson in late 1914. No primary sources such as Little Wonder contracts or recording logs are known to exist. That nearly 1,300 Little Wonder titles have been identified, out of 1,800 numbers that constitute Columbia's matrix series for small discs, is remarkable.

I should first point out that Little Wonder discs are not truly important. No individual discs had any real impact. It's surreal to imagine a Victor or Emerson company executive saying, "Hey, we must cover this song--Little Wonder covered it already, and it is a smash hit!!" (This kind of scenario happended later with Sun Records and other little companies making a big splash.) Perhaps only two or three Little Wonder performances have been reissued on compact disc. "Back to the Carolina You Love," sung by Al Jolson, is not on any commericially-issued CD, as far as I know. But these small records deserve the full treatment given in this book.

The Little Wonder phenomenon, an anomaly in the industry, was interesting, even if performances themselves are usually ho-hum. If you study what was issued on these discs, you will learn much about popular music of this era. Though I said the discs are not truly important, the Little Wonder Company was arguably influential in that other new record companies in the World War I era--Emerson, Paroquette, Domestic--followed Waterson's example by issuing small diameter discs.

This book is by Tim Brooks, who may be uniquely qualified to tackle this topic since he had compiled, with Brian Rust, the monumental Columbia Master Book. Little Wonder and the American Graphophone Company--maker of Columbia discs--were closely connected, with the large company providing masters, patents protection, and pressings for Waterson's enterprise. It seems that by 1918 Columbia had completely taken over, Waterson no longer involved.

Brooks establishes in an Introduction that his book has a complex history, with many researchers in a Little Wonder Research Consortium deserving credit for information. George Blacker and William R. Bryant, both deceased, are singled out for their efforts.

The opening essay--"Ever Wonder About Little Wonder?"--reports what is known about the company, with key sources being the trade journals Talking Machine World and Music Trade Review, advertisements, and records themselves. I wish more had been said about the man who founded the company. David A. Jasen and Gene Jones summarize Waterson's history as a music publisher in That American Rag (New York: Schirmer Books, 2000), stating on page 291 that Waterson by 1908 was "middle-aged and practically deaf." Moreover, he was "a sometime diamond merchant and full-time gambler." Jasen and Jones provide no sources (I deplore the way these authors fail to indicate where they get their information!), but Laurence Bergreen's As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (New York: Viking, 1990) also states that Waterson had a weakness for gambling, specifically at the racetrack. That he was a gambler rings true, if only because of his Little Wonder enterprise. That he was nearly deaf is more interesting, given his ventures involving music!

Other sections in the book include a Label Designs page, a Little Wonder Release Dates page, a User's Guide, a discography of over 60 pages (no recording dates are known--titles are listed numerically), a Title Index, and an Artist Index. This is well-organized!

Not enough information exists for anyone to answer lingering questions about Little Wonder records. For example, I am mystified by the way "Jolly Coppersmith" on Little Wonder 22 pops up more often than most titles (Brooks suggests on page 22 that "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary" on Little Wonder 56 was the company's best-seller). One collector of Little Wonders joked to me that she may re-shingle her roof with duplicate copies of "Jolly Coppersmith." I have duplicates in my own collection and see more copies of "Coppersmith" on ebay than other Little Wonders. The composition, first published in 1886 in New York and credited to V. Peters (a pseudonym for one Heinrich Mannfred), had been cut by various military bands by the early years of the century. As Jim Walsh reported in the March 1978 issue of Hobbies, Fred Hager once recalled that "Jolly Coppersmith" was covered often because the ringing of an anvil always rises above the surface noise of early records! It difficult to imagine many record buyers requesting copies of this chestnut as late as 1915. I suspect Little Wonder 22 was pushed by the company, perhaps even given away for promotional purposes--the anvil does ring brilliantly.

Another mystery is that Ada Jones, who made records for most minor companies of the World War I period, is missing from this company's roster. Of course, we do not know who is on all Little Wonders, so perhaps Jones is on some, but it is clear that she was not regularly featured on the small discs. Only a handful of female vocals are identified as being on Little Wonders--Elida Morris, the Farber Sisters, and the obscure Rhoda Bernard. How do we know it is Bernard's voice? Brooks states on page 2 that hers is among the voices that are "fairly unmistakable." I might take his word for it since I have never heard a Bernard record, but Brooks confuses me by adding on page 12 that "several Yiddish comedy selections numbered in the 360's are by a female vocalist who may be Rhoda Bernard." If her voice is unmistakable, why the verb "may" here?

What seems to be, at first glance, a strength of the book--that so many artists on Little Wonder discs are identified (the discs themselves use generic terms such as "tenor" or "band")--will be a source of frustration for some. Brooks himself says in his Introduction, "Least certain are the artist attributions. These are almost always aural identifications by Blacker, Bryant, [Martin] Bryan or another collector...Collectors are often very sure of themselves when identifying a voice or orchestra, but that does not mean they are right...[A]ural identification of voices on record is often the road to insanity." Brooks urges readers to regard identifications as merely "probable." I agree that nobody should cite any identification from the book as gospel truth.

Consider the case of Gene Greene, listed as the artist for "From Here to Shanghai." I have not heard the Little Wonder record, but Greene (one of my favorite pioneers!) would be the natural choice for singing this in the studio since he sang it for Victor on January 30, 1917. Presumably Greene is listed here as the artist not because he is the logical candidate but because someone actually listened to the disc and recognized the voice, which is indeed distinctive.

A question mark is added to some names, which complicates matters. For "King of the Bungaloos," which was Greene's signature tune, we have "Gene Greene?" Has someone heard the record but is unsure this is Greene's voice? Or does the question mark mean that nobody in the Little Wonder Consortium has heard it, that it is just an educated guess?

Sometimes two question marks follow names. An example is "Shannon Four??" for Little Wonder 942 and 945, which suggests that Brooks has little confidence that this is really the Shannon Four. Should identification be made at all if one must add "??"? The book's User's Guide fails to explain how "??" differs from "?"

I believe most identifications are on target. I listened to my own Little Wonders discs that feature distinctive voices (these include Henry Burr, Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan, Arthur Fields), and distinctive voices on my records do match the names cited in the book. But I am not so certain about voices identified in the book as belonging to Sam Ash, Howard Marsh, Benny Davis, and Lewis James--their voices were less distinctive than, say, the voice of Collins. Is that really Maurice Burkhart on several Little Wonders? I had believed that the recording career of this tenor-songwriter ended with his final Columbia session on January 10, 1913, or with some Diamond Discs made around this time. I am suspicious about Little Wonders credited to him. If it is Burkhart, this songwriter must have returned to the studio as a favor to Waterson.

That is all readers can do--listen to the discs and decide for themselves if identified artists are truly the artists on the records. A few identifications are truly suspect. Consider the case of Henry Burr being identified as the tenor on "April Showers" (1570), a song from 1921. Burr had signed a contract making him exclusive to the Victor Talking Machine Company beginning in November 1920 and lasting several years. I have not heard Little Wonder 1570, so I cannot say who the tenor may be, but Burr in 1921 would not have violated a Victor contract to make a Little Wonder disc! Incidentally, I wonder if Burr was close to Waterson. Burr made more Little Wonders than any other singer (he is the solo artist on the first disc, "Ben Bolt," and is in many duets, trios, and quartets); moreover, in 1927 a color photograph of Burr was published on the cover of "The Daughter of Sweet Adeline," with words by Al Dubin and Willie Raskin, music by Ted Snyder. The sheet music was published by Henry Waterson Inc. It is the only known instance of Burr's photograph on sheet music.

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Bing Crosby Biography

I'll end here with thoughts about the new Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years, 1903-1940, by Gary Giddens (Little, Brown and Company, 2001, 728 pp., illustrations, ISBN 0-316-88188-0).

As a collector of 78 rpm discs, I am regularly reminded that Bing Crosby was once a towering figure in the entertainment world. His Decca discs continue to pop up in abundance at estate sales, garage sales, and flea markets. But even Crosby 78s will become scarce in the marketplace within a decade or two, and I have no idea how coming generations will understand in any meaningful way just how popular Crosby was in the twentieth century. They may read that he made more studio recordings than any singer of the century, that his "White Christmas" sold more copies than any other record, and that he scored 368 charted records under his own name between 1927 and 1962. These and other impressive statements about his success on records, in films, and in radio will appear in books. But to touch, hold, perhaps even shove aside thousands of Crosby 78 rpm records while searching for more collectible or elusive shellac discs--well, that's how I know in a tangible way that Crosby was once king of popular music!

Not many books about Crosby are in print.  Not many have been written about him even though he was arguably "Entertainer of the Century."  A definitive biography was not published until this year.  The good news is that this new biography by Gary Giddins does justice to the first half of the entertainer's long career.  The book begins with the story of Crosby's maternal great-grandfather (a farmer, Dennis Harrigan) leaving County Cork, Ireland, for New Brunswick, and Giddins provides wonderful details about Crosby's life and career up to 1940.  A jazz enthusiast, Giddins is especially strong when discussing the singer's debts to "hot" artists.  He has an excellent understanding of the recording industry in the 1930s, discusses Crosby films with expertise, gives proper attention to Crosby as a radio personality, and examines Crosby as a family man.

Bing Crosby

Giddins' coverage of the singer's seminal Brunswick years and the transition to Decca in 1934 is especially strong.  It is refreshing to find so many details about Jack Kapp, founder of the remarkable company.  Giddins provides good analysis of early titles issued by Kapp.  Decca 100--the company's first disc--combined "Just a-Wearyin' for You" and "I Love You Truly," sung by Crosby.  Kapp had suggested that the baritone cut these standards in the belief that Crosby could become "the John McCormack of this generation," as the businessman put it in an August 30, 1934,  letter to the singer (of course, McCormack was still popular in the 1930s).  Incidentally, McCormack never cut these standards penned by Carrie Jacobs-Bond.  Only once before had the two songs appeared on one disc.  Frances Alda covers them admirably on Victor 531, a ten-inch Red Seal disc.  That is interesting because Alda had popularized, first on an acoustically cut disc and later on an electric, "The Bells of St. Mary's," a song from 1921 made popular again in the mid-1940s by a Crosby film and record.

Giddins mentions that "Someday Sweetheart" was chosen for the company's second disc, Decca 101, and identifies this as "a jazz standard said to derive from a Jelly Roll Morton melody."  I should point out that it was a natural selection given Knapp's previous experience with this song.  The trade journal Talking Machine World credited Knapp for making this obscure song into a hit.  Page 94 of the February 1928 issue states, "He is responsible for the enormous popularity of 'Someday Sweetheart,' which he discovered and arranged, after the tune had been definitely consigned to the scrap heap."  King Oliver and His Dixie Syncopators enjoyed success with this song on Vocalion 1059, surely Oliver's best-seller.  Crosby covers Carrie Jacobs-Bond material on the first Decca disc and covers a number associated with King Oliver on the second disc. What a stylistic range!

Giddins usually makes superb use of primary and secondary sources, including Al Rinker's unpublished memoir, interviews with Crosby friends and associates, legal documents (including the death certificate filed with the American embassy in Madrid and dated October 21, 1977), Spokane newspapers, Western Union telegrams, Variety and Billboard, and so on.  I can think of only one recording industry source of the 1920s overlooked by Giddins, the elusive Talking Machine World.  In May 1929, this trade journal included an article titled "Bing Crosby is New Columbia Record Star" (the photograph of Crosby with a moustache is remarkable).  This must be among the earliest references to Crosby as an entertainment "star."  After summarizing the early career, the article announces the release of "My Kinda Love" and "Till We Meet."  It identifies the singer as 24 years old, shaving two years off Crosby's real age.  Giddins establishes May 3, 1903, as the date of birth.

The Giddins book is not perfect.  Consider the appendix titled "Bing Crosby Discography: The Early Years," which merely lists dates, titles, and artists responsible for instrumental or vocal accompaniment.  The word "disc" is key to the term "discography," yet Giddins provides no disc information!  The appendix reports that "I've Got the Girl!" was cut on October 18, 1926, with accompaniment provided by "(Don Clark/Al Rinker)."  Label, record number, matrix?  A discography of the early years--a true discography--would be most welcome at the end of such a book.

Moreover, Giddins cites unreliable secondary sources about the early years of the recording industry (he appears to have little firsthand knowledge of early records).  No author today should rely on Roland Gellatt's The Fabulous Phonograph, but Giddins cites this outdated and superficial book a few times. Worse, he cites Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories: 1890-1954, the infamous work that makes up--yes, fabricates!--chart numbers, "peak positions," and "weeks charted" for discs and cylinders that were popular long before the industry ranked records by sales.  Whitburn's chart positions of these early years enjoy no credibility among those who carefully study recordings of the industry's early decades, and I nearly fell from my chair when I spotted Whitburn's work of fiction in Giddins' footnotes.

Most disappointing is Giddins' tendency to denigrate and mis-characterize singers popular before Crosby.  For example, he states on page 7, "When Crosby came of age, most successful male singers were effeminate tenors and recording artists were encouraged to be bland, the better to sell sheet music."  He says this a few times, but only on page 86 does he partially identify whom he seems to mean by "effeminate" tenors.  He states, "Jolson...reigned during an era when most popular singers--Billy Murray, Nick Lucas, Gene Austin--were tenors, often effeminate or sexually ambiguous." Such adjectives are wrong for these three singers (theirs were not "effeminate" voices, and theirs were not "sexually ambiguous"!). Popular music in the 1920 was far more diverse than such a statement acknowledges.

When putting down singers, Giddins wrongly assumes that he may speak for others.  For example, he states on page 158 that Rudy Vallee "does not speak to us."  Please do not speak for me, Mr. Giddins--I like my Rudy Valle records! He had abused the pronoun "us" earlier, on page 8, when stating that "no recitation of past sales figures can incline us to listen to Billy Murray records."  He slams Murray again on page 116: "The Victrola of 1921 was not much different from that of 1906, nor was popular music, as represented by faceless singers like Billy Murray..."  I find much in Murray 's style that is charming, and I believe that my knowledge of popular music from 1903 to 1920 is more complete because I do listen to Murray records (is Giddins aware of Murray's role in popularizing some George M. Cohan songs?). No historian of popular music can afford to take such a snobbish attitude towards any once-popular artist. That Giddins finds nothing to enjoy in an older, pre-Crosby style of singing is his loss, but he would be wise to hide foolish prejudices.

Notwithstanding weaknesses, this is a very impressive biography.  Giddins does for Crosby what Peter Guralnick did for Elvis Presley in the monumental Last Train to Memphis, issued by the same publisher.  Guralnick completed Presley's story in a second volume, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.  Does Giddins plan to write a second volume to complete Crosby's story?  I hope so.

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Other Books

Manophone

Other books that belong on the shelves of advanced collector include works by Paul Charosh (his Berliner Gramophone Records: American Issues, 1892-1900 will mostly interest folks who own Berliner discs, which are rare), William R. Moran (his books co-written with Ted Fagan cover early Victor recording sessions--a third volume was due for publication years ago but it seems no additional volumes will ever be published), Richard Spottswood (his Ethnic Music on Records is essential if you like ethnic music), Jack Raymond (he covers recordings of show tunes), George Frow, and Ross Laird.

Beginning collectors often ask whether a 78 RPM price guide exists. I address that question in my article about the value of 78s, so I urge novice collectors to see that article on my homepage.

Most of the best books about our hobby are in print. Plenty of books are out of print, but we are not missing much. For example, Roland Gelatt's out-of-print history called The Fabulous Phonograph, published five decades ago, is a mediocre history by today's standards. I never consult my copy and would never quote from it since I know of too many errors in it. Likewise, the second edition of From Tin Foil to Stereo by Oliver Read and Walter L. Welch may have seemed impressive when it was just about the only book on this topic available in the 1970s, but the book is so outdated and problematic (pro-Edison, anti-everything else) that I would never quote from it. People who do quote it discredit themselves as authorities.

Even though machines are getting hard to find and 78s are not as plentiful as in decades past, we are enjoying good times if we consider all the information now available in books! In one small way, I feel sorry for those who were trying to build up collections in the 1960s or so. Yes, they could buy rare items at prices that today seem low, but it was a Dark Ages as far as information goes.

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Interested in American Record Company discs, such as the above? There is no book on this topic, alas.