78s & Cylinders

One of the items on my summer to-do list was to add a couple of 78-rpm records to my collection of 45s, EPs, LPs, reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, CDs and digital downloads.

You can’t have too much music, I always say.

Late last spring, my colleague and friend, Randy, had given me the name of an antique store – Eagle Antiques – on Rte.4 in Northwood, NH that carried 78s and a few of the “Victrola”-style record players as well. It took me until July, but I finally got around to paying Eagle Antiques a visit.

The guy behind the counter, Chuck, took my request and directed me to three dusty wooden boxes tucked in under a hutch on the wall to the right of the front door. One box was filled front to back with the thick black records, none of them in jackets or paper sleeves. The other two boxes held what looked like several very old photo albums; but these turned out to be collections of 78-rpm records, each album containing 8 -10 records, each record in its own protective page. 

There were many records to go through and examine, but after much careful consideration I selected three: one for the artist, one for the musical content and one for the record label. At $2.00 apiece, I was thrilled.

Here they are.

At the top of the picture is “Lester Leaps In” b/w (backed with) “Dickie’s Dream” by the Count Basie Kansas City Seven. This is the one I picked for the Vocalion label – I do like Count Basie, too – which is the label that Robert Johnson’s records were released on. This record dates from 1937.

On the bottom left is “Death of Floyd Collins” b/w “Dream of a Miner’s Child” by Vernon Dalhart on the Victor record label. Vernon started his recording career in 1916. In 1924, he recorded his first Country song – “The Wreck of the Old ’97” – and went on to sell an estimated career total of 75,000,000 records! “Death of Floyd Collins” was based on an actual event and was one of Vernon’s hits. This record dates to 1925.

On the bottom right is “My Old Kentucky Home” by Columbia Stellar Quartette b/w “Uncle Josh at a Meeting of the School House Directors” by Cal Stewart. I purchased this one because of the Stephen Foster song. This is the oldest record of the three, dating to 1918.

Judging by the scratches on the label around the center hole, whoever owned this record was more of a fan of Cal Stewart than of Columbia Stellar Quartette.

So, what about the music on these antiques? Well, I don’t own a record player that will play a 78, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to find and download most of the music my new treasures contained.

If your interested, give a listen to this:

“Dream of a Miner’s Child” by Vernon Dalhart

While going through the 78s, I felt lucky and asked Chuck if he had any Edison cylinders. He said that he didn’t; but after making a phone call, he recommended a place right up the road, run by a friend of his, that did.

So, next stop on Rte.4, west: Fern Eldridge & Friends Antiques, right next door to the Northwood town hall.

Jeff presented two medium-sized covered cardboard boxes, each containing about 35-40 Edison cylinders. All of the cylinders were standing on end, with the label edges pointing up. This made it easy to see the title of the piece and the name of the artist whose performance was etched in the grooves around the circumference of the dark blue, 4 & 1/8″ tall tube.

Again, going by my random criteria from before, I selected two cylinders and paid Jeff his asking price of $5.00 each. More treasures!

Here they are.

The one standing is an Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder with the song “Annie Laurie” as performed by Christine Miller. This cylinder dates to 1913. Christine Miller was a well-known soprano in her time, and a friend of Thomas Edison. I’d been reading about her, Edison and the phonograph (Edison’s invention that cylinders were – and still are – played on) in a fabulous book: Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner. 

The one lying down is an Edison Concert Blue Amberol Cylinder with the Stephen Foster song “Old Folks At Home” as performed by Margaret Keyes. This cylinder dates to 1912.

Again, thanks to the internet, here is Ms. Keyes.

“Old Folks At Home” by Margaret Keyes 

Three 78s and two cylinders added to my music collection and one item scratched off my summer to-do list.

That’s what I call a pretty good day.

P.S.: What did you think of those old recordings/performances?

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1 Response to 78s & Cylinders

  1. TPS says:

    Great performances, and superb quality, given the technology of the day.Margaret Keyes had a wonderful voice….

    Something to ponder: We are the 1st generation that in our productive lifetimes will be able to hear and/or see & hear performances that occurred a century or more ago. This is on par with looking at Matthew Brady Civil War photos in the 1960’s.

    “The Jazz Singer” will celebrate its centennial in only 15 years. Just look at the technological evolution of recording. In a mere 100 years we have gone from listening to one song, with limited fidelity, on a 41/8″ cylinder, to multi-track digital HD audio, and the ability to put 2000 songs on a flash drive that can be hooked on to your key chain.

    “…The times, they are a’ changin'”…..

    What a wonderful collection of music you are compiling. Keep it up!

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