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Caring For And Collecting 78s

Updated on March 9, 2016
Nightcat profile image

Nightcat is a Jane of all trades and likes to pass on tips she’s found useful around the home.

Spinning Disks

You come home after a long day. Man, you are beat. You sure could go for some good music while you throw together dinner. Going over to a stack of fragile, heavy old records, you select one. Reverently you put the old shellac record on, astounded the music is still as fresh as the day it was recorded.

Maybe it is a warm day and people walking by stop, startled by the distinctive sound of the music. There is no other format on the planet that replaces a 78rpm record. As you get that dinner ready, you feel the music enter your bones. It soothes you, makes you happy.

That's a lot of entertainment for a quarter. Here's where I'll tell you about my fascination, why 78s are much better than CDs of the same music, and just how awesome it is to hold musical history in your hand. Yup, all for a quarter.

I'll be using my own photos this time, so please bear with me.

UPDATE: New record cleaner, enjoy!

PLEASE NOTE: If you hold the copyright to any of the 78s shown herein and wish to have a demonstrative video removed, please contact me. All examples used for teaching purposes only and I am not selling the videos contained herein.

All writing and photography, as always, are my original work, enjoy!

78rpm

78s only play correctly at 78rpm and with a needle made for them. Make sure you have the right set up, then enjoy.

I Was Taught

I was brought up with a record player. I was taught a reverence that goes beyond religion for the machine. You couldn't handle even LPs from the 1970s and 1980s too roughly, and scratching them ruined the sound. Dirty records ruined the needle, so you had to clean them gently with a soft round roll, covered in black velvet.

You put them back in the sleeve, always returned the arm to the resting position because it would ruin the needle if you didn't. You also had other sizes at the time, but I never saw anything older. Shellac records were brittle, old-fashioned and all were out on LP now, so why waste money?

Not that anything older was easier to find. These old 78s had to be somewhere, but my parents assured me the majority had broken long ago or sat in barns and got ruined, or what have you. I accepted this, although I now realize that short of total breakage, 78s take a lot more abuse than any other music media around today.

The Best Things About 78s

  1. They are musical history. You might get one over 90 years old or more. You'll hear the music as it was recorded, not how a person who remastered it to another media thinks it should sound.
  2. The gentle hissing and humming are part of the sound experience. You see young artists today trying to get it, but true sound like that has to come with the format.
  3. Many contain slate. Yes, slate. Didn't think you could get music out of that, did you?
  4. Although fragile, you could dump them in a barn and let dust, oil, dirt, and animal leavings get on them for eighty years. They will still play. Try that with an iPod.
  5. You get to hear a whole ton of artists that time forgot. This can be done on You Tube, it is true, but you are watching videos of 78s playing.
  6. There's just something astounding about listening to the same exact record some other music lover enjoyed decades ago.
  7. They can be anything from big artists to people who ponied up the fee at the local recording studio. You'll find folks reading, preaching, singing songs, just about anything.
  8. 78 collectors are good people. Truly, most are warm-hearted, will let you have a listen and share collecting stories. There's nothing more exciting than sharing the music you love and care about.
  9. A 78 can be missing a chunk out of one area and still play. A CD? Not so much.
  10. You can't accidentally erase a 78 with a power surge, during a storm, or while cleaning your computer.
  11. These 78s were made when your favorite artist was still alive. The next best thing to meeting him or her.
  12. They connect you to the past, both the good and the bad of it.

Ez Way To Clean 78 RPM Records

Awesome video. I'll admit I get lazy and impatient, but needles aren't cheap and you'll never see records like this again. So learn to baby them. Noticing a bad smell as you clean? How well do you think you'd smell with one bath every fifty years or so?

I've used this method just recently though I was taught it was better to let them drip dry in a dish rack. Let them sit overnight they will be waiting for you all happy and shiny in the morning.

PLEASE NOTE: In rare cases soap and water will ruin the 78. Read the label first.

Broken 78s Will Still Play

Try that with a CD.
Try that with a CD.

How Are Records Priced?

Well, there may be other ways, but I'll tell you the way I was taught when I worked at a flea market years ago. Even back then I liked hanging out with the record sellers and collectors, listening to old 78s.

If this is wrong by current practices or how people do it today, please let me know in the comments section.

Label Condition- Although records are stamped with a recessed number, labels are important. Part art, part historic record. (Pardon the pun.) They let you know the recording company, artist, orchestra, who wrote the song, if the song was under copyright and more. A torn or worn label can show heavy or careless use. People writing on the label, even useful things like the year of the record make values go down. The only exception being if they were signed by the artist.

You'll also find catalog numbers on records, useful when tracking pricing, original number of record sales and so on.

Age- Although not always true, older records tend to be more valuable. That is of course if the artist has endured. Keep in mind this only holds true in auctions and with collectors. The mall isn't going to give you a plug nickel as trade in value.

Overall Condition- Is it warped? Bubbles, weird seams? Chips, cracks, or other surface mars? How about dirt, paint, or any other strange stuff on the record or label? Most 78s with slate in them will crack or shatter easily so making it a long time in one piece is quite a feat. Records should always be kept clean and ready to play.

Will it play?- The record dealer always got a good laugh over this. People would bring him records that at the time were rare and valuable. But they didn't want him to test them out before buying. Why? Because there was always something wrong with them. Maybe the sound was faded, the record made strange or ear-shattering sounds, or just stopped the player dead in an invisible catch. He'd wink at me and politely hand the defective record back. Even to an ace like him these faulty records could look just fine.

Is there a market?- If it is a famous artist, yes there should be. But your great, great, great grandfathers gut tub band? Maybe not. Still that one should mean something to you and is a one of a kind item. This isn't a hobby that makes folks rich.

How many were cut and how many are left? If for some reason there is only a studio original it should be valuable if unearthed. However if five million copies were pressed, it isn't as valuable.

The recording company.- Some are still with us, some were small, one-hit wonders. Often an artists music would be bounced from one label to another, so you can have five or six companies releasing the same song in the same year. I've noticed around here at least I've collected the same songs on smaller labels that other folks have from more famous recording houses.

Current values can be anywhere from nothing to thousands of dollars, but again ONLY if you find a buyer for your priceless treasure. The true value of any record or recorded media is what it means to you.

An example of fair pricing. Each of the 78s I bought had either an unknown artist, chips, mold, or other ick factors. People had written on labels, put personal name tags on them, torn labels, all sorts of good stuff. Although these records play, I am jacking the volume up on my nice modren machine to the maximum level. So yeah, worth a quarter, if that.

Read all About It

Some folks like a genre like comedy. This guide assures you know all about the artists and the records they recorded. A great gift for a collector of those early comedy records.

Where And What To Collect?

You'll notice the records shown here cost more than a quarter But using the pricing guide above, or better yet, an actual pricing guide, you'd see each record I got has little value in today's market. Remember too you get what you pay for. Items like the original sleeve make value go up, so do any momentos that might be grouped with a 78 in some cases.

Plus, well, collectors can be snobby. Some artists are just considered more important musically and garner a better price. I remember years ago a guy offering to sell me a stack of 78s for five bucks a record. Then he went down to two, but it still would have been over seventy five dollars.

Then those records would have endured hours in a trunk with no protection from bumpy mountain roads. Remember too I had no idea if they would even play. So I let them go though it would have been great to have a stack that huge. Keep in mind you can always search family storage areas, old out of the way barns and other places if you ask for the green light first. You may get your first stack for free.

It helps to figure out a genre you like and stick with it. There are still millions of these gems out there, honest. You'd be in the poorhouse if you tried to collect them all. You can collect online, in used stores, church sales, those old barns, attics, garages. You name it. I tend to drag home some real shaggy dogs, but most folks buy only clean, complete 78s with no visible cracks, mars, or chips.

You have to figure out what you like to collect. Don't collect only pre-1900 records if the truth is that you can't stand music from that era. Don't collect fox-trots if you can't stand them, just because they are there. You become the custodian of these 78s for the next generation. Why watch over something you can't stand?

A seller who cares anything at all about music will happily play part or all of a 78 for you. Heck, he or she might keep you beguiled for hours over music and coffee. I told you 78 collectors were good people. Sellers who refuse to play a record, or remove it from the sleeve might be pulling a fast one. There's nothing worse than getting home and finding the sleeve hid a huge chunk missing from your 78.

Play Those 78s

I have this model close to this one and love it. Plays a variety of records, including 78s and 33s. Also includes an AM/FM stero, MP3 player and CD player.

BEST SONG ABOUT 78s EVER!!!!

Bull Moose Jackson - Big Ten Inch Best song about 78s ever. They were called 10 inch records too.

Kids, Dogs, And Other Hazards

Very hot sun or other heat sources can do a number on some 78s. The shellac ones will melt, bubble, do all sorts of things. And no this type of damage can't be undone.

Things like paint remover can ruin a 78 depending on the type of material used.

78s might be tough when it comes to cleaning (compared to an LP or modern CD) but they break and chip quite easily. These are not records to let the kids play with until they understand what fragile means.

Don't let pets play with them, use them as plate chargers, or attempt to nail them to a wall. I said there were millions of them, perhaps billions. I didn't say to waste them.

Read the label. The company put warnings on them for a reason. If the label says to avoid soap and water, listen. Some composites need different cleaning methods, so I've included a link below to a repair and cleaning guide.

Storage And Carrying Case

True it is made for the larger LPs (12 inches compared to ten inches), but that also leaves room for some foam or other padding you could line the sides with. Stores a lot of records so give it a once over. Remember storage is vital. If your 78s get kicked, dropped, or hit hard enough you'll be left with useless pieces.

Consider combining this with the archive sleeves below. You won't regret it.

Make A Jacket For Your 78 Record

Although you should buy some nice clean jackets, I was taught how to make them in a pinch.

Take clean paper without any print on it. Measure a little more than double the size of your record, or another jacket, and leave an inch or so at the top and bottom.

Cut out, then fold in half. This should fit nicely over the record so far. Tuck the two open end back, taping them closed. That's it!

You can cut a hole for the label but I was taught that the jackets I prefer are called storage jackets. I don't cut a hole for the label as I'm more concerned about long-term protection.

About My Collection

Right now my collection is really small. Only 24 records or so. I only collect at the one place I have bus access to, so there you go. Now if I could just be let loose in a flea market...

The oldest record so far is:

Columbia Record

Pussycat Rag

Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

(Little Lost Kitten)

sung by Ada Jones and the Peerless Quartet

A1457

(39128)

He'd Have to Get Under,

Get Out and Get Under

(Abrahams)

sung by William Halley

A1457

(39106)

Columbia Gramaphone Company

year: 1914

I have mixed feelings towards it. To save you the online research I did William Halley was a performer in a minstrel show. Both sides contain decent peppy music marred by obviously white men making fools of themselves trying to sound black. I mean exaggerated, offensive black you can't imagine anyone paying to listen to.

I despise minstrel shows with a passion but I won't take a hammer to the 78 either. Somebody has to protect this proof for future generations so foolishness and racial hatred like this never happens again.

UPDATE: Now the oldest in my collection dates from 1909. There's even a recording of another record like mine in the Library of Congress. I'm Looking for a Sweetheart

According to the fun toy, the The Inflation caculator, this 75 cent album would have sold for for $17.97 in 2010!

78s On You Tube

Just a selection of some 78s folks shared on You Tube. Sadly my "old" digital camera won't work with my new computer so I can't post recordings of my own 78s, or I'd share too.

Useful Info

Beware!

All 78s, indeed any recorded song despite the format, are protected under US law by copyright. There is no age limit, and recordings do not suddenly become fair game, no matter what you might have heard. Therefore, beware of the following:

MP3s made off of 78s There are companies of course that went back in the vaults, and that is fine and legal. It is however plain old bootlegging for anyone else to make a copy and sell it for profit. Some of these folks claim it is payback for all the unpaid artists, but you never see the profits going to them today, either.

Mixed CDs While it may be legal (and this is debated) to make a copy into a different format for personal use, it is not then legal to sell the copy when you get bored or want some quick cash. In case you are wondering the first thing that will happen is that the police will seize the contraband and destroy it. You will then be eligible for a free ride in a police car. You'll get to meet all sorts of exciting people like lawyers representing the recording company or estate of the artist.

Making a copy for a friend Still against the law even if the friend is your granny in the nursing home. Not something I've ever seen the police enforce, especially if you used a tape deck, but please be aware that the idea that music should be free for all people doesn't amuse the artist one bit. That said, you have to see the profound reaction one man has to music: Go Henry, go!. Gives me the shivers to see another Cab Calloway fan. If it helps that darn much, sneak some copies in. Shhh!

Publishing Photos for Profit Examples would be selling mugs with a picture of the label, t-shirts with the same, or removing the label to sell as a separate item. It is also illegal to paste old labels to anything and sell it as art, ditto for using the records or images of them in the same way.

Public Use This includes any for profit business playing the 78s. So clubs can't spin them, therefore making a profit without having paid the company a fee for that specific use. Even so much as an open bar constitutes a legal business, so weddings are nixed too. Unless of course the DJ paid for use at such a venue. Even if you are giving the music away for free, such as playing it over a PA system whether in a business or school system, you still violate copyright.

So What Is Legal?


Personal use of the 78. Play it in your own home, at a party, or at a friend's house.

A seller playing the 78. That's fine. Resale of the 78 itself is not an issue, no matter how much record companies wish it was.

You selling the 78. Again, considered fine because you paid for it. You therefore are the legal owner. This covers 78s you bought from another party, such as a used store, so you are OK.

Public use with legal permission. In the old days artists would beg a DJ to spin a record. Now the same DJ has to beg the company for permission to play the record on the air. Which is why most DJs heavily rotate a set amount of songs because of the money involved in getting those rights.

Use for demonstration. Kind of. You know all the recording the library of Congress has free online? Well, uh, they aren't exactly legal. You see even when used as a teaching tool this violates the copyright that prevents such usage. If you read the fine print most folks posting to You Tube are well aware of this and tack on a disclaimer. So of course does the Library of Congress.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer so this section of the article is not meant to be seen or used as legal advice.

Priceless quote

"We especially encourage donations to children and teenagers. With all the noise referred to as music being broadcast these days, what greater gift could you give a young person than an introduction to worthwhile music?"-- www.78rpm.com

Doris Day

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

My Favorite 78?

Wow that is hard, but if I could only keep one, the amazing Doris Day wins out. I not only love the 78 with her singing I Love the Way You Say Goodnight from 1951, but this is Doris Day. Sure not my oldest, but no one walks a song like her. She is like audio sunshine.

That and the 78 is very warped. I mean it goes up and down, OK? But the trusty player didn't miss a note and I got to watch the arm go up and down while the whole record shook like a hula dancer. It made me laugh, which I appreciate.

The sound is crystal clear though, so I get every single nuance of that wonderful voice. I love it so much because I love and admire her. She's still got plenty of spunk and fire. But she seems like a person could shyly ask her to sign the 78 in one of those fancy gold paint pens and she would.

Her movies make me happy, you know? She is also a good example of why the 78s lived on into the 50s. People catch onto songs from films or shows and want to hear just one or two. The first person to handle this gem must have been thrilled. I mean Doris Day on a 78. From what other fans tell me it was as good as meeting the musical star you admired to get a record.

Something about the small size and only having two songs. Like a private concert just for you. They seem to go on forever, those sides. Why yes I can be romantic and sentimental at times. I try not to make a habit of it, but for Miss Doris Day I will. You have no idea how hard it is not to post a link to the 80s pop hit with her name in it.

Aw heck, why not? Wham is a perfect example of how my generation in the 80s reached back with love and admiration into the 50s. So here you go. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

Doris Day photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I Love The Way You Say Goodnight

Please post thoughts and comments here.

Do you collect 78s?

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    • Nightcat profile image
      Author

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      Hi Paul! I would check eBay or Amazon for needles. I cleaned my records with soap and water, but that doesn't work for all types of 78s. I'd suggest going to the first site in the link list below as they have several cleaning suggestions.

      Dusting off with a soft rag is better than nothing. If the phonograph doesn't work you can try to get it repaired or find a machine on Amazon. Hope you enjoy your collection and thanks for visiting! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just got 13 record books each with about 10 or 12 78's in them. It feels like they weigh 100 pounds! Even though they arer in "books", they are still dusty on portions of them. I want to try to clean them so I can play them on the old radio-phonograph floor model that I also acquired with them.

      Number one: What is the safest way to clean them?

      Number two: Where in the world would I be able to buy a new needle? I'm not sure the phonograph even works. It should, but it's been sitting in a dining room for several decades, unused. The radio portion is all big tubes in back.

    • Nightcat profile image
      Author

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      Hi, JGracey! I hear you. I've paid a few dollars for sets of 78s, knowing I paid too much because nobody collects them. That might be why I like them. There isn't much competition. Yeah my parents left behind a huge collection of LPs and I have a big stack myself. I collect them too but not as often.

      78s can be funny too, though that comes from the condition. I have a Nelson Eddy that plays so poorly his voice is twice as deep as usual. I even had to look at the label again, LOL!

    • profile image

      JGracey 5 years ago

      No not personally, but my dad had tons of them. When he died, I had to go through them all, but they are so prevalent here, they don't bring much in the way of money - not even the full sets did. I think the hard-cover book with a dozen 78s in almost new condition were only worth about $10. I gave them all to one of my dad's cousins for his flea market booth. The 78s were only a small part of the "record collection" - there were hundreds of LPs, still sealed in their wrappers, 45s too. Some of the art on the LP covers was worth more than the record :)

    • Nightcat profile image
      Author

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      Hi, Tombonner! Wow, to have that many is impressive! I hope you get as much enjoyment out of them as I do my collection. Thanks for visiting! :)

    • tombonner profile image

      tombonner 5 years ago

      I have a few hundred belonging to my parents that probably haven't been played for more than fifty years. This lens may inspire me to clean and listen to them.

    • Nightcat profile image
      Author

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      Aww, thank you Sylvestermouse! I agree! I've had tapes eaten, scratched and broken CDs, and ruined goofy 8-tracks. Yet I just glued a broken 78 together, taped it, and it still works. Maybe not well, but better than a broken CD would.

      I owe a huge debt to the record sellers and my parents for teaching me. Even decades ago a young girl into old records was a rare thing. Thanks for visiting! :)

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      Truly a bit of a walk down memory lane! I still love my old albums. I even purchase albums at flea markets and record stores simply because I just love them. I think the first time the tape in a cassette got caught in the player and crinkled, I decided albums were the best :) Great advice for caring for 78s

    • Nightcat profile image
      Author

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      Hi, PaulOnBooks! They do still cut vinyl, though it is often for the bands favored in Hot Topic. Which is awesome and I love them too, but the historic thing is what I love about 78s. I think I've seen one or two attempts to bring 78s back, but people want a massive amount of music today, not just one or two songs. Thanks for visiting! :)

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      I don't - I do regret the passing of vinyl though.