“I think the [Great 78] project will demonstrate what can and should be done if any institution is really serious about preserving our collective cultural experience as expressed in sound.”
— Jonathan Hiam, Curator, American Music Collection and The Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
While audio CDs whiz by at about 500 revolutions per minute, the earliest flat disks offering music whirled at 78rpm. They were mostly made from shellac, i.e. beetle resin, and were the brittle predecessors to the LP (microgroove) era. The format is obsolete, and the surface noise is often unbearable. Just picking them up can break your heart as they break apart in your hands. So why does the Internet Archive have more than 200,000 in our physical possession?
For years the ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC) had been getting calls offering 78rpm collections that they were unable to accept. But when Internet Archive and ARC partnered to focus on preserving and digitizing audio-visual materials, space and shipping became available and it was now possible to begin preserving 78s. Here’s a short history of how in only a few years ARC and the Internet Archive have created one of the largest collections in America.
Our first major donation came from the Batavia Public Library in Illinois, part of the Barrie H.Thorp Collection of 48,000 78s. For us this donation is a dream: it allows us to preserve material that was otherwise going to be thrown away; it has a larger cultural value beyond the music; and it contained a mountain of unfamiliar music, much of it quite rare.
It was a second large donation that prompted the Internet Archive to move toward the idea that we should digitize all of our 78s. The Joe Terino Collection came to us through a cold call. The 70,000+ 78s were stored in a warehouse for more than 40 years, originally deposited by a distributor.
Over time more collections have been offered to us and we’ve accumulated 200,000 78s in our physical archive facility. The Great 78 Project is the beginning of our efforts to digitize these discs for preservation, research and discovery. Read more on the Internet Archive blog.
Barrie H. Thorpe / Batavia Illinois Public Library Collection
Our first major donation of 78s came from the Batavia Public Library in Illinois, part of the Barrie H.Thorpe Collection of 48,000 78s featuring pop, country, big band, and jazz recordings. The collection was donated to the Batavia Library in 2007 from a local collector, Mr. Barrie H. Thorpe (1925–2012). What makes the Thorpe collection unique is the obsessive typewritten card catalog.
Archive of Contemporary Music
The ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC) is a not-for-profit archive, music library and research center located in New York City since 1985.
The ARChive collects, preserves and provides information on the popular music of all cultures and races throughout the world from 1950 to the present.
The ARC grows daily as hundreds of record companies, publishers, distributors, collectors, artists and music fans from around the world donate new materials to the ARC. In addition to sound recordings the ARChive actively collects all books, magazines, videos, films, photographs, press kits, newspapers clippings, memorabilia and ephemera relating to the history of popular music. We also maintain a variety of informational databases other than those on recordings and books, notably our Music Index of 52,000+ people working in the music industry.
Over the past 32 years a great many regular donors have contributed 78s to the ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC). Because 78s were never a mandated focus of ARC, the discs were usually sorted by genre, shelved and only cataloged on a project-by-project basis. So while we gratefully acknowledge their contributions, we are not able to pinpoint exactly who donated which 78 before the Great78project began.
So, thanks to: Steve Powers, NYC artists who has been an annual donor for the past ten years; Elisa Rios who offered a great group of mostly Puerto Rican recording; VB Leghorn who sent her father’s record collection that had sat in the garage for years, BUT all were in good to near mint condition and all electronically catalogued; and Johnny Adams estate donated a small pile collected by this jazz radio DJ. Two donors, both named Ed, who have contributed focused country collections of 78s are Ed Salamon, was the one-time head of the Country Radio Broadcasters and Ed Ward, who runs the Ward Irish Music Archives.
Upcoming or potential donors of 78s include Saint John’s University (500), David Rosenstein (jazz 78s), a tad from Katy Kavanaugh, William B. Hise who is busy packing up his 3,000 discs.
Joe Terino Collection
The 70,000 plus 78s were stored in a warehouse for more than 40 years, originally deposited by a distributor. Here’s the kicker: they said that we could have it all, but we had to move it – NOW! Internet Archive did and it came in on 72 pallets, in three semis, from Rhode Island to San Francisco
Mr. Strider rescued his dad’s collection of about 300 seventy-eights. He donate the entire collection to avoid sorting and selling separately, cataloged them all, and kindly dropped them off to the IA in San Francisco. Our favorite’s from this batch are the blues discs by Elle Mae Morse. Thanks to Jerry McBride at Stanford University Library recommending us to Mike.
The Charles Stratton Collection
This collection is more than 8,000 sound recordings, primarily seventy-eight rpm pre-war discs, deeded to Kansas State University by Mr. Stratton’s estate in 1968. The recordings represent a broad range of early jazz, classical and popular music. This collection was donated by The Richard L. D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections at Kansas State University through the kind efforts of Head Librarian, Keli E. Rylance, Ph.D.
Charles William Stratton (1906-1966) was a noted musicologist and pianist who received his undergraduate and graduate music degrees at Kansas State University and was on their faculty from 1927-1964. A child prodigy blinded from the age of eight to eighteen, Professor Stratton also studied at the Curtis Institute, the Royal College of Music and Harvard University. Information on his rare print materials housed at Kansas State can be found here: http://www.lib.k-state.edu/depts/spec/rarebooks/collections/stratton.html
Daniel McNeil Collection
The collection of 22,359 ten and twelve inch seventy-eights is one of the first that ARC worked with from beginning to end, and what a pleasure. Rare for us the discs were all carefully arranged on shelves by label, and then by manufacturer number. Even better, the weeks we spent packing up meant cake and coffee everyday at 4. Here’s Mr. McNeil’s take on the experience:
“I grew up in New Hyde Park on Long Island. When I was about 10 years old I found a pile old 78 RPM records in my grandparents’ attic. I was fascinated listening to them. When you put a human voice to it, boring history suddenly became real and interesting. I went to college, became a research chemist and coauthored a number of scientific papers and several patents. All the while picking up additional 78s when I found them. The more I found the more fascinated I was. I started going to tag sales and flea markets and would often increase my collection by 1000s.
“I was fascinated by Bert Williams, a very popular black entertainer of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the songs of World War I, songs of the roaring 20s and many others. Listening to these old records allowed you to gain a feeling for the era in which they were made.
“Eventually my collection contained over 22,000 records totaling I don’t know how many tons. It occupied a sizable portion of my home. My wife, Ulla, suggests that if I ever want to collect anything else in the future I should consider stamps. We are in our 70s and are starting to think of moving to a smaller retirement home. I had to consider what to do with my cherished, highly valued record collection. I could find people anxious to cherry pick through it but nobody considered the complete collection. I found it very upsetting till I contacted the ARChive Of Contemporary Music and got a positive response. Now I feel overjoyed that, feeling the value and importance of my collection of 60 years, it now has a new home with the ARChive Of Contemporary Music (and the Internet Archive) where it can be appreciated.”
David Chomowicz and Esther Ready Collection
This is a unique group of more than 4000 LPs and 78rpm discs, the vast majority pressed in Latin America or the Caribbean. Of special interest are the hundreds of Cuban recordings and more than a thousand Tango discs from Argentina. Of note is the pristine condition of most of the recordings and the many hand-decorated covers that the donor made for 78rpm discs that were originally issued in generic corporate sleeves.
Mr. Chomowicz, who inherited the recordings from a collector friend, and out of respect for the collector and his passion for music, resisted numerous offers to sell the collection. David saw the value to preserve the material for posterity and donated it to The ARChive of Contemporary Music in 2017.
Mr. Chomowicz is a creative professional working in video, print and multimedia in New York City. His design awards and honors include National & Chapter Emmy Awards and numerous awards from The New York Art Directors Club, BDA/Promax, Communication Arts and the AIGA.
While most of these more than 2000 LPs and 78s in this collection celebrate American Polka music, about a quarter of them were devoted to Eastern European and Balkan folk and traditional music. From 1988 until his death in 2012 .Mr. Walikis’ hosted the European Ethnic Melodies show on WHRW, Binghamton, NY, a University’s radio station. The collection was donated by his widow, Rosemary.
Two of the discs were self recorded and featured Dan Jan’s brother Joe, who was 9 year old at the time. The bothers had a band for more than 30 years, the Perceptions. Joe was then just launching his career as Sonny Walikis and his Squeezebox. On one title, “Four Leaf Clover,” Joe’s mother is singing. But the family had no idea this recording existed – it was just hidden in with the boxes and boxes of records – and were overjoyed that they now had a digital copy of the music that both brother loved, recorded and collected their entire lives.
Richard Thayer Skidmore Collection
This largely Jazz 78rpm collection was put together by Richard Thayer Skidmore, an Episcopal deacon in Waretown, NJ. His father, Lauren (Larry) Henry Skidmore, was a bassist who played with various jazz and big bands, including Charlie Barnet, The Dorsey Brothers, Glen Miller, Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden and Enoch Light. He also roomed with Pee Wee Russell on some tours.
The discs were donated by Richard Thayer Skidmore’s family, Stephanie and Ben Reynolds and Richard Skidmore. This collection consists of approximately 1,400 jazz seventy-eights, including 250 Edison discs (those really thick ones). This donation also included 100+ jazz LPs, and photos of Larry in various bands, his union card, a visiting card, and some other odds and ends of memorabilia all housed at the ARC in New York City.
KUSF is the University of San Francisco’s online radio station. This non-commercial student-run station originally broadcast on-air from 1963-1977 as an AM station, and from 1977-2011 on the FM dial. This free-form and freewheeling college station was celebrated both nationally and internationally for its innovative music programming.
In 2012 the University of San Francisco donated a large portion of the KUSF collection of 78’s and LP’s to the Internet Archive. Since then about 5,000 LPs were digitized as a pilot project, and now all of the 78s will be digitized.
Bruce Lyall, the proprietor of the Haight Street Recycled Records, has been a good friend of the Internet Archive always giving LP’s, 78’s, and CD’s to us as we have needed test records. He has even introduced us to others that have been de-accessioning their collections.
David Hinckley Collection
For more than 25 years Mr. Hinckley has donated thousands of books, LPs and CDs to The ARChive of Contemporary Music. With the advent of the Great78Project David donated a superb collection of more than 300 Country, Cowboy, Western Swing and Hillbilly 78s. Great stuff including discs by the Carter Family, Bill Boyd, Delmore Brothers, Pie Plant Pete, The Skillet Lickers, Arkansas Woodchoppers – 22 by Lefty Frizzell alone. We love these focused collections, especially when in such excellent condition. Hundreds more to come as David slowly re-listens and sorts. David was the Music and Media critic for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Beyond the recordings, the swag he donated to ARC over the years was fab!
Glenn Allen Howard
Mr. Howard is the Director of The American Musical Heritage Foundation (AMHF). Once based in San Francisco (and maybe moving back) he is a longtime friend of the Internet Archive and has sent the odd crate of 78s every now-and-then.
Mark + Jason Bradburn Collection
A gift of 843 seventy-eights from two brothers in New York, all in alpha-order by artist, and cataloged. This came to us over a two-year period, two separate shipments that also included thousands of forty-fives. This is a nice collection, heavy on jazz (16 Billy Holiday, 8 Illinios Jacquet) and Latin (12 Machito, 22 Trio Los Panchos).
Jules Vandersarl Collection
These well-traveled family-owned discs were originally in Raton, NM and San Antonio, TX, before they came to Mr. Vandersari in Colorado, and subsequently to the Internet Archive in San Francisco. After sending inquiries to several universities with little response, the 1,675 seventy-eights came to us in early 2017. A big thanks to Stephanie Bonjack, Head, Howard B. Waltz Music Library, University of Colorado Boulder, for directing him our way.
Mr Vandersari writes, “I have looked at the arcmusic.org website and what you have done is very impressive. It seems like a fun place to work, getting these old discs cleaned up, transcribing them with current technology, gathering information about the record’s history and making them available for listening on the internet.” He’s still thinking about donating his grandfather’s Rock-Ola juke box!