History of Record Albums

78 Record out of its album sleeve

Have you ever wondered where the term "Record Album" came from?

Originally, 78 rpm records were normally sold individually in brown paper or cardboard sleeves that were plain, or sometimes printed to show the producer or the retailer's name. They were extremely generic.  Just imagine great musical works packaged in plain thin cardboard, not very pleasing to the eye, huh.  Generally the sleeves had a circular cut-out exposing the record label to view. Records could be laid on a shelf horizontally (not recommended) or stood on an edge, but because of their fragility, breakage was common.  As 78s became more popular it became clear that something needed to be done to make storage more safe, consistent and reliable.

We can thank Germany for the idea of the "album."  The German record company Odeon pioneered the album in 1909 when it released the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky on 4 double-sided discs in a specially designed package.  Deutsche Grammophon had also produced an album for its complete recording of the opera Carmen around the same time.  For the first time, a collection of music was packaged together for easier storage and organization.

Record Album Cover
Generic Record Album Cover
By about 1910, bound collections of empty sleeves with a paperboard or leather cover, similar to a photograph album, were sold as record albums that customers could use to store their records (the term "record album" was printed on some covers). These albums came in both 10-inch and 12-inch sizes.  In most cases, the inside cover provided an index area to write down information about the recording as well as where the record was located within the album. The covers of these bound books were wider and taller than the records inside, allowing the record album to be placed on a shelf upright, like a book, safely suspending the fragile records above the shelf and protecting them.

Record Album Index
Record Album Showing Index
In the 1930s, record companies began issuing collections of 78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music in specially assembled albums, typically with artwork on the front cover and liner notes on the back or inside cover. Most albums included three or four records, with two sides each, making six or eight tunes per album. When the 12-inch vinyl LP era began in 1948, each disc could hold a similar number of tunes as a typical album of 78s, so they were still referred to as an "album", as they are today.

Glenn Miller Record Album
Glenn Miller Record Album Containing 78s
To learn more about this I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article on The Phonograph Record.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Big Band Radio Station Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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