Tagged: 1950s

Formats current at any point during the years 1950-1959

Cigarette card (1875 – early 2000s)

Cigarette cards were a particular form of trade card, initially popularised by tobacco companies as a way of selling their products, and after World War II were also used by some other manufacturers such as tea companies.

Card was used as a stiffener in paper packs of cigarettes, and beginning in 1875 in the US, these cards began to carry images, for example of actresses, sportsmen or Native American chiefs. In 1878 they also began to include information about the image on the back of the card.

In 1887, W.D. & H.O. Wills began to issue cigarette cards in the UK.

The range of images expanded over time and began to be issued in colour, and the cards became popular as a way of viewing and collecting exotic images from around the world. They also began to be issued in sets, and around 1900 albums began to be produced to enable people to collect and store the cards together.

In 1939, cigarette card production virtually ceased in the UK as paper was in short supply during the war. After the war, ‘cigarette’ cards were issued by tea companies such as Brooke Bond in the UK, who issued cards until 1999. There have been some cigarette cards issued since, such as by the US tobacco company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company who issued several series through a couple of its brand in the early 2000s.

Not all types of cigarette cards are the same size, but the standard size was around 67 x 36mm.

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7-inch EP (1952 – )

The 7-inch EP (for Extended Play) was a format introduced in 1952 by RCA Victor, just a few years after the introduction of the 7-inch single format in 1949.  It sat between the 7-inch single and the 12-inch Long Play (LP) record, and like the 7-inch single it span at 45 rpm so could be played on any photograph with a 45 rpm setting.

By using narrower grooves, it was possible to squeeze 7½ minutes of playing time on each side at the expense of volume, allowing more than one song on each side (generally EPs have between three and six tracks). Like LPs, EPs did not necessarily have ‘title’ tracks, and could have different names to the songs on them (for example the 1963 Beatles EP simply called ‘The Beatles’ Hits’).  They were also packaged more like an LP with a cardboard picture sleeve, whereas 7-inch singles until the 1970s generally had paper sleeves with just the record label on them.

Whilst less common in the US, the 7-inch EP was widely sold in the UK and some other European countries, and between 1960 and 1967 they were popular enough for Record Retailer magazine in the UK to compile a separate EP chart. They were a good way for artists to produce something more substantial than a single between LP releases.

They declined in popularity after the 1960s, and faced competition from formats such as 10-inch and 12-inch singles or EPs (which could allow for more sound volume with wider grooves), as well as Cassette and CD singles or EPs. However, small numbers of 7-inch EPs are still released.

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Dictaphone Dictet (1957 – early 1960s)

The Dictaphone Dictet was a portable dictation device introduced by the Dictaphone Corporation in 1957. It was perhaps the earliest magnetic tape dictation system – at the time of its introduction, most office dictation systems were using discs or belts onto which grooves were pressed, such as the SoundScriber, Audograph, or Dictaphone’s own Dictabelt system. An earlier portable system, the Protona Minifon used wire recording.

The Dictet was fully transistorised and weighed 1.2kg. The cassette had a metal shell and could record up to 60 minutes (30 minutes per side) on ¼-inch tape that ran at 2½ inches per second. Using special mercury batteries, the Dictet could operate for 20 hours.

The Dictet lasted until at least 1962, but it is unclear how much longer it lasted against newer competitors such as the Compact Cassette of 1963.

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Philips EL 3581 (1958 – early 1960s)

The Philips EL 3851 was an office dictation machine introduced by Philips (known as Norelco in the US) in 1958 and was one of the earliest magnetic tape dictation systems (the Dictaphone Dictet was launched shortly before it). At the time of its introduction, most dictation systems were using discs or belts onto which grooves were pressed, such as the Dictabelt, SoundScriber and Audograph systems.

Although the EL 3851 uses a cartridge so no threading is required, the tape is housed on two separate 3-inch reels with ¼-inch tape and cine spindle holes suitable for domestic open reel tape recorders. Removing a clip from the cartridge shell allows the reels to be removed.

Like some other dictation machines, the microphone also doubles as a speaker, and contains some tape controls. A foot pedal and external speaker were also available.

Philips later introduced the much smaller Compact Cassette format in 1963, followed by the mini-cassette in 1967 and it doesn’t appear the EL 3851 was produced for long.

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Minifon wire reel (1959 – 1967)

The Minifon name was applied to a range of miniature wire recorders introduced initially by the German company Monske & Co GmbH in 1951, and then produced by Protona GmbH from 1952 until 1967, although they were also sold under the Telefunken, ITT and EMI brands.

The recorders ran on batteries, and could record over 2 hours on a single reel of wire (later models allowed for 5 hours of recording). As the reels turn, the recording/playback head moved up and down so the wire was spooled evenly on each reel.

They were popular for covert recordings, and an accessory microphone that was made to look like a wristwatch was available. Minifon recorders were sold in overseas markets such as the US and UK.

In 1959 the Minifon Ataché was introduced, using a tape cartridge for the first time, but the wire-based recorders continue to be produced until Protona ceased production of all Minifon models in 1967.

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Pye magnetic disc (1953 – late 1950s)

From around 1953 to the late 1950s the UK company Pye produced the Record Maker. This device allowed the user to record onto pre-grooved 12-inch discs that had a magnetic coating. Users could record to the disc at one of four different speeds (16⅔, 33⅓, 45 and 78rpm) but the slower the speed, the poorer the quality of recording.

The Pye Record Maker could also be used to play ordinary phonograph records, with an optional pick-up head attachment.

Telefunken also made a similar machine, but this could not play phonograph discs, used a larger centre hole, and had a single speed of 10rpm.

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Acetate / lacquer disc (late 1920s – )

Acetate discs (also known as lacquers or instantaneous discs) are a type of phonograph record created using a recording lathe to cut a groove in real-time, rather than mass-produced from moulds.

Unlike standard vinyl phonograph discs, acetates consist of a core material (usually aluminium, but glass and cardboard have also been used) coated with black nitrocellulose lacquer (prior to 1934, cellulose acetate was used as the coating, hence the common but incorrect name of acetate). They have ranged in size from 7-inches to 16-inches. Due to the metal core, acetates are heavier than standard records. Cheaper acetates may have a second hole near the centre, to prevent the disc slipping on lathes that don’t have a vacuum turntable. They are often one-sided, with no grooves on the reverse, and labels may be typed or handwritten rather than printed.

Acetates are used in record manufacturing; a master disc is created by dubbing from another medium (such as a master tape) and electroforming is then used to make negative metal moulds from. They were also used to evaluate the quality of the tape-to-disc transfer, to compare different takes or mixes of a recording, to get approval from band members, or to get preview copies to radio stations before the mass-produced copies were available.

Prior to the availability of magnetic tape, acetate discs were used for direct-to-disc recording. Home recording machines of the 1940s and 1950s used acetates.

Acetates wear much quicker than standard vinyl records due to the softer material used, and a chipped stylus can damage an acetate in one play.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 3Playback ideally requires a suitable stylus designed for use with lacquer discs, and for discs larger than 12-inches, a special turntable platter is also needed.

Graphophone / Dictaphone cylinder (1887 – early 1950s)

The Dictaphone was one of two competing wax cylinder phonograph systems for voice dictation, the other being Edison’s Ediphone system. The use of cylinders for voice recording pre-dated their use for music when, in 1887, Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester A. Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter put into production a wax cylinder system for recording and reproducing speech (Edison then switched from tinfoil to wax cylinders in response in 1888).

Until 1907 the Dictaphone system was known as the Graphophone.

The main difference between the two rival systems was the recording method, with Edison using ‘hill and dale’ recording, while the Graphophone used lateral (side to side) recording. The cylinders could have a layer of wax shaved off, to enable re-use.

By the mid-1940s, new dictation technologies were rapidly being introduced such as Dictaphone’s own Dictabelt, Edison’s Voicewriter, the Gray Audograph and the SoundScriber, and both Edison and Dictaphone stopped supplying wax cylinders in the early 1950s.

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Seeburg Background Music Library (1954 – 1960s)

In 1954, Seeburg introduced their Background Music Library, using 45rpm 7-inch mono phonograph discs.

Seeburg had previously introduced in 1952 a Library Unit for home or commercial use that could house 100 standard 7-inch singles. The Library Units were different to jukeboxes as they were not coin-operated, the mechanism was not on show, and individual songs could not be randomly selected. Instead, the unit could be programmed to skip certain sides, or skip a record altogether as the mechanism played from beginning to end all the A sides, and then all the B sides as the mechanism travels back. The order of songs was determined by the order the records are placed in the machine.

The Background Music Library used the same machines with the main difference being that the records were EPs (Extended Play) and had two or more songs on each side. Sets of records were rented from Seeburg, and every 30 days a number of the discs were changed.

When the Library Unit was loaded with Background Music Library discs from Seeburg, it could provide up to 8 hours of continuous play, before starting over again.

In 1959, Seeburg introduced the Background Music System, an incompatible system using 9-inch mono phonograph discs with a 2-inch centre hole, playing at 16⅔ rpm.

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Picture discs (1920s – )

Picture discs are phonograph discs with images visible under the playable area.

The first types were the gramophone postcards, but the first real picture discs appeared in the 1920s. Some of these had images relevant to the music, while other promoted films the music appeared in, and others were used as propaganda. The images were often printed on thin cardboard, covered with a thin plastic coating and sound quality in most cases was poor. Some picture discs were better made, but in the 1930s the record industry suffered the effects of the depression and picture discs were a casualty.

In the 1940s, cardboard records appeared, consisting of plastic-coated card, similar to gramophone postcards. Often used in promotional campaigns, they were only intended to be played once or twice. Proper picture discs reappeared in 1946, issued on the Vogue Records label (which lasted until 1947). These had an alumuminium core, and the images were coated in a layer of vinyl providing better sound quality than the standard shellac records of the time.

From the late 1940s, children’s picture discs became popular, both in the US and Europe.

In the 1970s, LPs and singles began to appear using a new process consisting of five layers – a core of black vinyl with kiln-dried paper decals on either side and then outer skins of clear vinyl film. The first of these was Curved Air’s first album, Airconditioning, released in the UK in 1970. During the 1980s, picture disc singles were also released in unusual shapes.

Picture discs continue to be released, even though sound quality is often not as good as standard releases due in part to ultra thin outside layers of clear vinyl which supports the grooves.

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