The art of the early record sleeve
From the first decade of the 20th century through to the late 1950s, the double sided 78 rpm shellac disc was the main way people could purchase recorded music. The 10 inch (25 cm) discs could hold a little over three minutes a side and that, as much as anything else defined the length of a popular song for most of the century. While there are many people who collect the records themselves and accumulate data about the labels in the centre of the discs, the paper sleeves the records were originally sold in are often overlooked.
These sleeves were made from paper or card, folded and glued into record sized envelopes and were usually printed on at least one side in a single colour. The printing was often simply the record company logo, sometimes advertising popular performers on that label, although retail shops would often insert the discs into sleeves advertising the shop itself. Some were more adventurous and used multiple colour printing teamed with eye catching illustrations. The national audiovisual collection has numerous sleeves from Australian labels and retailers, but relatively few from the rest of the world. Sleeves from the international market often have a charm all of their own.
For archival storage purposes the discs are stored in specially made acid-free paper sleeves. The original sleeves are often in such poor condition that they are discarded. Nevertheless a representative collection of 78 rpm sleeves forms part of the Documents and artefacts collection and they tell a story (or stories) of their own about the history of the Australian music industry.
Square dancing was a popular social activity in Australia during the 1950s and Eddie Carol one of the leading dance callers. Pacific was an independent label in the ’50s who released a range of popular music.
Okeh started off as an independent in 1916, but was bought by Columbia in the late ’20s. The label name was used intermittently through the 1930s, but by the early ’50s it was being used exclusively for Columbia’s R&B artists.
Rex Records was created in 1933 as a cheap label during the Depression with their 10 inch discs selling for one shilling. The label survived the takeover of the parent company, Crystalate, by Decca in 1937, before disappearing in 1948.
The Japanese label King Records was established in 1931 and remains one of Japan’s largest independent record companies. This sleeve is from the 1950s and the two singers on the front are Chiemi Eri on the left and Peggy Hayama on the right, both popular singers in 1950s Japan.