Archaic Records


latest on home-recorded records:
Recordings Offer Acoustic Novels Of American Families
by Phil Nohl, on NPR's All Things Considered (Sept. 7, 2009)

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Archaic Records

Around 1998 I began a web page that discussed the collecting of home recordings in the form of "acetate" lacquer records (and other varieties such as plastic pasted onto cardboard), and included sound recordings of some of my earliest acquired records of this sort. The page started as an early form of blogging, however, eventually I did not change it much, especially when the turntable I used to sample a few quit working (the wiring connected to the cartridge went bad). Although my intention was to keep updating it, this proved too much of a hassle especially since I was hand-coding it with HTML code, which was just too time-intensive, especially for material with such limited appeal.

Now that the concept of blogging has become more in vogue, and websites such as this one at blogspot have solved many of the coding issues, I feel it is high time to update the page, fix some wrong information, links, etc., and perhaps add some new info.

Plus, I will be playing some of these acetate recordings at a local phonograph collectors meeting next week, many of which I have not heard yet myself (due to current lack of decent turntable, along with the the fact that these records are so fragile and each time a record is played it wears it down significantly.

At any rate, I will copy below the original text begun in 1998, along with some corrections and updates.




ca. 1998

I have a collection of acetates which I occassionally find atantique stores, thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, attics, etc. Many of these have very little information written on the labels, and most are homemade recordings. These I find particularly interesting, because you never know what you're going to get. Many are boring, others poorly recorded, but occasionally you'll find a gem, such as a recording of a rare radio program, or better yet, a sampling of the radio dial -- where the recordist recorded the radio while turning the dial, giving us a rare snapshot of history, of what one may have heard on the radio at that particular time. Those early days of radio were much more interesting, and of greater value, than today's preprogrammed, satellite-delivered, computerized playlists.

At any rate, first some technical background about these rare, one-of-a-kind records.


Acetates are records, usually recorded at 78 RPM, usually 10 inches in size, recorded on primitive home disc recorders, which were on the market during the 1940's. They have an aluminum metal base, coated with black lacquer, which the recording stylus etches (cuts) the groove into while recording. Most recorders had a constant-pitch feedscrew which moved the arm containing the recording-stylus across the record at a constant rate.

As the website "Vinyl Engine" explains: Since the 1930s, most blank acetate discs have been manufactured with a base, usually aluminum (although glass was used during the war years and cardboard for inexpensive home recordings), that was coated with nitrocellulose lacquer plasticized with castor oil. Because of the lacquer's inherent properties, acetate discs are the least stable type of sound recording.

If you are going to collect "acetate" (lacquer) records, keep in mind that the castor oil base that the lacquer material is composed of is highly unstable. Saran wrap is particularly an enemy. Once I received a lacquer record bought through ebay that was wrapped in Saran wrap. When pealing away the saran wrap, castor oil was all over the place, pulled right out of the record. I still haven't played it, but at least the grooves are large and still visible so there should still be some sound left, although I'm sure very noisy.

RCA marketed a lower-priced system, until Aug. 7, 1944 (when they destroyed the remaining label printing plates and leftover label stock), using pre-grooved records, however, since the groove moved the recording stylus (instead of a feedscrew), it only made small impressions in the groove wall. The frequency response has been reported to be a very narrow 2 KHz to 2.1 KHz. [Now I don't know what the source is for this paragraph -- should have linked it.]

Some brands of these recorders and recording blanks (the actual records) include Presto, Wilcox-Gay, Recordio, Rek-O-Kut, Tru-Kut, and Meissner. Recording blanks were also made by Audiodisc (out of New York City). Blanks are still being made by Transco and Apollo.

The quality of home recordings (of the 1940s-1960s) is usually horrendous, as the machines themselves had many sonic limitations, and people usually had limited experience using them.

Acetate records for amateur home recording have blank labels, which are there for people to mark the title, artist (or "recorder"), date, speed, and whether the disc plays "outside in" or "inside out". "Outside In" means you put the needle on the outside like most records (and the needle works its way to the center while it plays -- the groove moves the needle along). "Inside Out", or "Center-Start", means you must put the needle on the innermost groove, and the groove will push the needle toward the outside while it plays. "Inside Out" records are quite rare.

Transcription discs recorded by radio stations, however, particularly the 16-inch variety, usually have the second side recorded inside out; it is so the equalization changes are less noticeable....equalization (that is, treble and bass) changes, particularly with diminishing treble response, as the needle makes its way toward the center, and was particularly noticeable on these early records (but not noticeable to the human ear on modern stereo LPs).

Acetates are interesting to collect, however, since you never know what you're gonna get -- Forrest Gump would like them. They rarely have identifiable information written on the labels, and are usually impossible to identify the source -- who recorded them, whose voice(s) is (are) recorded on them.

I am (was) in the process of sampling & encoding some of my collection of weird records, including these acetates.

Slinky Duet

Check this one's a home acetate record (recorded on a Presto blank, with a pink Presto label). This 10" record was recorded at 78 r.p.m. (and "outside in" on both sides, as most records). As Steven Phipps points out, perhaps they forgot to cross a "t" and it's actually supposed to be
"Stinky Duet."

On one side, it says: Speaking...White Xmas TITLE: J.W. - speaking RECORDER: D.Dunn & J. Weber DATE: 1/11/48.

The other side says: TITLE: Down by The Old Mill Stream - Near You RECORDER: Slinky Duet, DATE: 1/11/48 3:00 AM.

If anyone knows who this is, please write me and explain.

This is a 1-minute sample of this "Slinky Duet" acetate, taken from the most interesting part of the "Down By The Old Mill Stream" side (the last minute or so of the side). The entire record is recorded at low volume, until the very end of this side. Since the volume was low, the scratchiness is very loud and a bit unnerving....that is, until the very end, when the recordist finally discovers the problem. Listen to it to find out what happened.


("Down By The Old Mill Stream")

RealAudio Download (mono, 780 kb)

mp3 Download (1 mb)

Amos & Andy

Next is a 78 RPM acetate apparently recorded at a radio station for airplay, announcing a minstrel show at a Woodridge High School, presented by a Lion's Club, done with 2 actors imitating the voices of Amos & Andy. Could it be the original Amos & Andy actors?

RealAudio (888 Kb, mono)

1952 Motorola TV commercial

Here is a recording of a country music radio program, including a commercial for a 1952 Motorola TV. The grooves are so shallow, I had to keep moving the stylus back until it played each groove, then edited it on the computer until I had something that makes enough sense. As you can tell by listening to it, it might require quite a few more hours or days of editing than it might be worth, to get the whole recording.

"Singing Hills" and 1952 Motorola TV (mp3)

Woman's Lecture

Here's a woman reading from"University Days", a speech by James Thurber. Halfway into the recording, when she's cut off, the other side of the record starts, where you hear her counting.

[A previous post explained that a visitor to the Weird Records site several years ago, Michael Petruzzi, wondered if it were another woman, but perhaps it only sounds like a different person because of the change in equalization? Michael further elaborated that "the woman is clearly reading from a book, and as for her name it's Geri (can't really make out the last name). The date is September 25 or 26, and sounds more like Sept. 25, 1951. Also, at the beginning of the lecture, she mentions the town, which sounds like Montclair New Jersey." Another visitor to this site, Henry Emrich, pointed out: "Her name is: Geri Lockerty or Laugherty. The book is NOT "Universe Begins" (as suggested previously), which would be a contextually-inaccurate title, but "University Days." He talks endlessly in the excerpt, about his college experiences. Looking through a microscope? This is an interesting reading here....she does very well. The date is 1951 (which would be consistent with the sound quality)."

Mike Petruzzi also discovered two possibilities as to what Montclair, NJ private school this record came from: the most likely would be Larcordaire Academy (taught by Dominican nuns), otherwise it might be the Montclair-Kimberley Academy (now co-ed, but all-girls at the possible time of the recording).

Woman's Lecture (mp3)


Here's one sent in by visitor Tyrone Settlemier. As he explains: "This is a dictaphone cylinder that was sawed in half. It was then recorded on a standard cylinder machine. I think this was made with a phonograph horn, by (drunk?) phonograph collectors in the 1950's. Anyway, definately a WEIRD item. Those horrible clicks are because of a large crack in the cylinder. It's possible the crack was caused by sawing the cylinder, which means they would have recorded over the crack. Very interesting...... Glenn Sage at transferred this for me. I hope we're still on speaking terms now that I sent this for posting, just kidding. It was fun to watch his reaction the first time this was played, when I could see, since I was laughing too hard." -Tyrone

Choose your format: mp3 | WAV

Jim Stephens, who does audio restoration for a living, did a quick restoration of this recording, removing the clicks and pops, resulting in something more listenable. Play the "mp3" version above, to hear the results. Jim advises that: "when transferring acetates, don't use the "phono" input of your amplifier. Hook up your turntable to a tape deck that has microphone inputs and use those nstead. This will sidestep the RIAA phono equalization curve and the recordings will come out a lot cleaner-sounding."

[posted 10/24/1999] Here's a new one, sent in by Barry Schneck: liebestraum.mp3 (1.6 mb) A recording called "Liebestraum" by an unknown Philadelphia band, found on an acetate. As Barry explains: "I'm assuming its date to be in the late forties. It was recorded (apparently at a party) by the "Reco-Art Sound Recordings Co". of Glen Echo Road in Philadelphia. That recording credit is rubber stamped on the label. It's on a 10" Audiodisc."

[posted 10/28/1999] Here's another from Barry: 2BlackCrows-part1.mp3 (1.6 mb) Thought you'd be amused at this offering from 1927! Here is part 1 of an 8 part series called "Two Black Crows". It is some honest-to-goodness blackface vaudeville by Charles E. Mack and George Moran.

[posted 12/2/1999] Also from Barry: please2.mp3(1.8 mb) This song is "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone". It's performed by an unknown Philadelphia band - I assume in the mid- to late forties. It's recorded on an aluminum based yellow label Audiodisc. On the label of the disc is stamped "Reco-Art Sound Recording Company...Philadelphia, Penna." I know no other history than this. I'm assuming this is a black group as I have heard things on other records by the same band that hint at this. The music is also played with great energy. There's also evidence that this was recorded at a party; clinking of glasses, talk in the audience, etc. There are other discs in my collection like this by the same band (evidenced by the distinctive sound). [Barry]

[posted 12/2/1999] Wilcox Recordings, from John H. Meyer radiopromo02051940.mp3 (830 kb) This record that was taken from a radio broadcast, including a lead-in advertisement for Malto-Meal.

FredAllen02051941-part1.mp3(740 kb) This record, both sides, contains a recording made from the Fred Allen show. Date on the record was 2-5-1941. This website: has a log of every Fred Allen show ever broadcast. Neither that site, nor other Fred Allen sites seem to have any audio from this show. Therefore, this is probably the only audio in existence of these few minutes from that show. Enjoy! [John H. Meyer]

[posted 12/18/1999]
Home-cut Records, from Dan Howlett
How The Record Cutter Works(0:42 mp3, 253K)

"Now this is the way the gadget works: this tube here has got to light up almost continuously, and this one over here on the right will light up from time to time on the highs. It's recorded on there, you see the wax coming off in a little circle? Well, at the end of your recording you simply pick that up and dispose of it - it's highly inflammable, so you've got to be careful with it. Then, of course, when you're finished recording you simply lift the recorder, switch this back to phono playback, put the reproducer arm on and listen to what you've recorded."

Sore Sid(0:25 mp3, 162K) "Hey Sid, what the hell are you looking so sore about? Can't you smile? Well, for Christ's sake don't sit there like a, um, well for heaven's sake don't sit there like that, dummy. I'll show you something. Sid sure looks like he's got all the worries of the world on him, doesn't he?"

How The Record Cutter Doesn't Work (0:20 mp3, 130K) "Well, I wonder how this is going to work, the gosh damn thing." "Well, I wonder what's going to happen to her this time? Yeah, dah George. If it don't work, I'm going to toss it out the bloody window!"

[posted 01/05/2003] Wilcox-Gay Recordio disc and a Zephyr disc from Drew Taylor. (On New Years Eve 2002 & first week of 2003) Drew Taylor sent this in: I am a collector of 78s with interests in home recorded discs mostly. At an antique shop in Columbus Ohio filled with pleanty of homemade records, I found two discs that may be of use on your weird records website.

wilcoxgay.mp3 comes from a Wilcox-Gay Recordio disc and seems to have been made for Margie and Mary by two half drunk guys playing with a recorder. The record seems to have suffered some water damage and the felt pen writing on the label has wiped off. It sounds like something they made on a friend's recorder to send to their girlfriends elsewhere in the world. [Here's a sample of a few minutes of the same recording ran through a restoring process by Antonio at Hinkchkraft Studios.]

zephyr-backstreet-eddee-chauder.mp3 comes from a Zephyr recording disc and has the title "Back Street" or something similar to that and then recorded by "Eddee Chauder". Most of it seems to be jazzy music but at the end of this clip the lady operating the phonograph gets frustrated at the machine. There is more chattering in the background but I can't make out what they are saying.

The Wilcox-Gay record was recorded at somewhere between 33 and 45 RPM instead of 78RPM outside-in (my player has a variable speed inbetween the standards). The speed varies slightly throughout the record so it seems as though they had a bad recorder or were not very skilled in operating it.
Play the Clips

Wilcox-Gay Recordio:
download 15mb mp3 stream (RealAudio)
Zephyr disc:
download 1 mb mp3 stream (RealAudio)

[posted June 1, 2003]

The Newcomer Twins on WWVA (Wheeling, WV)

Chuck Miller recently acquired a cachet of rare 1940's acetates of West Virginia radio station WWVA (Wheeling). He originally transcribed these acetates, which were recorded at 78 RPM, at 33 1/3 RPM and used a combination of Diamond Cut Millennium and Cool Edit 2000 to resample the sound back to its original pitch.

note the braille labeling on the jacket, as they were both blind

As Chuck explains:
These discs were recorded by two performers on the station, Maxine and Eileen Newcomer, both blind since birth who later developed a following throughout West Virginia as popular singers. I've transferred several of these to CD, and several of them are now in the possession of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as the Newcomers never recorded professionally. As they were blind, much of the information on the dust jackets was printed in braille!

mp3 #1: Down By The Old Red Depot (1.8 mb)

This was taken right off the air at WWVA in Wheeling WV in November 1944. They're talking with Wyn Sheldon, then they start singing "Down By The Old Red Depot."

Here's one of their songs as performed on WWVA radio in the early 1940's: mp3 #2: Margie (720 kb)

And here's another clip of the Newcomers on the radio. Note that the radio host first asks the Newcomers if they'll see all the skyscrapers in their home town (Harrison City, Pa.), oblivious to the fact that Maxine and Eileen Newcomer were both blind. Then another announcer makes a crack about how he'll write to them in Braille.
mp3 #3: Newcomer Twins with Lew Clawson, Aug. 19, 1943 (1.8 mb)

For the full story, read Chuck Miller's article, Collecting Radio Station Acetates - and the story of the Newcomer Twins

In answer to the most frequently asked question:

Apollo Masters is the place to buy reference lacquers (recording blanks, a.k.a. "acetates").
Click here for details

For more rare, archived recordings, be sure and visit NPR's collection of archived sounds from these unusual, "weird" records .

How to Play Recordings

To play the recordings above, you'll need the Real Audio or Real Media player and/or an mp3 player .

Frequently Asked Question

Where can I buy blank discs for my Presto (or other brand) disc recorder/cutter?

Answer: Transco and Apollo are the only manufacturers of record blanks that I'm aware of. Please click on the link and ask them for availability and prices. You should be able to find modern blanks that will fit your recorder. Disc blanks are not preformatted to any particular speed, so there should be no problem recording 78s as long as they fit your recorder. You may also want to check ebay from time to time.
Enter this forum to discuss anything related to this page, including acetates, rare home-recorded records, unusal finds, etc.

(2006) News from the Lathe Trolls: How to copy a record using silicone plastic
discussion here

(not regularly tested, so some might not work)

The Black Smokehouse

The Secret Society of Lathe Trolls forum

beer can recording

365 Days Project (UBU WEB):
Check out this acetate, found at a Goodwill in 2000, of two women singing quite offkey       (new for January 2006)

Thomas Edison online museum

Cylinder, Disc and Tape Care in a Nutshell (Preservation, Library of Congress)

WFMU's Antique Phonograph Music Program and Thomas Edison's Attic  (Every Tuesday evening, 7:00pm-8:00pm, listen live over the internet, or play archived recordings)

Berkeley Lab's Particle Beam Accelerator "Record Player"  The most expensive record "player" in the world, the best way to extract sound from any phonograph groove cut into any object.

Recording Technology History   alternate address

The Presto History Page

If you have questions about old recordings on 78, cylinder, or other old format, or about old recording technology, consider asking the 78-L Mailing List

"Vinyl Killer" Record Player
Lay a record on a flat surface, and this bus plays the record by travelling around it!manufacturer's old website (mostly offline)

Flo's Cutterhead and Disc-Mastering-Lathe Page

Sources for Recording Blanks and Supplies

Waxworks Records (record mastering & pressing)

Audio & Vinyl LP Resources

Deep Sky Audio Services
Audio Restoration Services - transfer your wires, acetates, albums, etc., to CD

Lost and Found Sound
(Radio series about rare archive recordings, from NPR's All Things Considered)

Rare, unusual records collected by NPR

The Hart Recordograph
(Phonograph recording on a strip of sprocketed 35mm movie film!)
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1, Radio Broadcasting (
"The AFRS and the Army Signal Corps also experimented with several radically new recording technologies. One was the Hart Recordograph, a machine that embossed a sound record on a cellophane strip. While the Army news services found the Recordograph useful, in the postwar period it failed to catch on."

The Edison Shop

Phonovision & Silvatone
(78rpm videodiscs from the 1920's and 30's)

Another page featuring Baird's Phonovision Videodiscs

The Scopitone and Le Scopitone! and article
1960's music video film jukebox!

The Wire Recorder

The Laser Turntable | Read this about the Laser Turntable

Edison Effect laser record player (art installation)
another link

Aardvark Mastering - record new records here

photos of record cutting lathes

blank wax cylinders

The Dead Media Project

old dead media links page

another Dead Media Project site

(links to many dead media sites)

David Letterman's Weird Records
Articles and Links about collectable records

Record and Phonograph Links
(most comprehensive list of links)

restore your rare records & convert to CD

Quadraphonic tapes to AC-3 (quad) CD conversion

La Voca Antica
Italian Opera 78s (mostly pre-1930)

Music for Sale (in the U.K.)

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