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Early Phonograph Record collection

Identifier: CoU-AMRC-100

Scope and Contents

The Early Phonograph Record collection consists of 7 boxes of 133 phonograph records (121 ten inch discs and 12 twelve inch discs) produced during the approximate time period of 1912-1940. Edison Diamond Discs form the bulk of the collection and range from early recordings on the Edison label through the later Edison Record and Edison Re-Creation labels. A limited number of discs from various contemporaneous record labels, such as Victor, Columbia and Victrola, also are represented. Musical genres include orchestral dance music, Christmas songs, Hawaiian melodies and classical compositions.


  • Creation: 1900-1940

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research access.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is open for research use. Due to the fragility of the original discs, however, any listening requests will require the production of digitized copies at the expense of the researcher(s). Some discs may be too damaged to digitize.

<emph render="bold">Historical Information</emph>

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, a machine capable of both recording sound and replaying it. For his earliest recordings, he impressed sound waves on cylinders wrapped with tinfoil. Other inventors of the late 19th century quickly modified and improved both the phonograph and its recording formats and made them both commercially available. Edison Records was one of the first recording labels, but Edison soon would have many competitors. For all his talents as an inventor and businessman, Edison was unable to achieve lasting success with his pioneering record and phonograph companies.

Cylinder records constructed of hollow wax and, later, celluloid, dominated the market until around 1910. Disc records had been introduced in Europe and the United States in the 1890s, but their sound quality was poor. As their sound quality was refined, discs became popular with the public because of their longer playing time and ease of storage. Eventually, discs proved commercially more successful than cylinders because they could be mass produced in greater quantities at less cost. Cylinders gradually became obsolete, and Edison Records was the last phonograph company of the time to produce recordings commercially in this format. Edison Records failed in 1929, due, in part, to Edison’s insistence on concentrating his production on cylinders, only introducing a flat record in 1912, the same year rival label Columbia discontinued their cylinder line. These records were the Edison Diamond Discs – so-called because they used a special diamond stylus for playing. Edison tried to retain a proprietary hold on his recordings by specifying that his discs should only be played on an Edison phonograph, and indeed, the ordinary steel needle used on most other phonograph machines could not play a Diamond Disc record. Although the sound quality of Edison discs was considered superior, both the discs and the Edison phonograph were more expensive to purchase than others on the market. Edison’s insistence on keeping his discs incompatible with other companies’ phonographs was another factor in the undoing of Edison Records, as consumers preferred the lower cost and the compatibility of his competitors’ products.

The first disc records were made of hard rubber; later shellac and other laminates were applied to the outside of a disc with a core composed of an admixture of materials like clay, resin, mineral fillers, lampblack and cotton fibers. Edison Diamond Discs were unique in that they were ¼ inch (6mm) thick, much thicker than standard records, in order to accommodate the vertical cut of the record grooves and the up-and-down motion of the diamond stylus. The needles of most other phonographs of the day moved side-to-side in shallower grooves. Because of their age and their composition, Edison Diamond Discs are prone to breakdown and damage. Since the core materials will absorb moisture, overexposure to damp or wet conditions can cause warping, cracking and delamination. Edison discs are somewhat brittle and will chip around the edges. They will scratch like any other record. Damage to Edison discs caused by playing them on a non-Edison phonograph like a Victrola is a common finding. The steel needle of standard phonographs slices through the grooves of an Edison disc and destroys the recording.


7 boxes (4.5 linear feet)

Language of Materials


Arrangement of the Early Phonograph Record collection

The collection is arranged into 2 series. Series 1 consists of all the Edison discs, organized alphabetically into 3 subseries by the specific Edison label – Edison, Edison Record and Edison Re-Creation. Series 2 contains all other records in the collection, separated into two groups (10 inch discs and 12 inch discs), arranged alphabetically by record label within those two groups. Within the 3 Edison subseries and within the Series 2 record label groupings, the individual discs are arranged alphabetically by the title of the composition on side 1.

Series 1

Series 2

  1. Brunswick
  2. Columbia
  3. Decca
  4. Gennett
  5. M.G.M
  6. Romeo
  7. Victor
  8. Victor Record
  9. Victrola
  10. World's Greatest Music

Physical Location

Housed in the American Music Research Center

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The phonograph records were retrieved in 2014 from the basement of Macky Auditorium on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder and were transferred to the American Music Research Center at that time. The discs had been stored in the Macky location for many years, and the original provenance is unknown.


Processed and encoded by
Sandy Harriss
Date completed:
September 2017
The Early Phonograph Record collection 1900-1940
An inventory of holdings at the American Music Research Center
Conversion Draft
Sandy Harriss
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States