Collecting Vintage Children's Records
What Is A Vintage "Kiddie"
Record? If you are old enough, do you remember
listening to 78-rpm "kiddie" records when you were growing
up? Or maybe your parents did. Being a child of the
late 40's and 50's, I do. It is this fond memory and
the nostalgia for them, which started me off on a collection
in uncharted waters--vintage children's records.
A majority of people reading this article who grew
up in the post World War II years had a collection
of children's records. It is surprising, therefore,
in this current era of nostalgia craze and "anything
is collectable", that the hobby of collecting old
kiddie records has not yet been established. Up until 2006, no comprehensive
guide book on the subject had been published. That situation
has been resolved now that I have published my "The Complete Guide To Vintage
Children's Records", the first complete identification and price guide of vintage kiddie
records. You can order this book from me directly on this Website.
It has been my goal to make a significant contribution
to this field of collectibles, and this goal has now been realized. The listings will
probably never be completed, as most of the companies that made them
are long since out of business, and have left no information
behind. In my collection, I currently have more than
13,000 vintage children's records (not counting duplicates)
on almost 450 labels and label variations, from the United States and at least 25 other countries.
I have listings of perhaps another 2000 not yet in my collection. Most of these labels were exclusively for children,
or were a subsidiary label just for children. As much
information as I have gathered so far, there is so
much more to discover. This is something that I am
pursuing with a passion. Whatever comes out of this
project will offer far more information than exists
today. I recently have had the honor of the Library
of Congress acquiring a significant part of my collection
for their archives.
How Old is Old?
The era of 78-rpm records started in Germany
in 1890, followed by the United States in 1894. This
happened when the single sided "flat" disc was created
by Emil Berliner as an alternative to cylinders. William
Paley, head of Columbia records introduced the long-play
microgroove LP (33 1/3) in July, 1948. NBC's(RCA Victor)David
Sarnoff responded with the 45-rpm record in January,
1949. During the late 1950's and early 1960's, the production
of 78's phased out in favor of LP's (33 1/3) and 45's.
The latest American 78-rpm in my collection is dated
1966, although I own some British 78s made in 1974!
Most American record companies, in fact, did not make
78's after the early 1960s.
According to Diana Tillson, a noted children's music
collector, writing in The Ephemera Journal (Vol. 6,
1993): "the earliest children's recorded discs are five-inch
celluloid composition discs with nursery rhyme lyrics
glued to the back which were in included with toy phonographs
made in Germany in the early 1890's."
While record size (diameter) ranges from 3 ½
" to 12", most kiddie records are 6-7" or 10". It
is important to note that "78-rpm" refers to the speed
at which the record revolves on the turntable-not
the diameter (size of the record). This is a common
misunderstanding among the non-initiated. If you have
any doubts on a record you own, find a 78-rpm record
player and play the record. If it sounds like "The
Chipmunks", you probably have a 45- or 33 1/3-rpm
A Brief Survey of Early
Kiddie Record Series
For the purpose of this
survey, the early years of kiddie series records comprise,
more or less, the period from the beginning of WWI
to the end of WWII (1914 to 1945). Although many 'single'
children's records were issued by the few record companies
in existence prior to WWI, I am not aware of any series
or 'runs' of exclusively kiddie titles.
One of the most well known issues was a series of
14 "Bubble Books" produced by Harper-Columbia between
1917 and 1922. It was one of the earliest series of
records in the USA devoted to the children's market.
Each release consisted of sleeves for three small
(5 ½") one-sided records bound into a small
book. Each record sleeve included beautiful line drawings
in full color, along with several pages devoted to
the story and lyrics. These "books with records" are
highly collectible by both record and antiquarian
book collectors. Other record manufacturers of the
era making children's records, either exclusively,
or as part of their catalogues included Little Tots,
Cameo Kids, Youngster Grey Gull, Lindstrom, Emerson,
Talkie-Jektor, Durotone, Nic, LaVelle Bobolink (records
in a book), Talking Books, Kiddie Rekords, and Pictorial
Records (the first "picture discs"). Some of these
series (e.g. Talkie-Jektor, Nic, and Durotone) came
with a toy projector and filmstrips, which were synchronized
with the record being played.
A popular series called "Little Wonder" manufactured
by Columbia Graphaphone Company was founded in 1914
and issued over one thousand small (5½") one-sided
records over the next nine years. The records were
sold for 10 cents in Woolworth's and other five and
dime stores. Despite appearances, Little Wonder was
not primarily a children's record (e.g. the label
of some of the later issues had a picture of a baton-wielding
infant.) With the exception of about 40 records of
nursery rhymes and folk songs for kids, they were
aimed at the adult market. This becomes obvious when
one reads the song titles.
Most of the above listed series are quite uncommon,
but because there is no established collector's market
for them, the costs are not high-usually under $4
for a single record, and up to $100 or more for complete
books with matching records in very nice shape. One
of the most unusual and beautiful series was the Talking
Books series (1918-19). With a few exceptions, they
are not actually books, but 4 1/8" records, which
are riveted to the face of a die-cut card that is
several inches larger than the record. The term "phonographic
tablet" occasionally appeared in the literature. The
backing is a cutout shape, roughly in the form of
the subject of the record, usually an animal or generic
children's doll theme. Some of the issues are: "I
Am a Parrot", The Mocking Bird", "The Fox". There
are also some WW 1 subjects, a Mother Goose, and a
"tired" baby. Unlike most generic kiddie records,
this series commands high prices in auctions, often
reaching $75 to $300 and more in excellent condition.
The end of this period saw the introduction of extended
kiddie series (a.k.a. "youth", "juvenile") by some
of the major labels. Columbia's Playtime, a long running
series of 6" and 7" records (originally 70 titles,
then reissued in a series of 113 titles) began in
the late 1930's and continued up to 1954. RCA's budget
line, Bluebird, issued its first large kiddie series
from 1937 to 1942. It consisted of 119 records in
52 sets. Each set came in an illustrated "envelope"
and/or box. Decca (beginning 1939), Columbia's 10"
series (1939) and RCA Victor (1944) turned out significant
children's series, which continued into the mid- to
late 1950's on 78-rpm. These series continued to be
issued on 45s and LPs throughout the 1960's into the
70s. It should be noted that prior to the launching
of the "youth" series mentioned above, all of the
major record companies and many minor ones issued
single children's records that were part of their
The "Golden Age" of Kiddie
78-rpm Records: 1946-1956
brought in a number of major innovations in the production
of kiddie records that allowed their sales to soar
to astronomical heights as compared with earlier years.
The first and most important was the introduction
of vinyl ("non-breakable") records. Earlier
produced records were, for the most part, made of
brittle shellac. Vinyl records were almost unbreakable.
Secondly, the records themselves were often made of
brightly colored materials and were packaged in beautifully
designed, vividly colored sleeves and album covers.
Thirdly, the availability of small and inexpensive
"kiddie" record players became widespread. All of
these factors combined to encourage parents to buy
records for the kids, knowing that they would stand
up to the rough handling and abuse that would surely
come to pass and that the children would be attracted
In addition to the physical attributes mentioned
above, the creation and production of the songs and
stories were done, in many cases, at great expense
and specifically for the record being released. Prior
to approximately 1953, record companies did not have
to compete with television for the attention of the
children with respect to entertainment. Therefore,
they competed with one another in their productions
to get market share. Most major companies hired (sometimes
exclusively) the talents of famous actors and singers.
Many famous personalities produced some or many kiddie
records (Dennis Day, Gene Kelly, Gene Autry, Patti
Page and Bing Crosby, to name a few). Others produced
only one or two (e.g. Groucho Marx, Jimmy Stewart,
Ingrid Bergman and Lionel Barrymore). The end of the
1940's saw a proliferation of companies producing
seemingly countless series of kiddie records. Some
of the larger producers started releasing the more
popular records e.g. Christmas carols, fairy tales,
bestsellers) as parallel issues in both 78 and 45rpm
formats in the early 1950's. The cover artwork was
usually identical in both. Eventually after 78s were
phased out entirely, the 45's continued to be released
into the 1980's until they were phased out in favor
of CD's and cassettes.
One of the most famous children's series from this
era was launched in 1948. Golden Records, a part Simon
& Schuster, publisher of the famous "Little Golden
Books", started issuing small (6"), almost indestructible
yellow plastic records. This series was an immediate
hit with both parents and kids. They were available
at almost any grocery market for 25 cents. Most of
the first issues were musical story renditions of
Little Golden Books. The child could read the book
and follow along with the record. The series continued
well into the 1960's, and to this day remains as probably
the largest of all kiddie record sets. Sadly, Arthur Shimkin, the founder of
Golden Records, visionary and personal friend, passed away on
December 4, 2006.
RCA Victor's youth series that began in 1944 became
known as the famous "Little Nipper" series in 1950.
Many of the popular Disney stories, which were made
into movies, as well as the more popular TV shows
of the day (e.g. Howdy Doody, Tom Corbett Space Cadet)
appeared in this series and today are among the more
valuable and popular of all kiddie 78s.
A few companies became known as strictly "children's
record" producers. In addition to those mentioned
in the previous paragraphs, many readers will remember:
Peter Pan, Cricket, Columbia Playtime, Record Guild of America,
Voco, Young People's Records/Children's Record Guild
(a division of the Book of the Month Club), Mercury
Childcraft and Playcraft, Red Raven (picture discs).
Then there are those small companies that
produced few kiddie records, let alone any others.
Unfamiliar as the following are, they, nevertheless,
contributed to the plethora of products: Pied Piper,
Rocking Horse, Pilotone, Melodee, Toono, Belda, DeLuxe,
Winant, Allegro, Magic Tone, Karousel, Twinkle, Color
Tunes, Musicraft, Little John, Little Pal, Merry-Go-Sound, Mayfair, Musette,
Caravan. This is a small sampling of some of the lesser-known
labels of the post WW2 era. In addition, an entire
section of my book will focus on educational, instructional,
and religious series of children's records. Most of
these are not avidly collected, but are, nevertheless,
part of the legacy of kiddie 78s.
Besides standard records, a large number of picture-discs
came out, including several that could be cut out
of the back of cereal boxes. With a picture disc the
whole record is a graphic image or photograph. The
grooves are either cut right into the picture, or
on a clear laminate of plastic that is affixed to
the picture disc. One places the needle right on the
record's picture. As a rule, picture discs are more
valuable than standard records.
Tips For Starting A Kiddie
For those of you who have been immersed in more established
collecting fields, starting a collection of vintage
children's records will be relatively inexpensive.
I would estimate that most "generic" kiddie records
in at least VG to EX condition could be had for $3
to $10, and very often for much less. I am talking
about perhaps 80-90% of all those available.
So, if you are ready to
begin your collection of vintage children's records,
here are a few pointers to help you get started:
Because most people collect kiddie records for the graphics
on the cover, records without original sleeves or album
covers have little or no collector value. Generally,
you can find loose (sleeveless) records for 25¢
-$1.00 at flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill, etc.
Of course, if you remembered a particular one from growing
up, you would want to hear the record, sometimes "at
any cost". In this case, the existence of the original
cover may not be as important to you. The exception
to this rule is, of course, picture discs. The record
itself contains the graphics. "Pic-discs" start out
at $4-5 and range up to $20-50 for the majority. Many,
however, are considerably more valuable.
Any record is ultimately worth whatever one is willing to pay
for it. Price guides such as my soon-to-be-published book are just that: only 'guides'.
Supply and demand,along with the subject matter is the driving force.
Records and their corresponding covers which contain
"characters" from TV shows, cartoons, juvenile series
books, movies, comic books,etc. will be more in demand
than their generic counterparts. Certain generic subjects,
such as black Americana, paper doll cutouts (on the
covers), 1950s rocket ships and outer space themes,
famous illustrators (of covers), robots, and so forth,
will also be more collectable. Crossover collectibility
results in greater demand, thus higher values. The
dealer knows that these records can command his asking
price because his customers want anything with these
characters on it. Mitigating that situation, however,
is the phenomenon of eBay and other Internet auctions.
Many previously scarce records have been coming out
of the woodwork, so to speak.
If you are used to collecting items only in mint
condition, don't get hung up on this criteria. Kiddie
records haven't survived the decades as well as many
other collectible items because of the wear and tear
they received from their young owners. If you see
a record you like in less than perfect condition,
even if it is only "fair" or "good", you may want
to pick it up, especially if the price is low (which
it should be). Most of these records, especially those
with crossover collectibility, or limited production,
you may not see again for a very, very long time.
Even though you may be buying the item for the graphic
beauty of the cover, the condition of the record is
relatively important-in other words, it shouldn't
be severely warped, cracked, or otherwise damaged.
Otherwise, it has no value. Just remember you are
not buying CD's here. Ultimately, the record is worth
whatever it's worth to you. Just enjoy! "If the records
don't come to you, you must go to the records". Try:
Google, eBay, nostalgia blogs; ads in antique and/or record
collector magazines; flea markets, garage sales, antique
shows, record shows--in other words, "all the usual
Peter Muldavin has that unique quality which makes a collector
of children's ephemera successful. His wife, Helene, affectionately describes him as
"sixty-something going on six". Peter has been a longtime collector
of everything from baseball cards, non-sports cards, Golden Age comics, Big Little Books,stamps,coins,
and old children's series books to his current focus on vintage
kiddie records. As with most of his collections, this
one got started as a nostalgic pursuit of some of his
most precious childhood memories. But, when he looked
for price guides and checklists to know what was "out
there", he found none. And after his collection was
well under way, he even went to the Library of Congress
to research the subject. He discovered to his surprise
that he had more information than they did. At this
point, Peter's "hobby" became his "mission"-i.e., to
list all kiddie 78rpm records made in the USA, and hopefully to keep the genre from fading into extinction.
A major step towards this goal has now been
accomplished with the release of his new guide book on vintage children's records.
His current inventory of approximately 13,000 discs is the largest of its kind in the world.
He is acknowledged as the country's leading expert in this field.
Peter is always looking to buy, sell, and trade
vintage children's records. Additionally, copyright
permitting, you can request a custom CD or
MP3 of any of his records, as well as reproductions of the cover art. See the "order CDs and MP3s" page
elsewhere on this Website for pricing and ordering information.
Peter can be contacted at: E-mail: email@example.com; or write to him at: 173 W. 78th St. New York,
NY 10024; Phone: (212) 362-9606;
or visit www.kiddierekordking.com