Ted Staunton was born in England, but now lives an active retired lifestyle in Vancouver, Canada. Ted has an outstanding collection of 78 rpm record labels. We talked about his collection, how he got started, and what excites him about the hobby during this recent telephone interview.
Q: When did you become interested in collecting 78 rpm record labels?
A: My interest in 78 rpm labels grew out of another hobby, that of singing in a barbershop quartet. Listening to the sounds of quartets from the long-distant past led me into searching for their original 78 rpm recordings, beginning in the late 1990s. Being a typographic designer by profession, with a passionate interest in history, I soon began to appreciate the wide variety of designs to be found on 78 rpm record labels, and to broaden my collection to include them. By 2002, I decided I had enough to launch a website.
Q. (Weil/ephemera): What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in collecting? How do you overcome these challenges?
A. (Staunton): Collecting 78 rpm records is great fun, and it’s easy to do. There’s a kick in finding something up that’s up to 100 years old for just a dollar or two–knowing it’s worth perhaps 20, 30, or 50 times that much–and bringing history to life by playing it.
That said, there are obstacles to be overcome. To start with, one needs a 78 rpm speed record player. Hand-cranked antique Victrolas are usually in the $400-plus range, while most modern electric motor-driven record players only operate at 45 or 33 1/3 rpm.
Also, it can be hard to find antique or collectible stores with a decent stock of records. Most don’t want to be bothered with 78s because they’re a low-profit item, both heavy and fragile. Good junk stores seem to be on the decline in urban areas because of the rise in property values, so you have to look more toward suburban areas and small towns. Thrift shops are on the increase, but I’ve never found anything of outstanding value in them. One has to be persistent in searching anywhere and everywhere.
I sometimes buy records for the music rather than the label, like rural acoustic Delta blues and early Dixieland jazz, but it’s very thin on the ground. It’s often available on eBay, but then you’re usually into a time-sensitive bidding war, and losing out at the last minute on something you really wanted can be frustrating. Besides, postage charges are extra, so if you’re outside the U.S., that’s an additional $10 or $15 on top of each winning purchase. Of course, that’s cheaper than spending money on gas, but there’s more of a thrill in finding something special when you’ve gone out there and paid your dues by really searching.
Q. (Weil/ephemera): Yeah, I agree, the hunt can be very pleasurable, especially when it yields a real treasure. What are your favorite items in your collection, and how do they inspire you?
A. (Staunton): The record labels I like to find are those from the acoustic era (before 1925), when sound was recorded through a single large horn instead of through electric microphones. The curious Fadas label reminds me of that process. In the first 20 years of the recording industry, Victor and Columbia exercised almost complete control over the U.S. market, while in Europe there was a more open, competitive market, and therefore, much more variety in the number and style of labels. I like those featuring a large illustration, because so much of the period flavor comes out in them. (See the Beka and Era labels.) Generally, if I see the word Record in the label name, then I know it’s going to be probably pre-WWI, possibly quite rare, and worth collecting.
Q. (Weil/ephemera): What’s your advice for achieving success as a collector?
A. (Staunton): In my opinion, achieving success as a collector means occasionally finding something that is of both sentimental and monetary value. It takes an equal amount of effort and luck. I haven’t been at it long enough myself to describe myself as really successful. Outstanding collectors have usually been at it for a very long time, single-minded devoting many hours to mastering every detail of their particular field of interest. Recognizing that I already have an addictive personality, I try to keep things in perspective. The collecting obsession can easily get out of hand and the more important things in life, like health and family, can sometimes become secondary. Then success has really become failure.
Q. (Weil/ephemera): What resources do you recommend?
A. (Staunton): The references I consider invaluable are American Record Labels & Companies: An Encyclopedia (1891-1943), American Record Labels, and The Almost Complete 78 Rpm Record Dating Guide
As far as storage goes, most 78s don’t come with a protective sleeve. I bought a supply of plain ones and keep the records in them, stored on edge in heavy-duty plastic milk crates. They’re kept on a rack in my basement, which is cool and dry. They have to be kept away from direct heat, especially sunlight, or they’ll warp. I keep them indexed as on my website, first by decade and then alphabetically. When I first started collecting, I used to fastidiously clean each record with a damp cloth, but now I don’t, since I learned water and detergent can damage the shellac coating. I don’t play them much anyway; I just hoard them, and gloat over them.
Q. (Weil/ephemera): It’s a pleasure to see these great old 78 labels. Thanks for sharing your expertise on the subject, Ted.