February 4, 1996

The English 78 Picture Book.  Compiled by Don Taylor.  Hobart, Tasmania: self‑published, (1993).  258 pp.  ISBN: 0‑646‑14048‑5.  Available from the author at 24C Elphinstone Road, Mount Stuart, Tasmania 7000, Australia; or in the U.S. from Kurt Nauck, 6323 Inway Drive, Spring, TX 77389‑3643.  $39.00 (U.S.).

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

Picture books of record labels are the type of project almost every collector thinks is a good idea, quite a few researchers have actually begun to compile, but hardly anyone has actually carried through to publication.  The reasons are many.  Obtaining good, clear photographs of rare labels is devilishly difficult, and the process of publishing photographs in book form is extraordinarily difficult and expensive, especially in the small press runs typical for collectors’ books.  Furthermore, most authors want at least some of their illustrations of colorful labels to be in color, something that will really break the bank.

To date there is only one principal picture book of U.S. 78‑era labels, Brian Rust’s long out‑of‑print The American Record Label Book (Arlington House, 1978).  With that in mind we should be especially grateful for this remarkable new volume from Australian collector Don Taylor, which covers 500 English 78 rpm labels dating from the 1890s to the 1970s.  Taylor’s definition of an “English” label is a little complex, but will probably satisfy most readers.  Prior to 1920 he includes labels sold in England, whether or not they were pressed there (a common practice in the early years was to press U.K. labels in Germany or elsewhere in Europe); after that, only labels pressed in England and sold there or in the closely‑related Australian market.  All of the majors are here, from Columbia to Zonophone, as are a great many obscurities.  A random walk turns up such labels as Beatall (it didn’t), Boots the Chemists, Brush Up Your German, Decibel (ouch!), Dinky (“small in size but overpowering in colour”), Electric (which was acoustically recorded), Homo Baby, Hunting By Ear, Melbaphone (one copy known, and it’s not by Melba), My Record (“the last regular series of 78s ever produced,” in 1978), Neglected Masterpieces, Phonycord, Polsko‑Angielska Wytwornia Plyt, Recorded Television Record (a 1935 videodisc!), Trusound (1930s picture record), and Ye Popular.  Oh, those Brits.

Not all labels are illustrated.  The 500 labels covered are each given a short and chatty text entry, briefly describing the label, its years of production (if known) and main numerical series.  These are not intended to be label histories in the usual sense, and the dates sometimes vary by a year or two from other sources such as Eddie Shaw’s recent English label dating guide (DATES: Date About All Those English Seventy‑Eights, by Eddie Shaw, second edition, 1995, available from the author at 85 Braithwaite House, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8NQ).  Taylor’s entries are merely meant to “place” the label in a general historical context, but given the lack of general references on English labels they are valuable nonetheless.

About one‑third to one‑half of the labels described are also illustrated.  The illustrations are clear enough, although they do vary in quality; some appear to have been reproduced from somewhat grainy photocopies.  The etched‑label Berliners, always a problem to reproduce, will take a little squinting.  Most are in black and white, although four pages in the center, containing (presumably) the most colorful English labels, are in glorious full color, as is the book’s cover.

Fortunately the book is exceptionally well printed, sturdy, hard bound and on slick paper with professional, high‑quality picture reproduction.  In fact one would be hard pressed to find a professionally produced, illustrated specialist book at such a reasonable price in the U.S.  Either production costs must be lower in Tasmania, or somebody subsidized this project.

Like Rust’s pioneering U.S. picture book, The English 78 Picture Book may be flawed in some ways but it is still a very useful volume for those wanting a quick reference to a wide range of English labels.  One hopes it does not go out of print as quickly as Rust did.  If you are interested in this subject, get a copy now.


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