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Celluloid Cylinders: "Albany" Indestructible vs. U-S Everlasting
Fig. 1 - Indestructible Phonographic Record
The oval-design label was printed blu/gry/wht and used to package 2m cylinders. A similar oval-design label in brn/gry/wht (not pictured) was used for 4M records. The linear-design [2m] label is simply blk/wht.

The first commercial celluloid cylinders in North America were the colorful Lambert Indestructible Records, manufactured in Chicago from 1900 through 1905. These lightweight records (colored white, brown, pink or black) were made of relatively thick, self-supporting celluloid, generally without any underlying core material. Their production was on a small scale and they are rather rare today.

Indestructible Brands

The cylinder records made by the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company (IPRCo) of Albany, New York were the first celluloid cylinders to enjoy truly widespread distribution and acceptance. Though still commonly found, these "Indestructible" cylinders are sometimes misunderstood. This may be because these records are not marked with any distinctive brand or company name and were originally sold under various brand names, in a variety of containers.

IPRCo had a rather complex corporate origin and business evolution, but eventually acquired some patent rights, technology, and manufacturing equipment from the defunct Lambert Company.

The Albany-made cylinders have a characteristic spiral-wound cardboard-tube core, reinforced with metal rings at each end of the tube. Almost all have the celluloid surface dyed black. The earliest ones (advertised during the summer of 1907 and first released in November 1907) had raised-letter title markings on their end rims, with the celluloid flange embossed in the style of late Lambert records. They also bear the July 29, 1902 Grant Date of a William E. Messer patent (U.S. 705772, for cylinder manufacturing apparatus) that was a legacy from the Lambert Company.

Fig. 2 - Columbia Overlabel on IPRCo Box
Some IPRCo boxes were overlabelled with this red/wht paper strip when Columbia began their exclusive [?] distribution of the Albany product.
Fig. 3 - Columbia Gold Moulded Indestructible
Cylinder Record
2m box, front and back: red/blu-blk/wht.

The Indestructible Records soon were marked in a more legible fashion, with the Record Number, Title and Patent Date impressed into the title- end rim and filled with white pigment. First sold directly by IPRCo as the Indestructible Phonographic Record (Fig. 1), sale continued as:

Fig. 4 - Columbia Gold Moulded 4-Minute Indestructible Cylinder Record
4M box, front and two back variants: blu/gld/wht or blu/org/wht.

Columbia Gold Moulded Indestructible Cylinder Record (Fig. 2, 3, and 4; distributed by the Columbia Phonograph Co., Gen'l, from September 1908 through May 1912),

Fig. 5 - Oxford Indestructible Cylinder Record
L to R: [2m]: grn/gry/wht; 2m: blu/gry/whe; 4m: brn/gry/wh. Not to be confused with the earlier wax Oxford cylinders made by Columbia and packed in felt-lined boxes.

Oxford Indestructible Cylinder Record (Fig. 5; offered in Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs from Fall 1911 through Winter 1921; some were colored a light blue or bluish gray),

Fig. 6 - Lakeside Indestructible Cylinder Record
These labelstyles (grn/ylw/wht) were used by Montgomery Ward for both 2m and 4m records, made by U-S Phonograph Co and IPRCo. 2M lid label: blk/wht; 4m lid label: red/wht.

Lakeside Indestructible Cylinder Record (Fig. 6; mail-order marketed by Montgomery Ward & Co. of Chicago, from Fall 1914 through Summer 1917),

Fig. 7 - Everlasting Indestructible Record
2m: blk/grn/wht; 4m: blk/red/wht. The two side/back views shown in the centre appear on both 2m and 4m boxes.

Everlasting Indestructible Record (Fig. 7; probably marketed directly by IPRCo, circa 1914-?), and as

Federal Cylinder Record (after a corporate name change from IPRCo to Federal Record Corporation an June 1, 1917), through 1922. No distinctive "Federal" cylinder box labels have yet been reported.

Collectors have sometimes taken these records to be different products, interpreting the various record boxes to indicate manufacture by Columbia, by the maker of U-S Everlasting Records, or perhaps by some other firm for Sears and Montgomery Ward. However, all the brand names cited were actually used for the same cylinders made in Albany, numbered and marked identically but packaged in boxes with different labels. (Once separated from the original box and lid, these records lose their specific brand identity.)

Many collectors refer to these cylinders generically as "Indestructible" records. I suggest the term "Albany Indestructible" (AI), to emphasize their common source and to distinguish them from at least ten other cylinder brands that included the word "indestructible" in their trade names.

Albany Indestructibles were assigned catalog numbers and issued as follows:

Series Number Range Issue Dates
2M Domestic U.S. 472-1574 November 1907 - 1918
4M Domestic U.S. 3001 - 3524 January 1910 - 1921
2M British 6001 - 6040 May 1910 (all issued this month)
4M British 7001 - 7094 September 1910 - December 1911

Some early two-minute AI records were not issued in a regular, consecutively-numbered series. It has been suggested that IPRCo initially used a block-numbering system, but the unbroken blocks of numbers do not match up with the artists or musical categories represented. Known examples of the first two dozen or so issues do not bear matrix and record numbers together; it appears that the matrix (or recording log?) number also served as the catalog/record number for the selections chosen for release. Consecutive numbering began at Record Number 663; distinct matrix and take numbers also began to appear around that point.

U-S Brands

Two other brands of black celluloid cylinders at times competed with Albany Indestructibles: U-S Everlasting (Fig. 8) and Lakeside (Fig. 6), both manufactured by the U-S Phonograph Company in Cleveland, Ohio, between 1910 and 1913.

Fig. 8 - U-S Everlasting Record
L to R: [2m]: red/blk/wht; 2m Grand Opera: gld/blu; 4m Grand Opera: gld/lavender (same design as 2m Grand Opera, not pictured); 4m: gld/brn/wht.

These "U-S" cylinders can be recognized by their smooth, black, tapered bore no internal ribs or metal rings. The grooved record surface was formed on a simple celluloid tube, without any end-flange. The thin-walled tube is supported by a preformed core of compressed wood-pulp, impregnated with wax and asphalt resin.

The title-end rims of standard-production U-S Everlasting and Lakeside records are impressed with the respective brand name. Additionally, the rims of U-S Everlasting Records include the Patent Grant Date of December 11, 1906 (U.S. 837927), identifying the record construction developed by Varian M. Harris. Early-production records had the end-rim lettering filled with colored pigments; later ones did not.

U-S records were released in two series of "popular" material:

Series Number Range Issue Dates
2M 201 - 526 May 1910 - February 1913
4M 1001 - 1652 May 1910 - October 1913

An initial group of U-S record moulds was rejected because of poor quality, so the series of 2M releases actually began at Number 201, after those early moulds were scrapped. Several higher-numbered series were dedicated in blocks to ethnic and operatic selections.

These catalog number ranges provide further keys to distinguish most Albany Indestructibles from U-S records: 1) the four-minute popular series do not overlap at all [numerically] and 2) only a very few numbers appear in both the AI and U-S two-minute lists.

The U-S Phonograph Co. supplied Lakeside-branded cylinders for Montgomery Ward's catalog sales (the same titles, numbered the same as the U-S Everlasting releases). This relationship continued until the U-S Phonograph Co. ceased production, in late 1913 or 1914. Thereafter, Montgomery Ward drew their Lakeside cylinders from IPRCo's Indestructible line.

Fig. 9 - Cortina Language Record
Blk/wht; distinct from the earlier wax Cortina records in felt-lined boxes.
Fig. 10 - U-S Medicophone
Front and back: blk / lt blu.

U-S Phonograph Co. also manufactured:

  • the celluloid Cortina Language Record (Fig. 9), for the R. D. Cortina Company of New York City, offering instruction in a variety of foreign languages, and
  • the seldom-seen Medicophone (Fig. 10) series, for dissemination of medical information to doctors by the Medicophone Post-Graduate Company, also of New York City.

All "U-S" brands were made with identical materials and construction.

Confusing Boxes

It is the Everlasting Indestructible Record boxes (Fig. 7) that cause the greatest confusion, because they bear both words "Everlasting" and "Indestructible" on their labels. With no company name or location stated anywhere on these boxes, it is easy to misconstrue the origin of the records they originally contained.

As far as is known, these boxes were used solely for Albany Indestructible records. The halftone illustration along the side of the Everlasting Indestructible boxes depicts the same cylinder record as shown on the earlier blue-, brown- and black-label Indestructible Phonographic Record boxes: Record Number 575, "Overture to Semiramide," was an early IPRCo 2M release. (By contrast, U-S two-minute record numbers had not reached 575 by the time U-S Phonograph Co. folded.) The pictured cylinder end rim also bears the July 29, 1902 patent date associated only with Lambert and IPRCo, not U-S.

The Albany firm must have begun using the term "Everlasting" after U-S Phonograph stopped manufacturing cylinders. (None of the earlier Albany Indestructible boxes carried the word "Everlasting".) It is known that IPRCo obtained some late U-S matrices from the failing Cleveland company, so the rights to use the word "Everlasting" (if any legal right existed) could have been conveyed as part of that same deal.

The U-S cylinders occasionally found in Everlasting Indestructible boxes were presumably put there by owners or collectors misled by the word "Everlasting" on the box label. "Genuine" U-S Everlasting boxes also picture a cylinder on their labels, but U-S Phonograph Co. apparently chose to depict fictitious records, perhaps so as not to single out any one particular title. Two-minute U-S boxes show a Record Number 100, "Armourer's Song," yet U-S 2M releases began well beyond Number 100 and no such title has been found in any available U-S listing. Four- minute labels display a Record Number 500, "Belle Brandon," but the lowest 4M U-S issue was Number 1001. (The only U-S "Belle Brandon" known is Number 1081.)

Conclusion

When you see a cylinder record marked "Everlasting" or "Lakeside," you'll know it is from the U-S Phonograph Company in Cleveland. If a record has metal rings and a cardboard core, it is an "Indestructible" from IPRCo in Albany.

Editor's note: Detailed references for all the information in this article are maintained in the author's database on the cylinder record industry; space does not permit a listing here. If you have comments on this subject or are interested in the history of the cylinder record industry, you can write or call: Bill Klinger, 13532 Bass Lake Road, Chardon, Ohio, 44024. (216) 564-9340.

The photographs accompanying this article were taken by Jeff Guerrant (Glenview, Illinois) of cylinder boxes in the collection of CAPS member Dale Monroe-Cook. If you know of an unusual cylinder box type or label style, please let Dale know about it: his address is 740 S. Lyman Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois, 60304. (708) 848-3779.