The Golden Age of Children’s Records
Edison's "Talking Doll", 1890
In Etude Magazine, February, 1947 ("My Father and
Music"), Charles Edison described his father working on a device to improve the telephone. Suddenly he heard the machine mirroring the human voice.
"Gee, Whitakers!", he said. "The gol-durned thing
talked back at me!"
Edison's "Talking Doll" housed a
1 inch gramophone. By turning a crank in the dolls
back, the wax cylinder implanted in the doll would
recite whatever rhyme had been inscribed
at the factory. Scientific American Magazine, of April 26, 1890, gave a
complete description of the mechanism,
stating: "The factory has at present a capacity for making about 500
talking dolls a day!"
From the beginning, phonograph advertising focused
on children through trade cards, magazine ads, postcards
and jigsaw puzzles. The invention of the flat disc and the
turntable inspired a variety of phonograph toys: Ragtime
Rastus and the Magnetic Dancers powered by the spindle
(National Toy Co., Boston 1915), primitive talking picture
fairy tales (Edison — Bell Picturegram, London), The
Gramophone Cinema or Kinephone (Decca, Germany).
Discs for children’s toy phonographs proliferated,
both one and two-sided, varying in size from 5 to 7 inches.
The Bing-Wolf Co., New York City, issued hundreds of
"Little Wonder" records for its Pigmyphone,
as did Grey Gull, Cameo Kids, Lindstrom, Emerson, Movie-Jekror,
Victor Talking Machine, and His Master's Voice.
At the same time that book publishers began to
take literature for children more seriously by appointing
children’s book editors to their staff, so recording companies became more creative. Allen Koenigsberg suggests
that one man of bold imagination, Victor Hugo Emerson,
played a driving role in inventing and developing several
remarkable series of records for children.
Fig. 1. Cover of an early Bobolink Book
1913 — 1921 Bobolink Books
Whether this series was the earliest of the quality albums
produced for children is uncertain, as the ambiguous
dating makes it difficult to unravel the production history. Here we have an outstanding collaboration of several art forms.
Each oblong paperboard book contained four
nursery songs, story and complete piano — vocal score
with four full-page color illustrations on coated paper.
Apparently, supplied separately were two double-faced
seven inch discs in picture sleeves, not fitted into the
covers of the book. This suggests a strong possibility
that the books were published in England originally as
songbooks, then bought up by La Velle/Gilbert who
appended the records, following meticulously the
printed scores. As was customary in early children’s
records, the orchestral accompaniments are full of
imaginative sound effects. Some record sleeves and
record labels were marked La Velle, others Gilbert, but
the Bobolink logo remained unchanged.
A back cover lists: Songbooks 1-4, Reading Book
1-2, Game Book 1, and "others in preparation".
Early title page (copyrighted 1913): La Velle Bobolink
Book, Song Book No. 4 "Mother Goose and Her Fairy
Land Friends" (Fig. 1) by Josephine Woods. Illustrated
by Dorothy M. Wheeler (from A & C. Black Ltd.,
London) [A handsome cover ill. by Maud & Petersham].
The La Velle Mfg. Co., New Haven, Conn.
Later title page (copyrighted 1921): Gilbert Bobolink
Book, Song Book No. 2 "Songs, Games and Stories",
arranged by Robt. Foresman. Illustrated by Willy
Pogany. The A.C. Gilbert Co., New Haven; Conn.
Fig 2. The first Bubble Book of 1917 (illustrated by Rhoda Chase)
1917 — 1930 Bubble Books
The Bubble Books have become the most noted of all
the early series, and for good reason. Emerson (?)
brought together a great recording company, Columbia
Graphophone, an equally great book publisher, Harper
(Hodder-Stoughton in England), and a notable artist,
Rhoda Chase. The editor conceived the truly original
idea of a boy blowing bubbles (Fig. 2), imagining that
he sees within the bubbles all of the wonderful events
that take place in the songs. This concept is sustained
throughout the fourteen books by a gifted artist, who
has skilfully integrated the exquisite color illustrations
into the narrative texts.
The books were issued initially (1917 — 1922) with
three one-sided discs of 5/8 inch diameter. When Victor
Talking Machine first produced double-faced discs, they
took over the copyright, combining two books in one
with larger 7 inch discs. In 1924 Victor re-issued six
books, omitting books 8 and 9; in 1930 they added two
new books, 15 and 16. Then in 1930, Columbia re-acquired
the copyright with Dodd, Mead as publisher, and re-
issued four books, 13 — 16, in the original, small format.
Each album contained two discs, one single, one double,
1917 No. 1. The Bubble Book
No. 2. Second Bubble Book
No. 3. Third Bubble Book
1918 No. 4. Animal Bubble Book
No. 5. Pie Party Bubble Book
1919 No. 6. Pet Bubble Book
No. 7. Funny Froggy Bubble Book
No. 8. Happy-Go-Lucky Bubble Book
No. 9. Merry Midgets Bubble Book
1920 No. 10. Little Mischief Bubble Book
No. 11. Tippy Toe Bubble Book
No. 12. Gay Games Bubble Book
No. 13. Child's Garden of Verses Bubble Book
No. 14. Chimney Corner Bubble Book
1930 No. 15. Robin and Wren Bubble Book
No. 16. Higglety-Pigglety Bubble Book
1918 — 1919 Talking Books
This series of some twenty-two records published by
The Talking Book Corp., of New York City (1918 — 1919),
was utterly unique. Each 4 1/8 inch disc is riveted to the
face of a die-cut card, varying in size from 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
inches to dimensions one to two inches larger, depending on the cut-out shape of the figure. The entire die-cut is placed on the spindle (Fig. 3). On the back of
each card a story is told in verse or prose, or in a music
score. The record does not necessarily follow the text
exactly, but is always dramatic and rich in sound effects.
No artist is credited with these handsome cards, and only
occasionally is the performer named. Half of the cards
represent animals, the others typical childhood genre.
Fig 3. Talking Book Record, "I am Your Uncle Sam" (1918)
This listing is in order of matrix number:
I Am a Parrot
I Am a Lion
The Mocking Bird
Mother Goose Talking Book
I Am a Dancing Girl
I Am Your Uncle Sam
Santa Claus, The Night Before Christmas
The Choir Boy
The Tired Baby
The Little Hieland Mon
Twilight and Dawn in Birdland
The Battle of the Marne
The Victory Book
Fig 4. From a 1922 Kiddie Rekord Album (illustrated by Clara M. Burd)
1922 — Kiddie Rekord Albums
In 1922 two albums were published by the Kiddie
Rekord Co., Plainfield, New Jersey, and issued (2)
simultaneously in England. Each album contained six
5 7/8 inch discs, the entire non-playing side covered
with a color paste-on illustrating a single nursery rhyme.
These were not picture discs in the truest sense, but
handsomely painted by Clara Burd and Mr. Helguerd.
An 8 volume book, Mother Goose in Song and Story
(Fig. 4), with full music score, text and illustrations
accompanied each album.
Album one: Three Little Kittens / Old King Cole /
Mary Had a Little Lamb / Jack and Jill /
Little Bo-Peep / Tom, Tom the Piper's Son
Album two: Ding Dong Bell / Sing a Song of Sixpence /
Hey Diddle Diddle / Little Boy Blue/
Old Mother Goose/ Old Mother Hubbard
1923 — Pictorial Record Albums
In 1923 were published the Pictorial "Metallized"
Records (New Record Corp., Brooklyn, New York),
Parts One and Two. These two albums were a re-issue
of the Kiddie Rekords recorded by different musicians
on six two-sided discs instead of twelve singles. They
were packaged in two gate-fold albums together with a
small songbook. These were true picture discs, probably
the first for children. Although the similarity between
the Kiddie Rekords and the Pictorials is readily apparent,
the difference is even more striking. The original twelve
paste-ons look like clear color photographs; the six shellacked picture discs glow like miniature oil paintings.
Parts One and Two parallel Albums One and Two
above, except that the order has been changed, as well
as the musical arrangements.
1923 — 1937 Little Tots Albums
This wonderful series of ten albums was first issued by
the Regal Record Co., New York, with the title "Little
Tot’s Nursery Tunes: Songs, Games, Stories on Records"
(Fig. 5). There were many production changes during
the fourteen-year span. The distinguishing feature of
this long series is the art work which remained consistent
until 1937. Each album, containing 3 or 4 two-sided
discs, was accompanied by 6 to 8 beautifully coloured
cards, slightly larger than postcards. There must have
been some 78 cards in all, illustrating each nursery rhyme
with text on the reverse side. The artist, Maud Trube,
was certainly of the stature of Jessie Wilcox Smith.
Fig 5. Little Tots Album Number 4
After 1937, the records were issued for many years
under the label "Playtime Records", but without
albums or cards.
On the cover of each album was pasted a reproduction of a Maud Trube card with the album title below:
1. Merry Song Book
2. Happy Day Book
3. Jolly Game Book
4. Story Hour Book
5. Christmas Book
6. Lullaby Book
7. Patriotic Book
8. Meddley Book
9. Sunshine Book
10. Mother Goose Book
In all of these series the publishers fused music, art and
literature with vivid imagination. Children must have
anticipated eagerly each new issue. During two scant
decades these memorable books and records were created for children to read, to sing, to play, to love. Truly, a Golden Age!
About The Author:
Diana R. Tillson received her AB
from Smith in 1938, her MA from New York University in
1939, and a PhD equivalency in 1970, after studies in
Austria, France, Canada, and Japan. She is a professional
violinist. Her considerable personal collection is now constituted as "The Diana R.
Tillson Historical Children’s Music Collection" at Princeton
University, a transformation mediated by the noted dealer in children’s books, Justin Schiller, for sale to the noted collector of children’s books,
Lloyd E. Cotsen, by whose philanthropy it will be available for scholarly examination. Ms. Tillson is author of
"Children’s Musical Play: the Role ofthe Phonograph"
(Ephemera Journal 1994; 6:86-98). She is interested in
making contact with any collector who shares her interest
or who may have available vintage children’s records or
related ephemera. Please contact the Editor of Antique
Phonograph News for further information.