Sing a Song of 78s

One of our readers has been in a 78-RPM frame of mind recently and has sent me a couple of interesting 78 auctions on eBay, specifically boxed sets. Here’s the latest: Billie Holiday Sings, Mercury C-118. We all recognize this cover from the 10-inch LP of the same title and packaging with the iconic David Stone Martin illustration, but this is a boxed set that includes four 78s. Everything seems to be in about VG+ condition. This is definitely a cool item, particularly if you are into 78s. The price is already more than $200 and the auction closes later today. I do have an issue purchasing 78s on eBay, however, and it has to do with shipping. I’ve purchased 78s on eBay and I’ve sold 78s on eBay and shipping these fragile items in the mail is a challenge. I’ve sent some that I though were packaged perfectly, using recommended packaging material from the industry leader, yet they still broke in the mail. For an item like this, I’d be a little nervous. By the way, I play my 78s on a portable Califone record player, the type they used to use in public schools. The 78s sound really good on them, they are convenient and you can easily buy one for less than $100 on eBay. We haven’t asked this in a while, but are their 78s collectors out there, and how do you handle purchasing/playing your records? Also, what do you collect, and why?


  • This is really interesting to me as I spent last night browsing through Billie Holiday records (on ebay/collectorsfrenzy/etc) trying to find the earliest pressings I could that contained the songs I wanted (Stormy Weather, Strange Fruit, and Gloomy Sunday). I didn’t have much luck pinning it down but did notice these 78 boxes and thought they would be fun to have. Strange to be on the same wavelength!

  • Agreed on shipping these suckers – that’s why I’ve been leery taking the plunge on choice items (Hawk on Asch, BNs, a weird Canadian Paul Bley 78 I saw for sale once). But I am of the mind that one day I’ll start collecting them.

  • I collect “weird” 78s. When I look through stacks and see things that are cheap and make me say, “What?”. If I saw a Paul Bley Canadian 78 I would’ve bought it in a snap. I have some early Bebop 78s and some beat up Billy Holliday stuff. Then I have tons of beat of big band 78s that my grandma would lap with an LP needle. I have a few things that I play them on, but nothing permanent as I don’t listen to them very often. I love early Billy Holiday stuff, but I have box sets and collections that I usually listen too due to convenience and my Billy 78s are in bad shape.

    I do look at them at record stores when I have the time, always in search of something “weird”. One day I may find one of those early Sun Ra in an R&B band albums. I wouldn’t pay 100+ for one, but would love to stumble on it in a record store.

  • Well, the Paul Bley was on eBay & I was outbid, alas!

  • 78’s offer 2 things that lp’s never can.
    1.They break like glass so even a brutish oaf is forced to find his tender heart.
    2.As the record approaches its final grooves it becomes a spinning metaphor for our assured demise, driven home by every collector’s graveyard of broken 78’s.

    Yuo can fool yourselves with vinyl my friends-which will outlive us all. But only shellac has the courage to speak the truth.

  • Dan, I love your perspective, although I find much of the 78s I’ve seen from the late 40s are actually not Shellac but vinyl. Still rigid, but “less truthful” as you say.

  • …I collect them myself, but generally just the early Blue Note 78’s. Unfortunately I still have not invested in a means of playing them ! So far I’ve been lucky with the shipping, and everything I’ve bought has arrived in one piece. One of the attractions is the ‘cost’ to ‘age’ ratio. They may not have the cache of the 1500 series Blue Notes, or even covers for that matter, but they a fraction of the price are a piece (or in some cases “pieces”) of the golden era in Jazz and certainly worth preserving in ones collection.

  • It goes beyond that, Don. The search for an “original issue” Blue Note LP from 1955 would have validity if the material was recorded in ’55.

    But if it’s a Monk or J.J. record from the ’40s…what’s ORIGINAL about the LP-nothing.

    A collector-not merely a speculator- wants to smell the stink of the first fart that came out of the ass of the guy who first schlepped that music from the pressing plant to the record store.

    The mojo is only in that fart, not a reissue fart from 5 years later. They just don’t smell the same.

  • Just bought 2 califones in a school dispo sale for this very purpose. Need to tweak the setups, but they are nice sounding units.

  • …Sounds like you have a bit of a fetish there Dan. I don’t know where you’ve been buying your 78’s from, but I would definitely send the funkier ones back ! 🙂

  • Don-
    Einstein was once asked what in a woman attracted him most and he said -“I like women who are simple minded and smell bad”
    Itzhak Perlman (no relation to Al) liked a violin with thin tone.
    Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting fondly recalled his late wife farted when she laughed.
    To some, it’s the imperfection of something-the humanness…that makes it special and this even extends to records.
    It’s the penciled name on the front cover, the 4 ticks during the bass solo, the surface noise behind Red Garland, and the hand-written track titles and times penned by the 1950s anal retentive.. that connects our senses to a bygone era.
    Of course dried brown stain on the back cover is the best. Along with shellac, it sums up our meaningless lives-We shit…we die.

  • I enjoy the postings a bit off the familiar path of the familiar Blue Notes, so tip o’ the hat to Al.

    It’s rare that a comment on JC has brought an audible guffaw the way that Dan’s second post did. What I appreciate about the comment is not merely the imagery. I appreciate the laser sharp focus he identifies regarding a first-pressing collector. It will stick with me as a useful illustration to distinguish categories of collectors for some time.

  • Don,
    Get a 78 player (from your wife, for Christmas!) as most of the takes are different from anything you’ve heard on LP.

  • Dan,re:”Of course dried brown stain on the back cover is the best. Along with shellac, it sums up our meaningless lives-We shit…we die.”
    Dan-while I can only vouch for my own collection-I always recognized the brown stains as remnants from a “Cheech & Chong” youth,long gone. While I may have had(and still have)some lps that I disliked after giving them a listen,that distaste has always had it’s limits. I’m pretty sure you’ve unwittingly helped me to draw that line once more!

  • …Thanks Terry, it’s definitely on the list ! (I can’t wait to hear what my copy of BN1 sounds like after all these years !)

  • Thorens TD 124 will give you the ability to play 45, 33, and 78. Also, an early unit with a fist series SME 3009 tonearm would be period state of the art for an original 1500 series BN hi fi rig of the era. Also like the first pressings it is tough to beat for sound quality still to this day.

  • At one time, pre-1997, I had 3500 plus 78’s. Nearly every Blue Note,nearly every Dial, including the issued alternate takes, myriads of BeBop odd labels and every Prestige/New Jazz 78 except three. I loved playing 78’s simply because of the time limitations, say what you had to say in 3 minutes. Boom, done. No endless meandering.
    However, they took space and then we moved and I sold them all, perhaps they made it to Japan in one piece, except 20 and 5 album sets, 3 Bird, Ike Quebec and John Hardee on Blue Note.
    This discuusion is fun to read, reminds me of those days, which now seem like another lifetime.
    I mean, when I was digging, few were looking for BeBop on labels like Seeco and Bop and 4 Star and those labels out of LA, Fentone and Dolphins of Hollywood. And even Savoy’s and Dials were somewheat plentiful.
    I too like holding an item with someone’s name or markings on it. A link to the past, to the person who one day was hip enough to go into a store somewhere and buy this record.
    My favorite inscrition is on a Dizzy Gillespie record, “School Days” on the REgent label. In rough shape and not the best Dizzy, HOWEVER, on the back is written in blue ink,
    “To the ‘coolest’ guy around
    Love Jayne and Sue, ’58.”
    And I am SOO jealous of that guy!!

  • If I were hot chick in ’58 with a poodle skirt, wet panties and a hungry little pussy, I’d fuck you myself lennib. But don’t forget the exclamation point on Bop! Records. That point to me, is the last girlie spasm around your spent penis which suddenly makes this harsh world calm again.
    I recently bought “Geronimo” on Bop!–Dexter and Wardell’s take on Cherokee, from the L.A. battle where fans scream on tables and chairs.Though the lp might sound good, that 78 FEELS good. Watching it spin down for 3 minutes heightens the tension of the tenor battle, gets us close to the moment of creation, moves our brains in alpha, and as the temporal slowly begins to meet the eternal, for a time at least… we become immortal. Nice post lennib. Thanks.

  • Wow-what serendipity! After those last two posts, I searched ebay for Bop 78’s. There was one listing for the King Joy Orchestra. The BOP label lacked the exclamation (probably first incarnation of the label), but the tune title was EXCLAMATION BLUES! Holy Shit!
    So thinking coincidences are visible lines in our destiny, I bought it. Of course the King Joy Orchestra is the King Pleasure Orchestra. And the flip is Moody’s Mood for Love. So this is the pre-Prestige issue. There I go, there I go… there I go!

  • Thr trouble with passion prose is it overtakes you. I just added this set to the collection after the last post. Is it a 10″ cover as well? Someone here should know.

  • this is gonna be long…

    I love reading your site. I know little about moddern jazz, though i do like to listen to it. I love jazz but mostly big band and more traditional stuff, though if i need to really get into something i’ll listen to a blue note.

    I collect 78s. I love them. I collect swing, jazz, and early stuff. I have records from 1904 with a dog in the background that is louder than the music, where the singer coughs on the introduction etc. I think that is magical. You wouldn’t get that on an lp! and that cough or dog or whatever was 110 years ago. How nerdy is that? i should get checked out shouldn’t i…

    I’m based in the uk, and those folks that collected jaz in the uk, (excluding goodman etc) tended to be unbelievably geeky. I reently got a beautiful collection of mostly swing and bebop records and the original owner had written the personel, dates and stuff on every single record! there were about 500 of them and they were all in beautiful condition. Some of those esquire discs sound unbelievable, even the swing records, you can hear crooper’s brushes on the goodman trio records you can’t on the remasters.

    This is a bit different these days for jazz though not much, but i’ll be surprised if you can find any cds or even lps of popular music of the 30s and earlier, or most of it. there’s an entire era of sound in those fragile discs.

    It’s cylinders next, oh dear

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