Monday, July 12, 2010

The Aeolian Company (1916)

Hello! Being invited to contribute to this blog has made me think quite a bit about my relationship to the nature of many aspects of culture - records, music, writing, journalism, the internet - knowledge, facts, storytelling - collecting, materialism, fetishism. I'm excited to muse about these things in public for the next 2 weeks, as I present the labels of 14 records that happen to be in this apartment with me right now, for one reason or another.

I used to "collect" 78's - or well, seek them out at least. They were (are?) always so cheap, and are a great way to educate yourself about old music, the early days of recording, manufacturing and design. They can also sometimes be an astounding way to glimpse at the very end of an era in humanity's relationship to music. The way that these discs instantly rocketed to every corner of the globe, and changed the way that people relate to the music that they are playing, as well as their methods and reasons for listening to music will always fascinate me.

Well, I move around a lot, and this is the only 78 I have at the moment. It was given to me by Brian Belot. Brian's art & life seems to be centered around the amassing & re-purposing of a vast amount of stuff. I love this about him, and was psyched to see his huge pile of old records while visiting him in NYC. I thought this label looked amazing. He just handed it to me, and told me I could have it. It was so nice to meet someone who appreciated and was excited about old records, but also saw these objects as things that should be shared, and passed on. I had a feeling this record would get cracked in my luggage, which it did. Oh well. I apologize to historians if thing is rare, but I kind of doubt that it is.

The labels of 78's are always the most beautiful. I've come across some sites similar to this one that are dedicated to displaying them. It's not just that old things are always prettier, I think it's just that it was so much harder & unique to make things back then, that so much more care went into them? Well, printing was of course so much better and carefully done in the past. I used to live in Cambridge, and there were of couple of 78 collector dudes who showed me how to tell where & when certain ones were made, how to tell which were recorded with electricity, what the different colors of the labels meant, why silver ink was used, etc.

So, an "Aeolian harp" is an ancient idea of music that is played by the wind, right? Cool... So, as I am looking it up now, it seems that the history of The Aeolian Company is also quite fascinating. They produced piano rolls, built player pianos & organs, and introduced the first one that also could also record what was being played by punching holes into the rolls? There's a lot of early jazz & stuff that was only recorded in this way, right? So - this record would have been their way of attempting to adapt to a new, emerging technology, eh? This record originally cost 85¢. That would have made it quite expensive in 1916, right? I notice that the company, and this label was later absorbed into other larger corporations - AND!

"It was Congressional suspicion of the market power of the Aeolian company during the early 20th century that prompted adoption of the first compulsory license system in U.S. copyright law, for the mechanical reproduction of musical compositions, a category that included piano rolls."

Hm! I didn't mean to start writing about this, but please remember people - the recording, selling, and concept of "owning" music, even the music we create ourselves, is still very new in the history of humanity. Don't get too upset about it. We will always be able to play & listen to music - and best of all, we can still make & listen to records!


  1. I don’t know if anyone will invite me to this blog and or if anyone is even out there still listen, but I will make an earnest attempt to summon The Aeolian Company record appreciators for their most expert answers to my query. Here it goes: I have a number of Aeolian records in my possession. I purchased them at a church thrift shop. I did not know what I had until I got home and looked through the record binder that I purchased, I know that they are vintage and may be sought after. I was thinking about cleaning them, so I went to a web site called Instructables; however, this site left me more confused than ever. One said use a rubbing-alcohol, another said use dish soap and distilled water and so on and on. That’s when I decided to look up the label and see if anyone associated with it may be able to guide me correctly, so with that said is there any Help out there for me?

  2. hi Ms brownpenny ~ whatever you do, don't use any alcohol on old shellac records - it will dissolve the finish! I use a little liquid dish soap and a natural bristle paint brush cut down to about an inch for proper stiffness, wash in running water & tamp off w paper towels.

    there doesn't seem to be a comprehensive discography of pre-1919 Aeolian Vocalion records yet, but the Online 78 Discography Project (see should get around to it sooner or later.

    If you'd like to email me a list of titles, bands & catalog #'s I'll see what I can dig up.

  3. nb: the record shown above was recorded in Oct. 1923 - 1916 is founding date of their record operation. The number on the disc is the matrix number - doesn't seem to be listed, here's the page it would be on - the adjacent matrix number (12127) is found on catalog 14701 (left column).
    you could write it in to 'em!

  4. I have one that is #'d 14077. Played by Harry Yerkes. Does anyone have info on it?