16 May 2012
A collection of Sheffield 78s evokes a forgotten era of music packaging.
Interest in record sleeve art naturally gravitates towards the long-play albums that emerged the 1950s, writes Simon Robinson.
However it is worth remembering that records were packaged, after a fashion, as soon as the 78 rpm disc was invented.
Rigid but brittle discs shipped in generic paper bags which afforded little or no protection, forcing shops to buy thicker plain card sleeves to protect their stock.
It didn’t take long for retailers to see these protective outer covers as an opportunity for advertising their shop. Local letterpress printers used whatever type they had to hand and perhaps a few engraved blocks supplied by the record companies or gramophone makers.
Struck by the very prosaic nature of the resulting covers I decided to pick up any relating to my locality while they could still be found in charity shops and antique centres.
Before long I had dozens from different Sheffield retailers, dating from the early twentieth century to the 1950s, when the 78rpm disc began to fade with the advent of the LP and 45rpm singles.
The sheer number of shops selling records was an eye-opener, with specialists vying against local suburban tobacconists stocking a box or two of the latest hits.
And whereas nearly all trace of these shops has now gone – literally in Sheffield’s case following the blitz and subsequent redevelopment – these mundane but functional sleeves survive to tell the story. Here are a few.
Simon Robinson is the founder of Easy on the Eye books, publishers of Covered – see ‘Getting away with murder’ on the Eye blog.
More at www.ST33.wordpress.com.
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. Eye 82 is out now – you can browse a visual sampler at Eye before you buy on Issuu.