Wednesday, 7:30am
16 May 2012

Wax museum

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.

Heeley Saloon E

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.

Elmes W.H.

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.

Brooks. R. B

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.

Banner. John

Fish's 8\

Gunthorpe A.M. 8\

Simon Robinson is the founder of Easy on the Eye books, publishers of Covered – see ‘Getting away with murder’ on the Eye blog.

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