What Is A Vintage "Kiddie" Record? If you are old enough, do you remember listening to 78-rpm "kiddie" records when you were growing up? Or maybe your parents did. Being a child of the late 40's and 50's, I do. It is this fond memory and the nostalgia for them, which started me off on a collection in uncharted waters--vintage children's records.

A majority of people reading this article who grew up in the post World War II years had a collection of children's records. It is surprising, therefore, in this current era of nostalgia craze and "anything is collectable", that the hobby of collecting old kiddie records has not yet been established. Up until 2006, no comprehensive guide book on the subject had been published. That situation has been resolved now that I have published my "The Complete Guide To Vintage Children's Records", the first complete identification and price guide of vintage kiddie records. You can order this book from me directly on this Website.

It has been my goal to make a significant contribution to this field of collectibles, and this goal has now been realized. The listings will probably never be completed, as most of the companies that made them are long since out of business, and have left no information behind. In my collection, I currently have more than 13,000 vintage children's records (not counting duplicates) on almost 450 labels and label variations, from the United States and at least 25 other countries. I have listings of perhaps another 2000 not yet in my collection. Most of these labels were exclusively for children, or were a subsidiary label just for children. As much information as I have gathered so far, there is so much more to discover. This is something that I am pursuing with a passion. Whatever comes out of this project will offer far more information than exists today. I recently have had the honor of the Library of Congress acquiring a significant part of my collection for their archives.

How Old is Old? The era of 78-rpm records started in Germany in 1890, followed by the United States in 1894. This happened when the single sided "flat" disc was created by Emil Berliner as an alternative to cylinders. William Paley, head of Columbia records introduced the long-play microgroove LP (33 1/3) in July, 1948. NBC's(RCA Victor)David Sarnoff responded with the 45-rpm record in January, 1949. During the late 1950's and early 1960's, the production of 78's phased out in favor of LP's (33 1/3) and 45's. The latest American 78-rpm in my collection is dated 1966, although I own some British 78s made in 1974! Most American record companies, in fact, did not make 78's after the early 1960s.

According to Diana Tillson, a noted children's music collector, writing in The Ephemera Journal (Vol. 6, 1993): "the earliest children's recorded discs are five-inch celluloid composition discs with nursery rhyme lyrics glued to the back which were in included with toy phonographs made in Germany in the early 1890's."

While record size (diameter) ranges from 3 ½ " to 12", most kiddie records are 6-7" or 10". It is important to note that "78-rpm" refers to the speed at which the record revolves on the turntable-not the diameter (size of the record). This is a common misunderstanding among the non-initiated. If you have any doubts on a record you own, find a 78-rpm record player and play the record. If it sounds like "The Chipmunks", you probably have a 45- or 33 1/3-rpm recording.

A Brief Survey of Early Kiddie Record Series

For the purpose of this survey, the early years of kiddie series records comprise, more or less, the period from the beginning of WWI to the end of WWII (1914 to 1945). Although many 'single' children's records were issued by the few record companies in existence prior to WWI, I am not aware of any series or 'runs' of exclusively kiddie titles.

One of the most well known issues was a series of 14 "Bubble Books" produced by Harper-Columbia between 1917 and 1922. It was one of the earliest series of records in the USA devoted to the children's market. Each release consisted of sleeves for three small (5 ½") one-sided records bound into a small book. Each record sleeve included beautiful line drawings in full color, along with several pages devoted to the story and lyrics. These "books with records" are highly collectible by both record and antiquarian book collectors. Other record manufacturers of the era making children's records, either exclusively, or as part of their catalogues included Little Tots, Cameo Kids, Youngster Grey Gull, Lindstrom, Emerson, Talkie-Jektor, Durotone, Nic, LaVelle Bobolink (records in a book), Talking Books, Kiddie Rekords, and Pictorial Records (the first "picture discs"). Some of these series (e.g. Talkie-Jektor, Nic, and Durotone) came with a toy projector and filmstrips, which were synchronized with the record being played.

A popular series called "Little Wonder" manufactured by Columbia Graphaphone Company was founded in 1914 and issued over one thousand small (5½") one-sided records over the next nine years. The records were sold for 10 cents in Woolworth's and other five and dime stores. Despite appearances, Little Wonder was not primarily a children's record (e.g. the label of some of the later issues had a picture of a baton-wielding infant.) With the exception of about 40 records of nursery rhymes and folk songs for kids, they were aimed at the adult market. This becomes obvious when one reads the song titles.

Most of the above listed series are quite uncommon, but because there is no established collector's market for them, the costs are not high-usually under $4 for a single record, and up to $100 or more for complete books with matching records in very nice shape. One of the most unusual and beautiful series was the Talking Books series (1918-19). With a few exceptions, they are not actually books, but 4 1/8" records, which are riveted to the face of a die-cut card that is several inches larger than the record. The term "phonographic tablet" occasionally appeared in the literature. The backing is a cutout shape, roughly in the form of the subject of the record, usually an animal or generic children's doll theme. Some of the issues are: "I Am a Parrot", The Mocking Bird", "The Fox". There are also some WW 1 subjects, a Mother Goose, and a "tired" baby. Unlike most generic kiddie records, this series commands high prices in auctions, often reaching $75 to $300 and more in excellent condition.

The end of this period saw the introduction of extended kiddie series (a.k.a. "youth", "juvenile") by some of the major labels. Columbia's Playtime, a long running series of 6" and 7" records (originally 70 titles, then reissued in a series of 113 titles) began in the late 1930's and continued up to 1954. RCA's budget line, Bluebird, issued its first large kiddie series from 1937 to 1942. It consisted of 119 records in 52 sets. Each set came in an illustrated "envelope" and/or box. Decca (beginning 1939), Columbia's 10" series (1939) and RCA Victor (1944) turned out significant children's series, which continued into the mid- to late 1950's on 78-rpm. These series continued to be issued on 45s and LPs throughout the 1960's into the 70s. It should be noted that prior to the launching of the "youth" series mentioned above, all of the major record companies and many minor ones issued single children's records that were part of their total inventory.

The "Golden Age" of Kiddie 78-rpm Records: 1946-1956

The 1940's brought in a number of major innovations in the production of kiddie records that allowed their sales to soar to astronomical heights as compared with earlier years. The first and most important was the introduction of vinyl ("non-breakable") records. Earlier
produced records were, for the most part, made of brittle shellac. Vinyl records were almost unbreakable. Secondly, the records themselves were often made of brightly colored materials and were packaged in beautifully designed, vividly colored sleeves and album covers. Thirdly, the availability of small and inexpensive "kiddie" record players became widespread. All of these factors combined to encourage parents to buy records for the kids, knowing that they would stand up to the rough handling and abuse that would surely come to pass and that the children would be attracted to them.

In addition to the physical attributes mentioned above, the creation and production of the songs and stories were done, in many cases, at great expense and specifically for the record being released. Prior to approximately 1953, record companies did not have to compete with television for the attention of the children with respect to entertainment. Therefore, they competed with one another in their productions to get market share. Most major companies hired (sometimes exclusively) the talents of famous actors and singers. Many famous personalities produced some or many kiddie records (Dennis Day, Gene Kelly, Gene Autry, Patti Page and Bing Crosby, to name a few). Others produced only one or two (e.g. Groucho Marx, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman and Lionel Barrymore). The end of the 1940's saw a proliferation of companies producing seemingly countless series of kiddie records. Some of the larger producers started releasing the more popular records e.g. Christmas carols, fairy tales, bestsellers) as parallel issues in both 78 and 45rpm formats in the early 1950's. The cover artwork was usually identical in both. Eventually after 78s were phased out entirely, the 45's continued to be released into the 1980's until they were phased out in favor of CD's and cassettes. 

One of the most famous children's series from this era was launched in 1948. Golden Records, a part Simon & Schuster, publisher of the famous "Little Golden Books", started issuing small (6"), almost indestructible yellow plastic records. This series was an immediate hit with both parents and kids. They were available at almost any grocery market for 25 cents. Most of the first issues were musical story renditions of Little Golden Books. The child could read the book and follow along with the record. The series continued well into the 1960's, and to this day remains as probably the largest of all kiddie record sets. Sadly, Arthur Shimkin, the founder of Golden Records, visionary and personal friend, passed away on December 4, 2006.

RCA Victor's youth series that began in 1944 became known as the famous "Little Nipper" series in 1950. Many of the popular Disney stories, which were made into movies, as well as the more popular TV shows of the day (e.g. Howdy Doody, Tom Corbett Space Cadet) appeared in this series and today are among the more valuable and popular of all kiddie 78s.

A few companies became known as strictly "children's record" producers. In addition to those mentioned in the previous paragraphs, many readers will remember: Peter Pan, Cricket, Columbia Playtime, Record Guild of America, Voco, Young People's Records/Children's Record Guild (a division of the Book of the Month Club), Mercury Childcraft and Playcraft, Red Raven (picture discs). Then there are those small companies that produced few kiddie records, let alone any others. Unfamiliar as the following are, they, nevertheless, contributed to the plethora of products: Pied Piper, Rocking Horse, Pilotone, Melodee, Toono, Belda, DeLuxe, Winant, Allegro, Magic Tone, Karousel, Twinkle, Color Tunes, Musicraft, Little John, Little Pal, Merry-Go-Sound, Mayfair, Musette, Caravan. This is a small sampling of some of the lesser-known labels of the post WW2 era. In addition, an entire section of my book will focus on educational, instructional, and religious series of children's records. Most of these are not avidly collected, but are, nevertheless, part of the legacy of kiddie 78s.

Besides standard records, a large number of picture-discs came out, including several that could be cut out of the back of cereal boxes. With a picture disc the whole record is a graphic image or photograph. The grooves are either cut right into the picture, or on a clear laminate of plastic that is affixed to the picture disc. One places the needle right on the record's picture. As a rule, picture discs are more valuable than standard records.

Tips For Starting A Kiddie Record Collection

For those of you who have been immersed in more established collecting fields, starting a collection of vintage children's records will be relatively inexpensive. I would estimate that most "generic" kiddie records in at least VG to EX condition could be had for $3 to $10, and very often for much less. I am talking about perhaps 80-90% of all those available.

So, if you are ready to begin your collection of vintage children's records, here are a few pointers to help you get started: Because most people collect kiddie records for the graphics on the cover, records without original sleeves or album covers have little or no collector value. Generally, you can find loose (sleeveless) records for 25¢ -$1.00 at flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill, etc. Of course, if you remembered a particular one from growing up, you would want to hear the record, sometimes "at any cost". In this case, the existence of the original cover may not be as important to you. The exception to this rule is, of course, picture discs. The record itself contains the graphics. "Pic-discs" start out at $4-5 and range up to $20-50 for the majority. Many, however, are considerably more valuable.

Any record is ultimately worth whatever one is willing to pay for it. Price guides such as my soon-to-be-published book are just that: only 'guides'. Supply and demand,along with the subject matter is the driving force. Records and their corresponding covers which contain "characters" from TV shows, cartoons, juvenile series books, movies, comic books,etc. will be more in demand than their generic counterparts. Certain generic subjects, such as black Americana, paper doll cutouts (on the covers), 1950s rocket ships and outer space themes, famous illustrators (of covers), robots, and so forth, will also be more collectable. Crossover collectibility results in greater demand, thus higher values. The dealer knows that these records can command his asking price because his customers want anything with these characters on it. Mitigating that situation, however, is the phenomenon of eBay and other Internet auctions. Many previously scarce records have been coming out of the woodwork, so to speak.

If you are used to collecting items only in mint condition, don't get hung up on this criteria. Kiddie records haven't survived the decades as well as many other collectible items because of the wear and tear they received from their young owners. If you see a record you like in less than perfect condition, even if it is only "fair" or "good", you may want to pick it up, especially if the price is low (which it should be). Most of these records, especially those with crossover collectibility, or limited production, you may not see again for a very, very long time.

Even though you may be buying the item for the graphic beauty of the cover, the condition of the record is relatively important-in other words, it shouldn't be severely warped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. Otherwise, it has no value. Just remember you are not buying CD's here. Ultimately, the record is worth whatever it's worth to you. Just enjoy! "If the records don't come to you, you must go to the records". Try: Google, eBay, nostalgia blogs; ads in antique and/or record collector magazines; flea markets, garage sales, antique shows, record shows--in other words, "all the usual suspects".

Author's Profile Peter Muldavin has that unique quality which makes a collector of children's ephemera successful. His wife, Helene, affectionately describes him as "sixty-something going on six". Peter has been a longtime collector of everything from baseball cards, non-sports cards, Golden Age comics, Big Little Books,stamps,coins, and old children's series books to his current focus on vintage kiddie records. As with most of his collections, this one got started as a nostalgic pursuit of some of his most precious childhood memories. But, when he looked for price guides and checklists to know what was "out there", he found none. And after his collection was well under way, he even went to the Library of Congress to research the subject. He discovered to his surprise that he had more information than they did. At this point, Peter's "hobby" became his "mission"-i.e., to list all kiddie 78rpm records made in the USA, and hopefully to keep the genre from fading into extinction. A major step towards this goal has now been accomplished with the release of his new guide book on vintage children's records.

His current inventory of approximately 13,000 discs is the largest of its kind in the world. He is acknowledged as the country's leading expert in this field.

Peter is always looking to buy, sell, and trade vintage children's records. Additionally, copyright permitting, you can request a custom CD or MP3 of any of his records, as well as reproductions of the cover art. See the "order CDs and MP3s" page elsewhere on this Website for pricing and ordering information.

Peter can be contacted at: E-mail: kiddie78s@aol.com; or write to him at: 173 W. 78th St. New York, NY 10024; Phone: (212) 362-9606; or visit www.kiddierekordking.com