Phonograph Monthly Review, Now Online

Post written by Mason Vander Lugt, National Recording Preservation Board / Library of Congress.

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Phonograph Monthly Review was founded by Axel B. Johnson in October 1926. It was the first American magazine about the appreciation and collecting of records by enthusiasts, and helped organize a budding culture of record collectors and scholars. You can now view a full run of the magazine on through the work of the National Recording Preservation Board.

State of the Art

Phonograph Monthly Review (‘PMR’) was born into exciting times in the entertainment industry. Consumer radio had been on the ascent for several years, and with RCA’s formation of the NBC network in 1926, it looked ready for the first time to disrupt recording. Columbia and Victor had only the year before licensed Westrex’s electrical recording process, while Brunswick adapted General Electric’s pallophotophone system. Sometimes overlooked in the transition to electrical ‘recording’ are the equally innovative eletro-magnetic reproduction technologies, in the forms of the Brunswick Panatrope and Victor Electrola.

One of Columbia’s electrical reproduction offerings adapted users’ existing phonographs (PMR 4:11)

One of Columbia’s electrical reproduction offerings adapted users’ existing phonographs (PMR 4:11)

The improved fidelity of electrical recording and reproduction revived interest in recordings of classical music, which were somewhat shortchanged by the acoustic processes. Columbia debuted the ‘Masterworks’ line in late 1924, assembling longer works into albums (following the example of the Gramophone Co. / HMV) and presented complete symphonies, concertos, and chamber works often for the first time. Victor followed suit with the ‘Musical Masterpiece’ line in 1927, but added the innovation of automatically playing through the sides in sequence, creating the first commercially successful record changer in the form of the Automatic Orthophonic Victrola.

Columbia Masterworks Advertisement (PMR 1:3)

Columbia Masterworks Advertisement (PMR 1:3)

Creating the Collector

PMR features articles about the top orchestras and famous composers, and reviews of the most recent releases, and could have stopped there, but Johnson felt a higher purpose. He believed that through careful listening and discussion, anyone could attain a sophisticated appreciation of ‘serious’ music. The magazine staff were charter members and officers of the Boston Gramophone Society and encouraged the creation of and participation in the same.

This wasn’t an entirely new concept. PMR never concealed the fact that their model adapted the example set in England by Compton MacKenzie’s magazine Gramophone and the National Gramophonic Society (see ‘At Jethou’, 2:3 and ‘A Resumé’, 2:1). Both Gramophone and PMR aspired to be more than a magazine or a social club. In editorials, Johnson refers frequently to the ‘phonograph society movement’ or ‘phono-musical movement’, or ‘the cause’. The cause was a democratic, communal musical education, and this required a systematic study of the ‘literature’.

In ‘More Important than the Music: A History of Jazz Discography’, Bruce D. Epperson grants Gramophone the first formal discographical lists, but PMR the first freestanding discographical article, in Robert Donaldson Darrell’s ‘Dvorak’s Recorded Works’ (3:8). Darrell would go on to edit PMR and its successor Music Lover’s Guide, and would compile the influential ‘Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music’ in 1935.

PMR reinforced the collaborative culture through recurring ‘Phonograph Society Reports’ and ‘Phonograph Activities’ columns, as well as a robust correspondence column for those too remote to participate in person. The ‘Mart and Exchange’ column was another innovation, allowing readers to advertise records (or literature) they were looking to buy or sell.

PMR, Gramophone, and the various societies changed the relationship between composition, performance, and recording. Before recordings, one could comment on the merits of a composition, or on the qualities imparted by a conductor or performer’s interpretation of it. Recording a work, for better or worse, allowed listeners to share a fixed reference point – still an interpretive performance of a composition, but a particular instantiation of it that could be replayed and compared. Focusing on recordings didn’t end or undermine live performance or its appreciation, but created a new intellectual space and a new kind of enthusiast – the record collector. These values and practices were expanded and codified in the 1930s and 40s in jazz magazines like Down Beat and Record Changer.

The Music

Changes in technology and culture are interesting in retrospect, but PMR’s readers subscribed for the music. 1927-1932 was a golden age in American orchestral music, with the best orchestras led by some of the most legendary conductors. Leopold Stokowski was at the helm of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Serge Koussevitzky led the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Willem Mengelberg and Wilhelm Furtwangler alternately conducted the New York Philharmonic, while Arturo Toscanini guest conducted (Walter Damrosch led the New York Symphony Orchestra, then separate). Richard Strauss’ recordings with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra were imported by Brunswick. PMR’s profiles, histories and discographies of these institutions were its main attraction.

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The best American orchestras of the day

While PMR always focused on orchestral music, it also reviewed chamber music, instrumental solos and art songs, opera, light music, musical theater, band music, popular songs and instrumentals, dance music and foreign recordings. The reviews section reads like a ‘hall of fame’ of 20th century artists – violin by Heifetz and Kreisler, piano by Cortot, Godowsky and Paderewski. Jazz by Armstrong, Ellington and Waller. PMR didn’t explore popular artists with the depth of the composers and conductors, but included interviews with Leo Reisman (3:1) and Lee Morse (4:6), and a serial autobiography of Nat Shilkret (vol. 1).

The Recording Industry

PMR also featured articles on the recording industry past and present, like ‘How the Sounds Get Into Your Record by the Electrical Process’ (1:1), ‘Echoes from the OKeh Recording Studio’ (2:3) and ‘The First Years of the Phonograph’ (6:6). Despite frequent disdain for broadcasting among writers, PMR includes announcements that help ground recording in a wider media context, with articles like ‘The New Columbia Broadcasting System’ (1:12), ‘The Phonograph and the Sonal Film’ (4:11) and ‘Television’ (5:3). In one of PMR’s last issues, Sergei Rachmaninoff weighs in on recording vs. broadcast (6:3).

Ulysses “Jim” Walsh first published in PMR. His first article, ‘Pioneer Phonograph Advertising’ (3:6) reviews the preceding 25 years of the recording industry through print advertisements. After a pair of rambling articles titled ‘By the Way’ in 3:10-11, he writes a trio of remembrances of recording pioneers passed on – J.S. MacDonald (“Harry MacDonough”) (6:1-2), Sam H. Rous (“S.H. Dudley”) (6:4) and Anthony and Harrison (6:5). These last articles set the pattern for his prolific and influential column ‘Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists’ in Hobbies magazine.

Regular columns included ‘Record Budgets’, to assist readers in building a library without breaking the bank, ‘Phonographic Echoes’ to keep readers apprised of news, events and industry developments, and ‘British Chatter’ to keep the line open with the substantial gramophile contingent across the pond.

PMR for sale at H. Royer Smith Co., Philadelphia – ‘The World’s Record Shop’ (PMR 3:7)

PMR’s Legacy

After several years of contracting markets (records and otherwise), Phonograph Monthly Review printed its last in March 1932. The final issue begins poignantly with a memorial to John Philip Sousa, who died earlier in the same month. Johnson and Darrell went on to found the ‘Music Lover’s Guide’ magazine in New York in September 1932 which turned into ‘The American Music Lover’ (1935-1941) and ultimately ‘American Record Guide’, still publishing.

The full run of Phonograph Monthly Review can now be viewed on, through the work of the National Recording Preservation Board. Thank you to professor, collector and antiquarian Dave Radcliffe of Blacksburg Virginia for lending the beautifully preserved complete run of the magazine that made this project possible.

New Blog Editor

Hi ARSC blog readers, my name is Mason Vander Lugt, and I’ve recently been appointed editor of this blog. To introduce myself, I work as a processing technician at the National Audiovisual Conservation Center in Culpeper Virginia and in my free time maintain a website and blog called ‘Dinosaur Discs’ where I share scans of old record collectors’ magazines. I’ve also written for the blog of the Sound Beat radio program and the ‘Seeing Sound’ blog about IRENE at NEDCC.

I aim to make the ARSC blog a collaborative place where ARSC members and non-members alike can tell stories, share ideas and insights, and announce new or completed projects.  I believe we each archive, or collect, or preserve because we see the stories hidden in recorded sound collections, and I’d like to work together to reanimate these.

One of the strengths of the blog format is the ability to incorporate audio and video seamlessly with text, so I’d like to encourage contributors to include these in submissions. Posts entirely in audio or video format are also supported and encouraged. We will work with you to ensure media fit our guidelines for intellectual property.

Of course, the blog is only one of several official avenues for ARSC communication. If you’re preparing an academic work, please consider submitting it to the ARSC Journal or presenting at our annual conference. If you’ve got an announcement for the ARSC membership, please include it in our newsletter. If you want feedback from our members you can email one of the listservs – ARSClist for general discussion, or ARSClib for library and archives-specific matters.

If you’d like to submit a post to the blog, please email me at We aim to provide an inclusive environment, so please be respectful in your posts and comments. Finally, please subscribe to future blog posts by entering your email address in the form in the sidebar (to the right), or by liking the ARSC Facebook page.

Looking forward,

Mason Vander Lugt

This post transcribed from Memovox - Photo credit Dave Lewis

This post transcribed from Memovox – Photo credit Dave Lewis

The Phonogram Magazine, Now Online” by Mason Vander Lugt, National Recording Preservation Board, Library of Congress


(vol. 1, no. 10)

In May 1890, the representatives of the regional subsidiaries of the North American Phonograph Company met in Chicago to discuss the future of the phonograph business. In the preceding two years, the phonograph had developed from a curious toy into a useful tool, and the major patents had been consolidated into an enterprise that was positioned to make a fortune if conditions were favorable. Modeling after the telephone company, North American licensed rights to 28 regional sub-companies to exploit the technology in their respective territories. They were tasked with building an industry, and the opportunity must have seemed limitless.

1892 Convention 2_6

The 1892 Convention of the National Phonograph Association (vol. 2, no. 6)

Virginia H. McRae was a typewriter entrepreneur from Wilmington, North Carolina. By 1885, at 35 years old, she was running her own successful copying business in New York. The newspapers back home called her “plucky”, “energetic”, and “properly very proud of her independence”. When it was decided at the 1890 convention that a trade journal might benefit the association, Thomas Lombard, Vice-president of the New-York based North American Company was charged with investigating the prospect, and may have already had an editor in mind.

In The Phonogram’s first issue, published January 1891, McRae stated her purpose plainly:

The object and scope of the Phonogram […] is to familiarize the public with the good qualities of its namesake, to preserve the record of its growth while it moves forward to the achievement of the highest possible good, and to illustrate the part it performs in the work of human progress.

To understand the vision and influence of The Phonogram, it’s worth reviewing the basics. In January 1891, buying a phonograph to use at home wasn’t even an option. The spring-power mechanism that allowed the machines to be safe and efficient was still years in the future. The phonographs of 1891 were mostly powered by unwieldy and unreliable batteries, or treadle. Some were hand-cranked, some tapped into light sockets. One ill-fated model even used water-pressure.

Use of the machines could be generally categorized as business or entertainment. In a business setting, the machine mediated the process of dictating speech. Where before a speaker had to maintain a pace the stenographer could keep up with, or accept inaccuracies or losses, a phonographic secretary or reporter could quietly repeat what they heard into the recording tube while an assistant maintained continuity between two machines. The recordings would likely still be transcribed to type, but it made the process more natural and more reliable for speaker and stenographer alike.

Early Adopters

“These early adopters have got electric light, a telephone, a phonograph and a typewriter” (vol. 3, no. 1)

In an entertainment setting, the most common model was the public exhibition, made possible by the invention of the automatic, or ‘nickel-in-the-slot’ machine. At first, machines were placed one at a time in drugstores, saloons, hotel lobbies and train stations. Patrons would place stethoscopic ‘listening tubes’ in their ears, put a coin in the slot, and the phonograph would play the recording of the day – instrumental solos or ensembles, popular songs, bands, as well as humorous and dramatic recitations, or reenactments of historic speeches . As this practice gained popularity, exhibitors rented booths or rooms at fairs, and eventually entrepreneurs would devote entire parlors to phonograph (and eventually kinetophone) entertainment.

Another business model for entertainment was the phonograph concert. Like the medicine show before it, a traveling phonograph exhibitor would advertise events, usually in more suburban and rural areas where patrons wouldn’t encounter automatic machines in public. They would sell tickets to the event, held in a town hall, clubhouse, church or fairground, and the audience would hear recordings brought from all over the country. Sometimes recordings would be made on the spot and reproduced for the audience.

Sullivan 3_2

(vol. 3, no. 2)

The Phonogram was only in publication from January 1891 to April 1893, but in this short time it reflects the symbiotic growth and (growing pains) of the industry and culture of sound recording from the ground-level view of the practitioners. In a time when North American’s administration saw a cheap stenographer, The Phonogram and the local companies behind it explored every possibility, including:

  • Home phonographs and records
  • Music by phone
  • Records by delivery
  • Audio news by delivery
  • Voice-letters by mail
  • Educational lessons, especially of language
  • Ethnographic field recording
  • Preserving family’s voices
  • Recording telephone conversations, and answering-machine functions
  • Audio books
  • Speaking toys
  • Speaking clocks, including alarm clocks
  • Sermons
  • Weddings and funerals
  • Comforting the dying
  • Scientific recording, including field recording
  • Transposing sounds outside the human audible range (insects)
  • Recording secretly for legal evidence

In addition to brainstorming phonograph applications, the magazine documented developments in the typewriter, telephone, electrics, and in later issues, motion picture (2:10). It provided a venue for opinion articles, like “Give Every Family the Chance to Use the Phonograph” (1:5) “The Phonograph Aids in the Progress of Women” (2:6), or “Typewriter Mechanics: Shift-key or No Shift-key – Which?” (1:4).

Transcribe 2_4-5

(vol. 2, no. 4-5)

It announced news that would impact the local companies, such as North American president Jesse Lippincott’s assignment (1:4), and Edison’s appointment as president (2:7). Events of interest to its readers, like Electric Light Conventions in Montreal (1:8) and Buffalo (2:2), or celebrity recording sessions, as of Pope Leo XII (3:3-4), Sarah Bernhardt (2:11), and the Queen of Italy (3:2) also found a place.

Buffalo Light 2_2

Electric Light Convention at Buffalo (vol. 2, no. 2)


It reprinted the programs of phonograph concerts (1:5, 2:4-5, 3:1, 3:2) and lists of recordings by the various local companies, which are otherwise virtually unknown today. It featured the successes of local companies, including Columbia (1:4), Louisiana (1:6-7), Ohio (1:11-12) and Chicago (2:4-5). Essentially, it filled in the gaps between annual conventions, and let the public in on the fun. Considering only 2-3% of recordings from this era survive¹, contemporary literature such as Phonogram and the transcripts of the annual conventions may be the best source for understanding the culture and industry of recorded sound in these formative years.

US Marine Band 1_10

The U.S. Marine Band recording for the Columbia Phonograph Co. (vol. 1, no. 10)

Phonogram is also rich with photos and illustrations. Some of my favorites are below, but I encourage you to take a few minutes to browse the issues on for more.

So what happened? When the last issue I could find (Vol. 3, no. 3-4) was published in the spring of 1893, people may have been a bit preoccupied by the World’s Fair in Chicago, but North American was in an upswing, and the magazine had never looked better. There’s no mention in the issue of plans to cease publication, it’s not discussed at the 4th convention in Sept. ’93, and I couldn’t find any mention in the Edison Papers Digital Edition. I don’t have an answer, unfortunately, but I may have found a clue. I scanned Phonogram from two microfilm sources. One of the reels was shared with another publication titled Phonogram (Phonogram II, or ‘New Phonogram’), published by Edison from 1900-1902 (also online). In issue 9 of Phonogram II there’s a list of ‘Edisonia’ in the library of the editor that includes a volume 3, number 5 of the original series. Maybe, if it exists, it’s explained there.

(Phonogram (II), no. 9)

The North American Phonograph company, from 1888-1894 to me represents the ‘wild-west’ of the media frontier, and The Phonogram a contemporary, first-hand account of its players and events. In the following years, technical developments and industry consolidation allowed the phonograph to become a viable consumer good. The wax cylinder remained the dominant format, while the stage was set for the seemingly inevitable takeover by the disc format. To read more about this next chapter, browse Phonoscope, uploaded by the Library of Congress and Media History Digital Library in 2014.

The National Recording Preservation Board has begun scanning historical audio serials for inclusion into the Media History Digital Library and for public access. An index will be available soon at the Media History Digital Library web site, but for now you can view the issues on Thank you to media historian Patrick Feaster for lending the microfilm reels that made this project possible.