What Is A Vintage "Kiddie
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. No comprehensive book
on the subject has been published. That situation will hopefully
be resolved when I publish the first complete discography and
price guide of vintage kiddie records in the fairly near future.
It is my goal to make a significant contribution to this field
of collectibles. The list will never be completed, as most of
the companies that made them are long since out of business,
and have left no information behind. I am aware of almost 200
labels that produced 78-rpm children's records either exclusively,
or as part of their total production. In my collection, I currently
have between seven and eight thousand kiddie 78s (not counting
duplicates) on almost 150 labels. 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
How Old is Old?
The era of 78-rpm records in the United States started in the
early 1890's, when single sided disc were created as an alternative
to cylinders. 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. Columbia
introduced the long-play microgroove LP's in 1948, to which RCA
Victor replied with the 45-rpm record in 1949. 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 1960.
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
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
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).
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 children's record manufacturers of the era included Little
Tots (Columbia), 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
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
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
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 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. 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"
Decca (beginning 1939), Columbia (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 the1960's and
to this day remains as probably the largest of all kiddie record
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, 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), Cricket. 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 product: Pied Piper, Rocking Horse, Pilotone,
Melodee, Toono, Belda, DeLuxe, Winant, Allegro, Magic Tone, Karousel,
Twinkle, Color Tunes, Musicraft, 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
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.
Unlike more popular collectibles, unfortunately there are no
comprehensive price guides or checklists on children's 78rpms.
There are available two books with limited coverage as follows:
The Golden Age Of Walt Disney Records-R. Michael Murray, Antique
Trader Books; and Picture Discs Of The World-Joe Lindsay, BIOdisc,
Scottsdale, AZ. As mentioned at the beginning of this article,
part of the purpose of my collecting kiddie records is to create
such a complete guide. Any help that those of you reading this
article can offer to me will be greatly appreciated.
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 $20-25 for the majority. Many, however, are
considerably more valuable.
In the absence of any official price-guide, any record is ultimately
worth whatever one is willing to pay for it. Now that I think
about it, the latter holds true even with a price "guide"
handy. Supply and demand, along with the subject matter is the
driving force. Many records issued in the TV era are worth more
than their generic counterparts because of the "cross-over"
collectibility. You may see a record of Howdy Doody or Hopalong
Cassidy priced very high. 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: Internet searches, eBay, ads in antique
and/or record collector magazines; flea markets, garage sales,
antique shows, record shows-in other words, "all the usual
Peter Muldavin has that unique quality which
makes a collector of children's ephemera successful: he is "fifty-something
going on five". Peter has been a longtime collector of
everything from baseball cards, stamps and coins, and old children's
books to his current focus on old 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. His current inventory of approximately
7,000 discs (not counting duplicates) may be the largest of its
kind in the country. To his knowledge, he has become the USA's
leading (and possibly only) expert in this field. Peter Muldavin
is always looking to buy, sell, and trade kiddie 78s. He can
be contacted at: 173 W. 78th St. New York, NY 10024; (212) 362-9606;
or visit www.kiddierekordking.com