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Eclipse and Crown Records in the 1930s

Great music for sixpence

 

A sleeved 78rpm Eclipse Gramophone Record. The range was a best seller at Woolworth's between 1930 and 1935 and sold for the unbeatable price of sixpenceThe Crystallate Gramophone Record Company produced leaflets promoting the latest titles on their Eclipse Records label. The brochures were handed out in F.W. Woolworth stores across Great Britain and Ireland.

 

In 1929 a new era was dawning. Woolworth and Crystallate were enjoying great success with 'The Victory' and hoped to build on the momentum in the new decade. Advances in technology meant that it had become possible to make eight inch (20cm) shellac discs more cheaply than the seven inch (17.5cm) Victory label had first started, giving a further minute's playing time. They agreed that to mark the change the name 'Eclipse' would sound more modern. Crystallate agreed an exclusive long-term contract to sell the new label only to Woolworth. Following the technique developed for The Victory, the songs were captured electronically in the supplier's studio, where they were then mastered onto metal plates which were used to print the discs. The release schedule was stepped up, so that there would be at least five new records every week. To achieve this some of the best sellers from the early Victory and Mimosa labels were remastered.

Rival stores stocked "Broadcast Long-Playing Records" for one shilling and threepence (approximately 6½p), while Woolworth discs were under half of that price. Eclipse promised two hits per record, one on either side. Many of the songs were by famous artists, recording under a pseudonym. This moonlighting allowed them to make a little extra money outside an exclusive contract with another label. Other discs were recorded young singers at the start of their careers. As well as songs, there was dance and military band music, and an ever-changing selection of comedy records, featuring popular BBC radio artists like Philip Ridgeway.

A typical record gave three minutes' playing time. Despite running at 78rpm and using a disposable needle rather a stylus, the recording quality remains quite credible today, over eighty years after the records first hit the shelves. At the Woolworths Museum we have an built an extensive library. We have picked a few of our own favourites for the juke box, but will do our best to seek out any particular favourites that you remember from shopping at Woolies, or have heard on the radio. Why not drop us a line with your request?

 

Downloadable music from original Eclipse Gramophone Records, restored and made available by 3D and 6D Pictures Ltd(London, England)

(The page links show below include HTML5 audio with Adobe Flash fallback , requiring an average bandwidth of 2 megabytes. They also include a download link to save a copy of the source in an MP3 file)

4 My Baby Just Cares For Me   72 Goodnight, Sweetheart    140A Rhymes Part 1    140B Rhymes Part 2    

249A It Ain't No Fault of Mine   263A Underneath the Arches     645A The Penny Song Sheet Part 1    

306A Don't Go Any Higher Jeremiah   645B The Penny Song Sheet Part 2    713A Liitle Man you've had a busy day

713B Humming You Glum Times Away   835A Sing as we Go    835B Sing the Song of Happiness

845A The Man on the Flying Trapeze    877A The Continental    931A Easter Parade

Featured song The Lion and Albert (the finest that Woolworths could sell) by Teddy Williams

 

A brochure promoting the new, larger 78 rpm records sold on the Crown Label in Woolworth stores from 1935 onwards. These were given free to customers and bannered a particular artist or genre of music each monthNine inch (22.5cm) Crown Records like this one were best sellers at Woolworth's between 1935 and 1937. They played at 78rpm and were just sixpence each.

 

By 1935 Woolworth UK sold millions of Eclipse Records each year, but its margins were being eroded by escalating raw material costs. Something had to be done. Executives worked with Crystallate to find a solution. They came up with an innovative solution, buying new machinery and adopting a new manufacturing process. This allowed cheaper raw materials to be used. Discs were made of a revolutionary plastic called Bakelite in a larger nine inch (22.5cm) format. As well as allowing more playing time, the new material meant that the grooves did not have to be so tightly packed, making the records cheaper to produce. To mark the change, the records were rebranded "Crown", reinstating a marque that Edison Bell had used before the Great War. New signings were added to the established artists from Eclipse to add spice to the offer.

Store players were upgraded too. Most had been treated to a wind-up gramophone in the early 1920s. The smaller stores were upgraded to electronic "record players", while the largest branches received fully-fledged radiograms to promote the offer. The move sparked a lot of interest among the staff about how the records were made. It spawned an article in the staff magazine, The New Bond, as a reporter visited the factory to describe the manufacturing process*. (*Please note that the linked page includes an embedded audio track*)

 

Vera Lynn was one of the Crown label's great discoveries. Her recordings for F.W. Woolworth are a particular favourite of the Museum Author, Paul Seaton.Crown favourites included Mrs. Jack Hylton and her Band (aka Ennis Parkes), Billy Merrin, who was nicknamed the King of the Midlands, and Rossini's Accordion Band. Rossini was actually Harry Bidgood also performed under the pseudonyms Don Porto and Primo Scala, to work around a rule that no artist could have more than one record in-store at once! Bidgood started life as Recording Manager for Vocalion and played a pivotal role in the success of each pre-war label after joining Crystallate when the labels merged in 1926.

Perhaps Bidgood biggest signing was Vera Lynn, who appeared, uncredited, on several Crown Records before gaining a byline of her own in 1937. She remembers her time with Crown as a happy one, Woolworth offered her songs either on 78 or as sheet music for sixpence. Vera went on to become the Forces' Sweetheart and was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in the 1970s. She remains one of Britain's best loved singers, and to date is the only nonogenarian to top the country's album chart. We're proud to offer two of her earliest recordings for your listening pleasure.

 

Sadly the gramophone record story of the 1930s did not have a completely happy ending, and goes to show the sacrifices that Woolworth bosses had to make in the last years of the decade. By the Summer of 1937 raw material prices had gone up to such an extent that sixpenny records were no longer profitable. Reluctantly company bosses concluded that they would have to drop the range and offer something else instead. Customers were disappointed but admired the firm's commitment to holding down prices. Amazingly in 1938 the replacement range was .... tinned fruit ... honestly - ain't life a peach? It was sixteen years before records returned as a regular range.

 

Crown Records to Download and Play


(The page links show below include HTML5 audio with Adobe Flash fallback , requiring an average bandwidth of 2 megabytes. They also include a download link to save a copy of the source in an MP3 file)

1A: Mrs Jack Hylton and her Band - In a Little Gipsy Tea Room    3A: Ben Hammond and his Orch. - On the Good Ship Lollipop

12A: Roy Laroche - Red Sails in the Sunset  19A Ben Hammond and his Orch. - Why was I born

31A: The Rythm Rascals - Mickey's Son and Daughter   57A: The Radio Seranaders - Cheek to Cheek

91A: Ben Hammond and His Orch. - The King's Navee     113A: The Rythm Rascals - I've got a Feeling you're Fooling

137A: Rossini's Accordion Band - Vocal Gems from Top Hat FEATURING VERA LYNN Side 1

137B: Rossini's Accordion Band - Vocal Gems from Top Hat FEATURING VERA LYNN Side 2

308A: Rossini's Accordion Band - Swing Time 1    308B: Rossini's Accordion Band - Swing Time 2

1351 (Canada/USA): Buddy Blue and His Texans - I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in five and ten cent store)

 

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