Monday, February 13, 2017

Picture That Record

QUESTION: A few weeks ago, I discovered several unusual records at a garage sale in my neighborhood. Each had a picture embedded into the record on both sides. This painting seemed to illustrate the song on each side. I was so fascinated by these records that I bought them on an impulse. Can you tell me anything about them? I’ve never seen anything like them before.

ANSWER: You’ve picked up quite a treasure. Your records date from the one year in the late 1940s when Sav-Way Industries of Detroit, Michigan, produced these unique “picture” records on the “Vogue” label. From May 1946 to April the following year, Sav-Way produced 74 different, 10-inch Vogue records.

Sav-Way released the first 10-inch Vogue picture record in May 1946. These records featured everything from big band to country to jazz.  Each had  an artist's illustration embedded in the transparent vinyl of the record. These  illustrations, signed by the artist, on each side of the record generally related to the title of the song on that side. Many of the illustrations are for romantic ballads. And while the most common Vogue picture records are 10-inch, 78 RPM records, Sav-Way also released a few 12-inch, 78 RPM records.

Each illustration has an "R" number, or catalog number, printed on it, ranging from R707 to R786. However, the company didn’t use all of the 79 catalog numbers, so there are gaps here and there.

There’s also a "P" number printed on the illustration next to the copyright symbol. This matrix number should match the matrix number inscribed in the lead-out area of the record. Once in a while illustrations didn’t match the song pressed on that side of the record. Sav-Way sometimes marked these records as Factory Rejects. But they marked those records with damaged illustrations—torn paper or smeared ink—as Vogue Seconds.

While Vogue picture records were unique and somewhat popular at first, later on they lost favor because Sav-Way couldn’t attract very many big-name singers and musicians. This caused the company to re-use some previously-released songs to help fill the second side of some records. Consequently, the catalog numbers on a particular record may not match. Most Vogue picture record collectors know that these records aren’t one-of-a-kind examples and don’t get excited when they come across them.

Sav-Way sold Vogue picture records both individually, as well as in albums containing two records. The company produced eight different albums. Originally, the single records sold for around a dollar while the albums sold for a little less than three dollars. Sears, Roebuck, and Company’s 1946/47 Fall/Winter catalog offered 18 different Vogue records and seven different Vogue albums.  

Vogue picture records were of very high quality and had little surface noise. Sav-Way produced the records using a complicated process using a central core aluminum disc  sandwiched between the paper illustrations and vinyl.  It took a while for the firm to perfect this process. Their engineers spent several months working out the bugs that resulted in torn or dislodged paper illustrations.

Unlike many other collectibles, Vogue picture records have a definite beginning and end making it possible for a collector to assemble a complete set of the records over time. However, finding these picture records can be a challenge. Beginning collectors often find them at yard or garage sales or flea markets for a few dollars. More advanced collectors know to look to the Internet to find some of the more hard-to-find examples. In the end, Vogue picture records were a short-lived novelty which has become a fascinating collectible.

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