Thursday, May 18, 2017

Vintage Talking Books

Cover art from The Black Cat, read by Arthur Luce Klein

Today we are very familiar with audio eBooks - digital sound files of literary works that can either be streamed or downloaded.  Until recently spoken work compact discs were another popular form of talking book.  And, of course, audio cassettes were the format that was responsible for making the talking book such a popular medium.

These three formats all had the virtue of being portable -- they could be listened to through a car stereo, walkman or mp3 player.  The very first books on tape (audio cassette format) were introduced in 1969 and could have up to an hour of continuous recitation on a side.  Spoken books on compact disc began to appear during the 1990s and could contain up to 74 minutes per side (and had a higher audio quality).  Streaming audio appeared not long afterward and could present a continuous narration of any duration.

There is a pre-history to this consumer-friendly, portable form of enjoying talking books.  The earliest talking books were manufactured on vinyl records that played at the slower speed of 16 2/3 rotations per minute.  For a period of time, many record players had settings for 16 2/3 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm (the long playing record), 45 rpm (the single) and 78 rpm (the much earlier shellac record).

The rule of thumb with audio recording is faster speeds mean better sound.  This slower speed worked because the spoken word does not need to have the same rich audio spectrum as music.  A 12 inch disc played at 16 2/3 rpm could have an hour of music per side, whereas a 33 rpm record could own contain a half hour.  The Library of Congress began issuing records at the speed in 1962 to serve the blind community and later even issued recordings the slower 8 1/3 rpm speed.

A blurb on the back of The Pit And The Pendulum (1972)

We do not have any of these slower recordings in our collection, but we do have sizeable collection of 12 inch vinyl spoken word records played at 33 1/3.  These include plays, poetry, legends, speeches and stories.

You can browse our holdings of literature on vinyl by searching for the call number LIT PD (Literature Phonodisc).

Because of their relative brevity, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe could provide a fulfilling vintage audio book experience.  Below is a listing of Poe stories on vinyl in our collection.


The Black Cat; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, s.d.).

A Descent Into The Maelström; read by Paul Hecht (Spoken Arts, s.d.).

The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, s.d.).

The Murders In The Rue Morgue; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, 1970?).

The Pit And The Pendulum; read by Edward Blake (Listening Library, 1972).

The Pit And The Pendulum; read by Alexander Scourby (Spoken Arts, 1962).

The Purloined Letter; read by Arthur Luce Klein (Spoken Arts, s.d.).


Bibliography:

Dicecco, Mike, "A History of 16-RPM Records, Part Two: Audio Books,"  Antique Phonograph News
Canadian Antique Phonograph Society
(May-June 2010).

Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, Frank Hoffmann, editor (Routledge, 2005).