A Guide to Properly Packaging 78 RPM Records

Don’t end up on the wall of shame! Pack it right!

There are plenty of guides for packaging fragile shellac records for shipping, there’s Bryan Wright of Rivermont Records’ excellent guide, the dandy one by the NESPRS, and even one drawn by the legendary cartoonist R. Crumb (courtesy of John Heneghan).  Unfortunately, there’s also no shortage of woefully inadequately packed records flying through the mail getting broken, so here’s another step-by-step guide on how to properly package records.  The most crucial elements to the survival of the records are in boldface text.  For a more brief explanation, see the summary at the very bottom of the article.

Far too many people ship 78s in LP mailers.  While they are fine for flexible vinyl records, they are too thin to offer sufficient protection to fragile antique 78s, and all but ensure that they will break in shipping.  Do not use LP mailers to ship 78 RPM records!

If possible, have the record in a sleeve.

Records should always be sleeved, if possible.

It is vital to understand that 78s are not made of vinyl, but rather a very brittle and fragile shellac mixture, and if not packed with great care, they will break in shipping.  To properly pack 78s, you will need a few materials: a sturdy cardboard box, corrugated cardboard squares cut to the size of the record (10 inches, typically), and packing peanuts, newspaper, or another packing material.

If at all possible, see that all records are sleeved in a protective envelope, especially if shipping more than one disc together.  If sleeves are not available, paper tucked between the discs will suffice.  Ideally not newspaper, however, as the newsprint can rub off on the records.

Four squares shown.

Arrange corrugation in opposite directions.

Arrange the cardboard squares so that the corrugation runs in opposite directions, as shown in the image to the left.

Place the record(s) in-between the squares of cardboard, ideally with at least two squares on either side of the disc, for optimal protection, making a “cardboard sandwich”, so to speak.

No more than ten records should be packed in the same “sandwich”, and if shipping that many, it is best to put another cardboard square between every two or three records.

Affix the "sandwich" together in some way.

Seal the record securely between the squares.

Next, affix the sides of the “sandwich” together around the record to prevent the disc from shifting.  Packing tape is ideal for this, and rubber bands will work as well (I used rubber bands here so as not to waste cardboard on a record I’m not actually shipping).  Scotch magic tape or masking tape are not ideal, as they tend to tear in shipping.  Many dealers will put a small piece of paper between the tape edges of the record to prevent it from tearing the sleeve or leaving residue on the disc.

For extra protection, add a layer or two of bubble wrap around the “sandwich”.

Packing fragile shellac records sandwiched between cardboard squares is the most critical element of ensuring their success in navigating the rigorous postal system.

The sandwiched record is "floated" securely in packing peanuts.

The sandwiched record is “floated” securely in packing peanuts.

Now, fill the bottom of a very sturdy, larger cardboard box with packing material.  Styrofoam packing peanuts, wadded newspaper, or something comparable will work.  The box shown measures six by twelve inches, a perfect size, though shorter ones will work fine as well.  Place the sandwiched record on top of that layer of packing, and then fill the box up the rest of the way to surround the protected record completely, such that the disc is suspended in the middle of the box This prevents the record from taking direct blows from other packages or careless postal workers.  In the trade, this method is called “floating”.

Finally, seal the package tightly and securely.  While I sincerely doubt that it really matters if you write “fragile” on the box or not—I’ve never seen evidence that postal workers actually pay any mind to it—it can’t do any harm, so I’d recommend it just to play it safe.

Ready to go to the mail!

All ready to go to the mail!

In summary…

  1. Never use an LP mailer to ship a shellac 78!
  2. Secure the disc, with tape or otherwise, in-between two or more cardboard squares.
  3. Fill a box measuring around 12 x 12 x 6 inches, with packing material (peanuts, etc.).
  4. “Float” the record sandwich in the middle of the box.
  5. Seal the package and mail.

On Repairing Needle Digs

Used to be, if one of my records had a needle dig, I just figured it was what it was.  If it skipped, there was nothing I could do, and if it repeated, what a shame.  Then, in a bold move motivated by an annoying skip in my copy of “It’s Tight Like That” by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, I decided to attempt to fill a dig to improve its playability.  I had heard of using grease pencils to fill digs, but I didn’t have any on hand, so I decided to try a crayon.

To test my idea, with my damaged copy of “Cheek to Cheek” by Fred Astaire in hand, I found myself a black crayon, and simply “drew” in the needle dig.  Much to my amazement, the dig, which previously rendered the record unplayable, passed with just a few small clicks!  Thrilled by the results, I successfully repaired that annoying skip in “It’s Tight Like That”, then a dig on “Fan It” by Frankie Half Pint Jaxon that skipped “till the” between “fan it, cool it” and “cows come home”.  Then, armed with my trusty crayon and newfound ability, I proceeded to repair repeating digs in a treasured Blind Lemon Jefferson record, and a particularly troublesome stripped groove on a Big Bill Broonzy record.

If the results aren’t quite satisfactory, or there’s excess crayon in surrounding grooves causing noise when it passes, a quick spin of the affected area with a fibre needle on the old Victrola takes off the excess wax and should do no harm to the record.  Alternatively, you can use a loose phonograph needle (fibre or steel) to carefully scrape the excess out of the grooves.  The removed crayon shavings can then be dusted away.  If just trying to remove excess crayon after a successful repair, take care not to go too far in to the dig, as it could ruin the repair.

Though it sometimes takes a bit of effort to get it just right, sometimes you just have to pile on as much as you can and scrape off the excess, and sometimes the dig will still skip a little bit, but hopefully not repeat, I’ve found that this method can immensely improve the playability of a damaged record.  It is also quite aesthetically discreet, the black crayon blending in well with the surrounding shellac.  Indeed, this method is not entirely permanent, and must occasionally be reapplied, as the needle takes off a bit of the added wax with each passing, but it certainly helps make a record more playable, and especially aids in the transferring process.

A Brief Guide to the ARC Numbering System

Around September of 1935, the American Record Corporation (ARC) revamped their catalog numbering system for most of their budget labels.  Prior to this change, all of the multitude of labels made by the ARC used different numbering schemes for their cataloging, and this new system created a unified system of numbers.

This new cataloging system involved a five digit code consisting of three numbers separated by hyphens.  The first number represents the year of release, the second the month of release, and the third the release number and series (e.g. popular, race).

The first number used a single digit code for the release year.  For example: 6 would equate to 1936, 7 to ’37, and so on.  The first two months of releases using this system used 35 as the first number before changing to the single digit system in November of that year.

The second, two digit number, quite straightforwardly, refers to the month of release, 01 for January, 04 for April, 11 for November, and so on.

The third number refers to the release number of the record, 01 would be the first issue, 12 for the twelfth, etc.  Beginning around November 1935, releases in the popular series used numbers beginning at 01 for the final number, and releases in the Race/Country & Western series began at 51.

For example: 7-04-18 would be the eighteenth issue in the popular series for April of 1937, 7-04-68 would be the eighteenth in the Race/Country series.

Romeo 1936In the case of the record pictured, Romeo 6-06-03, the numbers equate to the following:

  • 6: the year of release, 1936
  • 06: the month of release, June
  • 03: the release number, third in the popular series

That means the above record is the third record released in the popular series in June of 1936.

The ARC used this system for Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, and Romeo.  Conqueror and many of the ARC’s small client labels did not adopt the system.