Friday, May 7, 2010

Schwann Catalog Covers

In the old days, before the iWhatever told you exactly what music was playing anywhere, there was a music directory known as the Schwann Catalog. In 1949, record-store owner William Schwann created the first list to keep track of new releases. The LP had only recently been introduced and production was increasing rapidly.

This is from his NY Times obit (Schwann died in 1998 at age 85):
''I had to protect myself from my bad memory,'' he said in an interview in later years. So he assembled a list of all available recordings, and typed it up, some 26 pages. ''This gave me the idea of doing the catalogue,'' he said. ''And since I had helped organize a Boston record dealers association during the war, when shellac was unavailable and records scarce, I had an immediate market for my guide.'' At the time, there were 11 record labels with some 600 titles. The first Schwann catalogue, hand-typed and mimeographed, sold 11,000 copies. Within a month it was obsolete. So Mr. Schwann realized that he would have to publish a new issue every month. …When he sold the catalogue in 1976 (although he kept running it until his retirement), it had expanded to over 300 pages with over 40,000 listings.

The covers themselves might not be very deep, but I think they more than compensate with their exuberance, freshness, and fun. I’ve had absolutely no luck in finding their creator. There is a consistent set of initials, on most of them, but as you can see in the combo of initials below, it’s hard to say what the letters are exactly. All I can say for sure, is that whoever CM, GM, GN or LM is, was one lucky artist to have had that cover as a monthly gig.

The catalogs here, are for sale by dealer Harlan Wolf, and range from $3.50 to $6.50. Unfortunately, just about all of them have been mercilessly defaced with the stamp of Bob Duncan’s Camera & Record Shop. The ones here that are stamp-free, are only so due to Photoshop. I just had to satisfy my own curiosity and see what they once looked like.

So if any of you can identify the mystery designer, please let me know, and I will Tweet it throughout the land …


  1. I possess a schwann catalogue of september 1967 to 45 cts and 280 pages of record's references, someone give it to me.
    I take care.
    I think it was great at this time to have all records in catalogue like that, and I used it to find records not sale in france
    truly yours

  2. The Schwann catalog was incredible and indispensable in its day. As a record collector in the late 1950s and most of the '60s, I relied on Schwann's comprehensive information on LPs. The catalog covers had that touch of modern art and kitsch, fresh and friendly, but the meat of the catalog, the data, was extraordinary.

  3. While converting my old LPs into digital, in one of my old LP jackets, I found a receipt from an order that I had placed way back in 1982. On the receipt, I had purchased three albums, 2 at $7.18 and 1 at $6.38! The selections were quite varied in the music genre. In this particular order, the albums were R&B, Reggae and Pop. Those were the days!

    here's a link that will lead you to info on Gwendolyn Methe, the artist in question. She was born here in Chelmsford MA, and the elegant Mrs. Schwann is a friend of our family. Through her kindness, I have a collection of 45 (or so) Schwann Catalogs, a reference to my collecting and research to this day.

    Brent Higinbotham


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