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Guide to Discographical Research: Discs and Cylinders

This is a guide to the range of resources useful for gathering information about specific recordings.

Using Discs and Cylinders for Discographical Research

In cases where only one copy of a recording exists, that recording (and its original packaging, if it exists) provides crucial information. Discographers often write to the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives Recorded Sound ( asking for photographs of discs, cylinders, and their accompanying sleeves or slips. We can provide free, low-resolution photos, or high resolution photos for a fee.

If you would like to examine a disc, cylinder, or original sleeve or slip itself, you can do so by emailing our librarians at They will set up an appointment for you to view the material in our Special Collections Reading Room. 

Wax Cylinders

Wax cylinders can also contain important discographical information, whether printed on the rim of the cylinder, on an accompanying slip, or on the container. For example, the slip below was included with an otherwise unmarked brown wax cylinder recording of "Village Orchestra" by Issler's Orchestra. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound is the only known institution to own this recording. This slip provides otherwise difficult-to-find information about the recording's release.

Accompanying slip for cylinder entitled "Village Orchestra"


Locating Discs and Cylinders at NYPL

Many discs and cylinders are included in our online catalog (either our Shared Research Catalog or our Legacy NYPL catalog). The most efficient way to search is by typing in the record label name and publisher’s number. Searching by performer, composer, or title are other options.

The majority of our 78rpm discs are not in the online catalog, but can be located instead using the Rigler-Deutsch Index (RDI). The RDI is a union catalog on microfiche which indexes 78rpm discs held by The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, the Library of CongressSyracuse UniversityYale University, and Stanford University. If visiting in person, a reference librarian will show you how to search the microfiche. If you are not able to visit in person, email specifics of your search to and a librarian will search the RDI on your behalf. (A note that, because of the volume of requests, it may take 2-3 weeks for us to complete the search).

Discs: Beyond the Label Itself

Commercial disc labels and "run-out" areas typically contain publishers' numbers, matrix numbers, take numbers, or stamper numbers. This numbering can offer clues as to how many takes of a particular recording were recorded, where different batches of records were pressed, or whether the recording was originally issued on another record label. In some cases, the color or design of the label, the style of the printing, or the presence of one label pasted onto another can reveal clues to the date or other circumstances surrounding the recording. This information may or may not appear in library catalog records.

Above is an example of a disc that shows take, matrix and stamper numbers. The take number is "1", the matrix number is "39089" and the stamper number appears on the label as "9". The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound is the only known institution to own a copy of this release, a circa-1909 recording of tenor Mario Massa made in Naples, Italy.

What is a matrix number?

One of the most important identifying bits of information on a disc is the matrix number. This “Explanation of Matrix Numbers” article by Marc Shepard provides a helpful overview of when and why they were used, as well as what they can reveal to researchers.