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Guide to Discographical Research: Record Company Catalogs

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

Record company catalogs and ephemera

NYPL has been collecting catalogs, brochures, posters, and other ephemera from record companies since the mid-1930s. Dating from as early as the 1890s, these materials were donated by record collectors, record dealers, or by record companies themselves. They contain invaluable information, not only about release dates, but about the existence of recordings—particularly in cases where no copies are known to survive. Below is a November 1899 cylinder catalog for Columbia Records, one of the few in the world known to exist.

Click here to access the finding aid for this collection.

1899 catalog of wax cylinder releases from the Columbia Phonograph Company

Additional collections containing record company catalogs

A.F.R. Lawrence papers (See Series IV, Historical Research)

Cetra-Soria collection (See Series I, Advertising)

Ear Magazine Records (See Series II, Production Files)

Other institutions with holdings of record company catalogs and ephemera

A number of other institutions have collections of record company catalogs. Below are the largest that we know of, along with links to the finding aids where available.

Library of Congress, Record Industry Publication Collection

"The collection includes press releases, disc catalogs, scripts from radio programs, monthly publications about new record releases, and promotional posters. The materials were originally created to promote recordings issued by labels such as Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor; broadcasters such as NBC; and performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI."

Stanford University, Record Catalog Collection

"The Record Catalog Collection consists of published catalogs and other advertising materials issued by a wide variety of recording companies from around the world. In addition to catalogs, the materials include booklets, pamphlets, magazines, and loose sheets published between 1897 and 2005."

Syracuse University, Belfer Record Company Catalog Collection

Collection not yet cataloged.

University of California at Santa Barbara, Sound Recording Trade Catalog Collection

"Sound recording manufacturer and distributor catalogs, primarily from the 78 rpm era (approximately 1898-1990s), including annual catalogs, monthly supplements, numerical catalogs, and overseas catalogs from most major manufacturers."

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Southern Folklife Collection Discographical Files

"The collection consists of materials related to record labels, discographies, and record collecting in the United States and around the world, 1907-2006. Included are recording catalogs, discographies, press releases, newsletters, record release announcements, promotional materials, newspaper and magazine articles, ledgers, and correspondence. Also included are collectors' inventories; auction, sale, and "wants" lists; collectors' reference guides; and directories of record collectors."

Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM), Record Catalogues
“…a substantial collection of historic and modern record catalogues from UK and international labels.”

Record Company Catalogs Available Online In Full Text

Several private collectors and institutions have made digitized catalogs available online:

  • Archeophone (France): Assorted catalogs from the companies The Gramophone Company Limited (Italy), Compagnie Française du Gramophone (Paris)Общество Граммофон. [Gramophone in Russia], Lioret, Pathé Frères, and Pathéphone.
  • Phonorama (France): Assorted catalogs from the companies Bettini, Columbia, Edison, Lioret, Pathé, as well as a handful of rarities.
  • Smithsonian: One 1900 catalog from Bettini.
  • Internet Archive: A number of catalogs are available through the Digital Discography Collection (an initiative of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives).