Congratulations to ARSC members Donald Hill, David Giovanonni and David Seubert (of UCSB) for assembling this remarkable addition to the just-announced 2014 Registry. The mainstream press preferred to highlight The Doors, but we know what counts!
2014 National Recording Registry
- The Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings at University of California, Santa Barbara Library (c. 1890-1910)
Offering a rare and often-revealing glimpse into the lives of regular people, the Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library consist of over 600 homemade cylinder recordings made primarily in the 1890s, 1900s and 1910s. The core of the collection is based on several decades of purposeful acquisition by anthropologist Donald R. Hill and sound historian David Giovannoni. From its commercial introduction in the 1890s through its demise in the 1920s, the cylinder phonograph allowed its owners to make sound recordings at home. Their "snapshots" of everyday life are perhaps the most authentic audio documents of the period. They are unfiltered encounters with ancestors, unburdened by commercial or scholarly expectations. They are among the most endearing recordings of the period—songs sung by family members, instrumental selections, jokes, ad-libbed narratives and even the cries of newborn babies and barnyard animals. Vernacular wax-cylinder recordings are among the most endangered of all audio formats because their grooves are extremely fragile and shallow; the wax on which they were recorded decomposes with time; archives find them challenging to catalog; and collectors shave off their existing recordings to make new recordings. The vast majority of vernacular wax recordings remain in private hands or uncatalogued in institutions. UCSB Library’s extensive special collection serves as a beacon for the recognition and assertive preservation of these highly endangered audio treasures.