Record Albums

A Brief Overview of Record Albums and Album Covers


Record Albums and Album Covers

Album - "A phonograph record or set of records containing a collection of musical selections or sounds usually stored in a book designed to hold records or in its own packaging for a single record." See Dictionary of Phonographia.

There were no 'albums' issued by record companies for the early disc records which only had one recorded side. Paul Charosh reported "the existence of a single...2-sided disc, with both sides originally recorded in Nov 1894: 365, “Punchinello,” sung by Grace McCulloch" But two-sided records in the United States were slow to be marketed and the Columbia Phonograph Company finally took the lead in advertising their double-sided records in 1908. (Koenigsberg, Allen, "Both Sides Then - The Strange Origins of the Double Sided Disc Record," The Sound Box, December 2010).


Collier's magazine, October 1908


Whether the records were recorded on one or both sides, the packaging for early disc records was paper sleeves for decades.


Edison Diamond Disc Record paper sleeve, No. 82078 (1915)


Columbia Record paper sleeve (1915)


There were some collections of records which were packaged pre-1940 in their own 'albums' such as Walter Camp's 1923 "Daily Dozen" Record Set.


Walter Camp's Health Builder Record Sets, The Talking Machine World, November 15, 1923


In homes disc records could be stored in purchased "albums" that had multiple pages with 'sleeves' to hold the records. These early record albums resembled photograph albums -- not coincidentally since phonograph records captured sound and photographs captured light and both were saving something previously ephemeral. These early phonograph albums were usually undecorated and sometimes stamped on the spine with a letter of the alphabet to help organize multiple albums in the record cabinet.


78 rpm album May 15, 1915, The Talking Machine World


The National Publishing Co., February 1919, The Talking Machine World


Another type of record storing album pre-1940 are the Bubble Books published by Harper & Brothers which contained children's stories on Columbia records. Described in their ads as "Music, Pictures, Songs, All in One," its book-like cover had written words and pictures of the story on the sleeved pages of the book which was also acting as an album for its records. For a history of these books see the website Little Wonder Records and Bubble Books and "Little Wonder Records and Bubble Books" by Tim Brooks and Merle Sprinzen, Mainspring Press, Denver, Colorado (2011).


The Funny Froggy Bubble Book, 1919 (FP-1179)


Record album art began in the 1940's and often featured photographs and graphic art related to the recording artist or illustrated a theme of the album.

"An album cover is the front of the packaging of a commercially released audio recording product, or album... In 1938, Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss as its first art director. He is credited with inventing the concept of album covers and cover art, replacing the plain covers used before. After his initial efforts at Columbia, other record companies followed his lead. By the late 1940s, record albums for all the major companies featured their own colorful paper covers in both 10- and 12-inch sizes. Some featured reproductions of classic art while others utilized original designs." Wikipedia

For a textbook history of the album cover and many album cover examples, see Guity Novin's Chapter 72, A History of Record Cover.



Teddy Wilson - Billie Holiday Label: Columbia 78 rpm album early 1940s Design: Alex Steinweiss (Source: Guity Novins' Chapter 72, Ibid.)


Smash Song Hits by Rogers & Hart, 1940 Shellac 12" Mono 78 rpm Record, Columbia / C-11


The introduction of long-playing (LP) records by Columbia Records in 1948 which could play multiple songs on each side continued to be called albums since it was still a collection of music.

The cover art on record albums attracts attention, could be a first impression or provide associations with the music and the record inside the album, the artist(s) and other records of the artist.


Beatles' LP Album Cover, 1967


Record albums will always have a place in the history of recorded music. Likewise, record album covers are an art form of music culture. See Wikipedia's Album cover for an overview with a broader scope than record cover art as it's noted that the "term can refer to either the printed paperboard covers...and, increasingly, the primary image accompanying a digital download of the album, or of its individual tracks." (Ibid.)





DB Last Updated 1/12/2024