Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The process of Durium record stamping

 Mr. Hal T. Beans demonstrates the flexible Durium record
At the introduction of the 1930s cardboard Hit of the Week, a series of weekly released unbreakable flexible Durium records, the 1930 newspapers loved to praise its new cheap 78rpm record as an epochmaking invention, which made it possible to produce gramophone records a hundred times faster and much cheaper than the regular shellac records. 
In the Baltimore Afro-American an article was published, that I won't with hold you. The title was: Process Speeds Record Stamping 100 Times. Date: 24th of May 1930.
 (source: Baltimore Afro-American May, 24th, 1930)
The article reads: Phonograph record making has been speeded 100 times by the discovery of durium, figures announced today by the makers of the "Hit-of-the-Week" record show.
While 700 ordinary records are being made, 70,000 of these new durium-processed discs can be turned out, it is shown. This article was published a few month after the release of the first Hit of the Week records February 1930 in New York City and fits into the advertisement campaign of Durium in newspapers and sponsored radio programs (like the Durium Hour) . Its cardboard records were an invention of a Columbia University professor Hal T. Beans and Joseph Reilly, who invented a way to produce gramophone records on a piece of cardboard covered with a resorcinol-formaldehyde resin, better known as Durium.

 The manufacturing of paper records at the Durium Products Inc. factory in Slough)(GB)
 The making of an ordinary shellac record was a semi-automatically labour-intensive process. Thanks to this new invention the productive capacity could be increased. Unlike ordinary records, which require time for hardening, the Durium records can be made at the speed of a printing press, for the Durium of which they are made of, hardens so rapidly it is impossible to time the action. As a result the discs can be stamped out fifteen at a time from metal dies, instead of requiring molding. Two years later, new printing machines  in Slough (Gb) could produce 12 discs in one time.
A Durium printing press (Slough)(Gb)
Research has given me information about the process of how these records were made. I found detailed information and some pictures from the machines itself, used for printing. The Durium factory in Slough, near London, started its production early 1932 and pictures of the factory have been archived. It guess that the machine must have been like those used in the US, although a pictures show only 12 dies for one plate and the US patent shows 15 dies.
The impressed numbers info the Dutium surface: 1199 B 2
If you have a look at the matrix number pressed into the surface, it gives you some detailed information about the process. Let’s take my copy of Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees with his Was That The Human Thing To Do, recorded February 1932 and released March 3rd, 1932, that could set a good example. 

Hit of the Week C-1-2 (Hans Koert collection)If you have a copy of this record take it and have a look at it. It has a promo picture on the reverse of Rudy Vallee with necktie, made by Hal Phyfe, which reads : Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees are now Recording Exclusively For HIT-OF-THE-WEEK RECORDS and you can find at the label side the printed catalogue number C-1-2 ( which means that it was released the Thursday of the first and second week of the third month (C ) (of 1932) and below the label the impressed number 1198 B 2 -  which means that the matrix number, the actually wax-recording was number 1198, in a range of matrix numbers which started with some test records (prob. 1000 and higher) and with the 1019 as the first actual commercial (promo) record  “Tip-Toe Through The Tulips With Me” by Don Voorhees Orchestra (Recorded ca. December 1929).

Drawing from a Hit of the Week ad (1932)
The B suggests that the second recording take was used to make the dies for the actually record and the 2 means prob. that my actual copy was printed ( Durium records were printed not pressed, they said) at the first machine that could make 15 records in one movement a time ……
Part of the US Durium trademark
My copy was the second record on such a right-angled shaped cardboard sheet, covered with the Durium acetate …..   Your copy may have another dies number, like 24 ( 2nd machine – 7th record) or 50 ( 3rd machine, 5th record) … The highest die I found at an European Durium record was 120 which means that in the factory in Slough ten printing press machines must have been used ….. in the US – a small research learned, that in the US too the capacity must have been equal to ca. 120 dies, which means that the number of printing machines in the US must have been ca. 8 …..   What’s you highest Hit of the Week  dies number? Let me know: f.i.:  1155 C 12
The Slough printing press - 12 records simultaniously)
Hit of the Week records were printed ….. like a news paper, not pressed ….like regular gramophone records … the Durium firm wanted to let the world know that. It refused to pay for royalties, as they said that Durium records were paper work ….. newspaper work. The US judges, finally, didn't agree with that and it was one of the reasons Durium was broken.
The factory in Slough, a few years ago (photo: Peter Tanner)
The process of making Durium records has also been described extensively in A Brief Introduction to Hit of the Week Record I wrote for the liner notes of The Complete Hit of the Week Records - cd-1 released by Archeophone. 

Song "Alma Mater"(Lawrence University)
We do have some limited information about the actual recording proces ….. It is known that Durium had his own studio at the old MCGraw-Hill Building, West 42nd Street near Ninth Avenue, New York City, but it is unknown if the actually factory was located there  too - the place where the records were produced - printed ….  Thanks to the archive of the University of St. Lawrence which had decided late 1929 to release a small cheap cardboard record to raise money to  build a new dormitory, we know that Durium could work fast and was very flexible in its organisation - it even seems that the recordings could be made on location …… In two previous blogs: Alma Mater - Preparations  and Alma Mater: the record you can learn more about the process.

The power of Durium was, that they could produce a large amount of records and distribute 350,000 up to 500,000 records all over the States within a few days. Unfortunally its ledgers are lost, like its administration, so we can only guess  about the period between the firs idea for a new project, its first contacts with the musicians (studio-musicians), the actual recording ( stock arrangements) and finally the release ....
It would be great if visitors of this site who have knowledge of this process could help me to find additional information about Durium's
time schedules ....

Deze blog is ook in het Nederlands gepubliceerd als: De fabricage van de kartonnen Duriumplaat.

Hans Koert
autor of the (online) Hit of the Week-Durium discography