Picture discs (1920s – )

Picture discs are phonograph discs with images visible under the playable area.

The first types were the gramophone postcards, but the first real picture discs appeared in the 1920s. Some of these had images relevant to the music, while other promoted films the music appeared in, and others were used as propaganda. The images were often printed on thin cardboard, covered with a thin plastic coating and sound quality in most cases was poor. Some picture discs were better made, but in the 1930s the record industry suffered the effects of the depression and picture discs were a casualty.

In the 1940s, cardboard records appeared, consisting of plastic-coated card, similar to gramophone postcards. Often used in promotional campaigns, they were only intended to be played once or twice. Proper picture discs reappeared in 1946, issued on the Vogue Records label (which lasted until 1947). These had an alumuminium core, and the images were coated in a layer of vinyl providing better sound quality than the standard shellac records of the time.

From the late 1940s, children’s picture discs became popular, both in the US and Europe.

In the 1970s, LPs and singles began to appear using a new process consisting of five layers – a core of black vinyl with kiln-dried paper decals on either side and then outer skins of clear vinyl film. The first of these was Curved Air’s first album, Airconditioning, released in the UK in 1970. During the 1980s, picture disc singles were also released in unusual shapes.

Picture discs continue to be released, even though sound quality is often not as good as standard releases due in part to ultra thin outside layers of clear vinyl which supports the grooves.

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