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Cost of 'The Planets' records in the 1950s
elen_nare wrote in little_details
Setting: UK or Switzerland, 1950s

I planned to have one of the characters in the story I'm writing, a boarding school headmistress, buy her co-head (and girlfriend of at least 10 years) a copy of 'The Planets' - ideally the 1926 recording with Holst conducting.

1) Would she even be able to find a copy? She's from England originally but the school is in Switzerland, so she could get it in either country.
2) Roughly what would it cost? Somewhat on the expensive side for a gift is fine, but she shouldn't bankrupt herself over it!
3) Is this a good recording? I know essentially nothing about classical music, but I love this piece - and it has to be a pre-1929 recording for story reasons.
4) If it's a terrible choice for cost/availability, what else would you suggest? Something with a strong cello part would be great, as the recipient's deceased father and sister were both cellists.

Searched: "The Planets Holst recordings" (which got me lists of recordings, plus numerous different opinions about the best performances! And lots about re-issued CD versions), "cost of records 1950s", and variations on those.

Thank you for any help you can provide!

I tried a bit of German language googling, but anything like "cost records Switzerland 1950" only gets modern sales of vintage records. I guess your best bet on that would either be to find a really old person, or to see if you can unearth old catalogues or advertisements for records.

Old advertisements is a good idea, thanks!

My mother (who happened to be on the phone when I read this) says that the first album she owned [Buddy Holly, in 1958] was a joint birthday gift from seven of her schoolfriends. So yes, it would be a relatively expensive gift (though not so bad for anyone with a salary, I guess) :)

By 1964 she thinks an LP cost around 17-24 shillings (and about 6/- for a single), but she doesn't remember what the 1950s prices were, sorry. Google throws up quite a lot on 1960s prices but much less on 50s.

Ah, this is interesting - suggests that Mum is correct in remembering the singles price but about a pound (20s) out on the albums! If you don't get much luck finding a 1950s price then knocking a little off that 1960 figure might be close enough. :)

Thanks for the link, that's really useful :)

I bought a recording of " The Planets" in England in the 1950s. It was a cheapo Golden Guineas recording (that is, one pound one shilling). For comparison, nearly ten years later I was earning seven pounds a week.

I started buying records in (I think) 1965 or 1966, when I was a pre-teenager. A single then was 6s 8d and an LP was 32s 6d. I bought them with birthday money and record tokens I was given, it wasn't something I did every week. But unless the recording was extremely rare (in which case the bigger difficulty would be finding it at all), I can't imagine it would cost more than Hilda would be able and willing to pay for a special gift.

Yes, I came here to say that I bought my first-ever single for 6s 8d in the early to mid 1960s - I was especially pleased because I had saved up 8/6 so I ended up with some left over!

I don't know about the cost of LPs at the time, but I can't imagine any particular album would be dearer than any other at that time? There wasn't anything in the way of special pressings, coloured vinyl, that sort of thing at that time. And if a child can afford a single, I'm pretty sure a headmistress can afford an LP (which iirc was the term used, not album until the 1970s?)

Yes, LP at 33rpm. Singles were 45rpm. (Revolutions per minute - i.e. on the turntable, as I'm sure you know, but the OP might not!)

OP: if Hilda is buying the original 1920s recording, rather than a 1950s pressing of the 1920s recording, it'll be a 78 - that is 78 rpm. Heavier than the more modern type of record, and I'm not sure, but I think an extended piece of music would have required several records.

1950s and 1960s record players could play 78s, 45s and 33s - it was just a question of remembering to switch the turntable speed before playing the record. Although the results could be quite funny if a record was played at the wrong speed, especially if there were vocals.

Yes - I was just looking this up when you posted, see my comment below.

My friends and I used to deliberately play records at the wrong speed in the 1980s, having inherited older turntables from our parents. (One of them had a 16rpm setting!) The Smiths played at 78rpm are surprisingly good to dance to. :D

16RPM was intended for recordings of speeches, plays, etc., not music, and was never popular.

*g* I have that on a tshirt, as my fellow conspirator in the Great Smiths Heresy of 1985 spotted it at Camden in the 90s and bought it for me as a reminder of our stupid teenage years. I still wear it. :)

Thanks for the information about prices and playing speeds - I knew there are different rpms, but that's it (must get someone to show me how to use our old record player now it's finally usable again).

And hi to another CS fan! I didn't think there were many on LJ... it's a small world :)

Apologies for breaking in with a question, but your comment makes it seem you would know - what was the approximate cost of an album in the early-to-mid eighties? Much obliged! :)

Sorry, I really have no idea! I was buying (not very many) CDs by then rather than LPs, but I can't remember how much they cost either. (Maybe £15? Just a wild guess).

£15 seems rather a lot to me. I've just had a look at some of my tapes. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel's Greatest Hits still has its price label, apparently I bought it in Boots and it cost £4.99. But I have no idea when I bought it. Oh, just looked inside, it says this compilation 1988, so later than that, obviously.

It was definitely a complete guess! But I think CDs were more expensive than tapes, weren't they? On account of all that new technology and superior sound quality etc?

Thanks for all your help! :D

I'm trying to remember what I was buying in the early to mid eighties, and coming up blank! You probably need someone younger than I am to answer that.

A young person in the early-mid eighties would probably be buying cassette tapes to play on a portable cassette player, rather than records. I had a cassette player from the early-mid '70s. It was too early for CDs, too early even for Walkmans, I think. I had a Walkman around 1990, IIRC.

r. e. cassettes vs. records - Not everything was available on tape in the mid-80s though; I bought my dad a lot of Phillip Glass records on vinyl around that time because those works hadn't yet been released on cassette. I also recall feeling that an album was a more impressive gift than a cassette; you could always make a tape copy for knockaround, but vinyl in a nice sleeve with liner notes had a sense of formality.

Yes, serious music collectors probably did still prefer vinyl, and had the stereo equipment to play it on, whereas tapes and portable cassette players were liked by students precisely because of their knockaround qualities - they were more portable and took up less space. And everyone recorded stuff off the radio, as well as buying music on tape.

My character was into vinyl because of his dad, or at least that had been my supposition...but this story has been thrown into major flux in the last few weeks, so the point may end up moot. Thank you for your input! :)

In 1986 it was £5.20. (I remember buying the one in the icon c. Sept 86 and having to scrape the 20p together in coppers, having only withdrawn a fiver from the bank!)

I know that before that I could buy an LP with a £5 record token and get change, but I'm a little fuzzy on how much change in which years. There was a helpful "pay no more than" campaign though, if you can find a record from the year you're looking for that was part of it that will help e.g. Billy Bragg's 1983 album 'Life's A Riot With Spy vs Spy' has "pay no more than £2.99" printed on it.

Thank you (and sorry for my delay in checking back) - in the vignette I'm working on, the scene is set in 1981, and it's just a one-line thing, with no specific album referenced. I think I might just say "Five pounds" and leave it at that...for the moment, it's enough for me to know that I'm at least in the ballpark. I'll do a little bit more hunting later when I have the time, but there's a limit to the work/reward benefit when all you're working on is a short story that will have no more than 500 readers, ever. ;)

Thanks again!!

TBH if it's 1981 I would go with no more than £3; the difference between £3 and £5 doesn't sound huge but it really was.

Awesome, I'll go with that then.

Thanks bunches! :)

Actually, the term album came from collections of sheet music in the 19th c., then was applied to collections of 78 rpm records bundled in book-like albums. I've looked at early ones in antique stores; they look just like a photo album of the time, bound in embossed leather or thick paper with gold details.

I had no idea - thank you for the information! That is interesting, because I've often vaguely wondered how the term album came into being for records.

I'm still convinced, though, that in the 1970s the standard term was LP and it was a bit more hip trendy cool whatever, to say album. I remember it as being like prog rockers "put out albums" while pop groups "released LPs".

It wouldn't be an LP if it was recorded before 1926, they hadn't been invented yet; it would be a stack of 78 RPM shellac discs - which ran to about 3 minutes per side. Googling on Holst Planets 78RPM eventually found me this CD remastered from old LSO recordings:

Quick Overview
London Symphony Orchestra with Women's Chorus
conducted by Gustav Holst

Recorded in Petty France Studios, London, 1922-3
Engineered & produced by Arthur Brooks
Issued as UK Columbia 78s: L.1528, 1499, 1543, 1459, 1532, 1509, 1542

I'd imagine that each of the old disks was a separate movement. They would have probably been sold separately, unless UK Columbia did a boxed set. While my family did have old 78s when I was a kid, I don't recall us owning any boxed sets, they were all single disks in brown paper sleeves.

Hope this helps.

Forgot to add that by the 1950s there may have been an LP recording made from the 78 RPM recordings, but I think an all-new recording would have been more likely unless the original was of particular historical significance - 78 RPM quality wasn't good, and most LP buyers at that point paid a lot for their gramophones and expected much better recordings.

Little Details - answering the questions you forgot to ask! I'd meant to ask if it would be one disc or several. That's great to know, thanks :)

Some more information here on different Holst recordings.\

BTW, don't forget that any prices you give need to be in pounds, shillings, and pence (or guineas), not decimal currency. There's a conversion chart here:

Thank you! I'll probably avoid giving actual prices, but that's an extremely useful chart given how much I write in this period.

The method of recording in 1926 was different than it was later on. I'm not sure exactly what effect that would have on the record, or if it would need special equipment in order to play.

The Naxos website about the CD re-issue says "The Holst sides were transferred from pre-war American Columbia shellacs (mainly “Viva-Tonal” pressings.)" I'm not sure exactly what that means.

Wikipedia doesn't list a re-issue until 1972, but Wikipedia might be incomplete. But if you had to get the original pressing of the record 25 years later, it might be hard to find. It's possible it wouldn't be in most stores.

My grandmother, who grew up in Canada in the 1920s, said that her mother belonged to a record of the week club for the gramophone, and that's how they heard their music.

So maybe the person giving the gift could get it from someone who bought the record when it first came out.

Ooh, that first link is excellent - Thank you!

given where and when you are writing your best bet would be to have her find it in a junk shop selling bits of pre war odds and ends. its likly the school would have an old gramaphone as well as a more modern record player. as for cost Well my dad bought the whole set and Isle of the Dead by Rachmaninoff for his girlfriend when he was 13 in 54 but it was califorina his were second hand. (they would sneak out of the house at night in the summer and listen to them while drinking her dads homemade wine. on a crank victrolia my grand pa restored and gave my dad when he 12.)

I had thought of a second hand shop - that may well be the best solution. Thanks :)

In 1963 a single cost five shillings and seven pence and later went up to six shillings and eightpence. I think the first LP I bought around that time was twenty two shillings and sixpence. £20 per week was a pretty decent wage for a skilled worker.

R. e. #3 - I just listened to the 1926 recording on youtube. It's not what we're used to in sound quality, of course, but musically it sounds fine to me. In some places it sounds a little more discordant than I'm used to, but maybe they were using different instrument tunings than now (I know that is the case with older music, at least)?

Thanks for taking the time to listen to it! I'd heard it, but like I said, I know very little about classical music.