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 Post subject: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 4:58 am 
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Victor III
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I understand well that it is impossible (or next to impossible) to make shellac records today, but why is noone making celluloid 78 recordings, like the Phonycord records, as an example? I visited a VERY experienced collector and gramophone enthusiast yesterday, and he showed me MANY different records made of celluloid and even cardboard sprayed with a certain lacquer, that were sold cheaply weekly as promotion recordings in the past. He told me he had played the records hundreds of times, and it was an excellent sound on many of the recordings. When I visited he played them all on an acoustic Brunswick floor gramophone with no problem. He also had numerous other gramophones where he played these records.
There are a few companies, that I was able to find online, that offer 78 recordings, but they all seem to use vinyl, that we can't use on our machines.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 6:56 am 
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Victor III
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This is a VERY good question I think.

Could you please for my benefit explain briefly why we can't make shellac records anymore ? Have we lost the 'recipe' ?
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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 7:34 am 
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Victor III
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I don't know if the recipe has disappared, but as I understand it a total of around 20 ingredients were used to make the record.
For those who have not see this film, it is an excellent way to watch how they made these records: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zL53iEHf_0
The machinery, the equipments and plants..as I again understand it, they are all gone, if no one know about such a plant maybe in deep Siberia.. :roll:
When watching these flexi discs, they however should be fairly easy to make in a modern environment? I for a long time felt creating new discs with new music, could really give our hobby a new life !


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:36 am 
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Victor IV
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Regarding shellac: I used to be a chemist/technologist at a rubber compounding and moulding factory, and the processes are extremely similar - indeed the mixing, refining, pre-forming and pressing machinery all dated from Victorian times to the 1950s.

Great to see those photos! - they show the sheer amount of plant and machinery required just to press 78s. Just heating the mould is awkward too - there might be modern solutions, but as little as 25 years ago the only really viable method was still steam (with any electrical heating it was extremely difficult to get a even temperature distribution across the mould, which is absolutely critical*).

Then there's the mixing, refining and pre-forming - again, many tonnes of specialist machinery - internal shear-mixers, two-roll mills and other processes. I know from compounding rubber on small-scale pilot machinery (still heavy and expensive) that the physical properties of small-scale production materials are inferior to full-scale results (in this case, batches of say 100 to 200kg). I have no doubt that the same would be true of shellac compounds.

Coming to the OP's point, I agree it's a very interesting question indeed! On the other hand, Don Wilson is producing superb needle-compatible 78s from modern materials, so the possibilities are out there, which is exciting. I think the problem for putting new recordings onto 78s that we can play on our gramophones is the cutting rather than the record material - how to cut a wide enough groove in the first place.

* I've always felt pretty sure that this is the reason why some 78s are so susceptible to cracking. Poor mould temperature distribution will cause local melt-flow problems. As the 'biscuit' melts and flows on receiving heat and pressure, in some regions two liquid fronts will meet and knit. A local temperature difference can reduce the knitting and cause moulded-in stresses/tensions that persist after the moulding (in this case a record) has cooled.
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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:37 am 
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Victor V
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I don't think anyone manufactures celluloid anymore, except for ping pong balls, probably in China.
I think there were different forms of celluloid too?
The type used to make ping pong balls and dolls, and the type used for things like dressing table sets and knife hands, known as zylonite.
There may have been other types too, made from various celluloid recipes.

I think Edison cylinders are probably closer to the celluloid used in ping pong balls, but I don't think even Edison cylinders could be played more than a couple times without wearing out, under the weight of a soundbox with a steel needle.
The conical diamond needle is probably the sole reason cylinders wear well, and why a worn diamond will wear a cylinder fairly quickly.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 12:25 pm 
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Victor II
Joined: Thu Feb 26, 2015 9:27 pm
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gramophoneshane wrote:
I don't think anyone manufactures celluloid anymore, except for ping pong balls, probably in China.
I think there were different forms of celluloid too?
The type used to make ping pong balls and dolls, and the type used for things like dressing table sets and knife hands, known as zylonite.
There may have been other types too, made from various celluloid recipes.

I think Edison cylinders are probably closer to the celluloid used in ping pong balls, but I don't think even Edison cylinders could be played more than a couple times without wearing out, under the weight of a soundbox with a steel needle.
The conical diamond needle is probably the sole reason cylinders wear well, and why a worn diamond will wear a cylinder fairly quickly.


One form was cellulose nitrate which was highly flammable and prone to spontaneous combustion.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 2:51 pm 
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Victor Jr
Joined: Mon Mar 25, 2019 11:50 am
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In order to make cheap records in any material you have to be able to sell a lot of copies of each title set up and a lot of records in a year.

What goes on the record and how many copies are sold are the stumbling points.

What titles do people want to buy more than say 400 copies of?
And at what price each?
And how many new records would each customer buy a year?

The market for records was large in the 1927-1929 period but most if not all the cheap celluloid and phenolic coated card companies went out of business very quickly.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 3:58 pm 
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Victor IV
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2009 6:18 am
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Celluloid records are susceptible to warping over time, to the extent that some cannot be played even by the heavy gramophone soundboxes. The more stable ones are plastic compounds over paper, like the Durium Hit of the Week ones. On making such records in our time, besides the enormous cost of the industrial production, materials such as shellac mixes and celluloid are obsolete, and have been replaced with vinyl since the 40s with much better results in terms of stability and granularity. Just listen to the examples of original matrices that were pressed on vinyl, like the Victor Masterpieces from the 40s. The vinyl record factories still exist, and the process to press 78 rpms is the same as for 45 and 33 rpms.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 4:47 am 
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Victor III
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To certain degree yes, the pressing process is identical but temperatures are different and machines require to be in full operation for one or the other. In other words: You cannot slip in a batch of shellac compound in between vinyl batches but have to dedicate an entire machine to that. Give the current workload that is in place for LPs, that's not going to happen.

Also, one should mention that the price for shellac, although it's not the major content of a record, has skyrocketed since the days when it was used to make records. This would make any production simply unaffordable, thus this method is as well out of option - at least economically.

Phonycord went out of business pretty early because their celluloid records were not that user friendly and would wear out quickly whenever someone would play them with a regular steel needle. Instead you were supposed to play them with special bracket needles. Just google for "Phonycord Winkelnadeln" and you'll get various results.


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 Post subject: Re: Why is noone making celluloid 78 records today?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 6:03 am 
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Victor III
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Trying to sum it all up, we seem to agree that shellac is not an option, and neither is celluloid. But, in today's world, with so many modern materials to choose from should it not be possible to find a substititution material for shellac/CelluloidPhenolic covered card records? And yes, the phenolic coated card/plastic flexi (or whatever they used) discs quickly went out of business back in the early 1930's, but they also were competing with shellac, which they would not to today, and vinyl is too soft so it also would not be a competing material.

I can't say too much of the durability of the Phonycord disc, apart from this old collector and gramophone specialist that I visited a few days back, and his comment on having used these discs for decades with steel needles. Myself I don't see the needle as the problem, myself I would have no problem buying special needles to be able to play a modern 78 record. I also would not really have a problem if the record only lasted a decade, with a music file it would be easy to make order a new disc after 10 years.

But reading about how to cut a wide enough groove, is of course an extremely important factor. Does someone know if it exist cutters that can cut grooves that can handle our gramophones/soundboxes? Would a special needle, made for the material used in the record, not solve that problem?

The money that would need to be invested, is of course a major factor too, but if the record material and technology was there, I guess it could be a very interesting business opportunity to offer newly made 78 records to the public, where customers could order a bulk of records that they themselves would sell or distribute. Myself I see no reason that a modern supplier should keep a big inventory of recorded music on discs, since it would easily bankrupt the business in the first place. It would of course be natural to keep a certain stock of records, but in todays world it is even possible to first start a production when a certain number of records are ordered and prepaid.


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