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Little Wonder Record Collection

 Collection
Identifier: Little Wonder Record Collection

Overview

The Little Wonder Record Collection consists of twelve 5 1/2" single faced recordings on disk.

Dates

  • Majority of material found within 1914-1922

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the John M.K. Davis Reading Room of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College Library, Hartford, Connecticut. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws when using this collection.

Advance notice (2 weeks) is required to listen to sound recordings.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Little Wonder Records were the result of a partnership between Henry Waterson & Victor Hugo Emerson, Columbia Records’ Chief Recording Engineer. At the time, Waterson was a co-founder of the music publishing firm of Waterson, Snyder, & Berlin with Ted Snyder and Irving Berlin, had connections to sheet music and performers. Waterson had the outlet to market and sell the recordings himself through his publishing house by placing ads in the bottom margins of the sheet music he published. In most cases, the ads were for recordings that corresponded to the sheet music. Emerson had the know-how when it came to the recording industry, worked in a record pressing facility and had connections to the Columbia Records studio musicians. Additionally, there was a benefit to having Columbia Records as a parent. Through the association with the larger company, the Little Wonder label was able to avoid the production and patent roadblocks that other companies faced since most of the patents relating to flat disc shellac recordings and record production were held jointly by Columbia and Victor Records. Like their larger counterparts, Little Wonder Records were pressed from shellac with the same inclusions. When popular, they were sold in 5 & 10 stores such as Woolworths, W.T. Grants, Kresges, and McCory for $.10, which made them extremely popular with the general public who often could not afford the prices of larger companies such as Columbia and Victor records that varied between $1.00 and $1.25 per recording. Differences abounded between the standard disks of the day and Little Wonder disks such as sound quality, and groove structure and length of time. Sound quality is difficult to account for; it is easy to presume that the masters were created the same way as other recordings produced by Columbia Records since Little Wonder was once a separate label simply manufactured in the Columbia plant alongside Columbia recordings. But it is clear that somewhere along the line there was a difference in the way that the wax masters were treated before they became stampers that led to this poorer sound quality.

The groove structure of the Little Wonder Records was slightly different from other recordings; the tight groove structure required for a small disc to have any significant information contained in the grooves also meant that a faster playback speed was also necessary. They were meant to be played on existing hand-cranked phonographs, but their playback speeds varied. Some sounded good at 78 rpm, others at 80 rpm. The faster speed meant that a little more information could be included in the recording. This requirement made playback difficult for the readily available needles—narrow grooves and wide needles means that the amount of information that can be processed by the needles and translated into sound was limited. Adding to the problem was the background noise inherent in the poorly-made recordings. But the label’s goal wasn’t the best possible reproduction, but an inexpensive reproduction that can be placed in the hands of a willing consumer. The length of time was a major consideration when they were originally marketed; Little Wonders often contain only a verse and a chorus of a song, usually the most popular tunes at the time. This truncation of the song not only made the disks smaller, but also allowed Waterson (as CEO of Little Wonder Records) to utilize a loophole in the copyright law. At the time, the record companies not only paid their performers a flat rate for their work, but also royalties to the music publisher as well for the use of their material. Due to the length of the Little Wonder recording, there was no need to pay the typical fees, meaning that neither the performer nor the sheet music publisher (also Waterson) were compensated for the use of their talents and material. Eventually, Columbia Records executives discovered that small-scale recordings were being pressed in their plants using their machinery, their employees, and their materials—but without compensation. Columbia wanted to take over the label since Little Wonder records were being produced in their pressing plant. Emerson was already out of the picture and they wanted Waterson out as well. By 1917, this happened. Columbia then had full control of the Little Wonder label. They had a contract with Harper & Brothers Publishers to produce “Bubble Books” using the Little Wonders label. For a short time, both the Bubble Books and the Little Wonder records were produced concurrently, but soon, Little Wonder as a label was phased out, leaving only the Bubble Books to end the run in 1923.

Extent

1/2 Cubic Feet (1 box) ; 7" by 7"

Language of Materials

English

Arrangement

Collection is organized and described at the item level.
Title
Little Wonder Record Collection
Status
In Progress
Author
Kimani Bishop, edited by Henry Arneth
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Watkinson Library Manuscripts Repository

Contact:
Trinity College Library
300 Summit St.
Hartford Connecticut 06106