Collectors of 78rpm records treat their old shellac discs like rare and precious jewels, as often they are worth a great deal of money. Even the casual collector can learn much about caring for their 78s by talking to an experienced professional collector, curator, or trader of vintage records. Old 78rpm shellac platters are extremely fragile, vulnerable to chips, cracking and breakage. They require special care and handling at all times and must be stored in conditions conducive to preservation.
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Use a damp terrycloth lint-free towel to remove surface dust and dirt. Never apply alcohol cleaning products to shellac discs -- this strips the surface. For general cleaning, water works just fine. If the disc is really dirty, mix some mild dish-washing liquid with the water.
Rub gently in the direction of the grooves. To prevent cracking of the disc, do this on a soft flat surface like a bed or sofa.
Rinse or replace the towel frequently if cleaning more than just one or two records.
Follow the cleaning towel with a dry towel.
Lay the record out to dry overnight. Do not place it back in the sleeve until completely dry.
Store your records clean. Dirt and dust in the grooves can scratch the records when the box is moved around. Organic compounds react with the shellac, attracting insects such as silverfish. These little critters love to eat paper sleeves and record labels.
Keep your record boxes high and dry. Humidity above 85% promotes mould growth and porous 78 record sleeves absorb moisture. Store them off the floor in the event of a flood or plumbing leak.
Avoid storing 78rpm records flat; this puts pressure on the records. Store them upright, on edge, in clean new sleeves. Do not allow the records to lean as this causes warping. If storing them in a box, make sure the discs are fully upright and flat against each other, held in place with a divider if necessary.
Monitor the temperature where the records are stored. High temperatures will warp 78s, especially if they are not stored flat and upright. Room temperature should not exceed 23.9 degrees C.
Use a fresh new needle for every record if you're planning to play the 78s on a vintage Victrola. Bear in mind that the heavy tonearm and steel needles on these older record players wear down the grooves much faster than modern equipment.
Invest in a high-quality modern turntable with a 78rpm speed setting. (These are still available from speciality retailers.) If you have very rare or valuable 78s, it is strongly recommended that you only play them on modern electric turntables, not old Victrolas.
Copy your 78s to a digital format, such as burning them to CD or to your computer. This saves wear and tear on the original records, while allowing you the pleasure of listening to them as often as you like.
Tips and warnings
- When it comes to vintage recordings, 78rpm collectors are merely stewards of historical artefacts. Much like a museum curator, your goal should be to do as little damage as possible and preserve them for future generations.
- Take extra special care of the record label: collectors and 78rpm record buyers will pay top dollar for labels that are in excellent condition. Labels that are torn, stamped, marked or damaged reduce the value of your record significantly. Never immerse your records in water or wet the label when cleaning; this will cause labels to bubble or peel.
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