The Beatles
at 78 RPM

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What is a 78, where can I buy them, what are they worth? All these questions and more are answered below.

Some of the records shown below are from my personal collection and are not for sale.

Several of the illustrations of these records are through the kind courtesy of Edward Delos Santos.

He frequently has these available on auction at eBay! Search at eBay for seller and oldbestseller

What is a 78?

Simply stated, a 78 is a record with the playing speed of 78 revolutions per minute. Typically they have one song per side and come in the both 10 inch and 12 inch diameters (25 cm and 30 cm) and are made of a brittle compound known as shellac. A 78 is NOT a 12 inch vinyl record with many songs on each side. It is not a 7 inch vinyl or polystyrene record with one or two songs on a side. The 12 inch vinyl record with many songs on each side typically has a playing speed of 33 1/3 rpm and is known as an LP or Album. A 7 inch vinyl or polystyrene record with one or two songs on a side is either a single or EP and plays at 45 rpm or 33 1/3 rpm. While there are exceptions to this rule, the one rule that does stand is that if it wasn't designed to play at a speed of 78 rpm, its not a 78! However some early records may be found to have been recorded at speeds of 80 rpm and up. Technically, these aren't 78s but many people include them under that category.

For an explanation that is probably less confusing, please consult the Wikipedia.

But I have a 78 of Sgt Pepper....and I have a 78 of A Hard Day's Night on Capitol

Er .. no you don't. Look at the record. Many songs on each side. 12 inch. Vinyl. The label says 33 1/3. It's not a 78. One song per side. 7 inch. Vinyl or polystyrene. Slap it on your turntable and play it. Note that the speed gizmo is on 45. Sounds perfect doesn't it.

So .. if you are on eBay and see Antique 78 Meet the Beatles - min bid $125 look the other way, because it ain't a 78, and it ain't an antique.

What about this 7 inch record on Bell that says 78 RPM right on the label?

During the 1950s, Bell Records, the label that went on to release records by groups like the 5th Dimension, released a series of inexpensive 7 inch 78 rpm records. Click here to see one.

Okay, but my Sgt Pepper record, its worth a lot of money and really rare isn't it?

Probably not. Beatle records sold in the gillions. You bought one, the girl next store bought one, your friends all bought their own copies. You wrote your name and "I Love John" on the cover. You put stickers on the label. Sorry .. but unless its mint condition, its worth the price of the postage to send to it someone.

But the price guide said it was worth $125!!!!

Don't start packing for that holiday in Hawaii or Ibiza, Jasper. Those prices are for top quality mint condition copies.

So when was the last 78 ever made?

The exact last regular production 78 in the USA is hard to determine. In the USA, the last 78s made in regular production include Fannie Mae by Buster Brown on Fire Records (catalogue #1008), and (according to Jerry Osborne), There Is Something on Your Mind by Bobby Marchan from June 1960 also on Fire Records (catalogue #1022).

In the UK the last regular production 78s were made in 1960:

  • Russ Conway -- Rule Britannia b/w Royal Event - Columbia DB 4418 -- March 1960
    possibly the last UK Columbia 78, this is later than the last 78 by Cliff Richard (Voice in the Wilderness on Columbia DB 5398)  A Side   B Side
  • Everly Brothers -- Cathy's Clown - Warner Brothers WB 1 -- April 1960
  • Everly Brothers -- Lucille - Warner Brothers WB 19 -- September 1960
  • Elvis Presley -- It's Now or Never (O Sole Mio) -- RCA 1207 -- October 1960
  • Buddy Holly -- Learning the Game - Coral Q 72411 -- October 1960
  • Ray Charles -- Georgia on my Mind - HMV POP 792 - November 1960
There may have been a 78 made as a part of regular production in the UK in 1961, but at this point documenation is lacking.

The Russ Conway 78 is from my personal collection.

But what about other countries?

Now there's a good question. 78s seem to have been made Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil during the early 1960s, perhaps until 1963. A large variety of artists had releases on 78 rpm in India, South Africa, and the Philippines. For those looking to stock a jukebox, 78s of 1960s releases can be had by artists like Neil Sedaka , the Ventures , the Shadows, Cliff Richard , and even Chubby Checker . Expect to pay a packet for them, though!

But my friend has a US 78 of Blue Moon by the Marcels! Got you on that one!

Not quite, Sherlock! No doubt your friend does have this 78. Promotional and special issue 78s have been produced since the 1950s. Among them you'll find:

Yes that is a 78 on the Beatles' own Apple label!

In the 1990s, Rhino Records also produced a series of Jukebox Classics, vinyl 78s, with artists such as Del Shannon, Everly Brothers, Bobby Day and the Chordettes. Also in the 90s, a similar series called Cruisin' the 50 Series was also issued by Lightning Records in the UK. It featured Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, and the Johnny Burnette Trio. In addition to these, Little Golden Records produced 5 inch children's 78s well into the 1960s.

The Joe King Carrasco, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Randy Newman, and Dave Edmunds 78s are from my personal collection.

Why 78 rpm?

I dunno why 78 was chosen as a speed.

No, I mean why did these records get released as 78s?

In some cases it was done so that people with jukeboxes that played 78s would have something to put in them, apart from those regular issues in the 50s.

Apart from that, sonically a 78 can surpass the audio quality of lps and singles becasue of their faster speed. That is, a well mantained 78 can surpass the audio quality of lps and singles. Some late 50s 78s, especially those pressed in vinyl instead of shellac, sound fantastic when compared to their 45 and 33 1/3 rpm counterparts. 78s such as the aforementioned David Edmunds' 78, being in stereo, are sonic marvels.

Okay, so now that I have one of these gems, how do I play it?
Thanks to Al in Tampa for suggesting this topic

If you've just spent hundreds of dollars, euros or quid on a fantastic 78, or maybe one that only cost a few pennies but is worth those thousands in memories, the last thing you should ever do is play it with a stylus, er, needle, that looks like a rusty roofing nail.

The big rule here is NEVER, and I mean NEVER play your 78s with the same stylus that you play modern LPs and singles with. Likewise NEVER, and I mean NEVER play your LPs and singles with the same stylus that you play 78s with. They both need two very different type of styli. The reason is that modern LPs and 45s, apart from being made of a very different type of material, are mastered using a technique called microgroove. With microgroove, the grooves are actually smaller than that on a 78. While LPS require a styles of .6 or .7 thousands (.0006 or .0007) of an inch, 78s require a stylus sized at 2.8 to 3 (.0028 to .0030) thousandths of an inch, in other words, about 4 or 5 times BIGGER!. Therefore, playing a 78 with a stylus designed for LPs will result in poor sound reproduction. You'll lose that wonderful feel that is the sound of a well maintained rapidly rotating record -- plus you'll wear that stylus down to a nub in no time! If you play your LPs and 45s with the stylus designed for 78s, you will actually wear the down the walls of the grooves and destroy the disk because that stylus is actually much much wider than the groove it playing!

Of course there is an exception! If you happen across one of those special promotional vinyl 78s made after the era of the 78, such as the Dave Edmunds, Sundown Playboys, or Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, play it with your regular LP stylus at all times.

Turntables that can reproduce 78s can be had for a song a local pawn shop, but a high quality audiophile turntable can be pricey, but well worth worth it investment. Naturally if you are investing in Beatles 78s you don't want to play them back on a turntable that only set you back the price of a few compact disks (compact disks? -- what the heck are those).

A quick check of your favourite search engine will assist you in finding the right stylus, turntable, and amplifier combination, providing you with a wealth of advice about how to get the best sound out of your 78s.