Wendy Sistrunk
Music Catalog Librarian
University of Missouri--Kansas City


Many libraries are now faced with cataloging their LP backlogs. Dates were not widely indicated on LP labels or containers much before the inclusion of phonogram dates beginning in 1976. Many of the bibliographic records included in a national bibliographic utility, OCLC for instance, indicate a broad definition of the date of an LP as [19--] or even [n.d.], yet this information is very important to researchers and discographers. How can the cataloger make a more detailed educated guess on the date an LP was issued?

The University of Missouri--Kansas City provides detailed descriptive access of 33 1/3 rpm LPs housed in the Marr Sound Archives, a closed-stack research-level collection. Approximately 40% of all LPs being cataloged do not indicate a date of production or release anywhere on the item. However, by using selected reference tools and a knowledge of album cover art and historical styles, the catalogers are able to more accurately pinpoint the date of release of an album for the researcher.

This article provides a bibliography of selected reference resources all catalogers will find useful for dating LPs, provides examples of cover art and styles indigenous to certain eras in history, and gives anecdotal evidence to illustrate the finer art of Dating LPs!

Tips on Dating the Undated LP

Remember, these are guidelines to help you date an LP, not hard and fast rules. A guess at a decade is certainly more helpful to the patron than a guess at a century.

1) Check the graphics. Album covers have featured some of the 20th century's most famous iconography. Whole books have been written on the subject.

2) Clothing, hair styles, make-up, and print graphics can be a give-away to zeroing in on a decade at the very least. Country & western genres tend toward the more conservative styles, rock to more outre. Classical artists are harder to pin-point, though hair and clothing styles help.

3) In general, LPs from ca. 1948-1955 are very "heavy", made of polystyrene with a feel of the old 78 rpm shellac recordings. As technology progresses and the stylus and tone arm became more efficient, the discs become lighter in weight.

4) The 10-inch LP fades from production around 1956 in favor of the standard 12-inch format.

5) The words "Long Play" or "LP" tend to be featured very prominently on many recordings from the 1950's to differentiate (and sell) them from the 78 rpm.

6) If the LP indicates it is mono., it is most-likely pre-1968, when stereo. became the preferred and nearly exclusive standard. After 1968, most of the major labels were no longer issuing new LPs in mono. format.

7) Look on the back ("verso") of the album cover. Sometimes albums advertised there can give you a better idea of the general date of the item you have in hand.

8) Indications of phonogram dates are standard by 1976.

9) "Digitally remastered" appears on some LPs around the late 1970's and early 1980's, as this technology develops.

10) Remember, copyright dates apply to printed material (e.g., liner notes). Use them as a guide to the date of recording/release, but be sure to place this information in brackets in the 260 $c. E.g., c1956 = [1956]

11) When you are able to, use reference sources to help you out! Some pricing guides give a good overview of when exactly certain labels were active (e.g., Neal Umphred's Goldmine's Price Guide to Collectable Jazz Albums, 1949-1969. See bibliography).


    , [1971 or 1972]
    , [1969?]
    , [between 1956 and 1972]
    , [ca. 1960]
    , [197-]
    , [197-?]
    , [19--]
    , [19--?]
one year or the other
probable date
use only for dates fewer than 20 years apart
approximate date
decade certain
probable decade
century certain
probable century

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

A Brief and Select Chronology of the LP

1931 - RCA introduces coarse groove discs of "Victrolac" that run at 33 1/3 rpm "professional" speed, but fails to replace the popular 78 rpm consumer speed.

1933 - Articles begin to appear in the library literature on how to organize and catalog collections of sound recordings.

1948 - On June 21, American Columbia Company publically introduces the first 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm micro-groove LP vinylite record with 23 minute per side capability, developed by Goldmark in 1947. Among the first record labels to use this format are Capitol, Columbia (CBS), Decca, and RCA. The older well-established companies have already cornered the supply of famous performers and standard repertoire; post-1948 labels have to begin their businesses with non-standard repertoire by unknown performers. Record stores convert to self-service bins. 10-inch LPs (same dimension as the 78 rpm) also appear on the market, and are generally in the pop and folk genres (read: shorter works).

(1949 - RCA Victor introduces 7-inch 45 rpm micro-groove vinylite record and player, later records were made of polystyrene. These records do not play any longer than conventional 78 rpm records; however, a market grows for them in the pop music genre.)

1952 - Library of Congress begins systematic cataloging of their sound recording collections.

1954 - The number of record companies in America producing LPs has increased from just eleven in 1948 to two-hundred. The "arrival" of rock and roll and the beginning of a major pop culture in recorded sound later results in a massive LP sales explosion (ca. 1964).

1955 - American record companies cut prices of LP records; LP sales begin to take off. Columbia Record Club becomes the first mail-order outfit for sound recordings.

1958 - After much speculation, stereo. discs are introduced by the major U.S. record companies.

1960 - The 10-inch LP bows out of the picture. 78 rpm records are all but gone from the sales floors.

1967 - AACR1 is published and includes a section on cataloging phonorecords, more of an appendix really; music catalogers are not wholly impressed.

1969 - Mary Lou Little, Harvard's Music Librarian, opts for the computer approach to solve her cataloging problems, and begins adapting the MARC II format for books (published in 1968) for use with sound recordings and scores. Much discussion ensues in the national music cataloging arena.

1970's - Academic libraries slowly begin purposefully collecting LPs to support the growing realization that sound recordings are viable research materials. Still, nearly 60% of all nationally-shared sound recordings' cataloging comes from public libraries, with the majority representing the classical music genres.

1971 - The quadrophonic LP is introduced by CBS Records, followed later by Warner Brothers Records. The quad. LP fails to catch the market, and is withdrawn ca. 1980.

1976 - Library of Congress, in cooperation with Harvard, the MARC Development Office and MLA, develops the machine-readable cataloging (MARC) format for sound recordings.

1978 - AACR2 is published and incorporates many of the suggestions from the music library community. The sound recordings' cataloging chapter now includes much fuller information.

1983 - CDs first hit the shelves, precipitating a decline in the sale of LPs. Libraries begin receiving truck-loads of LP gifts from donors replacing their sound recording collections with CDs. Library directors across the country see the need to hire thousands of music catalogers to help provide access to these important materials (this last sentence is not as true as it could be).

1993 - The sale of LPs has bottomed out, though has not totally vanished.

1996 - The LP begins to make a slight come-back in the music industry. Vinyl sales are small but mighty.

The LP is not dead!

Because it had such a nice time, it will be making a second date with you!


A Brief and Select Chronology of the LP: Bibliography

Gaeddert, Barbara Knisely. The Classification and Cataloging of Sound Recordings, 1933-1980: An Annotated Bibliography. 2nd ed. Philadelphia : Music Library Association, 1981.

Ellen Garrison, "Neither Fish nor Fowl nor Good Red Meat: Using Archival Description Techniques for Special Format Materials," Archival Issues 21, no.1 (1996): 61-71.

Gelatt, Roland. The Fabulous Phonograph: From Edison to Stereo. Rev. ed. New York : Appleton-Century, c1965.

Schoenherr, Steve. "Recording Technology History: A Chronology with Pictures and Links." <> [Accessed 02 February 2007].

Seibert, Donald. The MARC Music Format: From Inception to Publication. Philadelphia : Music Library Association,1982.

Ward, Alan. A Manual of Sound Archive Administration. Brookfield, VT : Gower Publishing Co., c1990.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Select Bibliography

This is a listing to prompt your memory of what is out there to use, and is not meant to be exhaustive by any means. These sources can be used to zero in on a date of release, but may contain some inaccuracies (hint: remember to use those brackets in your 260 $c!). Discographies are very helpful as long as they provide a date of recording or release, but not all of them do. You may check the introductions to some of these collections for a chart of matrix numbers with corresponding dates of release and use that as a guide. Generally, web sites now concentrate on CD recordings and tend toward commercialism with the intent to sell you a product, rarely giving much background information, though there are exceptions.


American Music Recordings: A Discography of 20th Century U.S. Composers. Brooklyn, N.Y. : Institute for Studies in American Music, Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, c1982.

Bennett, John Reginald. Melodiya: A Soviet Russian L.P. Discography. Westport Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1981.

Bruyninckx, Walter. 60 Years of Recorded Jazz, 1917-1977. Mechelen, Belgium : Bruyninckx, [1979].

Edwards, John W. Rock 'n' Roll Through 1969: Discographies of All Performers Who Hit the Charts, Beginning in 1955. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c1992.

Hayes, Cedric J. Gospel Records, 1943-1969: A Black Music Discography. [S.l.] : Record Information Services, c1992.

Limbacher, James L. Film Music: From Violins to Video. Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1974.

Rasmussen, Richard Michael. Recorded Concert Band Music, 1950-1987: A Selected, Annotated Listing. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c1988.

The Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely New Reviews: Every Essential Album, Every Essential Artist. 3rd ed. New York : Random House, c1992.

Ruppli, Michel. Atlantic Records: A Discography. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1979.

Ruppli, Michel. The Decca Labels: A Discography. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1996.

Weber, J. F. A Gregorian Chant Discography. Utica, N.Y. : J.F. Weber, c1990.

Record Catalogs

Bielefelder Katalog Klassik. Karlsruhe, Germany : G. Braun, 1979-

Myers, Kurtz. Index to Record Review: Based on Material Originally Published in Notes, the Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association Between 1949 and 1977. Boston : G. K. Hall, 1978-1980.

R.E.D. Classical Catalogue. London : Retail Entertainment Data, 1996-

Schwann Record and Tape Guide. Boston : ABC Consumer Magazines, Inc., 1949-1990.

Price Guides and Chart Listings

Heggeness, Fred. Goldmine Country Western Record & CD Price Guide. Iola, WI : Krause Publications, c1996.

Lofman, Ron. Goldmine's Celebrity Vocals: Attempts at Musical Fame from 1500 Major Stars and Supporting Players. Iola, WI : Krause Publications, c1994.

Moses, Julian Morton. Price Guide to Collectors' Records: With New Revised Value Chart. New York : American Record Collectors' Exchange, c1976.

Osborne, Jerry. Jerry Osborne's Rockin' Records: Buyers-Sellers Reference Book and Price Guide. 17th ed. Port Townsend, WA : Jellyroll Publications, c1995.

Umphred, Neal. Goldmine's Price Guide to Collectable Jazz Albums, 1949-1969. 2nd ed. Iola, WI : Krause Publications, c1994.

Umphred, Neal. Goldmine's Price Guide to Collectable Record Albums. 5th ed. Iola, WI : Krause Publications, c1996.

Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Albums, 1955-1996: Compiled from Billboard Magazine's Pop Album Charts, 1955-1996. Menomonee Falls, Wis. : Record Research Inc., c1996.


These are only a few of the Greenwood Press Bio-Bibliographies in Music Series, which are generally very good at listing recording/release dates in their discography sections.

Carnovale, Norbert. Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography. New York : Greenwood Press, 1987.

McDonald, Arlys L. Ned Rorem: A Bio-Bibliography. New York : Greenwood Press, c1989.

Skowronski, JoAnn. Aaron Copland: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, c1985.

Cover Art

Dean, Roger and David Howells. The Ultimate Album Cover Album. New York : Prentice Hall Press, 1987.

Marsh, Graham & Barrie Lewis. The Blues Album Cover Art. San Francisco, CA : Chronicle Books, c1996.

Ochs, Michael. 1000 Record Covers. Koln : Taschen, c1996.

Web Sites

AMG All-Music Guide: A Complete Online Database of Recorded Music. <> [Accessed 02 February 2007].

Callahan, Mike and David Edwards. Album Discographies. Both Sides Now Publications. <> [Accessed 02 February 2007].

NVI Classical Records. The Dead Conductors Page. <> [Accessed 02 February 2007].

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

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This page was created on 27 February 1998 and was last updated on 02 February 2007.