Alton Forrest Raymond Lawrence (1922-1972) was a sound recording archivist, lawyer, and professional historian who established and organized the record library and company archive of Columbia Records, Inc. beginning in the early 1960s. The collection dates from 1888 to 1972 (bulk dates 1940-1964) and reflects the history, operations, business decisions, and technological developments of Columbia Records while providing some insight into the professional work and outlook of A. F. R. Lawrence.
Biographical/historical: Alton Forrest Raymond Lawrence (1922-1972) was a sound recording archivist, lawyer, avid record collector, and professional historian. In the early 1960s, he was commissioned by Columbia Records to assist in the establishment of a company archives, in light of the closing of the Company's record pressing facility in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1964. He was also engaged in researching the history of Columbia Records and its early recordings.
Lawrence was born in Madison, Iowa, and earned degrees in jurisprudence and history from the University of Iowa and Drake University; he was a member of the Iowa Bar and taught history at Fairmont State College, West Virginia. He was a founding member of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) and built up what was considered the eminent collection of historical diction recordings in the world. He published or collaborated on many discographies, articles, liner notes, and reviews. Lawrence worked to improve the engineering quality of a number of "pirate" opera labels, and was knowledgeable on the fields of tape editing and the principles of discography building. He died in New York City at the age of 50.
Columbia Records, a part of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), was originally established in the late 1880s, and gained success selling pre-recorded musical cylinders. It was previously known in the United States as the Columbia Phonograph Company and was the most successful subsidiary of The American Graphophone Company, which had merged with The Volta Graphaphone Company. It began selling disc records in the early 1900s. In 1938, after CBS acquired the company, its name was changed to Columbia Recording Corporation. It has shared the majority of the record market for decades with one other company, RCA Victor (RCA). In 1987, the company was acquired by Sony Music Entertainment. Columbia Records pioneered a number of technological and manufacturing developments in the history of recorded sound, such as introducing to the market the double-sided disc in 1904, and the Long Playing record in 1948.
Content: The collection dates from 1888 to 1972 (bulk dates 1940-1964) and reflects the history and operations of Columbia Records while providing insight into the professional activities of A. F. R. Lawrence.
Material in this collection concerns the history, products, and manufacturing facilities of the company; and its relationship to other industry players, including its rivals (namely RCA Victor), affiliates, and overseas subsidiaries during the first half of the 20th Century.
A large portion of the collection comprises listings of matrix numbers. These numbers indicate which stamper was used to press which record and distinguish particular sides of a disc; they can also indicate which take was used for the final pressing, and the factory where it was made. Some of these lists were created during the 1950s and 1960s by Helene Chmura, the Company's librarian, and noted compiler and circulator of matrix lists. These files and others in the Corporate Documents section include comprehensive discographical information on production from Columbia Records.
The history and developments of the company from the early decades through the 1960s is traced in Corporate Documents via internal memoranda, meeting minutes, legal documents, financial records, and technical papers. Contracts and agreements with performers, partners, and subsidiaries are also present. The company's marketing strategies are reflected in material in these files, and can be found scattered throughout the collection.
The preponderance of files on Columbia's rival company RCA Victor demonstrate close competition within the industry, further highlighted by the Court Document files that concern a lawsuit filed by RCA Victor for trademark infringement surrounding the "red seal" label in the early 1940s. The Court Exhibits in this section include a range of Victor promotional material.
The Engineering files contain reports on research into different technologies, internal correspondence and memoranda that detail new projects and developments, and are concentrated on the 1940s. Correspondence and reports trace the development of technologies in production of discs, recording, and playback; such as wire recording, variable pitch, needle design, and long playing records. Also present is a detailed overview of manufacturing facilities (1949), and plans for their expansion and development. The effect of raw material restrictions during World War II is documented in the company's research into alternatives.
Historical Research provides further background to the corporation through originals and copies of correspondence and memoranda, catalogs, press material, and other printed matter. Business functions are recorded through stockholder correspondence, stock plans, and articles of association. The history of the early recording industry in the United States is represented in transcribed excerpts summarizing record companies active prior to the electric era.
Lawrence's development of the Columbia Records archives, and efforts to preserve metal parts from the record pressing process is outlined in the Projects section. His independent research and writing activities are also represented, and include notes, clippings, office memoranda, catalogs, and other printed matter.