What's a Vogue Picture Record?By Doyle Tatum
Recently, while organizing my parents attic, I came across a multitude of Ernest Tubb record store boxes, each filled with 78 RPM records. Among those records, I discovered several colorful picture discs each with the name Vogue at the bottom. With my curiosity aroused, I research the origins of these treasures. Vogue picture records are phonograph records which have an artist's illustration embedded in the transparent vinyl of the record. The illustrations on each side of the record are usually related to the title of the song on that side. The most common Vogue picture records are 10-inch, 78 RPM records, although a few 12- inch, 78 RPM Vogue picture records were also produced. Vogue picture records were produced by Sav-Way Industries of Detroit, Michigan. The first 10- inch Vogue picture record (catalog number R707) was released to the public in May 1946. Production ceased less than a year later in April 1947, with Sav- Way entering into receivership in August 1947. During this time, approximately seventy- four different 10-inch Vogue picture records were released. Each illustration has an "R" number (or catalog number) printed on it, ranging from R707 to R786. There are gaps in the sequence; not all of the eighty possible catalog numbers were used. There is also a "P" number (or matrix number) printed on the illustration (next to the copyright symbol). The printed matrix number should match the matrix number inscribed in the lead- out area of the record. Some collectors have found Vogue picture records with errors where the illustration doesn't match the song pressed on that side of the record; these records are sometimes marked as a "Factory Reject". Vogues with damaged illustrations (smeared ink, torn paper, etc.) are sometimes marked as a "Vogue Second". Normally both sides of a record have the same catalog number, but this is not always the case. Several records were released which had different combinations, such as R725/ R726. These "mixed" records are not errors, so no one should think they have a one-of-a-kind Vogue just because the catalog numbers on each side don't match. The combinations were likely due to the hard financial times on which Sav- Way had fallen; they were hard-pressed to come up with new artists near the end of their one- year production life, so they resorted to re-using previously released material. Vogue picture records were sold individually, as well as in albums containing two records; eight different albums were released. The individual records sold for about a dollar, and the albums sold for a little less than three dollars. Vogues spanned the musical gamut from big band to country to jazz. Sav- Way didn't have a lot of luck signing many big-name artists, but some notables such as jazz great Charlie Shavers did record for Sav-Way. Vogue picture records were of a very high quality, with little surface noise. The records were produced using a complicated process whereby a central core aluminum disc was sandwiched between the paper illustrations and vinyl. Perfecting this process took quite a while; Sav-Way founder Tom Saffady and his engineers spent several months working out the bugs that often resulted in torn or dislodged paper illustrations. When Sav-Way entered into receiver-ship all remaining stock was liquidated through distributors. This is the source of all those "Factory Reject" and "Vogue Second" records that are seen. It is reported that many of the left- over records were melted down to recycle the aluminum used in the core of the record.
Why the Interest in Vogue Picture Records?
It really depends on the person involved. A lot of people find the records visually appealing, what with the colorful illustrations. Collectors like the fact that the series of 10- inch Vogue picture records has a definite beginning and ending point; it's possible for someone to gather a complete set of the records. Not too many people buy Vogues for the musical content, even though some notable artists did record for Sav-Way. When Sav-Way Industries went bankrupt in 1947, all company records were lost or destroyed. Most likely, no production figures were ever published. A story in the Detroit Free Press in January 1947 states that "Vogue officials set current production at 500,000 records monthly, hope to turn out a million soon". No one knows how many were actually produced. However, there are some Vogue titles which appear to be more common than others; a good example is Vogue R707, "Sugar Blues" by Clyde McCoy and His Orchestra. This was one of the first Vogues released for sale, and it is likely a lot of people bought that title just because of the novelty. The "Study in Blue" Vogue album (V100) is also quite common compared to the other Vogue albums. This is probably due to a massive ad campaign promoting the album in May of 1946. A poll of collectors by Edgar L. Curry in 1990 showed that of the sixty- seven known 10-inch Vogues, forty- six of them were common enough that 80% of the collectors polled had a copy (yes, "Sugar Blues" is among those forty-six!). Eight of the known 10- inch Vogues were rare enough than less than 50% of those polled had a copy. Only five of the known 10-inch Vogues were rare enough that only 20% of those polled had a copy. Relatively speaking, most Vogues aren't that uncommon when compared to themselves. There are two factors that most affect the value of any particular Vogue picture record: the rarity and the condition. A third contributing factor would be opinion - the value someone assigns based on perception, incorrect assumptions, or just plain bad information.
Let's start with rarity. There are some Vogue picture records, such as prototype or test pressings, that were never released for sale to the general public. These are probably the most valuable simply due to the law of supply and demand. Other examples of very valuable Vogue picture records would be those that were "personalized"; where someone autographed the illustration or glued a photograph to the illustration and then ran the record through the press. Some of the records that were released for general distribution don't seem to have been produced in very large quantities; unfortunately, since no written production records remain from Sav-Way Industries there is no definite answer as to how many of a particular record were produced. The bookVOGUE - The Picture Record has a set of graphs that show the relative rarity of all the known Vogue pressings.
The condition can be best determined by a visual inspection of the record. It's difficult to give an exact amount by which any damage or defect would devalue a record. Here are some rules of thumb that we'd use when assessing the condition. Any chips on the edge of the record or chunks of missing vinyl will devalue the record, as will any cracks that extend through the surface of the vinyl. Note that Vogue picture records often exhibit what are called "lamination cracks"; this refers to very small hairline cracks that appear in the surface of the vinyl, probably caused by stress or expansion and contraction due to temperature changes. It's not uncommon to find a few small "lams" on the average Vogue, but a significant number of them will have a negative impact on value. Discoloration of the vinyl can affect the value of the record. Some records appear almost milky, while others have yellowed; in each case the clarity of the image is affected, which devalues the record. Slight warping is acceptable, but anything more than an eighth of an inch affects the value. Deep scratches or gouges that affect playability will devalue the record, but more due to their impact on the visibility of the illustration - very few collectors actually play their records! A Vogue picture record in good or better condition should still appear shiny. If you can see obvious wear in the groove (yes, groove - there's only one groove on each side!) that often translates to a lower-quality image. If you feel the surface of a Vogue picture record that has not been played (or not played a lot) you will hardly be able to feel the groove.
A few words on opinion would be appropriate; the "race"- themed records such as R707 (Sugar Blues) or R750 (Shoo Fly Pie) fall into this category. These records have what we'd call "cross-category" appeal - those who collect "race" memorabilia would likely be interested in these records too. A free hint - R707 was the first Vogue picture record produced, and they must have literally made millions of them, so it's not really worth that much even with the "race" theme. Some myths have arisen that artificially inflate the perceived value. The most common myth is that Bill Haley (of Rock & Roll fame) played on the Vogue sessions recorded by The Down Homers (on R736 and R786). This myth was shattered by none other than Kenny Roberts, the lead singer of the group. Kenny addressed the attendees of the 1999 AVPRC Convention and told them that Bill Haley left the group shortly before the Vogue recording sessions. This myth has resulted in artificially high values placed on R736 and R786 by many record dealers and collectors - but now you know better.
Bibliography /Further Reading
The best reference on Vogue picture records; includes revised reprints of the information from Record Research Magazine (a complete discography of the R700 series including release dates, matrix numbers), a guide to rarity, a price guide, and photographs of every known Vogue picture record in the R700 series (unfortunately, most photos are black and white).
Beautiful color photographs of almost every Vogue picture record ever produced (the very rare R784 is not included). Some interesting information on the company and its founder Tom Saffady, and other related information. Also includes photographs of the prototype Vogue picture record, the Vogue albums, and the Mercury picture records produced by Sav-Way.
(out of print)