Politics, for the record

April 1993
This article is part of the Noteworthy News archives.


Politicians this recent election liked to speak off the record, but politicians of an earlier era were eager to speak for the record.

Here's an insider's briefing of some political and presidential year recordings up to 1920. The voices may at times seem brittle, but they are our only link to a great oratorical tradition.

Prices have been estimated by dealer Kurt Nauck, who conducts a record mail auction from his home near Houston, Texas. Values are for copies in good condition.

Pre-1900. Chauncey DePew, Senator from New York from 1899-1911 and a candidate for President in 1888, may have been the first politician to memorialize himself on record. In 1898 DePew cut a Berliner disc containing short excerpts from his address dedicating the Statue of Liberty.

Value: $500-$1000.

1900. The beloved William McKinley faced the Great Commoner, William Jennings Bryan. Brian recorded his Speech of Acceptance and his Speech to Labor.

McKinley never lent his voice to the recording horn, but that didn't deter his supporters from issuing a number of campaign songs. On Edison, Dan Quinn argued "One Good Turn Deserves Another" and on Columbia, Len Spencer musically propogandized, "I'd Leave My Job to Vote for You, McKinley."

Following McKinley's assasination at the Pan American Exposition in 1901, a number of recordings were issued of his speech inaugurating the exposition four months earlier, recited by personalities such as Len Spencer, Harry Spencer, and F.W. Hooly.

Since the records are often simply marked "McKinley" the identity of the speaker sometimes misleads collectors, as it must have misled purchasers years ago.

Values: McKinley on disc, $10-$15. Somewhat higher on cylinder.

1904. Theodore Roosevelt defeated Alton Parker. It was a quiescent year for the phonograph. Billy Murray joined in with the campaign song, "We Want Teddy Four Years More."

1908. Nominees Taft, Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt squared off on disc and cylinder over the battleground issues of the campaign: the trusts, labor abuses, and the tariff.

It was the first time that the phonograph made a dent in the electoral process. Political collectors say that these records were made not just  to be played at home, but to large audiences at campaign stops.

Values: Bryan and Taft cylinders, in general, $100-$200. Victors: $25-$50/

1912. Republican Taft, Democrat Wilson and the Bull Moose Roosevelt all joined the Victor bandwagon. Roosevelt also cut four 4-minue wax Amberols, three of which were re-issued as Blue Amberols.

Values: Patent Label Victors, $50; Bat Wing Victors, $25-$50; Roosevelt Blue Amberols, $50-$125.

1920. Harding defeated James Cox. Columbia inaugurated a special non-partisan Nation's Forum series in which leading candidates discussed the issues.

Among the personalities heard were Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on "The League of Nations," Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer on "Democrats and the World War," and Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge on "Law and Order." A picture of the speaker embellished the sleeves of the earliest isues.

Values, Nation's Forum: $20-$50.

Copyright 2017 Lynn Bilton

Lynn Bilton
Box 435
Randolph,OH 44265
330 325-7866

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