In a previous article I touched on the difficulty of finding documentation of music traditions, particularly in the areas I have lived. Early last year I got to thinking more about it. What sources had I not yet looked into? Then it dawned on me that if I could find old sales ledgers or inventories from early music stores, I might get titles of sheet music or phonograph records sold, thereby getting an idea of popular music that was listened to in an area. But where would I find old store ledgers? Fortunately, I knew someone who could help.
Rich and Denise Uhlrich, owners of Tallgrass Antiques in Cottonwood Falls, occupy the old building that had been Croy’s since 1946, but a furniture store since the early part of the 20th century. I asked if they happened to have any sales ledgers from the old store, and it turned out they did. They allowed me to borrow one of the earliest ledgers to peruse and see what information it might surrender. I did not find what I had hoped for, but what I found was both informative and interesting, nonetheless. In addition to selling a lot of curtain rods, lamp shades, furniture, rugs, as well as funeral services, the store did its part to provide the community with music.
For the year 1918, beginning March 7th, we find three pianos and two organs were sold. Some of those pianos may possibly have been players. If not, the number of “piano rolls” sold throughout the year certainly indicate the presence of player pianos in the community. In addition to selling pianos and stools, the store sold piano wire too. They also boxed, moved, tuned, and rented pianos. It appears that a piano was frequently rented, presumably for community functions.
Although I did not find any titles of phonograph records sold, I found that many records were sold all year long. Some of the entries were ambiguous such as ‘music’, which could have meant a phonograph record, paper piano roll, or possibly sheet music. It’s interesting to note that record sales increased shortly before and continued awhile after Christmas. We also learn that the store carried Pathé phonograph players as well as serviced them. At least nine Pathé machines were sold through the year, one entry being listed only as ‘talking machine’.
It’s also interesting to note that needles for these talking machines were often purchased; a number of them being Pathé needles in particular. Other than name, the only thing that sets this brand of needle apart from others is the price. Pathé discs differed from other makers in that the recording was done vertically in the groove rather than in the side of the groove. The groove itself was wider to allow for the special sapphire ball stylus peculiar to Pathé players. These sapphire ball ‘needles’ had a much longer life than typical steel point needles, which were really only good for one playing. The sapphire ball also helped extend the life of the record. If you happen to have a Pathé phonograph, a sapphire ball stylus can still be purchased today for about $60.