Click here to skip to content

Sound playback and recording equipment

The Sound Archive holds a collection of playback and recording devices, including historic gramophones and record players, that chart the history of sound reproduction equipment.

Online presentations

Please note that due to space restrictions items from the collection are not on public display. The objects are in storage and may only be consulted by appointment for research purposes. A large number of images of the most significant machines are, however, available to view online:

Collection overview

Most of the items in the collection date from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. We have a smaller number of models from the later years of the 20th century, but this period is not so comprehensively represented.

The core of the collection comprises a variety of large cabinet gramophones (disc players) and phonographs (cylinder players) from which it is possible to follow the development of the furniture styles applied to this equipment. The wide variety of portable gramophones developed over the years is also represented.

From the electrical era a representative selection of small gramophones and domestic tape recorders are held. The cassette and 8 track cartridge of the 1960s and 1970s are included, as are recent formats that are no longer in general use, such as the Philips Digital cassette or DCC of the early 1990s.

The collection does not include radios, televisions, or their accessories, broadcasting equipment, mechanical organs, pianos or music boxes, piano rolls, spare parts for non-collection machines, or musical instruments. See below for suggested sources of information on these items.

At present the Library is not adding to the collection, but offers of unwanted equipment are always welcome, especially where related to rare or obsolete formats, such as wire recording, magnetic disc formats or 8-track cartridges and non-standard tape formats, including pre compact cassette dictation formats.

Useful external links

Further information

Sound & Vision Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691

E-mail: Ask the Sound & Vision Reference Team