Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1994 Volume 32 Number 4, Pages 158–161

Notes and Comments

Page 158


About the Cover

The illustration of the Walker's Berwyn Pharmacy at the corner of Knox Avenue and Lancaster Avenue on the cover of this issue is from a photograph lent by Merle Walker Lee. According to the information on the back of the photograph, it was taken in about 1930-1931, before Lancaster Avenue was rebuilt and the front steps removed to ground level entrance. At this time the highway crossed over the railroad on "the upper bridge" at Bridge Avenue and ran north of the tracks before doubling back under them again at Daylesford.

It is also reported that this store was built by Dr. James Aiken in 1889, on the site of an earlier store which he had built there, but which later was moved intact to a location farther south on Knox Avenue. The Aikens also built a residence for themselves on Lancaster Avenue west of the drug store.

In about 1910, it is also noted, the drug store and business was purchased by the Walkers from the Aiken family. The second story front room was rented by the Bell Telephone Company as the location for its switchboard for the area until its new building was completed on Circular Avenue in Paoli in 1930. For years Becky Derrickson was the "night operator". Her father was the area auctioneer, and she operated as his clerk, was the night telephone operator, and cashier for the American Store, as well as dabbling in real estate.

Page 159


D-Day Remembered

At our May meeting, to note the then-upcoming 50th anniversary of D-Day and the invasion of Europe during World War II, some of our members recalled where they were and what they were doing on June 6, 1944: in the armed forces; on maneuvers in Louisiana; working in defense plants; still in school; and several not born yet.

But the most unusual incident was perhaps one that club member Martha Pugh later shared with us, after she received a letter from her brother, Sidney Rowland, reminding her of where she was on that historic day. (She had just graduated from Tredyffrin-Easttown High School the year before.)

"I was in New Caledonia," he wrote, "getting ready -- in the course of time -- for the invasion of Japan. We used to get films and newsreels -- some produced by the army. My two buddies and I would lie on the ground, with our heads resting on our helmets, our feet barely inches from the screen. Why we did that I haven't the faintest idea. Must have been that we were first on the scene when a movie was to be shown. Well, anyway -- a couple of months after D-Day -- I think -- we saw a newsreel of what people were doing on D-Day.

"The photographer in Philly panned City Hall square -- including the marquee that flashed the news in moving lights. Walking down the street was MY SISTER! Martha, you wrote that you were on your lunch hour and unaware of the filming. I was astounded, and shouted, "That's my sister!" Our fellows said that [it] wasn't my sister. Later the projectionist re-ran the film, and sure enough, I was right. It was you."

Martha Rowland Pugh


Dime Store Dance Bands

This is a footnote to the recollections of shopping at Woolworth's and the "dime store" that appeared in the April issue earlier this year.

Collectors of the old 78 r.p.m. phonograph records of the 1920s and 1930s have given the special designation "dime store dance bands" to the bands heard on the records that were sold in the five-and-ten cent stores of that era, usually at lower prices than those charged in the regular record stores.

Generally, they are on obscure record labels, featuring anonymous artists. The record companies hired free-lance musicians -- the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and many others cut their teeth free-lancing early in their careers -- to record on their so-called "cheapie" labels, identifying the bands with pseudonyms such as The Hotsy-Totsy Gang, The Whoopee Makers, The All-Star Collegians, or similar names. (Although a well-known band like Paul Whiteman's or Ben Bernie's could sell records on its own name, in a majority of instances it was the tune that was the selling feature and the name of the band was unimportant. So the companies used dozens of pseudonyms, some of them "house" names, others invented on the spur of the moment.

Page 160

Two of the most important producers of records at the time were Ben Selvin and Irving Mills. Selvin was an orchestra leader and became an executive at Columbia Phonograph Company, eventually advancing to the position of recording director. His contribution of dance records is said to have exceeded 9000 different titles on virtually every label in existence during his career, which extended into 1934. Mills was also a major music business entrepreneur of the time. He started as a singer, operated a music publishing business, formed a partnership with Duke Ellington, and later organized many recording sessions, using his own band to record his own tunes.

When the chain stores entered into the distribution network for recordings and selected their own brand names, the record companies were faced with the necessity of issuing the same recordings under different brand names; at times one recording session might go out on as many as four or five different labels. For example, in 1929 the name Irving Mills appears on the Brunswick label, and also on Conqueror, Domino, Jewel, Oriole, Banner, Cameo, Lincoln, Romeo, Pathe Actuelle, Perfect, and maybe others.

For over ten years, beginning about 1981, a record collector in Salem, New Jersey, Chester M. Myers, conducted a Saturday night show on station WSNJ in Bridgeton, on which he acted as host and shared his huge record collection and great knowledge of early recorded music and recording artists with his listening audience. The following information about the dime store dance bands is taken from his broadcasts made during this period. Let Chet Myers tell it in his own words.

"As the '20s wore on," he commented, "... Pathe, world renowned manufacturer of motion pictures, equipment and supplies, created a cheap label, Perfect, to compete with their more expensive one using the Pathe name. It was manufactured in the same plant in Brooklyn, N.Y. and its connection with Pathe was kept secret for several years. ... They sold for 55, eventually dropping in price to three for a dollar.

"Well, about that time the stage was set for outright promotion and distribution of the small, cheap labels by any means possible. Large chain stores, such as Kresge, W. T. Grant, J. C. Penney, Woolworth and J. J. Newberry, just to mention a few, contracted with major record firms for disks with their own distinctive label, and some of the designs were quite attractive and bright, in contrast to the traditional black and gold labels.

"Now Woolworth and J. J. Newberry were commonly called 'five-and-tens' or 'five-and-dimes' because of the great quantity of low-price novelty merchandise they carried. So in order to cut costs, pseudonyms were created for orchestra names, and the exact same recording would sometimes appear on several different labels under different names of the recording artist.

Page 161

"Eventually, the major companies saw the light and attempted inexpensive labels of their own, being marketed in places other than their franchisee! dealers, such as hardware and dry goods stores, book stores, drug stores, furniture stores, etc. One enterprising manufacturer, Durium, even sold them on magazine racks.

"From March 30, 1931 to July 5, 1934 [before he went to Decca] Bing Crosby made 107 recordings for Brunswick records; of these 32 were issued again and again and again on eight different labels. ... This was merely a marketing gimmick to stimulate business during the money-lean depression era of the '30s. Now four of these eight labels -- Melotone, Perfect, Okeh, and Vocal ion -- were sold in record stores, sometimes right along side of the original Brunswick [label]. However, the remaining four labels -- Banner, Conqueror, Oriole, and Romeo -- ... were owned by various chain stores located across the country: Banner, for example, was sold in the Kresge stores; Conqueror, Sears & Roebuck; Oriole was sold in the McCrory stores and Romeo, well, that was sold in the Kress stores.

"[So they were called] "dime store dance bands" simply because there was a proliferation of small independent labels that sprang up in the phonograph record marketplace at the beginnings of the '20s and lasted about a dozen years or so until the depression kayoed most of them. ... Most people couldn't tell you who the band was simply because they were recording under another name. [But] personnel like Jean Goldkette, Ben Bernie, Harry Reser, Abe Lyman, Nat Shilkret had hot combos that recorded on a lot of these obscure labels under various names . . . because they could not record under their own name due to contracts.

"Most of the records ... were not exactly second-rate, but ... some of them were over-recorded -- in other words, the engineer at that time was carrying too much of a load from the microphone or from the recording megaphone, and the tone was not the best. ... Clicks, hisses, and a dig here and there were all a part of listening to the old records back in that era.

"Are these records still available? Well, yes, they are still available to the extent that you may be able pick some up at auctions -- record auctions -- and they are expensive. You may be able to find them at junk sales, you can find them at Salvation Army sales, you can find them at household auction sales. But to the general public, no, they are not available. But quite a lot of record collectors still have many of these old records, and ... treasure them very highly."

A perfect example of a "dime store dance band" was a recording made in 1931 by Sam Lanin & His Orchestra, with a vocal by Paul Small. It was released simultaneously on two labels: Banner #32219 and Perfect #15486. (It's title, appropriately, was "I Found a Million Dollar Baby [in a Five-and-Ten Cent Store"].)

[The comments by Chet Myers are taken from his broadcasts of 2-15-86; 9-20-86; 1-31-87; 9-3-88; and 1-5-91]

Herb Fry


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