What's a Vogue Picture Record?
Vogue picture records are phonograph records on the "Vogue" label which have a picture (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. Many of the illustrations are mushy romantic themes (see the discography). 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" or "double number" 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.
Unfortunately, there are no written records in existence as to which catalog number combinations were deliberately produced, and which may have resulted from production mistakes. Records such as R738/R747 or R740/R747 likely fall into the "production mistake" category; it's quite likely someone simply loaded the "wrong" illustration into the record press, since to the casual glance the illustrations match - only the catalog numbers differed.
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; 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 receivership 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 (albeit corny) 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. There's also a bit of the treasure hunt involved; you can sometimes find Vogue picture records at garage sales for a few dollars. (I'm not aware of too many people who buy Vogues for the musical content, even though some notable artists did record for Sav-Way.)
Are Some Vogue Picture Records More Common than Others?
Apparently, but there is no hard information to substantiate this belief. When Sav-Way Industries went bankrupt in 1947, all company records were lost or destroyed. To the best of my knowledge, 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". Who 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. My personal experience has been that this is the most common of the Vogues which I have encountered. 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.
Bibliography / Further Reading