A few weeks ago we looked at the Starr Piano Company’s Champion and Superior record sales in the early 1930s. Victor’s sales weren’t nearly that bad, on average, but many titles in the their race and country-music series came close. Below we present a representative listing of some of Victor’s worst sellers.
The figures came from the Victor production-history cards, which survive at the Sony archive in New York. The sample above (a photocopy from Bill Bryant’s papers) is for what amounted to a good seller by early 1930s standards — the Carter Family’s Victor 23585, for which sales of 7,261 copies are noted. Add in the later Bluebird and Montgomery Ward re-pressings, and it’s not a hard recording to find.
The accuracy of these figures is open to question. It’s not clear who entered them, or at what point they stopped doing so. We don’t know if they represent records shipped to distributors and dealers, or records that were actually sold to consumers (which are not necessarily the same figure, once things like returns, comped copies, and credit for damaged or defective discs are factored in). There are too many possible variables to say that these are the final, definitive sales figures — But at least they provide a scale by which to judge relative rarity.
This list is just a sampling; many other early 1930s Victor race and country-music releases that fall into this range.
23356 (Tate & Mantan: That Reminds Me / Depression of Prayer)
23370 (Four Wanderers: The Fault’s in Me / Animals Coming In)
23369 (Kid Coley: War Dream Blues / Freight Train Blues)
23372 (Charlie Jordan: Greyhound Blues / Bad Breaks Blues)
23324 (Eddie [Schaffer] & Oscar [Woods]: Nok-Em-All Blues / Flying Crow Blues)
23349 (Victoria Spivey & Harold Grey [Porter Grainger]: Baulin’ Water Blues, Parts 1 & 2)
23336 (De Ford Bailey: John Henry / Noah Lewis: Like I Want to Be)
23353 (Ruby Glaze & Hot-Shot Willie [Kate & Blind Willie McTell]: Lonesome Day Blues / Searching the Desert for the Blues)
23366 (Rev. F. W. McGee: The Book of Live / I Got to Leave Here)
23345 (Furry Lewis: Cannon Ball Blues / Dry Land Blues)
23350 (Pace Jubilee Singers: Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad / A Little Talk with Jesus)
23352 (Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe: I’m Going Back Home / Georgia Skin)
23347 (Memphis Jug Band: Taking Your Place / Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues)
23755 (Wheeler & Lamb: Will You Sometimes Think of Me? / I’ll Ever Be Faithful to You)
23330 (Pinetop & Lindberg: 4 x 11 = 44 / East Chicago Blues)
23341 (Frank Stokes: I’m Going Away Blues / Old Sometime Blues)
23319 (Carolina Peanut Boys [Memphis Jug Band]: Spider’s Nest Blues / [Noah Lewis’ Jug Band]: Selling the Jelly)
23740 (Bud Billings Trio [Luther-Robison]: My Ivy-Covered Cabin Home / Just Around the Bend)
23926 (Rev. F. W. McGee: Women’s Clothed / A Dog Shall Not Move his Tongue)
23293 (Kid Coley: Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ No More / Clair and Pearley Blues)
23720 (Gene Autry: The Gangster’s Warning / Bud Billings: I Wonder If He’s Singing to the Angels Tonight)
23306 (Lizzie Miles: Done Throwed the Key Away / Electrician Blues)
23700 (Darby & Tarlton: Ooze Up to Me / The Weaver’s Blues)
23288 (R. T. Hannen: Happy Days Blues / She’s Got Jordan River in her Hips)
23304 (Charlie Jordan: Santa Claus Blues / Working Man’s Blues)
23287 (Louisville Sanctified Singers: God Give Me a Light / So Glad I’m Here)
23271 (Blind Clyde Church: Pneumatic Blues / No. 9 Blues)
23351 (Jelly Roll Morton & his Red Hot Peppers: Strokin’ Away / Each Day)