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private15 004In 1952, two enterprising young women created a record label Caedmon Records with the idea of bringing poetry and literature to the American public. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams! The record company they founded went on to record on CD’s and was bought in 1987 by Harper Collins, and turned into their still existing audio division. Here is a video of James Mason reading Browning’s poem, My Last Duchess.

James Mason, the British actor, read some of Robert Browning’s Victorian poetry on this record, “Poetry of Browning” in 1956. The record comes with a small booklet that has the entire text of the recording. The record cover was designed by Hiram Ash who had studied at Yale University and who was also an occasional collaborator of graphic designer Paul Rand.

browningRobert Browning (1812-1889) became one of the best known of the English Victorian poets, and fortunately the New York Public Library has this carte de visite (CDV) size photograph, pictured above, in the Tucker Collection in the library.

The “spoken word” records form an important link between music and the spread of culture, especially in the case of Caedmon Publishers. Caedmon branched out in other directions, with foreign language readings, as well as, poetry readings by their respective authors. The ability to listen to poetry in a group, read by the author or a trained professional in public speech (like an actor), brought more people to poetry than the reading of a book could do if read in private. Here is the list of records up to 1956 as published on the record sleeve, and the scope of the whole enterprise becomes apparent by looking at the back of the record cover.

img011img014img013img012What a wealth of culture, and what foresight by the initial owners of this stupendous endeavor: Barbara Holbridge and Marianne Roney