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Item of the Week: A-B-C Fun

Item of the Week: A-B-C Fun

“All children love little Nipper junior records!”

Sarnoff Collection Item of the Week: ABC Fun and 123 Fun, sung by Cliff Edwards, June 1950 (S.560)

In the 1940s and 50s, RCA Victor released the Little Nipper Junior Records, a series aimed at children, a development that was long in the making. By the post-war era, children’s records were hardly a new invention: as early as the 1890s, a company in Germany manufactured toy phonographs with celluloid disks with lyrics to nursery rhymes glued to the labels, and even RCA had issued records meant for children starting in the 1930s. In 1945, when RCA labs developed the first commercially successful non-breakable phonographic records (made of vinyl, rather than the traditional shellac,) marketing children’s records became more feasible.[1] This new development was concurrent with a shift in the staff and outlook of RCA Victor’s children’s records line, which took a new direction after the war. The former head of the division was a holdover from the earlier Victor Talking Machine Company, the music educator Frances Elliott Clark, who focused more on the use of phonographic recordings in schools.[2] With her ouster in 1936, RCA Victor began to focus more on the commercial market rather than the educational one, following a broader trend of an expansion of the toy industry immediately following WWII. These new RCA records, issued as part of the Bluebird Children’s series, became instant hits. While they still had an educational bent, these new records were focused more on entertainment, and had more opportunities for commercial tie-ins.[3]

One marketing strategy that RCA Victor employed was its collaboration with the Walt Disney Studios, and the hiring of well-known stars in the music or radio business. This was the case with “ABC Fun and 123 Fun,” which features Cliff Edwards, who is perhaps best known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, and the singer of that movie’s “When you Wish Upon a Star” (Victor 26477), though he had enjoyed earlier success as a radio performer. The record itself features Williams singing various alphabet and counting songs, encouraging his young listeners to join along, and features the encouraging barks of Nipper (voiced by Frank Milano), the RCA mascot. The disk itself (like others in the Little Nipper series) is a sunny yellow vinyl, and the sleeve decorated with cartoon illustrations. The whole product, from the sleeve to the content, was meant to appeal to children themselves. This practice was a global one, and the Sarnoff Collection also holds a Japanese children’s record produced by RCA Victor Yokohama, the company’s Japanese subsidiary.[4] All in all, children proved to be a great market for phonographic records, and the kidisk market, as it was called, was a profitable one not only for RCA, but for other major and independent labels as well.[5]

To hear the audio of the A-B-C Fun, click here!

ABC Fun, by Cliff Edwards, S.560

Text by Florencia Pierri


[1] For some press on the new type of record, see “Here’s a Record you Cannot Break,” Popular Science, November 1945, 125; “Plastic Music,” Time, October 22, 1945, 86.

[2] For more on the earlier direction of the Victor Talking Machine Company, see Frances Elliott Clark, Music Appreciation for Little Children (Camden, NJ: Victor Talking Machine Company Educational Department, 1920).

[3] David Bonner, Revolutionizing Children’s Records: The Young People’s Records and Children’s Record Guild Series, 1946-1977 (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2008), 30; “RCA Skids “Little Nipper” Kid Albums, Readies 45 Players,” Billboard, October 15, 1949, 19.

[4] S.325.17, with thanks to Reut Harari for translation help.

[5] “Victor and Columbia Hyping Activity in the Kidisk Field,” Billboard, September 17, 1949, 16.