When vinyl was king: Remembering Record Club of America

Note from Joan: My wonderful Hubby, who we all know loves books and ephemera, found something cool and, rather than me stealing it to write about, I asked him to expound. Enjoy!

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I stumbled across a neat piece of ephemera earlier this summer inside on an old book — a four-page advertisement/catalog for Record Club of America from the early 1970s.

Record Club of America was based in Manchester Township. And, in fact, the building is still sitting there, unused and possibly full of old vinyl albums.

The 1970s advertisement features hip albums of the time, including:


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I’m no expert on the history of Record Club of America, but I’m sure there are plenty of former employees (and sons and daughters of former employees) out there who can pass along history and stories about this notable York County business.

A few more tidbits:

1. According to the advertisement, Record Club of America was “a record and tape club with no ‘obligations’ — only benefits! … Ordinary record and tape clubs make you choose from a few labels — usually their own! They make you buy up to 12 records or tapes a year — usually at list price — to fulfill your obligation. … We’re the largest all-label record and tape club in the world. … Discounts are GUARANTEED AS HIGH AS 79% OFF! … You get best sellers for as low at 99 cents.”

2. The music website Both Sides Now Publications featured an interesting discussion of Record Club of America in its forums a few years ago. A poster named FredPovey wrote, in part:

Record Club of America was based in York, Pa., and operated from the late ’60s to mid ’70s. It was basically a discount mail-order record retailer — it wasn’t affiliated with any label, but offered everything that was in the (late, lamented) Schwann Record Catalog. If you “joined,” you got circulars in the mail every few weeks, but there were no monthly selections or cards to send back.

Through the end of the ’60s they were great. Albums that listed for $4.98 usually sold for $2.99 and often for $2.49 or even $1.99. You’d sometimes see prices like that on a few sale items at Sears or Woolworth’s, but this was on a much broader range of albums. The shipping and handling fees were very cheap, especially compared to the regular record clubs. At first, these were the exact same pressings you’d find in record stores.

The “Manufactured by Record Club of America” apparently is what led to their downfall. After achieving a certain amount of success, the company started cutting deals with the big labels to buy these custom pressings so they could get better wholesale prices. The “Manufactured by …” indicated that the records weren’t returnable to the record label, which lowered the label’s cost (in those days, regular pressings were 100% returnable if they didn’t sell — big cost to the label). They’d also forgo the shrink wrap and maybe use cheaper vinyl to shave the cost some more. But, if the records didn’t sell, Record Club of America was stuck with them.

There’s plenty more discussion about Record Club of America in that forum, if you want to go check it out. (Of course, don’t take everything on there as 100 percent verified or reliable.)
Be sure to post your memories and thoughts about RCA in the Comments section below.

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11 Responses to When vinyl was king: Remembering Record Club of America

  1. Niles Dunnells says:

    Just ran across your article on Record Club of America and the local ephemera. I was cleaning out an old desk of mine and found a couple of free certificates and the order list to go with them to replace some out of stock items I ordered in 1973. I was in the army then and was in the process of moving from one fort to another and I guess they just got set aside and never used. If you and your husband would like them I would be glad to send them.

  2. Lori Secouler says:

    I was the designer and associate editor of Disc Magazine in Phila. You will find my name on all of the catalog/magazines. The organization had a printed sheet when I started as a secretary, but I wanted it to be more than a secretary job. I developed the magazine andf didf the interviews until an iditor was hired and it was beginning of the end. Sigmund was a terrible manager and did not know how to handle employees. I worked long hours to “pout the magaxine to bed” and was given a secretary “to help” but she was paid more than me…and he hired an art director for what I was already doing, and so on. I quit and later heard that the club had “gone under.” I still have several of the magazines and will scan a few covers if you like. It wil;l be intersting to hear the later story of RCOA. I don’t know where Sigmund is – but I did hear that he ran for office in New England. ( I am a licensed Clinical psychologist and Professor of Child Psychology at St. Mary’s University, Halifax.) Lori Secouler, Ph.D.

  3. Ron says:

    The actual “downfall” was after RCOA’s great success, another record club bought them out, shut them down, then offered the existing members THEIR records (at increased cost, little selection, and the dreaded “on approval” record shipment) As an existing member of the RCOA, I declined Columbia’s offer. (I think it was Columbia, but not sure).

    One nice thing about RCOA was for every 3 albums you bought -at any price- you’d get to choose a forth one for no extra cost.

    Also, they offered reel-to-reel tapes whereas no other club did at the time while I was a member of RCOA.

  4. David L. Schultz says:

    Well, I just ran across my lifetime membership card. You soon learn it’s mostly their lifetime, not yours. I bought a few records, maybe some tapes. I still have a little over 200 albums, and I still have a working BIC turntable, but haven’t used it for at least 2 years, as other things have demanded my time. I love my music, but the pc has had my attention more that anything. Now I feel compelled to constantly watch what our thug government does. Miss my old music more than I can say. We do have cd’s which are easy to play, and after looking for more than 20 years for music from Percy Faith, I found a site that had cd’s of his music about 7 years ago. Now I have my favorite album that was first on vinyl. It it called bouquet. He was a premier conductor.

  5. Don Artman says:

    I joined RCOA when I was a teenager and bought a few albums from them. I had friends coming to me because of their prices, so I was the local connection. I don’t remember exactly which albums I purchased but two stand out in my mind: Steppenwolf 7 and James Gang Rides Again. I still have them. I remember the membership changing and then disappearing but don’t remember much about that.

  6. Bertram Christmas says:

    I applied just once, but wound up eventually having two different membership numbers, receiving duplicate mailings each week. I still remember the membership numbers: 01613885 + 03184891. Once they refunded me $60.00 for a pair of Superex Pro-VI headhones that they were out of stock on for about a half year. Then some months later I receive the headphones in the mail. Often I would receive duplicate shipmeents of what I ordered. Even as a pre-teen, I could tell they were not operating efficiently.

  7. Christopher Johnson says:

    Greetings from Florida! I stumbled onto this blog through Google. I was a member of RCOA in my high school and early college days, in the early 1970s. I was (and still am) mostly a classical buyer, and I bought a fair amount of classical LPs from them. Most of the offerings were major-label recordings, but in club-manufactured editions of inferior quality. I remember in particular that some of the club-manufactured LPs were made out of a strange form of vinyl that exuded a distinctive sweet-pungent aroma. The RCOA had a monthly catalog and also a big (well, bigger) “Master Catalog,” which was basically a joke. I recall that the prices were good, but that delivery could take forever. As I remember it, near the end, RCOA got hit with a lot of legal actions from state consumer protection agencies over things like taking money and not delivering merchandise. When I entered college, I discovered that the campus bookstore usually had nice items in its cutout bins, so I dropped RCOA. I believe the warehouse full of virgin vinyl is still around in York County, but it is my understanding that all that vinyl is not worth as much as one might think. Collectors apparently don’t value record-club editions very much.

  8. Anthony Valle says:

    I still have my RCOA “Lifetime Membership Card” from around the early 1970’s or so.

  9. Keith says:

    Yes, I remember RCOA very well from the early ’70s. I used it primarily to buy cassette tapes, mostly in the rock and pop genres. They had a very nice selection to choose from in their catalogs, and good prices. A blast from the past.

  10. Tom Fairfax says:

    That was fun to read about RCOA. I moved to York PA about 4 years ago and drive past the building often. It’s sad to look at it. It’s grown over and looks so abandoned. I wondered about so I looked it up and you folks have answered my questions. Thanks

  11. Jeffrey Smirz says:

    Found this blog as a result of rediscovering my ‘Lifetime Membership Card’, # 02150833 while reorganizing desk drawers. Though I keep promising myself, I haven’t played any vinyl in years. Were those the good old days?

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