Complete Collector: Flexidiscs are a fragile collectible

Flexidiscs excite, and draw a lot of attention from, collectors, but they have received little attention from serious researchers.

Since its arrival on the scene during the 1930s, the flexidisc has proven itself to be the most …uh… flexible promotional medium available.

The advantages are manifold. Extraordinarily cheap to produce, flexidisc technology can be applied to any host material sturdy enough to withstand the light embossing required to impress the grooves. Thus, flexidiscs have appeared in the form of postage stamps (issued by the Asian nation of Bhutan), postcards and greetings cards; they have been embedded into cereal packets and record sleeves; and they appear on pieces of wood and sheets of metal.

Among the first flexidiscs to truly capture the public imagination was a series of “Hit Of The Week” discs produced during the early 1930s. Manufactured from paper (sometimes adorned with a picture of the artist), with a shellac layer containing the music, these discs were produced in both 4-inch and 10-inch formats and sold at newsstands for between 15 cents to 25 cents apiece. They were very fragile and, despite their popularity, few have survived to this day.

Since that time, flexis have filled every need. As promotional items, they have been employed by manufacturers of almost every conceivable item — thrift store record bins once overflowed with instructional and advertising discs (much as they now teeter beneath similarly intentioned video cassettes). They have been given away free with books and magazines. They have been affixed to food packages and dispatched through the mail. No matter what use a manufacturer could require, the flexi was capable of fulfilling it.

For the majority of rock and pop record collectors, the most familiar flexis are those which were distributed mounted on the covers of magazines and books; the most famous are those which the Beatles recorded as a Christmas gift to the group’s fan club every year between 1963-69.

Containing greetings, comic routines and snatches of music, these wholly ad-libbed performances are among the most popular of Beatles collectibles, all the more so since they rank among the only officially recorded and released Beatles performances never to have been fully reissued since the band’s demise. Only once was an authorized LP of the Christmas messages issued, 1970’s From Then To You: The Beatles’ Christmas Album (Apple/Lyntone LYN 2154) — and it was again distributed only to the fan club. However, though these are the best-known issues, they are not the Beatles’ only excursion into “flexiland.”

The greatest source of Beatles (and solo Beatle) flexis is, perhaps oddly, the Soviet Union. The magazines Club and Amateur Art Activities and Krugozor both dispensed Beatles records with occasional issues during the 1970s and 1980s, including such extravagant four song issues as “Can’t Buy Me Love”/”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”/”Lady Madonna”/”I Should have Known Better.”

Many of the Krugozor issues echoed regular vinyl releases through the state-run Melodisc label. Numerous other artists were featured on Soviet flexis; more still can be found on the so-called Polish Postcard singles issued in that country during the 1960s-70s, and certainly a close relation of the flexi that we in the West know and love.

Flexidiscs remain a popular vehicle for “special” and fan-club editions; they are also frequently distributed with fanzines and magazines. An Allman Brothers/Marshall Tucker disc cover-mounted to a 1975 issue of Rolling Stone is popular among southern rock aficionados. Genesis gifted the non-LP masterpiece “Twilight Alehouse” to a 1973 issue of Britain’s ZigZag. Robyn H

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