This page is to be expanded over time. Please revisit it as time passes as it will hopefully have further information and more Korean language text.
What are known as Standard Play records in Korea are generally known as 78s (78 rpm) discs outside of Asia. These are weighty shellac discs, that were the main format for music products from the turn of the 20th Century to the late 1950s.
My information is that phonograph cylinders were imported into Korea in the early 20th century, but none were actually produced in Korea.
Standard Play 78 rpm records are usually 10 inch releases, although some of the earliest (from 1894 to the early 1900s) were one sided 7 inch releases. 12 inch Standard Play 78 rpm records were also issued mainly for classical and opera music. Most are made of a shellac compound that is quite fragile and 78 discs are easily cracked and broken. Thus collecting them and transporting them safely is problematic, and because 78 discs are rather heavy it is also costly to send them around the world by post.
In The U.S., The U.K. and Australia 78 rpm shellac records emerged during the first decade of the 20th Century and remained the most popular format for music distribution until the late 1950s. They were superseded by 7 inch vinyl 45 rpms and 10 inch/12 inch 33 rpm LPs however the formats co-existed with each other through-out the 1950s. By about late 1958 78 rpms were almost an obsolete format. In South Korea I am not sure of the exact date when 78 rpms were discontinued – please feel free to comment if you have information on this subject.
Regarding shellac 78s I am interested to know if they were generally manufactured in Korea, or were they usually pressed elsewhere (such as Japan or China) and imported? During the Japanese colonial period circ. 1910 to 1945, Korean artists released many 78s pressed in Japan, often on Japanese based international labels such as Columbia, Okeh and so on.
For comprehensive information on Korean music on Standard Play Records (78s) and the archiving of these records/recordings in South Korea, the following site is absolutely amazing: Korea SP Record – Korea Record Archive. This site has been put together by The Archive and Record Center for Korean Recordings at Dongguk University.
My wife and I recently visited a small shop in the Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Arcade (close to Myeongdong and near to the Shinsegae Department Store) that specialised in vintage products. The owner showed us a copy he had of singer Lee (Yi) Nan-young‘s (이난영) song “Tears of Mokpo” on 78 released in 1934 (Okeh1795-A-목포의눈물-이난영-가1). The photo above is of us playing the original disc. It was cool to hear Korean music directly from the original format it came out on, which was exactly the same format that people experienced the music through almost 80 years ago.
Standard Play 78 rpm’s were relatively expensive for average Koreans at their original time of purchase. Unlike in western countries, they are difficult to find anywhere in the 21st century. Prices I’ve seen on Korean sites have been high. These two items were listed on e-bay in mid-2012. I bid on them but the prices shot up over $US 150 (each) in the final seconds with snipers competing against each other.
Prices on Korean websites are also high and usually fall in the 50 000 to 150 000 range each, with many being for sale in the mid to high hundred thousands.
This is the earliest Korean standard play 78 that I know has been offered for sale (an on-line English language sales page) in recent times outside of Korea and Japan.
Link to Korean language page on the first Korean 78s here