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Museum of London publishes a family's Christmas home recordings from 1902

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Wall family portrait (museum of london)
Wall family portrait (museum of london)

Last week, the Museum of London announced that it discovered "the earliest known home recording to have been made on Christmas Day." The phonograph recordings, from a "middle-class" family in North London, date back to 1902 and were found in wax cylinders belonging to their descendants. As museum Curator of Social and Working History Julia Hoffbrand notes, "it is extremely unusual for wax phonograph cylinders, containing retrievable recordings of this age, to survive." The museum received the cylinders in 2008 as a donation, and recently digitized them. The recordings are said to be the oldest ever found of Christmas celebrations, and the museum has provided them for public listening on its website.

"A sense of warmth and life radiates from them."

The recordings include hymns, popular songs of the time, conversation, and laughter — the museum says that "a sense of warmth and life radiates from them." While phonographs had been around since the 1880s, the museum notes that they were first used largely as office dictating machines, and that domestic recording was expensive. While they're not the oldest recordings recovered by modern scientists — researchers successfully restored a tinfoil recording from 1878 in October — the new collection from the Museum of London provides a deeper connection to life in the early years of the 20th century.