British Library Sound Archive

British Library Sound Archive

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British Library Sound Archive

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The British Library Sound Archive (formerly the British Institute of Recorded Sound) in London, England is one of the largest collections of recorded sound in the world, including music, spoken word and ambient recordings.

It holds more than three million recordings, including over a million discs and 200,000 tapes. These include commercial record releases, chiefly from the UK, but with some from overseas, radio broadcasts (many from the BBC Sound Archive) and privately-made recordings.


The history of the Sound Archive can be traced back to 1905, when it was first suggested that the British Museum should have a collection of audio recordings of poets and statesmen. The Gramophone Company started donating metal masters of audio recordings in 1906 (on the basis that records would wear out), with a number of donations being made up until 1933. These recordings included some by Melba, Patti, Caruso and Tamagno, and others of Lev Tolstoy, Ernest Shackleton, Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Lewis Waller. A number of shellac pressings were also donated in the period 1920-50.

In 1955, Patrick Saul founded the British Institute of Recorded Sound, after realising that material was in danger of being lost as the British Museum did not maintain a comprehensive archive. The Institute was located in a property owned by the British Museum in Russell Square (with rent and rates guaranteed by Robert Mayer), and supported by a donation from the Quaker...
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