5. A case study: Finland

I hope I will be excused for using my home country as an example, but I feel that many of the problems we faced in establishing an archive of commercial recordings in Finland are quite typical.

In the early 1960s, the Finnish Broadcasting Company had the only large collection of Finnish recordings. Even this collection did not go much farther back than the 1930s, was quite incomplete and was not open to people outside the company. Nobody seemed to know, or to care very much, what Finnish records had been issued at the beginning of the century.

In 1965 a group of private collectors, scholars, and record industry people got together and decided to found a sound archive. All Finnish record companies agreed to donate sample copies of their future production and, moreover, copies of their earlier recordings which were still in stock (most of them from the 1960s). Some storage space was obtained without rent and at first all work was done by volunteers. Later some financial support was received from the Ministry of Education.

The task then remained of acquiring older recordings. As nobody really knew what records had been issued, it was decided to embark on two simultaneous projects: to collect as many older Finnish records as possible and to compile a complete list of Finnish records, regardless of whether they could be found or not. For this purpose, private and broadcasting archives, old record catalogues preserved at the Helsinki University Library (thanks to the legal deposit of printed works!), the files of record companies and even advertisements in old newspapers were consulted. Archives in Sweden, Denmark, the UK and the USA were visited, and it was discovered that they had few Finnish recordings but a great many valuable record company catalogues in which Finnish records were listed.

Copies of old records were gradually acquired through purchase or donations. The acquisition of a large collection of Finnish-American records from a former producer of Finnish language radio programmes in the USA was especially lucky. But recordings made before the First World War remained particularly hard to find.

At this point it was learned that the EMI archive at Hayes in England had a large collection of early Finnish records. The archive had no index but as we had already compiled lists of the records, based on old catalogues, we were able to provide catalogue numbers and titles of the records required. EMI then agreed to make tape copies for a reasonable price. In about fifteen years, with the help of many private collectors and other archives, the Finnish Institute of Recorded Sound has been able to acquire a fairly large collection of Finnish records, including many which were completely unknown at the time the archive was started. This work has not been only of historical and academic interest. It has also provided material for numerous radio programmes, new recordings of old songs by contemporary artists and dozens of reissue LPs of historical recordings (in many cases by record companies which had forgotten that they had once made such recordings and lost their material!).