Institute of Puerto Rican Culture discovers historic celluloid recordings


The Weekly Journal writes about a fascinating discovery at the Puerto Rico General Archive [Archivo General de Puerto Rico (AGPR)]—one hundred celluloid cylinders of music recorded over a century ago, between 1909 and 1913. The public may see a related exhibition on view until August 29, 2019, at the AGPR rooms, located at 500 Ponce de León Avenue, San Juan, Puerto Rico. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP) announced the discovery of 100 celluloid cylinders that contain music recorded between 1909 and 1913. The finding was made during the investigations held in the Puerto Rico General Archive (AGPR by its Spanish initials). The collection contains the first recordings of Puerto Rican music.

“This finding has an enormous significance at times when art, music, and culture are becoming the primary elements that unite the entire Puerto Rican people. We feel an immense responsibility in guarding these valuable pieces that will be of great help for investigations in and out of Puerto Rico,” ICP Executive Director Carlos R. Ruiz said. Ruiz affirmed that the musical pieces will be digitalized to ensure their conservation. “It is evident that through music we can reaffirm our history as a people and appreciate the essence of our past,” he added.

The centenary cylinders that are preserved and guarded in the AGPR were etched in wax in 1909. In 1912, they were transferred to Blue Amberol, which facilitated their duration. Eleven pieces of the Puerto Rican Series were digitized. The Puerto Rican Series contains 24 recorded works of which we have located 11. It includes “La Borinqueña” by Felix Astol, sung and instrumental, dances by Juan Morel Campos, songs with two voices, six dripping and couplets, among others.

The Music Unit of the ICP Musical Performing Arts Program, together with a researcher, found celluloid cylinders in the Music Archive. These are considered rare and very valuable pieces to document the history of music and sound recordings, especially of Puerto Rico.

The use of the wax was discontinued once the Edison company developed a more resistant polymer, the celluloid. This material was used to develop the Amberols line. The collection of the General Archive is, for the most part, Blue Amberolles (Blue Amberol) and was a great advance for the time for being more resistant and durable. In order to listen to them, Amberols needs a special phonograph known as Amberola, which is 4 minutes long.

With the arrival of the pasta disc, the cylinders and this phonograph model were discontinued. Edison Records was the last to leave that medium, in 1929. There are very few phonographs left in Puerto Rico and possibly worldwide.

The Music Archive, which was created in 1957 at the initiative of pianist and composer Amaury Veray Torregrosa, first director of the ICP Music Program, has many resources for researchers, musicians and students. In addition to having roughly 30,000 scores, there are publications and recordings in various media. About 2,600 scores are Puerto Rican Dances. So far, one of the most complete collections of Puerto Rican music.

In light of this discovery, the ICP celebrated the “The First Puerto Rican Musical Recordings” conversation at the Ricardo Alegría Amphitheater, AGPR, in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan.

Experts and connoisseurs such as Ramón Vázquez Lamboy, musician and researcher, Cristóbal Díaz Ayala, writer and researcher specialized in Puerto Rican and Cuban music, Dr. Ángel (Chuco) Quintero and the ethnomusicologist and researcher of the Afro-Antillean culture participated in the conversation. Dr. Emanuel Dufrasne.

The public can visit an exhibition on the subject in the AGPR rooms, located in the Ponce de León #500 Ave., which will remain until August 29, 2019.


[Photo above from

Also see the following (in Spanish):

“Rescatan las primeras grabaciones de música puertorriqueña
Rosalina Marrero-Rodríguez” at

“Se descubren las primeras grabaciones musicales de Puerto Rico” at

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