Here is the young Earl some years ago, with his 1920s Columbia ‘Grafonola’ gramophone and assorted records from his collection, including a couple of Berliners, and early pink-label Caruso HMV, a green Zonophone of Music-Hall legend Marie Lloyd and a few Jazz records.
Below are some of the labels you might be looking for, if you collect classical or especially Operatic 78rpm records…
(NB Colours may not be completely accurate)
The company that first recorded Caruso, bought a typewriter patent and thus, early records were inscribed Gramophone & Typewriter Company. After the typewriter project was abandoned, they bought the rights to one of the most famous trade-marks of all-time, Nipper and His Master’s Voice. (See previous page for parodies of this trade-mark)
Often, early on, cheaper Operatic records were provided on the Zonophone label, usually dark green, but also occasionally in pale green…
The Gramophone Company also alloted Special-label status to certain star singers, such as Adelina Patti, shown here…
Nellie Melba’s colour was lilac, Battistini’s was orange and Tamagno’s was green. This practice was soon stopped, however…Neverthless, H.M.V. continued to use a colour-code to denote price and quality of performance. The cheapest records were on Brown or Plum labels,
next came Black and finally, the best artists were on Red labels.
In 1925, the microphone replaced the recording-horn in studios, and all previous reocrdings were, at a stroke, made outdated. The new electrical process was clearly vastly superior in a way that Stereo replaced Mono 30 years later, but far more decisively.
Ten years on and The Gramaophone Company invented a marketting ploy to be able, once more, to sell their old stock of acoustic recordings. They added a section to their General Catalogue, entitled The Historic Catalogue. They retained the DA and DB serries, but sinply printed new labels with a No.2 Historic Catalogue message printed just above the Dog trademark.
Around the 1950 mark, after there had been a mass deletion of pre-war records, once more HMV put out some limited edition series of historic Opera recordings from their vault of early recordings. Generally, these were pressed from original matrices, though not quite always.
This is what the VA and VB labels looked like…
They were available to the general public via a specialized catalogue.
…and here is the lilac coloured AGSB series…somewhat less common now, because, as the label says, it was only available by Private Subscriptions, rather like today’s similar vinyl HM series (see below) also produced in the UK.
Finally, duets, trios, quartets etc., were put on premium labels with colours ranging fron Pink, Yellow/Buff, Green and Lilac to White. These records were being phased out by World War Two.
All of the above labels had their equivalents in Germany (where, until World War One, most records were pressed), of which here is an example…
As for Russia, this was the centre for perhaps the greatest record-sales until the Revolution and records were pressed locally. Labels were generally very similar to early G&Ts and Zonophones but easily recognizable through the use of the Russian alphabet for the title and artist information. The recording-angel was often preferred to the dog & trumpet trade-mark.
The exception to this, however, was their famous AMOUR label, of which the following is a typical example.
After the Revolution, some of the early Soviet labels were pretty crude. This one showed a Recording Angel as before, probably applied as a transfer on to a painted blue background. Details on this label were hand-written! However, although original matrices were used, there was no mention of The Gramophone Company, a dreaded capitalist firm…
This particular record featured the great tenor Leonid Sobinov.
Often still using old Western-sourced matrices, the 20s saw the introduction of a whole plethora of labels in the infant USSR. The following label is but one example…
As the decades progressed, the USSR made many more of its own recordings and, apart from colour variations, almost all records had a variation on one of these two labels…
Pleasant enough, I suppose, but rather boring…
Columbia with their Graphophone proved a major rival for Victor and HMV, but perhaps Opera wasn’t their major area of success. Nevertheless, they did attract some major artists. Although they copied the HMV colour system in Europe by adopting a celebrity pink label…
later becoming pale blue, as opposed to the navy-blue reserved for popular and other cheaper series
…the American standard label for Operatic records during the acoustic era was the tri-color…
…they reverted to a black label, after they started using electrical-recorded material.
The main early rival for The Gramophone Company in Europe was the Fonotipia label. They recorded most of the great Italian singers of the first two decades of the 20th century and the recording quality was high for its day…
Naturally, therefore, these records with their attractive, instantly recognizable label are naturally in high demand today…
This is one of the most influencial labels in Europe, owned by Carl Lindstroem. They later issued Odeon records too, taking over their matrices and adding their own. Here are some examples of their various label-designs.
One of the companies that still recorded on to cylinders with its hill and dale groove was Pathé. Although they had an impressive rosta of artists, and pantographed their cylinders on to a whole range of different-sized discs and cylinders. However, the hill & dale groove coupled with high playing speed <up to 95rpm> meant that people with normal machines couldn’t play their records. Despite finally lowering speeds and going over to lateral groove recording, these things stopped them becoming a real rival to the major recording companies, although they were well distributed, especially in Southern Europe.
…and this is the CYLINDRES PATHÉ label on the lid of a
Pathé cylinder box.
At first, the American Victor Company was connected with The Gramophone Company, but they parted company later on, so the the His Master’s Voice can only be used in their OWN territories these days. Early on, however, they shared recordings. Unlike HMV pressings, Victor didn’t press the matrix numbers into the wax, as a rule, so they are more difficult to date. On the other hand, victor used really high quality shellac and their pressings are often quieter and with less hiss than the equivalent HMV records.
Like HMV, they used a colour code to denote price and quality of performers. The greatest artists were put on their coveted RED-seal.
Although the inventor of the phonograph boasted no great musical taste and was indeed going deaf by the 1920s, and although he was very reluctant to accept disc-recording format, electrical recording and seemingly anything that tried to improve on his original invention, there are quite a few fine Operatic singers to be found on the Edison label, although they prove difficult to play and seem to produce a mushy background hiss because of the material that these 10″ thick records were made of. Nevertheless, the records do last over 4 minutes as a rule, and are well worth seeking out.
The red star printed on these typical black and white labels, (like Pathé, Edison records were for a long time without paper labels but simply etched with a picture of Edison and the record details), means that, not expecting great sales for this record, it could NOT be returned to the factory for refund if the dealer found it unsold.
Like the original Edison cylinders, these discs were recorded with vertical or hill and dale grooves.
Of-course, the above is a very simplified account of early record-companies and I’ve only shown labels of the major-players in the classical record field.
However, there were many other labels, often with fine singing and, for those who like this sort of thing, very attractive labels. Some are very rare and valuable. Here are a few of them…
THE FINAL LABEL?
Since the 1960s in the UK, by public subscription, Historic Master Ltd. have made available records generally, though not exclusively from the earliest years of Operatic recording. Many were actually unissued until appearing on this series. Pressed from original matrices on to vinyl, the sound is superb. Sadly, one can’t say the same thing for the label design. The great era of label design seems long gone…