Discography 101 • Master Numbers Assigned Out of Chronological Order

We heard very quickly from several of the Old Guard concerning our statement, in the previous post, that some Paramount masters numbers might have been assigned out of chronological sequence. Understandably, some old-timers very much dislike having their discographical cages rattled, and rattle we did. None, however, has so offered any evidence that the New York Recording Laboratories  always assigned Paramount master numbers in perfect, strict chronological order.

Our question to them, then, is: Why would NYRL not have occasionally scrambled its master numbers? Assigning master numbers weeks or even months after the sessions at which the recordings were made was not an uncommon occurrence in the recording industry during this period, even among far better-organized companies than the notoriously slipshod NYRL.

Consider the following examples, plucked at random from the Victor files. All of these recordings sat around for one to six months after the sessions at which they were made, before finally being assigned master numbers — which by that time had advanced well beyond the numbers that would have been assigned at the time of recording. If one were to go simply by the normal chronological sequence of Victor master numbers, the approximate recording dates would appear to be those shown in Column 2. And they would be very wrong, as seen from the actual recording dates shown in Column 3:


Many similar examples can be found in the Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick-Vocalion files throughout the 1920s — but you get the general idea.

A final note for now in what will be a long, ongoing investigation: There’s an especially telling case (which we’ll leave to its discoverer to reveal in detail in due time) in which NYRL numbers are demonstrably out-of-whack. This one involves a Paramount session to which the old-timers assigned a speculative recording date that’s literally an impossibility, apparently based upon their belief that NYRL numbers always marched along in strict chronological order — In this case, the artist is documented as having been out of the country at that time!