Discography of American Historical Recordings – Update: Part 1 of the American Zonophone Discography Is Now Online

If you’ve been following the Mainspring Press blog lately, you know that we are no longer publishing any new printed discographies, but instead licensing our discographical data to the University of California–Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings. As much as I love books, I’ve long felt that digital databases offer a clear advantage for archiving and disseminating this sort of material (not to mention eliminating the ever-increasing costs of production, printing, shipping, and labor).

DAHR is staffed by, and associated with, some of the most knowledgeable people in the field. In recent years it has emerged as the largest and most authoritative source of discographical data relating to the 78-rpm era. A tremendous amount of Victor, Columbia, Brunswick-Vocalion, and Decca data from the original company files have already been digitized and made freely available as searchable databases, and much more is to come.

Now we can add American Zonophone to the list, with thanks to Sam Brylawski, David Seubert, and the DAHR staff for helping to make that possible. The first Zonophone installment (covering the 10″ and 12″ standard-catalog releases of 1904–1912) is now online and includes the latest revisions and updates to the printed volume that was published by Mainspring in 2012.
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The next Zonophone installment, covering the 7″ and 9″  releases of 1900–1906, is undergoing final editing and fact-checking here, for submission to DAHR within the next month or two (there are no plans for a printed edition). Much of this material is previously unpublished and includes the first systematic cataloging of remakes, reissues, relabelings, altered stampers, etc.

For book enthusiasts, the Zonophone 10” / 12” volume can still be purchased on the Mainspring Press website, although supplies are running low — We’d advise ordering soon if interested, since  Mainspring will not be reprinting any of its discographies once current the current inventory has sold out.

— Allan Sutton

A Preliminary Guide to American Zonophone Recording Dates (And What They Tell Us About Early Zonophone Operations)

American Zonophone recording dates have always been a puzzle to collectors. Aside from a portion of the 1911 ledger that somehow escaped destruction, and dates gleaned from test pressings, primary-source documentation is lacking. And because the company often waited many months or even years to release recordings, attempting to extrapolate from release dates is bound to produce false results (or “alternative facts,” as El Presidente would have it).

Fortunately, some dated Zonophone test pressings exist that provide reliable anchor-points in establishing approximate date ranges, which are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that these dates are approximate and subject to ongoing refinement, and should always be cited as “circa.” In reality, the numerical breaks would not have been as tidy as those shown here, which assume relatively consistent monthly output (more about that below). However, they should serve as a reasonably accurate guide, give-or-take a month in either direction.

These dates also mesh well with known listing and/or release dates. However, It’s important to note that Zonophone at this time assigned entirely new master numbers to remakes, and it produced a  lot of remakes. So if you find a c. December 1905 master number on a May 1904 release, the chart isn’t out-of-whack; you have a remake. Remakes are listed in detail in the data we plan to post with DAHR later this year.

 

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The numerical ranges reveal a great deal about the Universal Talking Machine Company’s Zonophone recording operation. From mid-1903 (when master numbers first started appearing on Zonophone pressings) through the end of 1904, the company averaged a staggering 250 masters per month — more than double Victor’s output for the same period.

This activity can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s need to play “catch-up.” In mid-1903, the company began replacing its etched-label series with new paper-labeled discs. Although some of the etched-label recordings were pressed into service to fill out the new series, many new masters would be required to essentially rebuild the Zonophone catalog from scratch. Then, in March 1904, the company was forced to withdraw its entire catalog of bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” recordings, requiring extensive remake work throughout the spring and early summer to replace those issues with legal versions (see the previous post).

In early 1905, there was a sudden dramatic drop in recording activity. Total output that year fell to approximately 1130 masters, more in line with Victor’s output. The drop can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s decision to replace the seven- and nine-inch series with a new ten-inch line. Although the company continued to record small-diameter masters through the end of 1905 (isolated examples as late as November–December 1905 have been confirmed), output of those masters quickly fell to negligible levels. Zonophone’s new ten-inch series was limited to just 25 single-sided releases per month in the main catalog, with a smattering of additional operatic, ethnic, and twelve-inch releases from time to time.

We certainly can’t rule out Victor president Eldridge Johnson as having had a hand in the slowdown. Although the majority owner of the Universal Talking Machine Company, Johnson did not meddle in Zonophone’s artist-and-repertoire matters. But he  certainly would have had his say on business issues from the start, as can be seen in the 1904 decision to transfer Zonophone’s pressing operations from the Auburn Button Works to the Duranoid Company, Victor’s primary pressing plant at the time. From the start, Johnson made it clear that his sole motive in purchasing Universal was to rein-in a competitor — and what better way to do so than by capping its production? *

If you’re fortunate enough to own any dated American Zonophone test pressings, we’d be grateful for the information. The more data that become available, the more closely we can approximate the actual date ranges. At present, we’re working to extend the dating guide through the end of Zonophone’s independent period in 1909–1910, at which point its recording activities were transferred to the Victor studios.

— Allan Sutton

* For a myth-busting account of the Universal Talking Machine Company–Eldridge Johnson saga, be sure to check the author’s A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

Dick Spottswood’s Columbia “C” Series Discography (1908 – 1923) • Free Download Now Available

We’re happy to announce that the next installment in Dick Spottswood’s Columbia ethnic-series discography is now available for free download. This section covers the C-prefixed series, which was intended for the Spanish-speaking markets — a tantalizing mixture of performances by Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and other Latino artists (most of them recorded in their native countries by traveling Columbia engineers), operatic arias and light classics from domestic and imported masters, and various odd-and-ends “repurposed” from other catalogs.
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Click here
to download the discography in PDF format (approximately 5 megabytes). As with the previous installment, this material may be copied or distributed for personal use, provided that the source is cited. Sale or other commercial use is prohibited.

Dick’s latest update of his Columbia “E” series discography will be posted soon.

110 Years Ago at the Victor Talking Machine Company: 1906 Catalog Cover Art

In February 1906 Victor began featuring original artwork on its monthly supplement covers, in place of the uniform boilerplate design that it had used since early 1904. Unfortunately, with the exception of the May 1907 issue, the illustrations are unsigned. The last original cover artwork appeared on the November 1907 issue, after which Victor reverted to using a plain stock design, which varied only in its color scheme from month to month.

Original catalogs courtesy of John R. Bolig

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The Playlist • Cow Cow Davenport — Vocalion Solos (1928–1929)

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COW COW DAVENPORT: Slum Gullion Stomp

Chicago: June 22, 1929
Vocalion 1434 (mx. C 3696 – )

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COW DAVENPORT: Texas Shout

Chicago: May 22, 1929
Vocalion 1291 (mx. C 3531 – )

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COW COW DAVENPORT with IVY SMITH: State Street Jive

Chicago: July 16, 1928
Vocalion 1198 (mx. C 2064 – A)

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COW COW DAVENPORT with IVY SMITH: Alabama Strut

Chicago: October 2, 1928
Vocalion 1253 (mx. C 2379 – )

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All selections are from tape dubbings made by the late Mike Stewart. Two takes (-A and -B) were made for each title, per the Brunswick-Vocalion ledgers, but except for “State Street,” the selected takes are not shown in the ledgers or pressings. Brian Rust’s Jazz Records shows non-existent take -C for “Slum Gullion.”