Black Swan Carusos, and Other Pirate Tales (1898 – 1951)

Black Swan Carusos, and Other Pirate Tales
(1898 – 1951)
By Allan Sutton

 

 

Record piracy — the unauthorized copying and selling of sound recordings — is a problem as old as the recording industry itself. Charges of cylinder piracy first surfaced in the early 1890s and became increasingly common as the decade progressed. Legal recourse was limited; sound recordings were not protected under copyright law at the time, and would not be for many more decades.

Pirating the early wax cylinders was simplicity in itself, requiring only a couple of phonographs, an inexpensive recording head, a cylinder to copy, and some blanks upon which to copy it. Disc records were not immune to piracy, either, although the process was more complicated. The earliest discs sold for use with the new Zonophone machines used masters that were electroplated from Berliner pressings, with the Berliner name and patent notice buffed out.

At about the same time, the Standard Talking Machine Company (comprising Albert T. Armstrong, Joseph W. Jones  Joseph A. Vincent, Emory Foster, and musical instrument manufacturer Charles G. Conn)  [1] began selling pirated Berliner discs under the Wonder brand, for sale with the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine, a two-horned phonograph apparently inspired by Conn’s line of double-belled band instruments. Standard issued a substantial disc catalog made up entirely of Berliner recordings that retained their original catalog numbers, with a “1” prefix added. The company quickly failed.

Armstrong’s next venture, the American Talking Machine Company, offered a new disc line, pressed in the same distinctive red fibrous material as the Wonder records. Berliner also claimed  these were pirated, although some known examples are not. American Talking Machine countered with the offer of a $1000 reward for the arrest and conviction of “parties circulating false and malicious statements” about their products. The manager of Berliner’s Philadelphia office was arrested, but little more came of the scuffle. The company failed in 1900, after the American Graphophone Company (Columbia) withdrew patent protection. [2]

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.(Top) The Wonder Record catalog was made up entirely of pirated Berliner Gramophone recordings; catalog numbers were Berliner’s, prefixed by a 1. (Bottom) Albert Armstrong’s American Talking Machine discs used some non-Berliner masters that are believed to have been original. His later American Vitaphone records used pirated Victor and Columbia recordings. The example shown here is a Columbia title by Billy Murray.

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The arrival in the early 1900s of molded cylinders, which required expensive equipment and a high degree of technical expertise to produce, put an end to cylinder piracy. Discs were another story.

By 1902, Armstrong and some former associates were back in business, as the American Vitaphone Company. [3] They  launched the earliest known “record club,” which amounted to an exchange program under which members could turn in their old records for partial credit toward new Columbia, Victor, or Zonophone discs. [4] For a time, Armstrong even offered to take in old Berliner machines, which he would refurbish for $12 and return to the customer with a new Concert Grand nameplate. Such record-exchange arrangements, however, were frowned upon by the major suppliers (which considered them to be illegal price-cutting), and Vitaphone’s “club” appears to have been short-lived. [5]

But what landed Armstrong and company in serious legal trouble was their introduction in 1902 of American Vitaphone discs, which were clearly pirated from Columbia and Victor recordings. Masters, again made by electroplating commercial pressings, often showed the original markings, and Armstrong even retained the Columbia and Victor catalog numbers. Shoddily pressed and barely advertised, the records did little if anything to undermine Victor or Columbia sales.

Victor finally took action in 1904, suing American Vitaphone for unfair competition as well as infringing its “red circular label applied to the center of a disc,” [6] for which it had recently been granted a U.S. trademark. [7] U.S. Circuit Court Judge Lacombe dismissed the red-label argument but ruled that American Vitaphone’s “re-duplication” of Victor recordings did indeed constitute unfair competition. [8] He granted an injunction on October 4 of that year, effectively ending the American Vitaphone operation. Armstrong died in early 1905, and in  November of that year, the American Express Company served notice that it would auction all unclaimed American Vitaphone property in its possession.

The Vitaphone decision had a temporary chilling effect on would-be pirates. Victor and Columbia instead turned their attention to vanquishing upstart companies, like Leeds & Catlin and Talk-O-Phone, that infringed their patents. The latter was still manufacturing phonographs, although it had not produced its own records since late 1903. [9] But in October 1908, Talk-O-Phone founder Winant Van Zant Pearce Bradley resurfaced in pirate mode with the Continental Record Company of New Baltimore, New York. Officially, the company was incorporated by Benjamin I. Carhart, E.O. Goodell, and J. C. Cady, Jr., none of whom were known entities in the recording industry. [10] In reality, as later testimony would reveal, the company was just a front for Bradley.

Following the now-familiar procedure, Continental obtained its stampers by electroplating commercial pressings of Victor and Fonotipia celebrity recordings. The stampers were sent to an undisclosed foreign location, widely suspected to be Japan, where a factory had recently opened that supposedly pressed  and exported “re-duplicated” records. Although the original markings were generally effaced from the stampers, Continental’s sales literature and labels openly acknowledged that the discs were “duplicates” of original records.”

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(Left) A Continental pressing from a pirated Fonotipia master, with the disclaimer, “This record is a duplicate of an original recording.” (Right) A Luxus pressing from a pirated Caruso Victor. Possibly of foreign origin, specimens turn up in the U.S. on occasion. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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In August 1909, following motions for preliminary injunctions, Victor and Fonotipia Ltd. brought separate actions against Bradley, which were tried together by Judge Chatfield. [11] Investigation revealed that the Continental Record Company, which claimed in its incorporation papers to be headquartered in New Baltimore (a rural village south of Albany, New York), had no verifiable office or plant there; its only confirmed employee was a local attorney. The company’s New York billing address, at 147 West Thirty-Fifth Street, turned out be occupied by an apparently unrelated storage company. Bradley claimed to have no connection with the company, except as its sales agent, but he was unable to produce witnesses who would testify to that effect.

During the trial, it was established beyond doubt that Bradley’s pressings were pirated from commercial releases. Despite his  claim that the records were equal in quality to the originals, examination revealed that the Continental pressings used inferior material, were less durable and more prone to warping than the originals, and exhibited  “a dulling or far-away effect” in playback.

Waldo G. Morse (the attorney who had represented Bradley’s Talk-O-Phone Company several years earlier) contended that Victor’s and Columbia’s licensing agreements and price controls amounted to restraint of trade, and that the artists whose work had been taken were necessary parties to the suit. Judge Chatfield rejected both arguments, holding that Bradley’s operation amounted to unfair competition, and granted an injunction. [12]

In his ruling, the judge opined, “The education of the public by the dissemination of good music is an object worthy of protection, and it is apparent that such results could not be attained if the production of the original records was stopped by the wrongful taking of both product and profit by anyone who could produce sound discs free from the expense of obtaining the original record.” Bradley moved on to other, non-phonographic endeavors, although his brothers remained involved in some legally questionable enterprises, including the patent-infringing International Record Company.

Little more was heard of illegal record operations, at least in the U.S., until 1921. In early April, the Opera Disc Company burst on the scene with an extensive catalog featuring Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, and many other exclusive Victor Red Seal artists. [13] The company had been incorporated several months earlier by New York securities broker Max Hesslein, in partnership with C. G. Galston and C. Rose. [14] Although the company named its label Musica, the public called them “Opera Discs” from the start. [15]

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.(Left) An early Opera disc issue, with the company’s label pasted over a DGG original. (Right) The more familiar version of the label, applied directly to the pressings.

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Manufactured in Germany by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (DGG) and exported by DGG’s Polyphonwerke branch, Opera Discs were not technically pirated. DGG’s predecessor, Deutschen Grammophon Aktiegescheellschaft (DGA), was the Gramophone Company’s German branch and as such held a vast number of Gramophone and Victor masters at its Hannover pressing plant. The masters were seized as spoils of war at the outbreak of German hostilities in 1914. Following the war’s end, DGA was reorganized as DGG, an independent entity. Although it no longer had corporate ties to the Gramophone or Victor companies, DGG claimed rights to any of those companies’ masters that had been in their possession at the time of the seizure.

What DGG did not possess were rights to distribute those recordings outside of Germany. Victor and the Gramophone Company immediately demanded that distribution be halted, to no avail. [16] The records continued to be sold into 1922, when the matter was finally referred to the Anglo-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal in London. Although sales of the recordings in Germany were ruled to be legal and allowed to continue, DGG and Polyphonwerke were enjoined from exporting the records. [17] In the U.S., Victor sought but initially failed to obtain a permanent  injunction. [18] A definitive American ruling was not issued until March 31, 1923, when the  U.S. District Court in Brooklyn granted the injunction and ordered the Opera Disc Company to turn over all pressings, catalogs, and advertising material to Victor. [19]

American customers, it turned out, liked Opera Discs. The records were pressed in better material than their Victor counterparts, some dealers offered them below list price (which was roughly comparable to that of the corresponding Red Seals), and the catalog included European recordings by the likes of Battistini and Chaliapin that were not otherwise available in the U.S. They sold well overall; even today, many issues are still fairly easy to find.

A strong market for Victor knock-offs clearly existed, and record producer John Fletcher stepped in to fill the void that Opera Disc’s forced departure created. Fletcher, in partnership Harry Pace, had launched the Fletcher Record Company in April 1922, primarily to serve as the pressing plant for Pace’s Black Swan records. Fletcher had already failed with his earlier Operaphone and Olympic operations, and things would not go much better for his latest venture. His newly relaunched Olympic label attracted little interest, and sales of Black Swan’s race records were declining in the face of stepped-up competition from Okeh and others. As production faltered, Fletcher began making the same sort of bad decisions that had doomed his previous companies.

In late December 1922, an unnamed party approached Harry Pace with a proposition that the Fletcher plant press records from “masters made by Caruso himself in Germany.” (Since Caruso never recorded in Germany, the reference almost certainly was to the Victor and Gramophone Company masters being held by DGG in Germany.) Pace wisely declined, writing to Black Swan investor W. E. B. Du Bois that he did so “for fear of legal entanglements with the Victor Company who are too powerful to start any scrap with.” [20]

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.Fletcher Record Company pressings from pirated Victor recordings, 1923. Harry Pace opposed the idea but was overruled by Fletcher.

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But Fletcher, who controlled the manufacturing end of the partnership, overruled him. The Fletcher Record Company would manufacture the illegal pressings, which featured Caruso and other exclusive Victor artists. They were marketed by one or more shadowy entities whose backers probably will never be known, under the Pan American and Symphony Concert labels. [21] The labels showed no manufacturer’s name, but the records exhibited all the tell-tale characteristics of Fletcher’s pressings and label typography. Some appear to use the original DGG stampers; many others used stampers that had obviously been electroplated from commercial pressings, and not very expertly. Efforts to efface the original markings weren’t entirely successful, some small pits and other surface irregularities appear that are not present on the originals, and in one case, what appears to have been a stray hair was electroplated right along with the disc.

If Victor had any response to the new pirates, it was never reported in the trade papers. It would prove to be a moot point, anyway. By the spring of 1923 (probably the soonest the records could have made it to market), the Fletcher Record Company was failing. Pace pulled out in June, transferring his Black Swan pressing business to the New York Recording Laboratories’ plant, and Fletcher was bankrupt by year’s end. By then, the Symphony Concert records were being remaindered by one New York dealer for 19¢ each.

Record piracy did not resurface in any significant way until the later 1940s, with the sudden proliferation of small independent pressing plants eager for business of any kind, no questions asked. These tended to be full-fledged counterfeiting operations, copying not just the recordings, but the actual labels as well. The problem became so widespread that in the autumn of 1947 the Treasury Department launched an investigation that soon expanded to include the FBI and any number of state and local agencies. Initially, only small independent labels were targeted (particularly those specializing in race records), but it was not long before counterfeit Deccas began to surface.

In early April 1948, officials of Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor agreed to help underwrite the investigation, which by then had become national in scope. [22] A few minor offenders were caught, but the counterfeiting continued unabated. With no major culprits apprehended, the investigation eventually wound down, leaving the problem to worsen considerably. In September 1951, Billboard reported that one operation based in the New York area, which had so far eluded all efforts at detection, was believed to be pressing more than 50,000 counterfeit discs weekly. [23]

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References

 

[1] Unrelated to the later Standard Talking Machine Company of Chicago, a premium-scheme operation that sold legally rebranded Columbia products.

[2] Details of this rather complicated arrangement can be found in the author’s A Phonograph in Every Home (Mainspring Press).

[3] Unrelated to Clinton Repp’s 1911 Vitaphone company, which manufactured a unique reproducerless phonograph, nor to the much Vitaphone sound-film system.

[4] “Rates for Exchanging Records to Club Members… How to Secure Free Life Membership in Exchange Club” (American Vitaphone Company bulletin, December 1, 1902).

[5] “Our Proposition Of You Are the Owner of an Old Style Gramophone Just Like This One.” ” (American Vitaphone Company bulletin, December 1, 1902).

[6] Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Armstrong et al., 132 F. 711

[7] Victor Talking Machine Company. U.S. trademark application #42,962 (filed June 9, 1904).

[8]  “Decision on Re-Duplication.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1905), p. 11.

[9] Talk-O-Phone’s corporate predecessor, the Ohio Talking Machine Company, made original recordings in its Toledo studio during 1902–1903, employing Strobel’s Band (Charles J. Strobel being  president of the Toledo Baseball Club and the band’s financial backer, but not its director) and other local talent. In late 1903, at about the time of its reorganization as the Talk-O-Phone Company, it discontinued recording and instead began marketing the new Leeds & Catlin discs for use with its phonographs.

[10] “Recently Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1908), p. 19, repeated in an untitled notice on p. 32). The former gave the location as New Baltimore, Maryland, in error.

[11] Fonotipia et al. v. Bradley, 171 F. 951; Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Same, 171 F.951.

[12] Signs Decree in ‘Dubbing’ Case.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 45.

[13] “Phonograph Discs “Made in Germany.’” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (May 18, 1921), p. 16.

[14] “Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921), p. 54.

[15] Opera Disc Co. “Musica G.D.” U.S. trademark filing #145,643 (filed April 2, 1921). The filing claimed use of the Musica name on records since March 25, 1921.

[16] “Asks Record Injunction.” New York Times (December 10, 1921), p. 19.

[17]  “German Record Concerns Enjoined.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1922), p. 61.

[18] “Hearing Held in the Victor Company–Opera Disc Company Suit.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1922), p. 82.

[19] “Victor Co. Secures Injunction in Opera Disc Suit.” Talking Machine World (April 15, 1923), p. 106.

[20] Pace, Harry H. Letter to W. E. B. Du Bois (December 23, 1922). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Largely forgotten today is the fact that Du Bois, perhaps as much as Pace, was a driving force in Black Swan’s creation. A major investor in the company, he was frequently consulted by Pace on matters ranging from financial and legal issues to artists and repertoire. Their correspondence, which survives but has been largely overlooked by researchers, presents a far more accurate picture of Black Swan’s inner workings than most modern texts.

[21] The Symphony Concert label was used earlier for legitimate pressings from Earle W. Jones’ masters, as well as being pasted over other companies’ surplus pressings. Examples are known of Symphony Concert labels pasted onto Opera Disc pressings, but other (presumably later) examples are clearly Fletcher’s work.

[22] “Major Diskers Crack Down on Coast Bootlegging of Hit Recordings.” Variety (April 7, 1948), p. 42.

[23]  Martin, Joe. “‘Disklegger’” Is Plague to Record Mfrs.” Billboard (September 1, 1951), p. 1.

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©2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

NEW • The “World’s Greatest Operas” Discography (RCA Victor Series) by John Bolig

Our thanks to John Bolig for the first fully detailed discography of the RCA-produced “World’s Greatest Operas” records. Data are from original RCA documentation at the Sony archives in New York. All issues were anonymous, but as you’ll see, some first-rate talent was employed.

John’s complete listing of RCA’s “World’s Greatest Music” records (a substantially revised and expanded version of our very basic  listing that was posted a few weeks ago) has also been posted.

Note that this listing is only for the original RCA-produced series. Other producers took over the “World’s Greatest…” series after the RCA Victor connection was severed in 1940.

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The John Fletcher Story, Part 2: The Olympic-Remington Debacle (1921 – 1922)

The John Fletcher Story, Part 2: The Olympic-Remington Debacle (1921–1922)
By Allan Sutton

 

 

The following is a condensed excerpt from the author’s Harry Pace, John Fletcher, and the Black Swan Saga (in preparation for 2018 publication)

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Pathé was not yet producing lateral-cut discs when it took over  John Fletcher’s Operaphone Company as a subsidiary. [1] By early 1920, however, it was preparing to do so, and the universal-cut Operaphone discs (being readily playable on lateral-cut machines) might have been seen as a potential competitive threat. It probably was no coincidence that Operaphone’s sudden disappearance in early 1920 occurred at precisely the same time as Pathé’s launch of its new lateral-cut Actuelle discs.

Little more was heard of John Fletcher until March 1921, when The Talking Machine World reported the launch of the Olympic Disc Record Corporation. [2] Incorporated with $260,000 capital in Maryland (although it never operated there [3]), Olympic announced that it would “manufacture the highest possible quality phonograph records, and plans to engage the best artists available.”

Much was made of the fact that the Remington Phonograph Company held a controlling interest in Olympic. Olympic’s  executive roster was identical with that of Remington Phonograph, except for one outsider — John Fletcher, who was listed as secretary of the new company. [4] Remington’s failure a year later would  take Olympic down with it, but in early 1921 the acquisition was hailed by industry insiders as a promising move by a rising new phonograph manufacturer.

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    The Remington Phonograph Corporation, picturing president Philo E. Remington, was registered on July 20, 1920. The company filed a trademark application for Reminola records on the same date.

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The Remington Phonograph Corporation had been incorporated in January 1920. [5] The company was headed by former Remington Typewriter Company executive Philo E. Remington (president), along with James S. Holmes (vice-president and general manager), and M. B. Thomas (secretary and, later, treasurer). [6] Eliphalet Remington, son of the founder of the Remington Arms Company, served on the board of directors. [7] Although Remington Phonograph’s promotional materials strongly suggested that the company was affiliated with Remington Arms, it was not, as later testimony would confirm. [8]

The phonograph plant was to have been housed in the Remington Typewriter factory at Ilion, New York, [9] a plan that was quickly abandoned. Instead, the company purchased an existing factory (formerly used by an unnamed manufacturer of bank and office fixtures) in Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal Building. [10] Shipments of the first phonograph model, coupled with a national advertising campaign, began in late July or early August 1920. [11] Three additional models began shipping that autumn.

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Remington’s main selling point was its reproducer, which was said to do away with the “cramped or imprisoned tone” of other models.

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Remington Phonograph clearly was anticipating record production as early as the summer of 1920. In July of that year, the company filed a U.S. trademark application for use of the Reminola brand on phonographs and records. [12] Although his application claimed use since May 5, 1920, no evidence has been found that that Reminola records were ever produced commercially. Early reports stated that Remington’s records would be manufactured at Ilion, but as 1921 dawned, they had yet to appear.

Then, in April 1921, came the first listing of Olympic records, as May releases. TMW reported that the company had already begun recording and pressing records in its Brooklyn facility. [13] A month later, it was reported that Olympic had acquired Fletcher’s idled Operaphone facility (which included a studio and pressing plant) on Meadow Street in Long Island City. Edward Kuhn (a former Edison supervisor) was hired as an advisory mechanical engineer as recording and manufacturing were transferred to the Long Island facility. By then, Fletcher had been elected to Remington Phonograph’s board of directors. [14]

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Olympic advertised aggressively, albeit to little apparent effect. The double-page spread ran in a 1921 edition of The Talking Machine World.

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Olympic got off to an unsteady start, despite an aggressive advertising campaign. Once again in charge of a recording program, Fletcher repeated past mistakes. Although Olympic was marketed as a premium-priced label, its main offering was bland pop and light classical fare, much of it performed by the same New York-area dance bands and studio freelancers who could be heard on dozens of other labels, many of them better-produced than Olympic.

The only relatively bright spot was an operatic series (with program notes printed on the labels) featuring such lesser lights as Regina Viccarino, Henrietta Wakefield, and Percy Hemus. Broadway star Greek Evans was pressed into service as an operatic baritone on several releases. However, only ten issues appeared, most of them single-sided.

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Olympic used many of the same freelance studio singers and New York-area dance orchestras (like Harry Yerkes’ Jazzarimba Orchestra, above) that could be heard on dozens of other labels. Some of the operatic recordings (right) later turned up, in disguise, on the cut-rate National Music Lovers label.

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Olympic’s recording and technical quality were mediocre, and with few stars or anything out of the ordinary in the way of repertoire in its catalog, the label could not hope to compete with Columbia, Victor, and other comparably priced brands. The company boasted a large number of retailers, but many (like the “trunk, bag, and umbrella” store shown below) carried phonographs and records only as side-lines. Sales lagged as advertising fell off, and the final Olympic Disc Record Corporation releases appeared in December 1921. At the same time, the parent Remington Phonograph Company was failing.

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Remington in decline: In late 1921, the company began steeply discounting its phonographs.

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On December 1, 1921, Remington and Olympic were thrown into receivership on the complaint of vice-president Holmes, who contended that it was impossible to proceed with business unless additional capital could be raised. In addition, Holmes disclosed that a number of legal actions against the companies were likely. Remington Phonograph claimed liabilities of $22,500 and assets of $100,000. The situation was more dire for Olympic, with liabilities of $33,000 and assets of $60,000. [15] Later testimony revealed that Remington had lost money from the start, despite rosy statements to investors.

On December 9, the Olympic Disc Record Corporation filed a petition in bankruptcy. [16] With Remington itself on the verge of collapse, management’s answer was to press its already-disgruntled investors for still more money. A meeting of Remington stockholders on January 30, 1922, turned violent, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Interrupted by cried of “liar,” “thief,” “throw him out,” and “wait until we get you outside,” James P. Holmes, vice-president of the Remington Phonograph Company [sic], tried in vain yesterday to soothe the ruffled feelings of five-hundred disgruntled stockholders… Most of them appeared to be persons of small means… The manager of the hotel came on the run when a bedlam of hisses and howls greeted Holmes’ further efforts to preside. The manager settled this argument by threatening to call the police and have the whole crowd ejected if the noise continued. [17]

A proposal that stockholders sink still more money into a reorganization was shouted down. Eventually, Edwin Starr Ward, an attorney representing the stockholders, was allowed to present his report. Philo Remington, he alleged, was merely a company figurehead, drawing a minimum $5,000 annual royalty for the use of his name. Of the 22,500 shares he had originally owned, he was now said to hold only 1,100. Ward concluded, “The business was carried on in a wasteful, ignorant, and extravagant manner and with utter disregard for the interests of stockholders.” Finally, the New York Times reported, “the gathering broke up in disorder.” [18]

The Olympic and Remington operations were quickly dismantled. Louis Jersawit, the receiver for both companies, gave notice in the New York Times for March 3, 1922, that all of Olympic’s assets and property were to be auctioned on March 25. Offered for sale was,

a fully equipped plant for the manufacture of phonograph records, phonograph records completed and in the course of completion, all materials and property used in the manufacture of phonograph records, all patents, copyrights, and trademarks, all office and factory furniture and fixtures, together with the complete equipment of the factory of the said defendant, Olympic Disc Record Corporation, contained in the premises at 156 Meadow Street, Long Island City… [19]

The purchaser would be none other than John Fletcher, in partnership with Black Swan’s Harry Pace—the American recording industry’s first racially mixed executive team. Fletcher retained possession of his Olympic masters, some of which he proceeded to reissue under colorful aliases on Black Swan, in the process scuttling Pace’s pledge to issue only recordings by black artists (although in fairness, it should be noted that Pace himself had already broken that pledge on several occasions).

Some Olympic masters would also find their way to other companies, including the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company, New York Recording Laboratories, and Scranton Button Company, which parceled them out to their client labels for several years. Some of Olympic’s celebrity operatic issues even ended up, in disguise, on Scranton’s cut-rate National Music Lovers label. [20]

Fletcher had escaped the Remington Phonograph Corporation’s collapse unscathed, at least from a legal standpoint, but other Remington executives would not. An investigation of Remington Phonograph revealed that of the $1 million allegedly collected on stock sales, only $440,000 showed on Remington’s books. In addition, shareholder complaints continued to mount over misleading promotional materials and artificially inflated stock prices. The result was an investors’ lawsuit charging that the Remington Phonograph Corporation “was grossly mismanaged by its officers, who are now under indictment for fraudulent use of the mails in connection with the selling of the stock of the corporation.” [21]

The indictment referred to in the shareholder’s suit originated in  the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, which charged Philo Remington and five other Remington Phonograph executives or associates with stock fraud. On June 1, 1922, all six were ordered held on $5,000 bond each, pending arraignment. [22] The investigation would drag on into the spring of 1924, before finally going to trial on April 4. Of the six who were originally charged, only Morris Pomerantz (a salesman whose connection to the company is unclear) escaped indictment.

At the trial, Harry Sieber (who had succeeded Thomas as treasurer) testified that Remington Phonograph had “never earned a dollar,” and that the stock price “was shoved up whenever that seemed expedient.” His testimony was followed by a parade of stockholders who declared they had been misled into believing that Remington Phonograph was affiliated with Remington Arms and Remington Typewriter. Among the evidence presented was a booklet devoted to the history of both companies, which Remington Phonograph had mailed to potential investors. [23] Two other key pieces of evidence were discovered to have mysteriously disappeared, but copies were allowed into evidence. [24]

By the end of the thirteen-day trial, seven of the original nine counts had been dismissed as faulty, and most of the evidence relating to misleading use of the Remington name had been excluded. Philo Remington and James Holmes were acquitted. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the other three. [25]

In the meantime, John Fletcher, having not been caught up in the Remington investigation, had been busy. In the space of two years, he had bought his way into Black Swan, contributed significantly to its collapse, and now was about to pack his bags for Chicago, where one last failure awaited him.

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Part 1 — Music for Everybody (1900–1921)

Part 3 (Coming Soon) — A Not-So-Black Swan (1922–1923)

Part 4 (Coming Soon) — Beating a Dead Horse in Chicago (1924–1925)

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 Notes

[1] “Pathé Frères Phonograph Co.” (re: Operaphone as a Pathé subsidiary). Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities. New York: Moody Manual Co. (1922), p. 940. Pathé’s control of Operaphone beginning in the later ‘teens was never disclosed publicly.

[2] “New Concern to Make Records.” Talking Machine World (Mar  15, 1921), p. 3

[3] Two of Olympic’s board members resided in Baltimore, perhaps explaining the decision to incorporate in Maryland.

[4] “New Concern to Make Records,” op. cit.

[5] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1920), p. 121.

[6] “To Enter Talking Machine Field.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1920), p. 226.

[7] “Announcing the Remington Phonograph Corporation” (ad). Talking Machine World (Jun 15, 1920), p. 62.

[8] “Remington Phonograph Head on Trial for Fraud.” Olean [NY] Times Herald (Apr 9, 1924), p. 5.

[9] “Holmes with Remington Corp.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1920), p. 62.

[10] “Reviews Remington’s Progress.” Talking Machine World (Sep 15, 1920), p. 124.

[11] “Remingtons Now Being Shipped.” Talking Machine World (Aug 15, 1920), p. 51. Shipments of additional models began in September or early October.

[12] Remington Phonograph Corporation. “Reminola,” U.S. trademark application #135,214 (filed Jul 20, 1920).

[13] Some pressings had been produced by March 14, 1921, when they were demonstrated at Remington Phonograph’s first annual shareholders’ meeting.

[14] “Remington Co. Doubles Stock.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1921), p. 33.

[15] “Receiver Is Appointed for Remington Phonograph.” New York Tribune (December 2, 1921), p. 19.

[16] “Business Troubles — Petitions in Bankruptcy.” New York Tribune (Dec 10, 1921), p. 17.

[17] “Heads of Defunct Firm Threatened.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan 31, 1922), p. 2. The New York Times, in the article cited below, gave the number of stockholders attending as four-hundred.

[18] “Stockholders in Wrangle.” New York Times (Jan 31, 1922), p. 3

[19] “Receivers’ Sales.” New York Times (Mar 4, 1922), p. 19.

[20] Sutton, Allan. Pseudonyms on American Records, 1892–1942 (Third Revised and Expanded Edition). Denver: Mainspring Press (2013).

[21] Frankland et al. v. Remington Phonograph Corporation et al. (119 A. 127).

[22] “6 Remington Officers in $5,000 Bail.” Rochester [NY] Democrat and Chronicle (Jun 2, 1922), p. 1

[23] “Promoters Listen to Luring Letters.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 2.

[24] “Evidence Missing. Letters Used in Alleged Fraud Case Are Stolen.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 9.

[25] “Two Are Acquitted in Remington Case.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 23, 1924), p. 3.

The John Fletcher Story — Part 1: “Music for Everybody” (1900 – 1921)

THE JOHN FLETCHER STORY
Part 1: “Music for Everybody” (1900 – 1921)
By Allan Sutton

This article is a substantially expanded version of a posting that originally appeared on the Mainspring Press website in 2001.

 

John Fletcher isn’t a name that normally comes up in discussions of recording industry pioneers. He managed to fail at virtually every venture he undertook (and there were many), and his involvement with Black Swan almost certainly contributed to that label’s demise. And yet, he was typical of many entrepreneurs who challenged the major companies during the record industry’s early boom years and, in doing so, managed to produce some intriguing records.

Fletcher, who began his career as a professional musician, claimed to have first recorded as a member of the Edison studio orchestra in the late 1890s. In a July 1918 interview with the Talking Machine World, Fletcher recalled, “My first phonographic experience was as a player in the old Edison cylinder laboratory in Orange, N.J., when you had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, be on the job, in your chair, and ready to play at 8 o’clock.” [1]

By the early 1900s, John Fletcher was performing and recording with  Sousa’s Band, as a cornetist. He is almost certainly the “_Fletcher” cited by Brian Rust in early editions of Jazz Records (the name was deleted in some later editions, with no explanation offered).

Fletcher recalled, “The band was engaged for three weeks to make records for the Victor Company. At the time, the company’s laboratory consisted of a small room on the third floor in a building in the neighborhood of Tenth and Lombard streets, Philadelphia, and it was in this small room that I got my first insight into the mysteries of sound recording.” [2] (A search of the Victor files failed to turn up a contiguous three-week block of Sousa sessions. Perhaps Fletcher was referring to the period of May 31 through June 26, 1902, during which the band was in the studio on thirteen days.)

Fletcher toured Europe with Sousa’s Band, then reportedly joined the New York Symphony Orchestra upon his return. He is known to have made at least two recordings as a cornet soloist, for Indestructible cylinders in 1908 and 1910, [3] but his growing interest in sound recording soon eclipsed any desire to continue working as a musician. “During this time,” he told TMW, “I realized how imperfect were the methods then in vogue to record symphonic music with a few instruments, and I finally resolved to devote my future career to recording the various instruments comprising the grand orchestra, in sufficient numbers to produce the musical sensation caused by the combined tonality of such a large number of instruments.” [4]

Fletcher began to experiment with recording processes. He eventually devised what he termed “an extremely narrow” vertical-cut groove playable with an ordinary steel needle, for which he filed a patent application on July 3, 1915. Fletcher claimed that his process produced a record “found to be extremely durable in use,” a claim not supported by many of the surviving specimens in which it was employed. By the time the patent was finally granted in mid-1918, Fletcher had abandoned the fine-groove vertical cut.

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Fletcher’s fine-groove vertical-cut patent, 1915 (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.)

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On December 15, 1914, The Talking Machine World reported that Fletcher, E. F. Gerner, and M. Naughton had filed incorporation papers in New York for the Operaphone Manufacturing Corporation, which was to produce phonographs and records. [5] George Thomas served as president of the company, and Fletcher managed recording and manufacturing. The company opened a New York office at 2 Rector Street (which was later moved to 200 Fifth Avenue), a pressing plant at 156 Meadow Street in Long Island City, and a recording studio at an unknown location. The latter was moved into the pressing plant in late 1916. [6]

The exact date on which Operaphone records were first sold remains uncertain, but a trademark application, filed belatedly by Fletcher on September 13, 1919, claimed use of the Operaphone name on records beginning March 1, 1915. [7] The initial offerings were seven-inch discs employing Fletcher’s fine-groove vertical cut, bearing pressed labels (using a “frosted” background, reminiscent of the Edison Diamond Disc, but with sharply raised type) and retailing for 25¢ each. Fletcher did little advertising during Operaphone’s earliest days; in fact, Crescent (an Operaphone client label) began advertising in The Talking Machine World a month before Operaphone itself. [8]

Fletcher was pursuing two conflicting goals — the production of a cheap record that virtually anyone could afford (reflected in his “Music for Everybody” slogan), and the recording of serious symphonic repertoire, an inherently costly undertaking. In the end, he opted for the former. Despite its name and Fletcher’s lofty ambitions, the Operaphone label leaned heavily toward current popular tunes, public-domain “standards,” and light-classical snippets, most often rendered by the house band or the usual studio free-lance performers.

There were occasional selections by more distinguished artists, including retired Metropolitan Opera soprano Gertrude Rennyson and Broadway star May Naudain, but they were the exceptions. Some other Operaphone artists, like “Dan Perry,” were purely fictitious; “Perry” turns out to have been studio denizen Arthur Collins, based upon unmistakable aural evidence.

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An early “frosted”-label Operaphone pressing (left), and a re-pressing of the same master using the later etched label. “Dan Perry” was actually Arthur Collins in disguise. (Author’s collection)

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By the time that Operaphone finally began advertising regularly in early 1916, Fletcher had discontinued seven-inch discs and was producing eight-inch fine-groove pressings that he claimed would play “as long as the average twelve-inch records of other makers,” which in fact they did not. The copy was later revised to read, “more music than the ten-inch records of other makes,” which was still a bit of an exaggeration. Truth-in-advertising finally prevailed in 1917, when the wording was changed to “play at least as long as high-priced ten-inch records.”

The initial eight-inch Operaphone releases were listed in the January 1916 edition of The Talking Machine World, as February releases. [9] Retailing for 35¢, the eight-inch discs initially used the same dim, “frosted” labels as the seven-inch discs, which were soon replaced by more legible embossed labels with paint-filled type. In August 1916 the company finally announced, with some fanfare, that it was switching to paper labels. [10]

Fletcher also erred by sometimes coupling mismatched selections on his early releases, placing, for instance, a tired old hearts-and-flowers ballad on the flip side of a current pop tune—the same error Columbia had committed, then corrected, several years earlier. In September 1916, Fletcher promised that Operaphone would offer more compatible couplings on future releases. [11]

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The first paper Operaphone label (left), introduced in August 1916. The design had already appeared very briefly in etched form. Crescent was Operaphone’s earliest known client label. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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Despite such a bumpy start, Operaphone reported in August 1916 that production at the pressing plant had tripled in eight months. [12] Fletcher had also expanded his client list beyond Crescent and was now pressing eight-inch Operaphone discs under an array of labels that included All Star, Elginola, and the earliest version of  Domestic. He soon secured Canadian distribution for Operaphone through the Canadian Phonograph Company of Toronto. During the spring of 1917, offices were moved to 489 Fifth Avenue, to allow easier access to the Long Island plant (which now also housed the recording studio) via the Queensboro subway line. [13]

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Advertisements for eight-inch Operaphone discs, 1916

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To all outward appearances, the Operaphone Manufacturing Corporation was a thriving business in the spring of 1917. And then it seemingly vanished, without explanation or even a passing mention in the trade papers. Fletcher finally alluded to the closing in his 1918 interview, recalling, “After facing abnormal conditions, due to the steadily increasing prices of raw materials, the Operaphone Company seized the psychological moment to shut down its factory… .” [14]

In short, Fletcher had badly under-priced his goods. A price increase might have been feasible had the eight-inch Operaphone disc been a high-quality product, but it was far from that. Weakly recorded, pressed in poor material, and offering little out of the ordinary in the way of artists or repertoire, the records had nothing to recommend them other than their unusually low price. Fletcher later admitted that the eight-inch discs “incurred tremendous expenses with returns that were hardly commensurate.” [15]

*     *     *     *     *

One year later, a new type of Operaphone record suddenly appeared on the market, with no prior notice of its impending arrival. First advertised in April 1918, the records were credited to a reorganized Operaphone Company, Inc. [16] They were an obvious departure from the earlier series, being ten-inch vertical-cut discs that employed a groove of normal dimensions. What was not obvious was that John Fletcher, although still running the company, was no longer making his own recordings.

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Pathé supplied the masters for Operaphone’s new ten-inch series, the labels of which carry Pathé’s usual “U.S. Consumption Only” disclaimer. Many issues, like this one, were pseudonymous; “Albert Faber” was actually Eleanor Rae Ball.

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Fletcher, having mothballed his Long Island City studio, was now obtaining his recordings from the Pathé Phonograph Company. Pathé recorded its masters on oversized cylinders, which could be dubbed in any number of disc formats using the pantograph, a mechanical transcribing device that contributed to the rumbling and clanking heard on acoustic Pathé products.

The new ten-inch Operaphone discs used material from the Pathé catalog, but Pathé’s involvement would not have been apparent to the average record buyer. Having been transcribed using a steel-needle cut, the discs bore no physical resemblance to their sapphire-cut Pathé counterparts, and the artists often were masked by pseudonyms. A TMW reporter opined that the new records “mark a distinct improvement over the former Operaphone products,” but expressed no suspicions as to their true source. [17]

In conjunction with his new series, Fletcher announced that he was “planning to devote more time to…the recording of the entire symphonic repertoire.” In fact, Fletcher so far had not devoted any time to such an undertaking, beyond releasing a few orchestral lollipops on Operaphone. Unsurprisingly, given his track record and the fact that he was now simply leasing existing Pathé material, his plan was never implemented.

During the summer of 1919, a subtle change appeared in the wording of Operaphone’s advertising. Previously, the records had been touted as playing on “all universal tone-arm machines” (i.e., an arm that could be converted to play either lateral- or vertical-cut discs, usually by simply pivoting the reproducer into the proper position). In June, that was amended to read simply, “play on all phonographs.” The reason was that Pathé had begun dubbing Operaphone masters in a universal-cut format that was playable (albeit with rather mediocre result) on lateral or vertical machines without the need for a convertible arm. The earlier label, which pictured a reproducer in the vertical-cut position, was replaced by a redesigned version that dispensed with the illustration and listed the Smallwood universal-cut patent, #639,452.

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The final Operaphone label, showing Smallwood’s universal-cut patent number. Pathé was careful to disguise its more prestigious artists on Operaphone; “Rosner’s Dance Orchestra” was actually Joseph Knecht’s Waldorf Astoria Orchestra, and “Helene Buepre” was Claudia Muzio. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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As with the previous Operaphone series, material came from the Pathé catalog, the artists were often disguised, and the records bore no physical resemblance to their Pathé sapphire-ball counterparts. The records were also pressed under several client labels, including Empire and World. Oddly, a comparison of Talking Machine World advance listings reveals that in some cases, the Operaphone release dates preceded those of the corresponding Pathé records by a month or more. This unusual reversal of normal client-label procedure might have been explained by the fact that Operaphone by then had become a full-fledged Pathé subsidiary. The corporate relationship was never acknowledged to the general public, but it was disclosed in various editions of Moody’s. [18]

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Operaphone’s June 1920 list. “Wilbur Fairbanks” was Noble Sissle in disguise. The many other Operaphone aliases are unmasked in the author’s Pseudonyms on American Records — Third Revised and Expanded Edition (Mainspring Press).

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By the autumn of 1920, there were subtle signs that all was not well with Operaphone. In September, the company opted for a cheaper black-and-white advertisement in TMW, instead of its customary two-color. The color was back in October, but the company did not advertise in December, at the height of the all-important holiday sales season, and no new releases appeared in TMW’s advance list that month. A new ad, with only ten releases rather than the usual twelve, appeared in January 1921—perhaps not coincidentally, the same month in which Pathé entered the lateral-cut market with its new Actuelle label.

A small ad in February, with no new releases listed, would be Operaphone’s last. A month later, TMW reported that the Operaphone Company was “winding up its affairs and will shortly withdraw from the records field.” [19] In the same issue, John Fletcher was listed as secretary of a freshly launched venture — the Olympic Disc Record Corporation. [20]

 

Coming Up:

Part 2 – Fist-Fight in the Boardroom: The Remington-Olympic Saga (1921)

Part 3 – A Not-So-Black Swan (1922–1923)

Part 4 – Beating a Dead Horse in Chicago (1924–1925)

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[1] “Noted Career in Record Field.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1918), p. 96.
[2] Ibid. Victor moved into the Philadelphia studio in November 1901, according to recording engineer Harry O. Sooy, and did most of its recording there until early November 1907, when a  new Camden studio opened. Contrary to numerous discographies, no Victor recording was done in Camden during this period; for details, see “Camden, Philadelphia, or New York? The Victor Studio Conundrum (1900–1920),” on the Mainspring Press website.

[3] “Pretty Peggy” (Indestructible 940, released c. December 1908); and “Infantry Calls, No. 1” (Indestructible 1308, released April 1910).

[4] “Noted Career in Record Field,” op. cit.

[5] “To Make Phonographs.” Talking Machine World (December 15, 1914), p. 43.

[6] “All Departments Under One Roof.” Talking Machine World (November 15, 1916), p. 71.

[7] Operaphone Company: “Operaphone.” U.S. trademark application #122,654 (filed 9/13/1919).

[8] “Crescent Records for Quick Delivery” (ad). Talking Machine World (December 15, 1915), p. 19. Crescent’s fine-groove discs of 1915–1916 were simply Operaphone pressings under a different label. The company later used other suppliers.

[9] “Record Bulletins for February, 1916—Operaphone Manufacturing Company.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1916), p. 81.

[10] “Announce New Record Labels.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1916), p. 26.

[11] “To Revise Operaphone Catalog–All Operaphone Records to Bear Two Selections of the Same Type.” Talking Machine World (9/15/1916), p.82.

[12] “Announce New Record Labels,” op. cit.

[13] “Operaphone Corp. Moves Offices.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1917), p. 6.

[14] “Noted Career in Record Field,” op. cit.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Ten Inch Operaphone Records—Hill and Dale—Double Disc” (ad). Talking Machine World (April 15, 1918), p. 96.

[17] “Exhibitors of Talking Machines and Supplies at Music Show.” Talking Machine World (June 15, 1918), p. 101.

[18] “Pathé Frères Phonograph Co.” (lists Operaphone as Pathé subsidiary). Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities. New York: Moody Manual Co. (1922), p. 940.

[19] “Operaphone Co. to Withdraw.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1921), p. 71.

[20] “New Concern to Make Records.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1921), p. 3.

© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

 

CHARM: Another Outstanding Online Discographical Project

Not as widely known as the Discography of American Historical Recordings (although it certainly deserves to be), the UK-based CHARM website offers another outstanding online discography — in this case, of historical classical and operatic recordings. Hosted by the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, CHARM is partnership of Royal Holloway, University of London (host institution) with King’s College, London, and the University of Sheffield.

CHARM is the perfect complement to DAHR, offering hard-to-find data on foreign as well as domestic recordings, primarily from the 1920s onward. The database includes much of The Gramophone Company’s 78-rpm output (from original file data compiled by the late Alan Kelly), as well 78s and some LP series from numerous other US, UK, and European companies, including Columbia and Decca, from data supplied by Michael Gray. *

The CHARM site includes a very flexible search engine, and results can be downloaded as comma-delimited text (.csv) or Microsoft Excel files. Here’s a small part of the results from our search on Cesare Formichi’s Columbia recordings:
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In addition, almost 5000 streaming sound files are available via the Find Sound Files facility. Sound files are transferred from 78-rpm discs held by the King’s Sound Archive at King’s College London.

Like DAHR and the affiliated National Juke Box site from the Library of Congress, CHARM is an entirely free service, with no registration or log-in required.

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* Dr. Alan Kelly compiled the monumental His Master’s Voice Discography for Greenwood Press during its glory days in the 1990s; when new owners pulled the plug, he completed the project on his own, self-publishing the entire run on a set of inexpensive CDs. In 2007 he was honored with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Michael Gray — besides being one helluva nice guy — has had a distinguished career that includes a long run as director of the Voice of America’s Research Library and Digital Audio Archive projects. He served as series editor for Greenwood Press discographies, has written numerous books and articles, and is the recipient of ARSC’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

The Playlist • Highlights from La Scala’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” (1915)

msp-vbo-24_cr-complete

The Gramophone Company began producing “complete” operatic recordings in Italy in 1906. The earliest attempts were rag-tag productions, sometimes with different singers substituted if those originally scheduled couldn’t make a session; and in at least one case, a domestic Red Seal recording had to be substituted for a missing side in the U.S. There were no Carusos or Farrars or other Red Seal–class celebrities to be heard — even had their Victor contracts allowed them to record for The Gramophone Company, their astronomical royalty rates would have driven the price of these sets beyond the means of most customers — but the recordings caused a sensation nonetheless. There are reports of record stores staging “Victrola Opera Nights” using these records, with costumed locals lip-synching their parts. You can find much more about them in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press.

Here are some highlights from a later, better-organized attempt, recorded in Milan in 1915 but not released in the U.S. until March 1919, on the lowly black-label series. These sets pre-date the “album” concept — i.e., the records were sold individually, and the big arias handily outsold the less-juicy portions — so assembling complete sets can be a daunting task. Our Cavalleria Rusticana set is growing steadily, but still has a ways to go.

 

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (Mascagni)

FRANCO TUMINELLO, GEORGINA ERMOLLI, LENA REVELLI and E. PERNA, with LA SCALA CHORUS & ORCHESTRA (CARLO SABAJNO, conductor)

Recorded in Milan by The Gramophone Company (F. W. Gaisberg, engineer)

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PARTS 1–4 (Victor 35680 / 35681)

Cavalleria Rusticana: Preludio e Siciliana (mx. 3022c; April 8, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Preludio – Part 2  (mx. 3021c; April 8, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Gli aranci (mx. 3017c; April 5, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Tempo e si mormori (mx. 3018c; April 6, 1915)

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PARTS 17–18 (Victor 35688)

Cavalleria Rusticana: A casa, a casa (mx. 3020c; April 7, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Brindisi (mx. 3019c; April 7, 1915)

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Discographic data from the Gramophone Company files, courtesy of the late Dr. Alan Kelly.

 

The Playlist • Adamo Didur (Fonotipia Recordings, 1907–1908)

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Didur in New York, 1915 (Bain News Service Collection,
Library of Congress).

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ADAMO DIDUR: Roberto il Diavolo — Suore che riposate

Milan: October 10, 1907
Fonotipia  92002  (mx. Xph 2670)

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ADAMO DIDUR: Gli Ugonotti — Signor, difesa e scudo

Milan: October 11, 1907
Fonotipia 92003  (mx. Xph 2671)

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ADAMO DIDUR: Mefistofele — Son il spirito che nega

Milan: April 23, 1908
Fonotipia 92226  (mx. Xph 3176)

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Quote of the Week:

The metaphor of the moment is that Donald Trump is the dog that caught up with the car… A more apt reference, especially after Trump’s inauguration, might be the Pottery Barn Rule: “You break it, you own it.”

Trump and the congressional Republicans who have chosen to make their bed with him are responsible for what happens from now on. There is now no one to blame if they can’t pass budgets, avoid shutdowns, deal with sequestration, replace Obamacare, destroy ISIS, or reverse the continuing loss of manufacturing jobs. If climate change gets worse, it’s on them. If Syria continues its downward spiral, it’s on them. If more countries acquire nuclear weapons, it’s on them.

James Hohmann (Washington Post)

 

“Red Label” Gramophone Records — Highlights from the February 1904 G&T Catalog

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Many of the records in Gramophone & Typewriter’s February 1904 catalog were also issued in the U.S. as Victor Imported Red Seal Records. Details of those issues (many of which are now quite rare, and correspondingly expensive) can be found in John Bolig’s Victor Red Seal Discography, Vol. I .

Victor soon adopted a policy of replacing imported recordings like these with their own domestically recorded versions whenever possible, as happened with many of the Caruso and Plancon offerings.

You can find more on the early history of the Red Seal in A Phonograph in Every Home: The Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1909-1919, also available from Mainspring Press.

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The Playlist • Vladimir Kastorsky (St. Petersburg, 1908)

MSP_kastorsky-v_composite1

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VLADIMIR KASTORKSY: Sadko (Rimsky-Korsakov) — Song of the Viking Guest 

St. Petersburg, Russia: 1908
Gramophone Concert Record G.C.-3-22817  (mx. 7770 l)

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VLADIMIR KASTORSKY: Prince Igor (Borodin) —
Nor Sleep, Nor Rest

St. Petersburg, Russia: 1908
Ammour Gramophone Record 022126  (mx. 403m)

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VLADIMIR KASTORSKY: Ruslan and Ludmilla (Glinka) — Farlaf’s Rondo

St. Petersburg, Russia: 1908
Ammour Gramophone Record 022125  (mx. 401m)

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Early Gramophone Company recording speeds vary widely; these transfers have not been checked for correct pitch.

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Three ARSC 2015 Awards for Mainspring Press Books: Eli Oberstein, Victor Special Labels, Ajax Records

We’re honored to announce that three Mainspring Press titles have received 2015 awards from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Details and secure online ordering are available on the Mainspring Press website.

The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:

cover-USRC

2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:

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ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.

Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.

The Playlist • Feodor Chaliapin in “Boris Godunov” (1910–1922)

MSP_chaliapin-boris_composi .

Chaliapin performs the roles of Boris, Pimen, and Varlaam, in the Rimsky-Korsokov  revision of Mussorgsky’s original work. Discographic data are from the Gramophone Company and Victor Talking Machine Company files, courtesy of Drs. Alan Kelly and John R. Bolig.

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FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Yet One More Tale [Pimen, Act I]

Moscow: August 31, 1910
His Master’s Voice 022157 (mx. 2016½c)
Orchestra of the Imperial Moscow Opera directed by I.Semenov

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FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — In the Town of Kazan [Varlaam, Act I]

Camden, NJ: January 30, 1922
His Master’s Voice D.A. 100 (mx. B 26100 – 2)
Studio orchestra directed by Josef Pasternack

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FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Once at Eve [Pimen, Act IV]

St. Petersburg, Russia: November 26, 1911
His Master’s Voice 022252 (mx. 2548c)
No conductor listed in the Gramophone Company file

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FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Farewell and Death of Boris [Boris, Act IV]

St. Petersburg, Russia: October 15, 1911
His Master’s Voice 022221 / 022222 (mxs. 2492½c / 2493c)
No conductor listed in the Gramophone Company file

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The Playlist • José Mardones (1910–1923)

MSP_col-A5216_30417.

JOSÉ MARDONES: Mefistofele — Ecco il mondo
With studio orchestra

New York: April 9, 1910
Columbia A5216 (mx. 30417 – 2)

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JOSÉ MARDONES: Mefistofele — Son lo spirito che nega
With studio orchestra

New York: April 8, 1910
Columbia A5216 (mx. 30415 – 1)

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JOSÉ MARDONES & GIOVANNI ZENATELLO: Aida — Numi custode e vindice
With uncredited chorus & orchestra

New York: April 12, 1912
Columbia A5426 (mx. 36366 – 2)

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JOSÉ MARDONES: La alegría del battalón (Serrano)
Studio orchestra conducted by Rosario Bourdon

Camden, NJ: March 9, 1923
Victor 921 (mx. B 27597 – 2)

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Leo Slezak in the Pathé Studio (c. 1913)

MSP-TMW-1914_slezak-patheThe location is probably Vienna, reputedly the site of Slezak’s 1913 Pathé session. The photo was reproduced in the September 1914 Talking Machine World, just as the New York–based Pathé Frères Phonograph Company (the French company’s U.S. licensee) was preparing to unveil Pathé discs to the American public. The company had only recently begun to make its own recordings and thus had to rely heavily on imported discs, like Slezak’s, to fill the initial catalog.

The oversized cylinder master, from which the disc masters would be transcribed pantographically, can be seen at the far right. This photo (along with others taken in the American studio and in various foreign locations) contradicts the popular anecdotal tale that Pathé’s recording equipment was a jealously guarded secret, hidden behind locked doors and never to be glimpsed by performers or the public.