Indianapolis Star (May 29, 1924)
Mansfield [Ohio] News (December 2, 1923)
Indianapolis Star (May 29, 1924)
Mansfield [Ohio] News (December 2, 1923)
Now that the key points are out of the way, let’s look at the supporting evidence, from the memoirs of a man who was there at the time — Harry O. Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer. The following studio chronology is based upon Sooy’s memoirs (Sarnoff Library, Princeton, New Jersey), with corroborating circumstantial evidence from the surviving Victor files:
Late 1890s – February 1900: Collings Carriage Factory Building (Front & Market Streets), Camden, NJ
According to Sooy, this was the site of Eldridge R. Johnson’s first experimental recording studio. No documentation of the recordings made there is known to have survived
February 1, 1900 – c. August 1, 1901: Johnson Factory Building, Camden, NJ
In late 1899, Eldridge Johnson began construction of a four-story factory building in Camden. Sooy recalled having moved Johnson’s recording equipment from the carriage factory to the new building on or around February 1, 1900. By that time, according to Sooy, Johnson was recording masters for Berliner.
Recording of Johnson’s own masters (i.e., those issued on his various Victor predecessor labels) began on May 1, 1900. The last of Johnson’s Berliner masters for which a date is confirmed was recorded two days later.
Johnson’s studio was moved from Camden to Philadelphia in September 1901, according to Sooy (and the Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated on October 3). The move was made to provide more space for the machine shop. Recording in Camden appears to have ended on August 1, 1901, and it would not resume there until December 9, 1907.
August 2 – September 4, 1901: No recording activity
September 5, 1901 – November 22, 1907: 424 S. 10th Street, Philadelphia
Sooy recalled that the Victor studio was moved to Philadelphia from its original Camden location during September 1901. The Victor files, which show that no recordings were made during August 2 – September 4, 1901, lend credence to Sooy’s recollection.
Assuming this thirty-four day hiatus marks the Camden-to-Philadelphia transition, the last Camden session would have been Rogers & Pryor’s “Answer” (“pre-matrix” Victor 837, an August 1 remake of a May 31 session); and the first Philadelphia session would have been Frank Seiden’s “Rosinkes und Mandlein” (“pre-matrix” Victor 928, recorded September 5, 1901). The large numerical gap occurs because the Rogers & Pryor catalog number was allocated at the time of the original session.
Sooy recalled, “The moving of the Laboratory from Camden [to] Philadelphia was done…by Mr. MacEwan, a bob-tail horse and Mr. Nafey. Money in these days not being overly plentiful, MacEwan acted as teamster on the job, and Nafey, I guess, was boss; however, the moving was done in a very creditable manner… Upon entering our new quarters at 424 So. 10th St., or 10th and Lombard Sts., which was known as the colored belt of Philadelphia, we were furnished with considerable excitement in the neighborhood outside of making records.”
Philadelphia would host Victor’s main studio for six years. The studio was located on the second floor of a building formerly occupied by the Berliner Gramophone Company. A matrix-plating plant was housed in the basement, and a blank-processing department was opened on the third floor in January 1904. Stampers were shipped to the Duranoid Company (and, for a time, to the Burt Company as well) for pressing. Victor also maintained a Philadelphia branch office in the Girard Building during this period.
As far as can be ascertained from documentary and circumstantial evidence, no Victor recording studio existed in Camden while the Philadelphia studio was in operation. Thus, the many modern citations of Camden recording sessions from September 5, 1901 through November 1907 are in error.
November 23 – December 8, 1907: No recording activity
From December 9, 1907: Front & Cooper Streets, Camden, NJ
During November 1907, the Philadelphia studio was closed, and a new studio was opened on the fourth floor of what would later come to be known as Building #15 in Camden. The transitional period is apparent in the Victor files, which show no recordings were made during November 23–December 8, 1907.
Assuming this sixteen-day hiatus marks the Philadelphia-to-Camden transition, the last Philadelphia recording would have been Alan Turner’s “The White Squall” (mx. B 4961, recorded November 22, 1907; delayed release on Victor 16006); and the first Camden recording would have been the Victor Orchestra’s “Army and Navy Medley Reel” (mx. B 4962, rejected takes 1 and 2, recorded December 9, 1907).
While many Red Seal sessions continued to be held in New York, the Camden studio was also used for Red Seal sessions beginning December 11, 1907. “From this time on,” Harry Sooy stated, “recording dates of a Red Seal nature were alternated between the Camden and New York laboratories to suit the convenience of the artists.”
On March 13, 1911, the studio was moved to the newly added seventh floor of Building #15. Additional studios were installed in the building over the years, the last major addition being a large room for orchestral sessions in late 1924. After RCA’s acquisition of Victor in 1929, the Camden studios were slowly phased out in favor of New York.
After attempts to record a large symphony orchestra in the regular studio proved unsatisfactory, the eighth-floor auditorium of the Executive Building in Camden was converted to a temporary studio in the autumn of 1917. The hundred-member Boston Symphony Orchestra under Karl Muck made its first recordings in the auditorium studio on October 2, followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski on October 22.
In early 1918, Victor purchased the Trinity Church at 114 North Fifth Street, Camden, which it converted to a studio for large vocal and instrumental ensembles, as well as sessions requiring a pipe-organ regardless of ensemble size (the original church organ was eventually replaced with a more robust model). Recording commenced there on February 27, 1918. During 1928, the main floor of the church was used on occasion as a supplemental Vitaphone sound-stage, and a basement studio was used for soundtrack dubbing.
Initially, Victor maintained a New York studio solely for the convenience of its Red Seal artists. Less-stellar artists were required to travel to Philadelphia (or later, to Camden). Sooy stated that all Red Seal sessions prior to July 22, 1907, were held in New York, and file evidence seems to support his assertion.
March 26, 1903 – October 8, 1904: Carnegie Hall Annex (Room 826), New York
Victor leased studio space in the annex, not in the theater itself as has been stated in some works. Enrico Caruso made his first Victor recordings there, and as far as can be ascertained, all Carnegie Hall sessions involved Red Seal artists. Sooy recalled, “It was a great relief to get out of Carnegie Hall, and away from the Vocal Studios where vocal teachers were constantly trying voices, good, bad and otherwise.” The Carnegie Hall Annex studio was not a full-time operation.
October 8, 1904 – June 1, 1909: 234 Fifth Avenue, New York
As with the Carnegie Hall studio, this location was reserved primarily for Red Seal sessions and was not a full-time operation.
After June 1, 1909:
By the later ’teens, Victor’s New York studios were being used for popular as well as classical sessions, and cities usually are listed in the files (see DAHR’s free online Victor data for locations of each session). Victor operated its main New York studios at the following addresses during the remainder of the acoustic era:
June 2, 1909 – April 1912: 37–39 E. 29th Street, New York (first full-time New York studio)
April 1912 – January 18, 1917: 12–14 W. 37th Street, New York
January 19, 1917 — January 5, 1921: 46 W. 38th Street, New York
From January 6, 1921: National Association Building (28 W. 44th Street, 22nd floor), New York
By the later 1920s, Victor was operating at least three New York studios simultaneously, including leased space in Liederkranz Hall. These studios, as well as Victor’s Midwestern and West Coast studios and its field-recording locations, will be the subject of a future article.
© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.
The following is a condensed excerpt from the author’s Harry Pace, John Fletcher, and the Black Swan Saga (in preparation for 2018 publication)
Pathé was not yet producing lateral-cut discs when it took over John Fletcher’s Operaphone Company as a subsidiary.  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.  Incorporated with $260,000 capital in Maryland (although it never operated there ), 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.  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.
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.
The Remington Phonograph Corporation had been incorporated in January 1920.  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).  Eliphalet Remington, son of the founder of the Remington Arms Company, served on the board of directors.  Although Remington Phonograph’s promotional materials strongly suggested that the company was affiliated with Remington Arms, it was not, as later testimony would confirm. 
The phonograph plant was to have been housed in the Remington Typewriter factory at Ilion, New York,  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.  Shipments of the first phonograph model, coupled with a national advertising campaign, began in late July or early August 1920.  Three additional models began shipping that autumn.
Remington’s main selling point was its reproducer, which was said to do away with the “cramped or imprisoned tone” of other models.
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.  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.  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. 
Olympic advertised aggressively, albeit to little apparent effect. The double-page spread ran in a 1921 edition of The Talking Machine World.
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.
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.
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.
Remington in decline: In late 1921, the company began steeply discounting its phonographs.
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.  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.  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. 
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.” 
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… 
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. 
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.” 
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.  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.  Two other key pieces of evidence were discovered to have mysteriously disappeared, but copies were allowed into evidence. 
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. 
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.
Part 3 (Coming Soon) — A Not-So-Black Swan (1922–1923)
Part 4 (Coming Soon) — Beating a Dead Horse in Chicago (1924–1925)
 “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.
 “New Concern to Make Records.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1921), p. 3
 Two of Olympic’s board members resided in Baltimore, perhaps explaining the decision to incorporate in Maryland.
 “New Concern to Make Records,” op. cit.
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1920), p. 121.
 “To Enter Talking Machine Field.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1920), p. 226.
 “Announcing the Remington Phonograph Corporation” (ad). Talking Machine World (Jun 15, 1920), p. 62.
 “Remington Phonograph Head on Trial for Fraud.” Olean [NY] Times Herald (Apr 9, 1924), p. 5.
 “Holmes with Remington Corp.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1920), p. 62.
 “Reviews Remington’s Progress.” Talking Machine World (Sep 15, 1920), p. 124.
 “Remingtons Now Being Shipped.” Talking Machine World (Aug 15, 1920), p. 51. Shipments of additional models began in September or early October.
 Remington Phonograph Corporation. “Reminola,” U.S. trademark application #135,214 (filed Jul 20, 1920).
 Some pressings had been produced by March 14, 1921, when they were demonstrated at Remington Phonograph’s first annual shareholders’ meeting.
 “Remington Co. Doubles Stock.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1921), p. 33.
 “Receiver Is Appointed for Remington Phonograph.” New York Tribune (December 2, 1921), p. 19.
 “Business Troubles — Petitions in Bankruptcy.” New York Tribune (Dec 10, 1921), p. 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.
 “Stockholders in Wrangle.” New York Times (Jan 31, 1922), p. 3
 “Receivers’ Sales.” New York Times (Mar 4, 1922), p. 19.
 Sutton, Allan. Pseudonyms on American Records, 1892–1942 (Third Revised and Expanded Edition). Denver: Mainspring Press (2013).
 Frankland et al. v. Remington Phonograph Corporation et al. (119 A. 127).
 “6 Remington Officers in $5,000 Bail.” Rochester [NY] Democrat and Chronicle (Jun 2, 1922), p. 1
 “Promoters Listen to Luring Letters.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 2.
 “Evidence Missing. Letters Used in Alleged Fraud Case Are Stolen.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 9.
 “Two Are Acquitted in Remington Case.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 23, 1924), p. 3.
We’ve heard “Gennett” pronounced every which-way over the years, and apparently so had the Gennett family, who finally placed an ad in 1920 to set the record straight. Here you have it, from the folks who knew best:
Muncie [IN] Evening Post, January 16, 1920
For anyone owning the H. Ross Franklin Orchestra’s Gennett personal record — all two of you, perhaps? — here are the rather obscure personnel (not listed in the American Dance Band Discography and derivative works) who were present at that session on March 6, 1922. This list is transcribed verbatim from The Fort Wayne [IN] Journal-Gazette for April 2, 1922, and probably contains some misspellings:
H. Ross Franklin [piano] directing: Vern C. McDermitt (trumpet); Benjamin West (trombone); Glendon C. Davis (clarinet); Harold D. Smith (alto saxophone); Lawrence G. Pape (oboe); Steward C. Loranze (violin); Edward Melching (banjo); Paul E. Dickerson (brass bass); John Kehne (percussion).
The Journal-Gazette reported that this session entailed “eight hours of strenuous effort.” A third title, “You Know,” was also recorded, but so far we’ve not found any reliable evidence that it was issued. Let us know if you have a copy, and be sure to include a photo or scan for confirmation. Franklin’s orchestras cut two additional sides for Gennett in October 1928, but both were rejected.
For more on Franklin and several of his musicians, see Duncan Schiedt’s superb The Jazz State of Indiana (Indiana Historical Society, 1999).
Just a reminder that Mainspring Press has discontinued production of CDs and books as it begins the transition to online data delivery, in affiliation with the Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) at the University of California–Santa Barbara.
We recommend ordering any titles of interest as soon as possible. Several popular books (including Recording the ‘Thirties and The Pathé-Perfect Discography, Vol. 1) have already sold out, and others are in short supply. All CDs have also sold out.
We won’t be reprinting any titles once the current inventory is sold — and buying these books on the used-and-collectible market (if you can even find copies) is often a very pricey proposition. Don’t miss out!
UPDATE: Mainspring’s long-awaited American Zonophone 7″ and 9″ discographical database has now been incorporated into DAHR (there will be no print edition of this material). It’s the most highly detailed data ever published on these rare recordings, including little-known information on remakes, altered masters, relabelings, reissues, catalog listing dates, artist pseudonyms, and other fine details you just won’t find anywhere else — plus an illustrated history. And it’s free.
Mainspring Press has begun making arrangements to donate its extensive reference collection to the University of California at Santa Barbara, one of the major centers for discographical research in the U.S.
Highlights of the collection include the Bill Bryant and Record Research-group papers. The latter include approximately 70,000 index cards (compiled and maintained by Len Kunstadt, Walter C. Allen, George Blacker, and other highly respected researchers from 1952 through the late 1980s) containing complete discographical details of pre-1935 American records for which no original files exist. There is also an extensive collection of “SAC” (synchronized aural comparison) ledgers, in which the RR members painstakingly sorted out different takes, false master numbers, and control numbers on troublesome labels like Bell, Paramount, and the Plaza group, as well as a wealth of other rare and unpublished material.
Len Kunstadt (left) with one of his notorious ten-foot-high stacks of 78s. Len and the Record Research group eventually filled three warehouses with their holdings, many of which were acquired purely for research purposes. Bill Bryant (right) inherited the RR research papers and unpublished manuscripts, along with the exclusive publication rights, from George Blacker in the 1990s.
Bill Bryant’s papers includes numerous large binders of equally reliable discographical data (his own, as well as substantial contributions from the likes of Ed Kirkeby, Dick Spottswood, Ray Wile, Quentin Riggs, and Jim Walsh, among others); complete photocopied and/or microfilmed sets of the Gennett master ledgers, Edison studio cash books, and Decca 78-rpm ledgers; and other essential primary-source material.
Transfer of selected materials to UCSB probably will begin in late 2017.
The revised and expanded edition of Dick Spottswood’s legendary ethnic-record discography will be posted as a free download later this summer, exclusively on the Mainspring Press blog.
Dick Spottswood (right) with Skip James (Bryant collection)
The first edition of this pioneering work (published in 1990, and now long out-of-print) topped out at more than 3,700 pages. In the three decades since its release, Dick has made substantial additions and revisions that will appear here for the first time. The second edition is being made available completely free of charge for personal use, courtesy of the author.
The second volume of Bill Bryant’s American Zonophone Discography is undergoing final file preparation and will appear on UC-Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings within the next few weeks. This volume includes all 7″ and 9″ general-catalog releases (1899 – 1905), as well as Zonophone’s first, short-lived 10″ series of 1902. An illustrated history and label guide are included.
Unidentified Zonophone storefront, c. 1899 (Bryant collection)
This is Mainspring’s first direct-to-online venture (with many more planned); a printed edition will not be produced.
Before Victor snagged Louis Armstrong, their chief trumpet star was Henry Allen, Jr. (the “Red” business didn’t appear on labels consistently until later). His orchestra on Victor was actually that of Luis Russell, which was under contract to Okeh at the time. (This wasn’t Luis Russell’s only instance of rebranding. Many of King Oliver’s big-band sides were also by the Russell band, sometimes with only minimal participation by Oliver himself.)
Original shellac pressings of recordings like these are lovely to behold, we’ll grant you, and some can bring a king’s ransom if in truly outstanding shape (which most aren’t — and for all the newbies out there overpaying on eBay for wiped-out crap copies, keep in mind: it’s all about condition-condition-condition, even for the scarce stuff).
But for pure musical enjoyment, nothing beats a custom virgin-vinyl disc carefully hand-pressed from a well-preserved original stamper, like these (and since only a few copies were pressed, and were not sold to the public, they’re actually much rarer than the original shellacs). The vinyls used here were pressed in the 1950s or 1960s, most likely in conjunction with RCA’s “X-“ or “Vintage” LP reissue program. A lot of these custom pressings found their way to collectors in England; those used here, and many used elsewhere on the blog, eventually found their way back via the late Malcolm Shaw.
New York (46th Street Studio): July 16, 1929
mx. BVE 55133 – 3 (commercially issued on Victor V-38073)
New York (studio unlisted): July 17, 1929
mx. BVE 53930 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor V-38080)
New York (24th Street Studio): July 15, 1930
mx. BVE 62345 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor 23006)
New York (24th Street Studio): July 15, 1930
mx. BVE 62343 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor 23006)
All from c. 1950s–1960s blank-labeled custom vinyl pressings from the original stampers. Discographical data from the original RCA files (Sony archives, NYC), courtesy of John Bolig.
Our thanks to John Bolig, the ultimate Victor expert, for use of this rare original.
New York: c. September 1928
Marathon 227 (7″ Consolidated mx. 31340 – 2)
New York: Late November 1929
Grey Gull 1803 (mx. 3741 – A)
New York: April 1929
Cameo 9174 (Cameo mx. 3798 – B)
New York: September 13, 1929
Oriole 1726 (ARC mx. 9007 – 1, assigned control 2533)
New York: October 1928
Cameo 9025 (Pathe mx. 108448 – 1, assigned Cameo mx. 3529 – )
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:
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.
* 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.
By now, many of you are familiar with the free online Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) at the University of California-Santa Barbara, the largest and most exciting online discographical project to date. For newcomers, here’s a quick overview:
DAHR is an entirely free service, with no registration or log-in required. The database currently includes the following content, comprising more than 150,000 entries:
In the offing are Brunswick-Vocalion and (on Mainspring’s part) the complete American Record Corporation output, among many other projects. Data are obtained from original company documentation, material licensed from Greenwood Press and Mainspring Press (including our extensive William R. Bryant / Record Research Associates archive), and other trusted sources, and they undergo careful proofing and fact-checking by DAHR’s expert staff.
You can search by artist, title, catalog or matrix number, date, etc. Below are two results screens for a search on the U.S. Marine Band’s “Maple Leaf” rag, the first showing the details of the issued discs, and the second, all matrix details:
With DAHR, you can also instantly generate full listings by artist, composer, etc.:
Another nice touch — The listings contain links to the Library of Congress’ “National Jukebox” sound and label-scan files, when available. The library has already digitized more than 10,000 early Victor records, which can be heard in streaming format.
Clearly, this is the future of discography, and Mainspring is pleased to be a contributor. We hope you’ll visit the site often!
John Bolig’s many fans will be happy to hear that his new Victor Black Label Discography, Volume 5 is now available as a free download, courtesy of UC-Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings (< click this link to get to the download site).
Volume 5 — the first in this important series for which there will be no printed edition — covers the 25000, 26000, and 27000 series, from 1935 to 1942. Like all previous volumes, it was compiled from the original RCA documentation and contains no speculative or anecdotal material — just the (non-alternative) facts.
The download is in searchable PDF format (Adobe Acrobat or Reader) and can be printed out for personal use. For book enthusiasts, Mainspring Press still has copies of Volumes 1–4 available (which are not available as free downloads), but quantities are very limited, so order soon to avoid missing out — they’re sure to become collectors’ items.
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.
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.
Victor retained many alternate backup takes in its early years, designating them “H” [hold], “H30” [hold 30 days] or “HC” [hold conditional] in the files. They’re generally of little interest for pop and classical recordings, but with jazz it’s another story. Here are two of our favorites for comparison, exhibiting striking differences in each performance, along with some subtle engineering variations. We’re extra lucky with the Johnson title, since Victor took the relatively uncommon step of designating two “holds.” Normally, one of the three would have been singled out for destruction [“D”].
The custom vinyl pressings of the unissued takes used here appear to have been made in the 1950s, probably in conjunction with RCA’s “X” reissue program. Apparently a fair number were pressed; they turn up with some frequency in private collections, including ours, and they occasionally still surface on high-end auction lists.
Camden NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 40096 – 1 (“Hold” — Unissued on 78)
From a c. 1950s custom vinyl pressing of the original stamper
Camden NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 40096 – 2 (“Master” — Issued on Victor 21127)
Other than Waller and Morris, no personnel are listed in the Victor files. Brian Rust’s guess that Victor studio manager Eddie King played drums is incorrect. King was no longer employed by Victor at the time of this session, having moved to Columbia as an assistant A&R manager in late October 1927.
New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 1 (“Hold” — Unissued on 78)
From a c. 1950s custom vinyl pressing of the original stamper
New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 2 (“Master” — Issued on Victor 21712)
New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 3 (“Hold” — Issued May 1939 on Bluebird B-10248)
Personnel listed in the Victor files appear to have been added at a later date by an unknown party, from an unknown source, probably in connection with the 1939 Bluebird release.
Four very different treatments of Shelton Brooks’ 1910 hit, beginning with a Victor release by studio singer Billy Murray in auto-pilot mode. Given what we know of Victor’s musical assembly-line of the period, Murray’s first encounter with the song quite likely came when a company representative handed him the score and gave him a few days to prepare for the recording.
The song might have died on the spot, given such treatment, but Sophie Tucker made it her own. She brought audiences to their feet (and folks of the sort who carped about “white coon shouters” to near-apoplexy), and it would serve as her signature tune for the rest of her career. Here are two of Tucker’s many recorded versions — the original, and a mid-1920s reworking with the Ted Lewis band that incidentally marks one of the earliest fruits of the Columbia-Okeh merger. Lewis was exclusive to Columbia, Tucker to Okeh; the fact that Columbia got the release was perhaps a not-so-subtle reminder of who was boss in the new relationship.
And finally, a full jazz treatment by The Missourians, the sensationally hot band that Cab Calloway had recently taken over. Within a few months he would begin adjusting personnel and reducing them to glorified accompanists, but here we have them in their final, untampered-with glory.
Camden NJ: December 27, 1910 (Released March 1911)
Victor 16834 (mx. B 9740 – 3)
Personnel not listed in the Victor files. The American Quartet at this time normally included Murray (lead tenor), John Bieling (tenor), Steve Porter (baritone), and William F. Hooley (bass).
New York: February or March 1911 (Released May 25, 1911)
Edison Amberol 691 (four-minute cylinder)
The Edison studio cash books list Tucker four-minute sessions on February 17 and 24, and March 2, but do not indicate the titles recorded at each.
Chicago: November 23, 1926
Columbia 826-D (mx. W 142955 – 2)
New York: December 23, 1930
Brunswick 6020 (mx. E 35880 – A)