Leeds & Catlin Data Now Available Online at DAHR

Leeds & Catlin Data Now Available Online at DAHR

 

As part of Mainspring Press’ ongoing transition to digital data distribution, we’re happy to announce that our Leeds & Catlin discography has now been incorporated into the University of California-Santa Barbara’s free online Discography of American Historical Recordings.

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The listings were expertly adapted from Leeds & Catlin Records: A History and Discography (William R. Bryant & Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and include the latest revisions to that work. All brands are covered, from the well-known Leeds, Imperial, and Sun labels to such truly obscure items as 20th Century and Duquesne.

The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) and International Record Company databases are currently in preparation for DAHR. Mainspring’s American Zonophone data, including the previously unpublished volume covering 7″, 9″, and 11″ issues, was transferred to DAHR last year.

The James A. Drake Interviews • Ted Lewis (Conclusion)

INTERVIEW WITH TED LEWIS
Part 3 (Conclusion)
 James A. Drake

 

This interview was conducted in 1968 at Temple Israel, in Columbus, Ohio,
courtesy of Rabbi Jerome D. Folkman.

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(G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
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I’d like to ask you more about the unique way you perform the lyrics of your songs.  On your Columbia recordings, your early acoustic ones, you seem to sing more than you did when you made your electrical Columbias, and your Decca recordings several years later. 

Well, that had to do more with the way recording was done back then, and also the way that records were promoted.  All of the record companies put out annual catalogs that [listed] their records according to categories.  So there would be a section for dance records, a section for symphonic records, a section for popular music—ballads, waltzes, and what-not—and a section for humorous records, monologs and such, and always a special section for records of opera arias and an overture or section from a symphony.  There may have been one or two others [i.e., categories], but that was the idea, the way these catalogs were put together.

When I made my first records for Columbia with my own band, around 1919, if the label of the record had the words “vocal refrain” or “vocal chorus,” the people who bought the record expected to hear singing.  Not necessarily ballad-singing, but you couldn’t just talk the lyrics, you had to sing them.

When I recorded “When My Baby Smiles at Me” the first time, I was singing into a metal horn, and my band was on bleachers that were in a circle, or semi-circle, right behind me.  If you listen to that [Columbia] record, I sing the line “when my baby smiles at me” just like it’s written.  On any of the later [recordings], I did it like this:  “When my baby”—and I say “baby,” I don’t sing it—“smiles at me”—I sing the words “smiles at,” but on “me,” I speak it.  On the first record, I sang the next line, “My thoughts go roaming to paradise,” all on pitch, singing it “straight,” in other words.  The recording director wanted to hear that “g” in “roaming” on the recording.  Later, I would do it like this:  “My thoughts to roamin’—roamin’—way up there to paradise, yessir,” and I’d “talk” the line.

 

Do you remember where did you make your first recordings for Columbia?

In New York.  The very first ones were [recorded] in space they rented on an upper floor of a building on Sixth Avenue.  Then they built a new set of studios on the top floor of the Gotham Building when it was finished.  Those were nice studios because the building had, I think, twenty-three stories, and the studios were on the top floor, so none of the sounds of the traffic way down below could be heard.  There were big windows on three sides of each studio—there were two separate studios, back to back—and in good weather, the windows would be open and it would be very comfortable in there.

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Were you offered a contract by Victor when you were at Columbia?

 No.  They had other bands by the late-1920’s—[Jean] Goldkette, [George] Olsen, and of course Whiteman—and I was happy at Columbia.  I did well for them, and they did well for me.  They designed a special silver label for my records.  That was the first time any of the record companies designed a special label for a performer.  That became my trademark at Columbia.

 

Another trademark of yours is your white-tipped cane, which you seem to be able to do anything with.  You twirl it so fast that if it had lights on it, they would be a blur.  How long has that been a part of your show, your act?

The baton-twirling?  I had learned it as a kid, and I got to lead a very big medicine show when it came into Circleville.

 

Do you remember the name of the medicine show?  I understand that there were a lot of them in the Midwest at the turn of the century.

It was called Hamlin’s Medicine Show.  It was quite a production—like a circus coming to town.  There would be posters put up everywhere weeks ahead, and the show would come into town led by a marching band.  [Oscar] Ameringer used many of us in the cadet band, along with others, especially brass players, to lead the parade of the Hamlin wagons into town.

I used to practice almost day and night twirling that brass baton.  It wasn’t like the white-tipped walking sticks I use in my act, not like what I use in “Me and My Shadow.”  This one was longer, and it had a kind of bulb on one end.  It was a tapered tube with the other end rounded off.  I got so I could throw it in the air, catch it behind my back, do all sorts of tricks with it.  I wasn’t the only bandleader who could “twirl,” you know.  George Olsen used a baton in his floor shows.  I think he had been a drum major.

 

As you hardly need me to say, there is an ongoing debate about who was first “jazz king,” Ted Lewis or Paul Whiteman.  Would you comment on that debate?

To start with, look at the dates.  When I was playing with Earl Fuller in 1916-1917, Paul was playing viola in a symphony orchestra.  That was his background and training.  His father was the conductor, or maybe director, of the Denver Symphony, which is where Paul got his start.  Then listen to his first records, and compare them to mine.  He didn’t make any recordings till at least two or maybe three years after I was recording with the Fuller band.  Where he was lucky is that he was signed by Victor, and two of the songs his band recorded in one of their first sessions, “Whispering” and “The Japanese Sandman,” were big hits.

Frankly, I never thought of Paul as a jazzman.  He loved that “King of Jazz” title, and that “talkie” [of the same title] definitely put him over with the public more than his first records ever did, but if you listen to his radio shows and read some of the interviews he gave, what he talks about is not jazz in the New Orleans style, but what he liked to call “symphonic jazz.”  Of course, he got that from being the one who introduced “Rhapsody in Blue,” and the one who recorded it with George [Gershwin] at the piano.  But he didn’t have as much to do with that premiere as he claims he did.  Ferde Grofé and Gershwin were the ones who wrote the arrangement.

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Sharing the limelight with Paul Whiteman (October 1928)

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Paul was a solid musician—no question about that.  He had that symphonic training, and he was taught by his father.  But as any of the fellows who were in his bands will tell you, he was not a very good player, and just a so-so conductor.  If you talk to Joe Venuti and ask him about Paul as a violist and violinist, Joe will tell you that [Whiteman’s] playing could be almost embarrassing.  Yet he’d insist on playing a violin solo from the podium, always with a spotlight trained on him, and he’d be sharp or flat throughout the solo.

 

Did you get to know each other when you were both with Columbia in the late-1920’s?

Not really, no.  The reason he left Victor and came to Columbia was because the head man at Victor, Nat Shilkret, had an ego like Paul did, and he wanted to decide what Paul would record.  Paul thought he had made so much money for Victor that nobody there should be trying to tell him what to do.  And there was another fellow [at Victor], Eddie King, who didn’t like jazz at all, and he was a “yes man” to Shilkret.

Now, Ben Selvin, who got the A&R job at Columbia around 1925 or 1926, knew Paul and knew how much interference he was getting from Shilkret, so Ben talked Columbia into giving Whiteman a much better contract.  Not so much better money-wise, but better because Paul could pick all of his players and arrangers, and could record whatever he wanted.  And as they had done for me, the [Columbia] management designed a special label for Paul’s records.

 

As you know, there are music historians who maintain that jazz and blues began with a black players in New Orleans, and that white musicians, especially Whiteman, “stole” the music from its black originators and commercialized it.  To the best of my knowledge, no one ever said that about you.  Do you have any thoughts about that?

Everybody who started playing jazz around the time I did, knew that this was New Orleans music and that the players who brought it to the north, whether we’re talking about the Midwest or New York, were blacks and Creoles.  Louis Armstrong was the giant of all of them, and everybody knew where Satchmo was from.  He was King Oliver’s star player.  Same with Sidney Bechet.  Practically every one of those early jazz and blues players you can name, whether it’s Jelly Roll Morton, or Lucky Roberts, or James P. Johnson, or the blues singers like Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters, they were all from the South.

 

I was thinking more about why Paul Whiteman, but not Ted Lewis, has come to be seen as the one who “stole” black music, commercialized it, and made a fortune from it without ever acknowledging its real origins.

I can only give you my opinion, and it’s that Paul promoted himself was the “King of Jazz.”  If you’re going to advertise yourself as the King of Jazz, and you make a movie called “King of Jazz” and you’re the star of it, then you’re almost saying that this is your music, your invention, and that you’re the best one who can play it.

I never did any of that.  And I never pretended to play “symphonic jazz,” or anything like it.  And I didn’t lead a band, let alone try to be a conductor.  My band was the backdrop for my act, which has always been a stage act.  I’ve never promoted myself as a bandleader because I’m not one.  I came out of vaudeville, and my place is the stage, not a podium in front of a big band.

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Ted Lewis at the Columbia pressing plant, late 1920s
(CBS archives)

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You have been so generous with your time this afternoon, and I don’t want to take any more advantage of it than you have allowed me to.  But I would like to end this interview on the same topic we began, which is the clarinet.  I can’t think of a well-known clarinetist of the 1930’s and 1940’s who didn’t play in one of your bands.  In fact, I can’t think of any big-band member who didn’t play in one of your bands!  If you won’t mind giving me your thoughts about these clarinetists, I’ll really appreciate it.  Let me begin with the two best-known ones, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.  You hired both of them for your studio sessions, am I correct?

Yes, both of them played with me at different times when they were studio players.  I had Benny play my some of my solos in my Columbia [electrical] records.  Both are great players, but if you’re asking me which one I consider the best, it’s Shaw.  I haven’t heard high-register playing like Shaw’s since Al Nunez.  I’m not taking anything away from Benny, who’s a terrific improviser.  But Shaw was tops in my book.  I just wish he hadn’t walked away from it when he did.

 

Four other names, if I may:  Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Lytell, Pee Wee Russell, and Lawrence Welk’s discovery, Pete Fountain. 

Johnny Dodds was the real thing, one hell of a clarinetist!  You know, he replaced Al Nunez when Al had some medical [dental] problems.  To me, he wasn’t anywhere near the player that Al Nunez was.  You know, Pee Wee [Russell], who was probably the closest thing to the old New Orleans players, said that Al Nunez was the greatest jazz clarinetist who ever lived.  That tells you a lot about both of them, because if they held one of those old “carving contests” like they had in New Orleans, Pee Wee could outplay just about anybody you’d put up next to him.

You mentioned Jimmy Lytell, who’s a favorite of mine.  Jim can play anything you put in front of him—a hell of a studio clarinetist—and he can improvise with the best of them.  And Jim is an Albert [system] player.  Did you know that?  Of course, that makes him special to me because he didn’t switch like the others did.

Now, about Pete Fountain, there’s no question that he’s a first-rate clarinetist.  I don’t see how he can last with Welk, any more than he could have years ago with, and I’m just picking names, Guy Lombardo or Shep Fields or Kay Kyser or Wayne King.  Those fellows got where they were by sticking to a formula, and it’s not a formula that leaves much room for a “hot” soloist.  Welk doesn’t pay anybody either—he pays scale, or just a little over scale.  He’s lucky to have Pete Fountain because Pete draws people who wouldn’t tune in Welk.

But Welk’s show is really a musical variety show, sort of a cross between the “Hit Parade” and a vaudeville bill—a pop song by the whole band, then an Irish tenor, and the Lennon Sisters, and a violinist, then the kid with the electric guitar, and then Pete Fountain.  For a New Orleans jazzman, that’s not much of an opportunity to play.  So we’ll see how long that lasts with Pete.

 

On a talk show recently, Artie Shaw and Beverly Sills were asked how they manage criticism, whether from music critics or gossip columnists like Dorothy Kilgallen.  In so many words, they said you must have, or else you must develop, thick skin and then consider the source.  You have had a few critics during your long career, and one of them seems to be Eddie Condon.  As you may have heard, he said in his recent book that “Ted Lewis could really make the clarinet talk, and when it did, it said, ‘Please put me back in my case.’”

If he really wrote that, if those were his own words and not his ghostwriter’s, he can’t take any credit for being original.  That line has been around as far back as I can remember, and it applies to any instrument that comes in a case, whether it’s a violin or a trombone or a clarinet.  But, look, he’s trying to make some money to pay the rent, so he thinks he has to put down other people in the business.  It doesn’t bother me not only because it’s not original, but because you have to consider the source.  Eddie Condon is no Eddie Lang.  Eddie Condon plays a four-string guitar.  A four-string guitar?  Please!  That’s nothing but an oversized ukulele.  And maybe I shouldn’t have given Eddie all the work I gave him!

 

I can’t thank you enough for the time you have given me for this interview.  I’m a proud Ted Lewis fan, and will never forget how kind you were to me ten years ago when I asked for your autograph.  And I assure you that I’ll never forget how generous you have been to me today.  Thank you again and again and again.

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© 2018 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved. Short excerpts may be quoted without permission, provided the source and a link to this posting are cited. All other use requires prior written consent of the copyright holder. Please e-mail Mainspring Press with questions, comments, or reproduction requests for the author.

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Additional content from Mainspring Press

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SOPHIE TUCKER with TED LEWIS & HIS BAND: Some of these Days

Chicago: November 23, 1926
Columbia 1826-D (mx. W 142955 – 2)

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RUTH ETTING with TED LEWIS & HIS BAND: Keep Sweeping the Cobwebs Off the Moon

New York: December 23, 1927
Columbia 1242-D (mx. W 145395 – 2)

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TED LEWIS & HIS BAND: Milenberg Joys

New York: June 22, 1925
Columbia 439-D (mx. W 140709 – 2)

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The James A. Drake Interviews • Ted Lewis (Part 2)

INTERVIEW WITH TED LEWIS
Part 2 of 3
 James A. Drake

 

This interview was conducted in 1968 at Temple Israel, in Columbus, Ohio,
courtesy of Rabbi Jerome D. Folkman.
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(October 1925)

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Going back to the very beginning of your career, who was “Cricket”?

Cricket Smith was his name.  He had a band that he and several other Negro barbers had put together.  Not that all of the players were barbers.  They were black musicians who happened, some of them, to be barbers.

 

In interviews I’ve read, you have given a lot of credit to “Cricket” and his influence on your playing style.  How would you describe what you learned from him?

Syncopation.  I learned that from [Cricket Smith’s] band.  What they played was totally different from what we thought of as a “band,” which was a marching band, a military band, in those days.  Very oom-pah-pah.  The black band players were playing in a syncopated style.

 

Were they trained musicians, any of them?

They didn’t read music.  They played by ear, and they would play a melody to suit themselves.  The sheet music might have, say, eight bars of half-notes and quarter notes, and a rest here and there.  But since these fellows couldn’t read music, they held onto a note if they wanted to, or added what you call “grace notes” here and there, which made their playing swing.

 

How did you come to know Cricket Smith?

I used to sweep out his shop.  I was good at sweeping out stores.  My father had a dry-goods store, and one of my “jobs” was to sweep the inside of our store, and sweep the walkway outside it.

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From “The Jazz ‘King’s’ Climb: He Blew His Own Horn” (Harrisburg [PA] Telegraph, January 9, 1920)

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What was the name of his store?

The name?  You mean my father’s name, or the name of the store?

 

Both, if you please.

My father’s name was Ben, or Benny as he was called, Benjamin Friedman.  Benjamin and Paulina Friedman—they were my parents. The store was Friedman’s Bazaar.  It was on West Main Street in Circleville.  It was about, maybe, seven or eight blocks from the house I grew up in.  It was a two-story home, or three-story if you count the attic, which we also used, on West Mound Street in Circleville, at 158 West Mound.

 

How many were in your immediate family?

I’m the second oldest of five kids; my brother Edgar was the first, then me, then my brother Milt (or Milton), Leon, and Max.  We also had a clerk at my father’s shop living with us, and at times we also had a laundress living with us.

 

You began in a municipal band in your hometown, am I right?

It was what used to be called a “cadet band,” and it was formed by a German bandmaster.  In Circleville, in fact in the big Ohio cities, it was the Germans who were usually the bandmasters.  And were the teachers, too.

 

That would have been Oscar Ameringer who formed and led that band? 

Yes, Oscar Ameringer.  He called himself “Professor” Ameringer.  Just like I call myself “Professor Lewis” when I do “Medicine Man for the Blues.”

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Oscar Ameringer, 1920 (G. G. Bain Collection,
Library of Congress
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Was he the Oscar Ameringer who became a prominent Socialist, and either founded or wrote for labor-union newspapers?

Yes, indeed.  He came to Circleville from Cincinnati, and I think he lived in Columbus for a while, too.  He was very friendly with John L. Lewis, the mine-worker leader.  Oscar was our bandmaster in Circleville.  And he kicked me out of that band.  Do you know that story?

 

I’ve heard a version of it, but I’d much rather hear it from Ted Lewis personally!

Well, we were playing a concert in the park, and one of the pieces was the “Poet and Peasant Overture.”  Being German, Oscar Ameringer liked the Suppé overtures, especially “Poet and Peasant” and the “Light Cavalry” one.  They were popular back then.   Our band had played [“Poet and Peasant”] so many times that frankly, I was sick of it.

In the middle, and again toward the end of the overture, there’s a passage in ¾ time and the woodwinds, especially the clarinets, are more prominent in those parts.  The brass section “rules the roost” in the opening of the overture, then the strings and brass, then the woodwinds.  Anyway, I think I played the first [section] the way it’s written.  But in the second [section], I stood up and “noodled” my way all the way through that passage.  I was all over the place, improvising in the upper register.  Well, as soon as that concert was over, I got fired!

 

Did Ameringer re-hire you after he calmed down?

No, and it wasn’t long after that when I went to Columbus and started playing there.   Later on, after I got well known in New York, he apologized to me about ten times.

 

What took you to Columbus from Circleville?

Well, my father wanted me to go to college, to learn how to run a business and maybe become part of the family business.  So he paid my tuition to go to a business college in Columbus.

 

Was that Bliss College?

I think it was called Columbus Business College back then, but it’s still going, I think.  I was only there one term, one semester, and it wasn’t for me.  The classes mere mostly in the morning, and I’m not a morning type of fellow.  Show-business folks are night-time folks, you know.  So I didn’t stay in business college.  But if I do say so myself, I don’t pretty well in business.  Not the kind my father had in mind, but in show business.

 

Do you recall where you lived in Columbus?

A boarding house on East Town Street, about two blocks from Town and High Street.  I think it’s still there.

 

Do you recall the name of the store you worked in?

Yes, Goldsmith’s Music Store, on South High Street near where the Capitol building is.  At that time, it was a very large operation.  They sold all kinds of musical instruments, and phonographs, and player pianos, and they also sold and demonstrated sheet music for customers.  I did odd jobs there—sweeping up, and raising and lowering the awnings, and doing deliveries, mainly.  I did learn how to adjust keys and springs on the clarinet, and how to shave reeds, and how to put in pads.  But I was just an errand boy.

 

May I ask you about your religious upbringing?  Although I’m a goy, I study with two rabbis at Ohio State, one Orthodox, Rabbi Marvin Fox, and one Reformed—the great man Rabbi [Jerome D.] Folkman, who has made this interview possible for me.  Not being Jewish, I don’t know if there are strict lines that separate Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Judaism, but if you had to characterize your family when you were growing up in Circleville, in which tradition would you place your family?

First of all, in Circleville there were only, I think, five families including ours that were Jewish.  My father came from what you’d call a Conservative background today.  There was no temple in Circleville, and the Jewish families that lived there, if they got together much at all for religious purposes, got together in one of their homes.  Honestly, I don’t remember much of anything about what it meant to be Jewish until I came to Columbus and saw the beautiful synagogues there.  I’m sure you know the name Lazarus, the department-store family.  The patriarch was Simon Lazarus, and he and several other wealthy Jewish families donated the money and headed the fund drives for those wonderful temples in the East end.

As for me, to be honest I’m not [an] observant Jew.  Adah and I were married by a rabbi after [our] civil ceremony because we wanted a mitzvah, a blessing, for our marriage.  But being on the road like I’ve been throughout my career, I couldn’t follow the dietary laws and say all the prayers you’re supposed to say before and after meals, and at sunrise and sunset and throughout the day.  But I’m Jewish and I’m proud of it, and I really like this temple [Temple Israel] where my brother belongs.  And everybody here loves Rabbi Folkman.  I bet he’s a good professor.

 

Indeed he is—and please tell him I said so, although he’s not going to give me any bonus points for a compliment!  Staying with the subject of Columbus and your time there, did you play any of the vaudeville houses in Columbus?

Much later, yes, but not at the time I’m talking about.  At Goldsmith’s, I met a man named Gus Sun, who had a vaudeville circuit that played the East Coast.  He hired me, and it was through him that I got to New York.  I was hired by a band that played at Rector’s, which was a very posh restaurant in Manhattan.

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(The Talking Machine World, October 1925)

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Was that your first band, meaning the first one that was called the “Ted Lewis Band?”

No, my first band was a little before that.  I had put together a band in 1915, just five pieces, two clarinets, two cornets, and a Sousaphone.  We played shows at Coney Island.  We also played a few dates at the Brighton Beach Pavilion.

 

When you formed that first band and were playing at Coney Island, were you playing in the style we hear on your first Columbia recordings?

No.  We were playing songs that were suited to that type of a small band.  We weren’t improvising.  We were playing “straight.”

 

When would you say that you first began playing jazz, then?

Well, the group that popularized jazz was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Nick LaRocca was the one who made that group what it was.  When they got the gig at Reisenweber’s in New York, and then when Victor picked them up and started promoting their records, that’s when jazz really took off.  Now, I had been playing in that style before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  I was with a band called Earl Fuller’s Novelty Orchestra.

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Earl Fuller special label. By this time this was issued in early 1920, Lewis had left to form his own band, and Fuller would soon exit the music business. The recordings were reissued on Arto 9009, a September 1920 release.  (Courtesy of Kurt Nauck)

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When and how did you become associated with the Earl Fuller band?

It was either at the end of 1915 or early in 1916.  Earl heard my little five-piece “nut band,” as I called it, and he liked my style, so he offered me a job.  It wasn’t until I got to know him that I found out he was an Ohioan, too.  He was from Warren, Ohio.

 

Did Earl Fuller just lead the band, or did he play in it too?

Earl was a pianist, what we used to call a “novelty pianist” in the style of Zez Confrey and Felix Arndt.  Do you know those names?

 

Yes, “Kitten on the Keys” and “Nola” and so many other piano pieces that I wish I could play!

Are you a musician too?

 

No, sir, except in a very liberal use of the word “musician.”  I play clarinet at a little bar on High Street, a block north of the [Ohio State University] campus.  The owner is a ragtime pianist, and three nights a week I am his clarinetist.  But I hesitate to say that I am a clarinetist in the presence of the great Ted Lewis!

If the money and the tips are helping you get your doctor’s degree, it doesn’t matter how well you play.

 

I’ll remember that, sir.  Going back to your days with Earl Fuller, were the Fuller band and the Original Dixieland band the major jazz bands in Manhattan around the time that the U.S. entered World War One?

No, there were others in and around New York that were novelty bands, although what they were playing was our [New York] version of New Orleans jazz.  Ben Selvin was there, and he had a novelty band, and Gus Haenschen had a banjo orchestra that he’d brought from St. Louis.  The Warings, Fred and Tom, had a banjo orchestra, and there was the Original New Orleans Jazz Band too.  So there were several, and all of them were copying the Original Dixieland Jazz Band—not the “live” band, but their Victor records.  Victor really promoted those records.

 

You left Earl Fuller’s band, as we were talking about earlier, to form your own band.  Was that a mutual decision?

Well, yes and no.  He was older, and doing three shows a night, every night but Monday, was wearing thin for him.  And to be honest about it, I had an act pretty much planned out, and I needed my own band to do my act the way I had conceived of it.  I was full of pep and eager to get started, and I talked to several of the guys in the [Fuller] band, and they were willing to take a chance on sticking with me, so they came along.

 

Did you and Earl Fuller become competitors, then?

Not really.  He was winding down, tired of the grind.  When I was with him, the band had done several trial recordings for Victor, but very few of them were released.  We had better luck with Columbia, and that’s how I got into Columbia and why I stayed with them after I had my own band.  Columbia, you know, was the David to Victor’s Goliath.  Columbia would try new things that Victor was reluctant to do.

Victor, as I said, promoted the Original Dixieland records pretty well, but that wasn’t what the [Victor] management wanted in 1917 and 1918.  Their biggest selling band was the [Joseph C.] Smith band, which was a “society” outfit.  Now that changed when they got [Paul] Whiteman, but that was after the Original Dixieland fellows had run their course.  Earl, you see, wanted to be like Joseph C. Smith and be a society band.  And that was exactly what I didn’t want to be.

 

Did you and Earl Fuller stay in contact after you became famous on your own?

Just incidentally.  Earl went into radio when it became big.  He stayed in radio, pretty much in the Midwest.  Somewhere around World War Two, I think, he was the musical director for a big station in Cincinnati.  So he did all right for himself—another Ohio boy who made good in the music business.

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COMING IN PART 3: Columbia records, Paul Whiteman, Lewis on jazz

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© 2018 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved. Short excerpts may be quoted without permission, provided the source and a link to this posting are cited. All other use requires prior written consent of the copyright holder. Please e-mail Mainspring Press with questions, comments, or reproduction requests for the author.

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Additional content from Mainspring Press

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Beginning in the later 1920s, Ted Lewis sometimes let younger musicians handle the clarinet work. These three examples feature Don Murray, best remembered for his work with Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.

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TED LEWIS & HIS BAND: Jungle Blues
New York: April 3, 1928
Columbia 1525-D (mx. W 145954 – 4)

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TED LEWIS & HIS BAND (Lewis, vocal): A Jazz Holiday

New York: April 3, 1928
Columbia 1525-D (mx. W 145953 – 3)

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TED LEWIS & HIS BAND (Lewis, vocal): Maybe – Who Knows?

Los Angeles: May 26, 1929
Columbia 1854-D (mx. 148562 – 3)

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Highlights from the Pathe Records Catalog (August 1916)

From the Bill Bryant papers at Mainspring Press. Note the issue by Rector’s New York Dance Orchestra (Leopold Kohls, director), which is missing from American Dance Bands on Records and Film. A bit of trivia for the organ fans out there, from a page not pictured: Pathé’s “exclusive” studio organ was a Mason & Hamlin (a popular line of reed organs), model not mentioned.

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Antique Phonograph Ephemera • 1904 Zonophone Gatefold Card

From the 1904 transitional period, soon after the Universal Talking Machine had been purchased by Victor’s Eldridge R. Johnson but was still marketing its own (pre-Victor) phonographs. The “Zonophone Company” name on the inner panel was used only briefly, dating this piece to fairly early in the year. (Many thanks, Jorge – I owe you a finder’s fee!)

Mainspring’s American Zonophone discographical data — now including all general-catalog 7″, 9″, 10″, 11″, and 12″ pressings — can be found on the free Discography of American Historical Recordings website, hosted by the University of California–Santa Barbara. If you prefer books, Bill Bryant’s 10″ / 12″ American Zonophone discography is still available on the  Mainspring Press website at special close-out pricing (but quantities are very limited).

Some Early Record-Pressing Plants

AUBURN BUTTON WORKS (Auburn, NY) — Founded in 1876  by John Hermon Woodruff, as Woodruff’s Button Factory, this  company was renamed Auburn Button Works in the late 1880s. It moved into the Washington Street buildings shown here in 1900. Auburn pressed the 7″ and 9″ brown-shellac Zonophone discs at an auxiliary plant in New York City.

The relationship was severed after Zonophone switched to Duranoid pressings in 1904, and the pressing equipment was moved to Auburn, where the International Record Company (producers of Excelsior, Lyric, et al.) was set up as a recording subsidiary. The company was forced to suspend production of its own records after losing a 1907 patent-infringement suit to Columbia. In the early 1920s the pressing plant was leased to Brunswick, then was sold to the Scranton Record Company in November 1924.

Auburn continued to manufacture other goods after spinning off the pressing business. Its final incarnation was as Auburn Plastics, Inc., which was incorporated on July 1, 1957, and dissolved (after many years of inactivity) on March 24, 1993.

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COLUMBIA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY (Bridgeport, CT) — Columbia’s sprawling Bridgeport complex housed most production operations other than recording. Acquired by the American Record Corporation in 1934, it continued to produce high-quality laminated pressings for ARC’s more expensive labels (Brunswick, Columbia, Liberty Music Shops, et al.), while pressing of ARC’s budget labels remained in Scranton. Conditions in the Bridgeport pressing plant were so bad by the mid-1930s that record producer John Hammond published a scathing exposé and attempted to unionize the workforce.

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VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY (Camden, NJ) — The largest record-production facility in the United States at the time, the Victor complex was a city unto itself, with its own printing plant, fire department, infirmary, auditorium, police force, docks, and rail line. The view above is from 1916; just twenty years earlier, future Victor founder Eldridge Johnson was building motors for Emile Berliner in a rented shack. The sole surviving structure now houses luxury apartments.

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LEEDS & CATLIN COMPANY (Middletown, CT) — In September 1905, Leeds & Catlin opened this pressing plant in the former Worcester Cycle Company factory, replacing its New York City plant. The move coincided with Leeds’ phase-out of its foil-labeled discs. Three months later, the company announced it had installed fifty additional presses to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for its new paper-labeled Imperial records. By the end of 1905, the Middletown plant was said to have an annual capacity of 150 million discs. This view appeared in a 1906 ad for Radium cylinders, Leeds’ short-lived attempt to re-enter the cylinder market.

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AMERICAN RECORD COMPANY / DOMESTIC / OKEH  (Springfield, MA) — The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) pressed their blue-shellac discs in this building during 1904–1906. Horace Sheble later pressed his Domestic discs here, using the same sort of blue shellac.

Following the demise of Domestic, Otto Heineman took over the plant in early 1918 for his newly launched Okeh label. Unable to keep up with orders for the first several years, Heineman contracted his overflow pressing to at least two outside plants.

In this view, Okeh is sharing space with the International Insulating Corporation, one of Heineman’s many other business ventures. This pressing plant was closed after Heineman opened a more modern facility in Newark, NJ, in 1921.

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BRUNSWICK-BALKE-COLLENDER COMPANY (Jersey City, NJ) — This was Brunswick’s second pressing plant; initially, it used a facility in Long Island City, NY. Brunswick also used the Auburn Button Works facility as an auxiliary pressing plant until November 1924, when the Scranton Button Company acquired Auburn’s pressing plant. Brunswick’s main pressing plant, in Muskegon, MI, opened in 1922. Vocalion’s masters were transferred there in March 1925. The Muskegon pressing plant was closed after the Brunswick and Vocalion labels were licensed to American Record Corporation, and in 1934 Decca Records purchased the largely obsolete equipment, much to its regret.

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STANDARD MUSIC ROLL COMPANY / THE ARTO COMPANY (Orange, NJ) — Employees assemble for a company photo in 1918 at the Standard Music Roll plant, before production of Arto records began (above). The photo was presented to president George Howlett Davis as a Christmas gift.

The Arto pressing plant was housed in a new structure, shown here in a 1919 architect’s sketch (below). Only the two-story structure on the right was actually built. In addition to the pressing plant, it housed Standard’s piano-roll flange factory. Although Arto claimed to operate its own studio, the vast majority of its masters were commissioned from outside sources, including Jones Recording Laboratories, Independent Recording Laboratories, New York Recording Laboratories, and Harry Marker’s H&M Laboratories (see Bell and Arto Records: A History and Discography, 1920–1928, available from Mainspring Press).

SCRANTON BUTTON COMPANY (Scranton, PA) — The largest independent American pressing plant for several decades, Scranton was closely affiliated with the Plaza Music Company / Regal Record Company group beginning in the early 1920s. Some accounts refer to this company in error as the Scranton Button Works.

Scranton sometimes invested in its clients (including National Music Lovers, in which it held a 49% stake) as a means of ensuring their continued business. At the time this view was published in 1924, the company has just acquired the Emerson recording division, which had been split from the radio division (the latter being the ancestor of the present-day Emerson corporation).

The plant was included in the 1929 merger that created the American Record Corporation. It continued to press budget labels for ARC until that company was sold to CBS, which had no use for the facility. Reorganized as the Scranton Record Company in 1939, it barely survived an entanglement with Eli Oberstein’s failed United States Record Corporation before re-emerging as a major independent plant. Capitol Records began purchasing  Scranton stock in 1944, and on March 26, 1946, it bought the company outright.

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NEW YORK RECORDING LABORATORIES (Grafton, Wisconsin) — Owned by the Wisconsin Chair Company (Port Washington, WI), this converted knitting mill on the Milwaukee River housed the pressing plant for Paramount and its many associated labels. It was a relatively primitive operation, and its pressings tend to reflect that. The pressing plant occupied the large structure on the left. Paramount’s now-legendary (and equally primitive) recording studio opened in late 1929, in the smaller building on the right. The studio building was demolished in 1938, the pressing-plant building in the mid-1940s.

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Russian Interference, Part 2 • Boris Morros Recalls His Time at ARA Records (1944 – 1945)

Russian Interference, Part 2: Boris Morros Recalls His Time at
ARA Records (1944 – 1945)

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In May 1934, Boris Morros, a musical director for Paramount Pictures, was secretly contacted by a member of the Russian NKVD in an attempt to plant Russian operatives throughout Hollywood. Vasily M. Zubilin was assigned to be his handler.

A decade later, Zubilin arranged for Soviet sympathizers Alfred K. and Martha Dodd Stern to buy into Morros’ music-publishing operation. With $130,000 from the Sterns, Morros launched the American Recording Artists (ARA) label, which (in addition to producing some fairly decent records) served as a cover for an extensive Soviet spy ring. The Russian’s involvement with ARA went undetected, and label was a success—at least briefly.

Morros redeemed himself on July 14, 1947, when he came clean to the FBI. In return for a promise from the Justice Department not to prosecute, he agreed to serve as a double agent, reporting on Soviet intelligence efforts for the next ten years. Here are his  recollections of the ARA operation, from his 1959 memoir, My Ten Years as a Counterspy (New York: Viking Press).

For the full story, see Russian Interference – Part 1: Boris Morris and ARA Records (1944 – 1957).

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That summer [1944]  it became known all over the music trade that I had latched on to an angel with a wide-open checkbook. I was even approached with offers to buy Muzak, the company that supplies “canned music” to restaurants and hotels all over the coun­try. We visited ex-Senator William E. Benton of Connecticut, who was then an official of the Muzak corporation, but Stern, who was the one who would put up the money, decided that the price of $600,000 asked for the properties was too high. He would go no higher than $400,000…

During August, Stern visited Hollywood, and I made the aston­ishing discovery that he already knew more about music, both artistically and commercially, than Paul Whiteman, myself, and Stravinsky combined. Meanwhile, I had surmounted many of our difficulties, and records were being produced. That fall we had a hit recording by Joe Reichman’s band. This was “Nobody’s Home on the Range,” a travesty of the song “Home on the Range,” which had boomed into renewed popularity because it was President Roosevelt’s favorite.

But Stern disapproved of almost everything we were doing. He disliked my office staff, including my sales manager. He wanted the man discharged, and wished me to switch control of the sales department to his office. Above all, he thought that we should con­centrate on songs of a more cultural type. For example, he disap­proved of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as a vulgar title, and pre­dicted it would never be popular. He asked a million questions such as “Why don’t we sign up Bing Crosby instead of his brother Bob?” It was tiresome to have to point out that someone had had the same idea years before.

This was the man to whom I had to explain a few months before what a bar of music was, what the refrain was, the man who asked the usual foolish question, “What is written first—the words or the music?”

All that fall Stern showered me with daily letters of five to eight pages each. On hearing that we needed record-pressing equip­ment, he rushed out and bought $17,000 worth of second-hand presses that were so outmoded they could not be used.

I am afraid I was not very patient with my vice-president. By this time I had three shifts working in our little plant. They were turning out thirty thousand platters a day. They had to. Our “No­body’s Home on the Range” record was headed for the hit class.

Shortly after the partnership arrangement started, both Soble and Stern began pressing me to open a branch in Mexico City. They were still at it, though I had stalled that deal with the argu­ment that before we could do any such thing we must have enough numbers to distribute to Justify a catalogue. However, I was getting more infuriated every day with Stern’s silly letters of abuse and criticism. By now he was disapproving not only of the songs but of the arrangements.

At the end of the year I decided that life was too short to bother with this money man, and so informed Soble. But it was not until March—this was in 1945—that Jack decided he must do something to calm down both of us. He came with Stern to California to settle our differences. They arrived toward the end of the month and visited the plant.

“He is a musical ignoramus on all levels,” I told Soble. “I feel it is impossible to go along with him. The only thing we can do now is to break up this ridiculous partnership.”

“Artistic temperament!” clucked Jack Soble.

The next day they came back to the plant. When the angry words started to fly all over again, Soble suggested that we go to my home in Beverly Hills. I suppose he did not want our employ­ees to hear the dispute. My visitors stayed in Hollywood about a week. Soble, trying to act as peacemaker, kept repeating that the Cause was the one thing that counted, not my petty grievances or Alfred’s. We Just had to get along.

I have never pretended to be an even-tempered man. During that stormy week I called Stern every foul name I could think of in all the languages I knew—and I know profanity as it is spoken and spluttered around the world. Stern, the Harvard man, just sat there and took it with the uncomprehending look of a hurt child.

When the week was over with the issue unresolved, Soble said he had to get back to New York. But he was sure that some way to reconcile our differences would occur to him. He asked me to go with them on their trip East so that we would have further talks while traveling. I got a compartment that connected with the drawing room they shared.

En route Soble came up with what he considered the sure-fire solution: if I would agree to continue working with Stern he would invest another $100,000 in the company.

I refused this, telling Soble, “I don’t want any more of his money. In fact I would be happy to buy back his twenty-five-per­cent share of the business for what he paid for it.”

“This is going to make Vasya Zubilin very, very angry,” Soble said. “I’m afraid that he will be very hard on your family in Russia —unless you cooperate.”

“You said you were going to investigate this whole matter,” I reminded him. “You have not been impartial. What I want is a simple thing: to be left alone to do my job, unbothered by nincom­poops.” I glared at Stern.

On reaching New York, we had a final meeting at the Tavern-on-the-Green Restaurant. When it ended, we were as far apart as ever.

A couple of nights later Martha Dodd Stern visited me in my hotel room at the Sherry-Netherland. She was all sweetness and light. Martha blamed herself for neglecting to take a more active part in the business. “If I had, Boris,” she said, “there would have been no such misunderstandings between you two tried and true Communists.” She kept pounding at the point Soble had: the wel­fare of the Party should be our only consideration.

“Sorry, Martha, my dear,” I said, “you are being very charming and sweet, wistful and feminine—but too many wrong things have been done, too many said.”

My lawyers began drawing up the papers for dissolving the partnership in April. I paid Stern $100,000 for his one-quarter interest in the Boris Morros Company and its record-making sub­sidiary, American Recording Artists.

He rendered an account of how the $30,000 allotted him had been spent. I was amazed to see that he had given Zubilin $5,000 cash and charged it to the company. He had also charged petty items, including the purchase of a record player and two dozen tennis balls for Zubilin, as well as the full cost of his and Soble’s trip to Hollywood.

But I was glad to get rid of him. I thought I was also extricating myself from Jack Soble’s spy ring. To put it mildly, I was being naively optimistic.

I had been willing to pay a high price for the privilege of disas­sociating myself. To raise the $100,000 in cash to pay off Stern, I was forced to sell my share of a film property. But they still wished me to engage in a new venture with Alfred K. Stern.

Jack Soble kept coming to see me. “What can I do, Boris?” he said. “You have put me in the difficult position of having to write a bad report on you to Moscow. I am holding it back. I am afraid that Zubilin will be unable to control himself when he hears that you have split up with Alfred. I’d hate to feel responsible for the extermination of your relatives in Russia. Wouldn’t you?”

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Recollections of the New Jersey Phonograph Company by Victor Emerson and John Bieling

Recollections of the New Jersey Phonograph Company
By Victor Emerson and John Bieling
Introduction by Allan Sutton

 

Chartered on February 19, 1889, as a licensee of the North American Phonograph Company, Newark-based New Jersey Phonograph was one of the earliest producers of cylinder recordings for entertainment purposes. Officers at the time of its founding included George G. Frelinghuysen (president), N. M. Butler (vice-president), and William L. Smith (general manager). In 1892, Smith was replaced by Victor Hugo Emerson (later of Emerson Records fame), who also served as the company’s recording engineer.

At the time of the company’s launch, the phonograph was being marketed primarily as a dictation machine, with music an afterthought; Edison didn’t begin making musical records for sale on a regular basis until May 24, 1889. New Jersey officials, however, reported difficulties in placing the machines with businesses. In May 1890, William Smith noted that the company was encountering organized opposition from stenographers (who feared losing their jobs to a mechanical contraption), and that many business leases were not being renewed.

The company would prove to be far more successful in the nascent entertainment field. The Phonogram for June–July 1891 listed New Jersey as one of the concerns “active in the securing of musical selections,” and the company itself confirmed in 1892 that it was making original recordings. The Phonogram for December of that year devoted a full page to portraits of New Jersey Phonograph recording artists, who included Will F. Denny, George J. Gaskin, John P. Hogan, Russell Hunting, Len Spencer, and George Washington Johnson.

Following a disastrous fire in the winter of 1892, New Jersey Phonograph moved its offices and studio to more picturesque quarters in a loft above the Armour meat-packing plant at 87–89 Orange Street in Newark. Banjoist Fred Van Eps, who made his earliest known recordings there, recalled, “They had the hams and carcasses downstairs and the records upstairs.”

On February 16, 1893, New Jersey Phonograph was reorganized as the United States Phonograph Company, although it continued to advertise under the New Jersey banner well into the year. [1] Frelinghuysen and Emerson retained their positions and were soon joined by George E. Tewksbury and Simon S. Ott, who had previously been associated with the Kansas and Nebraska Phonograph companies.

Detailed histories of these and all the other North American Phonograph sub-companies, and their successors, will appear in American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950, coming in 2018. In the meantime, here are the recollections of two men who were there — recording engineer Emerson, and singer John Bieling.

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Victor Emerson
Speech at the American Graphophone Company’s 25th Anniversary Celebration (Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York – May 15, 1912)

.The real birth of the musical record business took place in New Jersey. The promoters of the enterprise, in those early days, believed the real commercial value of the phonograph or graphophone lay in its commercial features. [2] I know I was hired by a concern to take charge of the dictaphones [3] they had out at that time, and I was asked by Mr. Charles Cheever to make a report upon the subject, and take a week to do it and not to be afraid to tell the truth about the situation. I thought that with a week’s practice I would be able to tell the truth about it and make my report to Lippincott and Cheever. It was an adverse one, and I know that I lost my job the next day. [4]

I then went to work for the New Jersey Phonograph Company and, with my fair exper­ience with the dictaphone, I  thought that to keep my 15 dollars a week coming in I had better try to get them started on musical features. I was very busy “jollying” capitalists for about a week and figured it would cost about 15 dollars to try the stunt.

The Board of Directors consisted of Nicholas M. Butler (now President of Columbia College), S.S. Batten, President of the First National Bank in Newark, N.J., and George Frelinghuysen. They held a Directors’ Meeting and held that a 15 dollars risk was too great! I told them I would pay the 15 dollars if we lost. They asked me to put up the 15 dollars. I didn’t have 15 dollars, but told them they could take it out of my pay if things went wrong! That was a sure bet because. If it went wrong, I’m sure I would have lost my Job and I would have been in 15 dollars anyway!

They finally consented and I set up ten machines on Market Street, beside the Prudential Building, which they were about to tear down at that time. Just as I had finished setting up the ten machines I heard the most lovely music playing out in the street. The tune was “The Boulanger Patrol.” It was being played by a “mud-gutter band” of four pieces.

I asked the “orchestra leader” to come up in my office as I wanted to talk business with him. He had, evidently, never talked with a real businessman before and was very much embarrassed, but he finally said that he did not want to do that kind of business as he was making money in “the legitimate field” and he did not think it would be worth his while, but I told him that we were “sports,” and he could play sitting down on chairs instead of kicking the “bouquets” in the streets! And he finally said he would play for 3 dollars a day for four men.

All phonograph men are economists — if they were not, they would not be in this business, and so I “Jewed” him down to 50 cents and closed the contract! He played all day, and we made about 2,000 records. These cost us nothing because we got the “blanks,” on credit, from the Edison Works, and we never paid our bills — neither did anybody else — it was merely a habit at that time! I’m sure that the people who bought them from me never paid for them! To my knowledge, there never was a musical record sold before that time, [5] and so we held many “conflabs” and figured out what profits we had to make on those 2,000 records, consi­dering the large investment of 3 dollars!

As I said, they were about to tear down the Prudential Building and a man came over and said it would be a good scheme if I could exhibit a Phonograph over in the Prudential place. He was sure I would make some money out of it. I told him it was an expensive thing to do and he acknowledged it. But finally we rented the place at a cost of about 60 dollars. “Now,” he said, “What about records?” I told him we had some “John Philip Sousa Band” records, that we had made at a very large expense, and that we could sell them at 2 dollars, meaning 2 dollars per dozen. And he said, “All right, here is 24 dollars for twelve!” Well we sold all those records at, practically, 2 dollars and now the great question that concerned us was how to stock them.

I got the Manager to consent to give me 5 dollars of that 24 dollars and let me buy a cabinet. I went to a junk store and bought a second-hand kitchen closet. It had a nice, large, fat chop in it, which quite considerably increased the assets of the Company! At the same time gave us something to eat — if the worst came to the worst! The only other expense was 10 cents for chloride of lime; and we stocked those records. I thought it was fun to have a “Grand Concert” up in my office, and when the stock got low, I said to Mr. Smith we had better make some more. He asked “How many have you got left?” and I said “Six.” He said, “Well, gracious me, wait till we sell them all!”

The next great artist we had was George W. Johnson, the composer of “The Whist­ling Coon” and “The Laughing Song,” and I think that the phonograph companies have made more money on those two records than on any other two records in their catalogues. [6] I con­tracted with Johnson to sing at 25 cents a song and kept him busy all day and all night. But the price of whiskey went up at about that time, as you will remember, and it was the same problem then as now, you must give a man sufficient money so that he can live and have the necessities of life. So George “struck,” and I had to bow to the yoke!

Our next artist was [George] J. Gaskin. He was the leader of the Manhattan [sic: Manhansett] Quartet. He, very fortunately, broke his contract just as we were perfecting our duplicating machine. I want to say, by way of diversion, that this duplicating machine was originally invented by Frank Capps. He used to go in a shop parlor, in Chicago, borrow a record, take it home and duplicate it, and would return the other record, but in another color! That looked sus­picious to us and we traced him up, and found him climbing telegraph poles near Pretoria, Illinois! We bought him out and started him manufacturing duplicating machines for us.

But what I want to say about Gaskin is that he told me, one day, that he had a new quartet and that he was going to put it on the market and bust our business. Says he, “The very name will do it!” And I asked, “What name?” and he said, “The Mozart Quartet.” “Mozart, you know,” he added, “was a great musical “‘moke.’”

Well, gentlemen, from that beginning we ran into a business of probably 500,000 records per year in a short time, and I  would have done a large and profitable business were it not for the fact that Mr. Easton [president of the Columbia Phonograph Company] started in about that time and used to buy records from me and scooped up all my new customers with my own records. [7] The only thing that kept us alive was that the Columbia Phonograph Company actually did pay its bills and, at that time, it was about the only company that did.

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John Bieling
From “Reminiscences of Early Talking Machine Days” (The Talking Machine World, April 15, 1914)

Some twenty-two years ago I belonged down in the old Fourteenth Ward — born and raised there; around Spring Street and the Bowery. Four of us fellows used to “barber shop” on a Saturday night and Sunday, and by constant practice our voices blended in great shape in the real thing — good, old fashioned melodies and sentimental ballads. The quartet at that time was George J. Gaskin, Joe Riley, Walter Snow and myself. We called it the Manhansset Quartet. In 1892 we had been working together about a year, when one day Gaskin told us about a man named Emerson who was manager of a concern over in Newark, N. J., called the United States Phono Co., [8] who wanted a good quartet to make some records for him.

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1892

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All of us fellows worked in the day time and did our quartet work evenings. I was making stained glass windows at the time and never thought of making a regular profession of singing. Gaskin had to do some tall talking to persuade us to go over to Newark and work till all hours making these records. I assure you we were a pretty nervous quartet. The first time we went there we knew nothing of what was expected of us, but we took a chance.

Over the ferry, the train brought  us into Newark and Gaskin steered us into a loft over some meat packing house about 50 by 100 and 20 feet, littered with machine boxes and barrels in every state of shipping and handling piled up everywhere. [9]

We at last got ready to make our first record, and I assure you a funny sensation came over all of us. They had about nine horns all grouped together, each one leading to a separate machine connected with a piece of rubber hose. The operator then put the soft wax cylinders on the machines and let the recorder down and then said “All right, go ahead.” I assure you I almost forgot to sing when I heard the sizzling noise coming out of the horns. However, we got through with that round fairly well, considering our nervous state, and after that we began to make some records and they sounded pretty good. Well, that was the first time I got real money for singing and I felt like a millionaire going home that night.

We worked contentedly along these lines for about a year, in the meantime holding down my job at my trade during the day. All was serene. When — crash — someone invented a dubbing machine, which meant that they could make any amount of records from a master record, and we could see fewer engagements coming our way with this new scheme.

It certainly gave us a shock when we discovered that this new idea meant that one “master record” could be used to make duplicates until the wax wore out. This is how it was done: They built a machine with two mandrels, one under the other; on one they would put the cylinder with the song on, and on the other a blank cylinder; then start the machine and throw the sound from one to the other without the services of the quartet. It was tragic, but, like all labor-saving devices, it gave birth to a greater field of work to develop records in. Where we formerly sang the same song forty times, now we sang forty different selections, satisfying the rapidly growing market for “canned music.”

By this time our success as a quartet was quite famous, and we worked for all the record making companies then doing business. About this time, say 1895, we used to go over to Philadelphia and sing about once a month for a man named Berliner, a quiet, modest little German, who had us work in his little attic workshop and register our selections on a flat matrix…

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[1] Not to be confused with the much later U.S. Phonograph Company (Cleveland), the manufacturers of U-S Everlasting cylinders.

[2] Emerson here is referring to the phonograph’s use as a dictating machine, rather than as entertainment device. Each use  had its advocates, who often worked at cross-purposes during this period. The Texas Phonograph Company went so far as to ban any demonstrations of the machine’s musical capabilities in its Dallas offices and show-room, for fear of driving away potential business clients. Those wishing to hear a tune (for a fee) were directed to the company’s separate phonograph gallery, in an adjacent building.

[3] This is a generic reference to phonographs intended for business dictation, rather than the actual Dictaphone machine. “Dictaphone,” with a capital “D,” was not registered as a trademark until September 1907, by Columbia.

[4] The events referred to in the opening paragraphs occurred during early-to-mid 1892. Emerson resigned from United States Phonograph (New Jersey’s successor) in January 1897 to accept a recording engineer’s position with Columbia. Several associates followed him, helping themselves to some U.S. masters on their way out.

[5] Emerson is mistaken here. Edison had been selling musical cylinders since the late spring of 1889, followed by Columbia in early 1890. The reference to “2,000 records” is to individual copies, not the number of titles recorded.

[6] A pioneering African-American recording artist, George Washington Johnson’s main recorded repertoire consisted of approximately a half-dozen songs, which he repeated for numerous companies well into the early 1900s. Although Johnson’s records were very popular, it is unlikely that sales ever approached this level, given their relative scarcity today as compared to other surviving records of the period. Unfortunately, sales figures do not exist that could prove or disprove Emerson’s claim. Johnson didn’t compose “The Whistling Coon” as Emerson states, but he recorded it so often that the song became inextricably linked to him in the public’s mind.

[7] Emerson is referring here to master recordings, which Columbia purchased and duplicated for sale under its own brand. The copying of other companies’ recordings (done legally in this case, but not always in others) was a common practice during the brown-wax era.

[8] Successor to the New Jersey Phonograph Company. At the time the Manhansett first recorded, the company was still operating under the original New Jersey name.

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VICTOR EMERSON went on to serve long and well as Columbia’s chief recording engineer and a key figure in the development of the Little Wonder record. He resigned from Columbia in 1914 to launch the Emerson Phonograph Company, which despite its initial success, was bankrupt by 1921. Forced out in the reorganization that followed, Emerson retired to California, where he died on June 22, 1926.

JOHN BIELING, although he never attained any great popularity as a soloist, continued to record prolifically as a member of various studio ensembles, including the Haydn (a.k.a. Edison Male) and American (a.k.a. Premier) quartets. After experiencing throat problems in 1913, he gave up singing to work as a traveling Victor salesman, then opened his own record store. Beginning in 1946, he hosted an annual reunion of pioneer recording artists. He died on March 29, 1948.

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Annotations ©2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved. The Emerson and Beiling excerpts are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.

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Russian Interference, Part 1: Boris Morros and ARA Records (1944 – 1957)

Russian Interference, Part 1: Boris Morros and ARA Records
(1944 – 1957)
By Allan Sutton

 

Long before they ever got their hooks into members of the Trump administration, Russians were secretly meddling in America’s affairs. In the early 1940s, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) found a willing conspirator in Hollywood and set him up with a record company that served as a front for a major Soviet spy network. The relationship went undetected for years, but eventually the truth surfaced.

For Morros’ own recollections of his time with ARA Records, see Russian Interference, Part 2.

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Born in Russia, Boris Morros studied music under Rimsky-Korsokov in St. Petersburg, then moved to France following the 1917 revolution, leaving his family behind. In 1922 he brought the Chauve Souris revue to the United States, decided to stay, and was granted citizenship. By the early 1930s, he had moved to Hollywood and was working for Paramount Pictures as an entry-level musical director.

In May 1934, Morros was secretly contacted by a member of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), who requested his help in planting Russian operatives throughout Hollywood. Vasily M. Zubilin was assigned to be his handler, but the relationship soured after it was discovered that Morros had greatly overstated his credentials and degree of influence within the movie industry. The Russians stayed in touch, however.

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Boris Morros in the late 1930s

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Morros advanced quickly at Paramount, and by 1940 he was a well-known figure in Hollywood. Contacted again by the NKVD, in December 1941 he agreed to organize covers for two Soviet spies. In exchange, the Soviets agreed to stop harassing Morros’ family members, who had stayed behind in Russia. In March 1944, Zubilin assigned NKVD officer Jack Soble to be Morros’ new handler. “Our comrade,” Zubilin told Soble, “is completely devoted to the motherland and is one of our most trusted and loyal agents.”

As part of his cover, Morros launched a publishing house, the Boris Morros Music Company. The affiliated American Recording Artists label was launched a short time later, with $130,000 in funding from Soviet sympathizers Alfred K. and Martha Dodd Stern. Soble found Morros’ office to be “a big, showy, elaborate place, in keeping with his flamboyant personality and expensive tastes. The record laboratory, however, was a tiny rented place.”

Alfred Stern was awarded presidency of the new record company. He was ordered fill sales positions with as many undercover Soviet agents as possible, while Morros was left to handle the recording operation and keep up appearances. As Soble later confessed, the entire operation was “a ‘blind’ for a widespread Soviet espionage network. Bosses and “salesmen” [were] Russian intelligence agents… The stars, of course, had no way of knowing that they were being used as attractive window-dressing for an outfit organized to be a clearinghouse for spies throughout the United States, Canada, Central and South America.”

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ARA records were heavily promoted; this ad is from September 1945. As Jack Soble later confirmed, ARA’s stars had no idea their label was a front for Soviet espionage. (1945)

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The Russian’s involvement with ARA went undetected. Members of the press lauded the new operation as a  promising addition to the growing roster of independent West Coast labels. The company’s first releases, announced in late June 1944, sold well. With extensive contacts in the entertainment industry, Morros assembled an impressive artist roster that came to include Hoagy Carmichael, Frances Langford, Smiley Burnette, Phil Harris, Art Tatum, and Bob Crosby’s Bobcats. Widely advertised, the records were handled by many major national distributors.

Within a few months of ARA’s  launch, however, a personality clash between Morros and Stern began to take its toll. Another Soviet agent, Stephan Ghoundenko (a.k.a. “The Professor”), was brought in to straighten out the difficulties. Stern resigned and was replaced by Mark Leff. Morros soon appeared to lose interest in the company, turning management and artists-and-repertoire duties over to his son Richard and a new hire, Dave Gould.

A short time later, Soble received a one-word message from Moscow: “Dissolve.” Morros refused, instead paying back $100,000 of the Sterns’ loan and soldiering on. Stern’s warning to his superiors that Morros could no longer be trusted went largely unheeded. He was allowed to remain in the spy ring, as a courier, while remaining the nominal head of ARA.

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The ARA label underwent several redesigns during its relatively short life.

 

To all appearances, ARA was an American success story. The company was reorganized in March 1946, as ARA, Inc., coinciding with its purchase of Symphony Records (a small West Coast classical label that featured the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jacques Rachmilovich) and its expansion into the children’s and country-and-western markets. But problems were beginning to surface. That summer, the pressing plant was closed, ostensibly to take inventory, and did not reopen.

Despite Leff’s insistence that the hiatus was temporary, new releases and advertising were scaled back. In July, Leff announced that he was selling his interest in ARA to an undisclosed firm or firms. Late in the month, Billboard reported that ARA’s operations were “practically at a standstill now,” with an investment of more than  $75,000 tied up in recordings that had yet to be released. By then, rumors were circulating that Cosmo Records was contemplating a takeover.

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Originally a pop and jazz label, ARA later expanded into the classical, children’s, and country-and-western markets.

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Hoagy Carmichael was the first of several ARA artists to defect, moving to Decca in August 1946. Later that month, a group headed by music publisher Ralph Peer made an offer for the company. It was declined, as was a subsequent offer by Apollo Records. ARA, Inc., was placed in receivership in September 1946, just in time to thwart a seizure by the Internal Revenue Service.

ARA’s assets were scheduled to be auctioned piecemeal on October 22, 1946, but the sale was called off after a tangle of legal problems (including questions over whether ARA’s masters were unencumbered and could be reused without restrictions) surfaced. The sale was postponed until November 25, 1946, when all of ARA’s property was auctioned in Los Angeles by order of the U.S. District Court. The masters’ legal status would remain in limbo for several more years.

By late 1946, litigation surrounding ARA was running rampant. An audit had revealed many irregularities in the company’s operations, including some suspicious loan repayments to three of Leff’s other companies. In January 1947, former ARA treasurer Irving Zeitlin was subpoenaed to explain the firm’s erratic accounting methods, a procedure that Billboard estimated could “drag out for months because of many loose ends connected with operation of the former waxery.” Civil suits continued to be filed for several more years.

In the meantime, Morros had turned. On July 14, 1947, he informed the FBI of his activities for the Russians. In return for a promise from the Justice Department not to prosecute, he agreed to serve as a double agent, reporting on Soviet intelligence efforts. Still posing as a Soviet courier, Morros developed a friendship with U.S. Army Intelligence officer George Zlatkovski and his wife Jane, who were actually Soviet agents. Morros continued to meet with Soble and the Zlatkovskis, in the U.S. and abroad, through October 1954.

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The Sterns and Morros at the time of the 1957 trial

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Morros’ involvement with the Russians and the FBI remained a well-guarded secret until January 1957, when U.S. Attorney Paul W. Williams indicted Jack Soble, along with his wife Myra and associate Jacob Albam, on charges of seeking U.S. defense secrets for transmission to the Soviet government. A month later, it was disclosed that Morros (whose whereabouts were said to be unknown) would act as a key prosecution witness in the case. The Sobles and Albam were convicted and given prison sentences. The Sterns, summoned to appear before a grand jury, refused  extradition from Mexico and were fined $50,000 for contempt. The identities of at least fourteen other Soviet agents, some of whom held embassy posts in the U.S., were exposed during the course of the trial.

By the summer of 1957, Morros had offers from two studios to produce a movie about his exploits and was being praised by the press as “an incredibly brave American.” His 1959 autobiography, My 10 Years as a Counterspy (co-authored with Samuel Charters) served as the basis for the 1960 film, “Man on a String.” Morros died in New York on January 8, 1963.

 

References

 

Bundschu, Barbara. “Walked Double-Dealing Tightrope: Film Producer Broke Spy Ring.” Camden [NJ] Courier-Post (Jul 11, 1957), p. 1.

“ARA Into Longhair Disks.” Billboard (Jun 29, 1946), p. 38.

“ARA Into Receivership; Will Go on Block Piecemeal After Audit.” Billboard (Sep 28, 1946), p. 16.

“ARA to Hold Bankruptcy Sale.” Cash Box (Nov 11, 1946), p. 17.

“Bankruptcy Referee Calls ARA Treasurer to Explain Accounts.” Billboard (Jan 11, 1947), p. 14.

“Boris Morros Dies.” Billboard (Jan 26, 1963), p. 4.

“50G Repaid to Other Leff Corporations Questioned by Trustee in ARA Hassle.” Billboard (Nov 23, 1946), p. 14.

“Key Spy Case Figure Named.” Baltimore Sun (Feb 26, 1957), p. 1.

“Leff Selling Interest in ARA Waxery.” Billboard (Jul 27, 1946), p. 20.

“Masters Free, Clear, Says ARA Receiver.” Billboard (Oct 26, 1946), p. 40.

Morros, Boris (with Charles Samuels). My Ten Years as a Counterspy. New York: Viking Press (1959).

“Morrros Cuts First Disks.” Billboard (Jul 1, 1944), p. 17.

“Morros Jr. Pacts 3 Names for ARA.” Billboard (Nov 24, 1945), p. 20.

“New Indie Pops.” Cash Box (Oct 13, 1947), p. 25.

“Public Judicial Auction Sale by Order of the United States District Court” (legal notice).Cash Box (Nov 11, 1946), p. 18

“Radio Interests, MGM Named in ARA Talk.” Billboard (Aug 3, 1946), p. 18.

Soble, Jack (with Jack Lotte).”How I Spied on United States.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Nov 17, 1957), p. 167.

— . “How Spy Ring Got in the Music Business.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Nov 20, 1957), p. 63.

— . “Husband-Wife Spy Team in Action.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Nov 28, 1957), p. 70.

— . “Low Form of Soviet Union Spy Life.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Nov 24, 1957), p. 110.

Wilson, Earl. “Boris Morros’ Undercover Story.” Delaware County Daily Times (Jun 14, 1957), p. 41.

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

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Boston Talking Machine Company and the Little Wonder Phonograph (1910 – 1913)

 Boston Talking Machine Company and the Little Wonder Phonograph (1910 – 1913)
By Allan Sutton

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When the Boston Talking Machine Company introduced its Little Wonder phonograph in 1911, Little Wonder records were still three years in the future. Little Wonder phonographs and discs were unrelated, the products of two entirely different companies.

Boston Talking Machine was launched in the spring of 1910 by  Josiah B. Millet (an acoustic engineer, inventor, and publisher of The American Business Encyclopaedia and Legal Advisor) and was financed largely by Henry and Henrietta Whitney. Millet assembled a stellar staff, including George Cheney, formerly of Zonophone and Sonora (recording engineer); Louis Valiquet, formerly of Zonophone (consulting engineer); Loring Leeds, formerly of Leeds & Catlin (general manager); and Fred Hager, formerly of Zonophone (musical director). Isaac W. Norcross was also briefly associated with the venture but severed the relationship in August or September 1910. The company produced Phono-Cut discs, the third American vertical-cut label to be introduced (preceded only by Sonora and Sapphire).

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Boston Talking Machine’s records were marketed by the Phono-Cut Record Company beginning in early 1911. The Colonial Phono-Cut, a short-lived (and now quite rare) single-sided variant, used Phono-Cut’s master numbers for its catalog numbers. It was no bargain, at just a nickel less than its double-sided sibling.

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Boston Talking Machine’s Little Wonder phonograph was a compact device with cast-iron base and a reproducer that could be rotated to play either vertical- or lateral-cut discs. The tonearm terminated within a small pivoting external horn, from which the sound was reflected.

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Boston Talking Machine’s Little Wonder phonograph, with the reproducer in vertical-cut position (from Tim Brooks & Merle Sprinzen’s Little Wonder Records and Bubble Books, Mainspring Press). The ads are from 1912 (middle) and 1913 (bottom), the latter just before the name was changed to Wondrola.

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Around June 1913, for reasons that remain undiscovered, the Little Wonder phonograph was renamed Wondrola. The change had nothing to do with Little Wonder discs (a Columbia product that would not be introduced or trademarked for another year) but coincided with Boston Talking Machine’s growing  financial troubles. The company had discontinued recording in early 1913, and during the summer it lost its largest retailer with the closing of Chicago’s O’Neill-James Company. On October 2, Boston Talking Machine  was placed in receivership. According to Henry Whitney, the company was “financially embarrassed and unable to meet its obligations.”

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Around June 1913, the Little Wonder machines began to be marketed under the Wondrola name. By then, Boston Talking Machine was failing financially and just a few months away from being placed in receivership.

..

Charles E. Whitman purchased Boston Talking Machine’s assets in January 1915, for $30,000. The Phono-Cut masters were sold to the Starr Piano Company’s Fred Gennett, who reissued selected titles on Remington, a short-lived, inexpensive side-line to Gennett’s Starr label. Contrary to some hobbyists’ accounts, the Keen-O-Phone Company did not acquire or reissue Phono-Cut masters.

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A c. 1915 Remington disc pressed by the Starr Piano Company (Gennett) from Phono-Cut masters. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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In November 1915, the remaining Phono-Cut pressings were sold to the Wonder Talking Machine Company (New York), a newly formed venture headed by former U-S Everlasting executive Harry B. McNulty. The company issued a catalog of long-deleted Phono-Cut discs in April 1916, which retailed for just 25¢ each (40¢ less than the original list price), but its main offering was a new line of  Wondertone lateral-cut phonographs:

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References

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Blacker, George, et al. Phono-Cut research materials and discographical data (unpublished; Mainspring Press collection).

“Boston Concern in Trouble.” Music Trade Review (Oct 11, 1913), p. 48

Boston Talking Machine Co. “Sales Bulletin” (1913).

“Boston Talking Machine Co. Affairs.” Talking Machine World (Dec 15, 1913), p. 18.

“Boston Talking Machine Co. in Hands of Receiver.” Louisville Courier-Journal (Oct 3, 1913), p. 6.

“Buys Boston T.M. Co. Assets.” Music Trade Review (Nov 13, 1915), p. 49.

“Court Confirms Sale.” Music Trade Review (Feb 1915), p. 74.

“Geo. K. Cheney to Boston.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1910), p. 14.

“Issue an Interesting Catalog.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1916), p. 60.

“L. L. Leeds Resigns as Manager.” Talking Machine World (Sep 15, 1913), p. 19.

“New Company being Organized.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1910), p. 14.

“Pioneer in the ‘Talker’ Field—The Achievements of L. P. Valiquet Constitute a Veritable History of the Industry.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1920), p. 155.

“Represent New Line.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1913), p. 21.

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

Princess Records and the Sapphire Record & Talking Machine Company (1910 – 1911)

Princess Records and the Sapphire Record & Talking Machine Company (1910 – 1911)

By Allan Sutton

 

The Sapphire Record and Talking Machine Company was among the earliest U.S. producers of vertical-cut discs, preceded only by the Sonora Phonograph Company. * (The Boston Talking Machine – Phono-Cut Record operation, previously thought to have been the first, was in fact the third to go into production). The company was incorporated in June 1910 by P. B. Verblanck, M. Wagner, and Dezso Tauber, with capital stock of $100,000. Tauber, who had recently resigned as manager of R. H. Macy’s phonograph department, served as the company’s general manager.

Within a short time of its launch, Sapphire was taken over by George Otis Draper, the well-connected son of General William F. Draper (a U.S. ambassador to Italy) and nephew of a former Massachusetts governor. Draper was an inventor, entrepreneur,  and self-proclaimed financial expert who was involved with various manufacturing, textile, lumber, quarrying, and real-estate ventures. Between 1909 and 1911, he authored More: A Study of Financial Conditions Now Prevalent, lost the better part of a $1.15-million inheritance, presided over the failure of Sapphire, and was petitioned into personal bankruptcy.

 

(Left) A Princess popular-series release, possibly pressed from Sonora masters. (Right) A Princess Grand Opera release, confirmed as using Sonora masters by the Record Research group. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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Sapphire’s mailing address had been changed to that of Draper’s personal office in New York’s Metropolitan Tower by the time the company became fully operational. Of the original investors, only Tauber appears to have retained any hand in the company’s management following Draper’s takeover. Sapphire’s trademark application of August 13, 1910, claimed use of the Princess brand on phonographs and records since August 1 of that year, although no Princess records are known to have been released that early.

In January 1911, The Talking Machine World announced that Sapphire’s records were finally “ready to come into the market.” The same article reported that the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company’s Frederick W. Matthews was serving as studio manager. (Thus far, Indestructible had been involved only in the production of cylinders.) By then, the company was also marketing Sonora universal-type phonographs, re-branded as Princess, which were manufactured by Paillard in Switzerland.

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The rarely seen Empire Sapphire Record (not connected with the better-known Empire label of 1917–1921) used material from the Princess catalog and might have been produced after the Indestructible takeover. Catalog numbers were the same as on Princess, minus the “S” prefix. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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Many Princess recordings are original to the label and quite likely were made in the Indestructible studio, given Matthews’ involvement with the company. The Record Research associates also discovered many instances of Sapphire releases using masters obtained from Sonora, which had taken over the former American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) studio and was in the early stages of financial failure.

Sapphire’s popular-series releases retailed for 75¢ each, and early issues used a separate catalog number on each side; single numbers with -A/-B side designation appeared on late  issues. There was also a Sonora-derived Princess Grand Opera Record series, retailing for $1, which did not feature any particularly noteworthy performers. Some of the same material was issued on the obscure Empire Sapphire Record label, which has no known connection to the Empire label of 1917–1921.

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A December 1912 Indestructible ad for remaindered Princess phonographs and records. The model shown is a re-branded Sonora machine, manufactured by Paillard in Switzerland.

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In April 1911, TMW reported that the Sapphire Record and Talking Machine Company’s owners “concluded they better quit than go ahead, as the enterprise required more capital than was anticipated.” In the same month, the company was sold to Indestructible, which marketed surplus Princess phonographs and records at deep discounts for the next two years but did not continue production of the Princess line. Indestructible would later re-enter the disc market with their own Federal label, the impending arrival of which was announced quite prematurely in July 1917.

Several claims filed against Sapphire by Metropolitan Life, the Merchant’s Exchange National Bank, and others, were finally settled in the autumn of 1911. Draper himself was petitioned into bankruptcy on December 30, 1911, which he attributed to having made poor investments.

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* Columbia produced vertical-cut wax discs in the late 1890s, for use with the short-lived Toy Graphophone, and recorded  experimental vertical disc masters in the early 1900s that were not issued commercially, but the company was not a regular producer of vertical-cut discs.

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References

 

“Absorbs the Sapphire Co.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1911), p. 25.

“An Ideal Xmas Gift—The Princess Talking Machine” (ad). Hicksville [OH] Tribune (Dec 12, 1912), p. 11.

Blacker, George, Carl Kendziora, et al. “Princess Record Discography” (unpublished). William R. Bryant papers, Mainspring Press.

“Business Troubles. Judgements.” New York Times (Sep 1, 1911), p. 14.

Directory of Directors in the City of New York. New York: The Audit Company (1911).

“George Otis Draper Fails; Solver of Money Problems.” Chicago Tribune (Dec 31, 1911), p. 2.

“Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (Jul 15, 1910), p. 45.

“New Incorporations.” The American Machinist (Aug 4, 1910), p. 237.

Sapphire Record & Talking Machine Co. “Princess.” U.S. trademark filing #51,385 (Aug 13, 1910).

“To Make Records and Machines.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1911), p. 61.

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

The Final Days of Edison Record Production (Oct-Dec 1929)


T
he Final Days of Edison Record Production

From Original Documentation at the
Edison National Historic Site

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The following documents from Blue Folder No. 40 (Edison National Historic Site archives) offer a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at operations during the final days of Edison’s Phonograph Division.


Subject: Discontinuing the Record Business

Arthur Walsh to Charles Edison
(October 12, 1929)

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On or about 1912 the Edison Industries began to manufacture and sell the disc type of record and from that date to this, as far as I can estimate, it has always been a losing business. Without going too far back into history, I have looked over the financial statements of the past five years. The five years show a loss on account of records, as follows:.

Statement of net book loss on disc records according to the financial statements during the past five years:
1924
150,477
1925
102,345
1926
367,443
1927
322,228
1928
390,535
Total
$1,332,928

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In 1929 the estimated net book loss will exceed $500,000….In July 1929 we announced the Edison Lateral Cut Record, which was ultimately to supersede the Hill & Dale Record, previously sold. At the present time we are making both types. The sales in September ran 29,766 for Lateral Cut and 8,479 for Hill and Dale.

Below an attempt has been made to recapitulate the advantages and disadvantages of continuing in the record business…

ADVANTAGES:

1. Help to sell more [radio-phonograph] Combinations.

2. Possible idle equipment and plant.

3. Keeping faith with old owners.

4. Avoid possible embarrassment to trade in discontinuing project just started [lateral-cut discs], which might cause trade to feel we might cut out radio just as abruptly.

5. Possibility of Record Business being reborn, if Combinations become increasingly popular.

6. As Mr. Thomas A. Edison is the inventor of the Phonograph & Record, there is possibility of loss of prestige, if abandoned.

7. Absorbs portion of Thomas A. Edison Industries overhead, which would increase other costs unless something else is found for factory and space.

8. Eliminate loss thru voiding contracts with recording artists, which would be small in comparison with potential losses if business does not succeed.

DISADVANTAGES:

1. Heavy losses, as indicated above.

2. Export situation — Cannot sell Records in Continental Europe, Dependencies or Colonies of a European Country.

3. Unfavorable situation regarding portables, which we do not manufacture but buy and sell at a book loss merely to help sales of records.

4. Increasingly high recording costs due largely to excessive fees demanded by popular artists whose reputations aid in selling records.

5. Necessity for investing large sums for promotion and advertising to increase sales.

6. It is a dying business and without sales of Phonographs it may be merely a question of time until the Phonographs now in hands of public will be discarded.

7. Cheap competition makes sales increasingly difficult. The public is interested chiefly in jazz music and buy cheaper grades of records which can be discarded in few weeks at little loss when popularity wanes.

8. To become world power in record business it will be necessary to establish recording units with plating a pressing factories in Chicago, and the West Coast, in Europe, South America, Australia and the Orient; the question being, can money so invested have the potential profit as money invested in other things.

9. Mr. Walsh and co-workers spending time on record sales and production out of proportion to return.

10. Possibility that present type of record may become obsolete. Mr. Sarnoff of R.C.A. announced at meeting few weeks ago that home talking pictures would play large part in future home entertainment which may be subtle warning that Victor is going into film recording.


Discontinuing Recording

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Stop all recording at once. … [Note: The last Edison recording session was a private one for Margaret Rogge Becker, held on the morning of October 19. Subsequent “Edison” sessions, for the Ediphone training cylinders, were contracted to Western Electric.]

Prepare list of Recording Equipment to be retained for recording Broadcast Records.

Retain Electrical Recording Agreements — if they won’t cost us anything. …


Negotiating Release of Contracts with Artists

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Discontinue — at once — all recording.

Contact artists at once — advise them of decision and ask them to cancel contracts; also, to treat confidentially until announcement is made public. This is particularly important in the case of Martinelli who should be given opportunity of making new arrangement with another company before an announcement is made.

In cases of refusal to cancel — negotiate cash release always bearing in mind, artists’ expenses, etc. to obtain consent and endeavor to sell their contracts. No arrangement is to be consummated without approval.

All contracts are to be disposed of in one way or another by December 31, 1929.


Sale of Finished Stock

R. R. March and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Liquidate inventories of finished stocks, wherever located, by December 31st.Prepare estimated liquidation value of stocks as compared with inventory value.

Consideration to be given to plan to sell entire stocks thru regular jobbers and dealers, piecemeal, and/or entire stocks as job lots to one source of distribution, the question being, can we dump such records to one jobber because of other jobbers’ stocks that they may not want to sell at reduced prices.

Be prepared to sell Needle [lateral-cut] Reproducers at cost to disgruntled Hill and Dale [vertical-cut] users.

All records to be sold by December 31st.All Schuberts and Beethovens [phonographs]… are to be sold with needle [lateral-cut] attachments by December 31st, even if these must be sold for as low a price as $10.00 each.Inventories on hand December 15th to be turned over to Mr. Clark for salvage.

Contact F. R. Schell and set aside records of both types to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes.


Disposition of Master Moulds

W. H. Miller and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Contact Messrs Buchanan and Schell to ascertain moulds to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes and after setting these aside, Mr. Miller will endeavor to sell needle type [lateral-cut] moulds to other companies, provided this can be done without obligation on our part to artists who recorded such records.

All moulds not thus sold and those not required for Museum are to be sold thru Mr. A. J. Clark.

___

[ Note: No masters were sold, as far as can be ascertained. However, the existence at ENHS of a Brunswick sample pressing (below) using Edison lateral-cut masters suggests that the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. might have been contemplating the purchase of some masters. Edison’s New York studio was taken over by Crown Records in early 1930, but no Edison material appeared on Crown. ]

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Discontinuing [Blue] Amberol Record Sales

W. S. Williams
(October 22, 1929)

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… While phonographs are still carried in Cylinder inventory, they were turned over to Mr. Clark some time ago for sale as scrap or junk. ..

A total of 32,408 B.A. [Blue Amberol] Records were sold for $6008.75 between July 1 and October 15. Of this number of records 15,185 were sold under the special $.20 offer which expired September 30. The balance of sales were to jobbers and dealers and to individuals at $.35 each.

Sales have greatly decreased since September 30 as shown by the following comparison of orders, shipments and cancellations.

..

Orders
Received
Shipments
Cancellations
August
11,347
7,463
2,900
September
21,076
13,664
6,095
October
1–19
2,954
5,588
1,324

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Cancellations, which have been exceedingly high due to inability to ship records of customers’ selections, have been very costly because of paper work involved in refunding advance payments. As of October 19, there were unfilled orders on hand for only 43 [cylinder] records.It is apparent from the above that it is now opportune to either
discontinue entirely or take action to endeavor to increase sales…

Therefore, the following recommendations are made.

(1) Entirely discontinue sales [of Blue Amberol cylinders] on October
26.

(2) Burn all [cylinder] records in stock, including 212,566 not carried
in inventory, thus releasing 600 packing cases which may be salvaged
thru Disc Record Sales at $.90 each.

(3) Release the remaining [cylinder division] employees — thus
saving $86.50 weekly.

(4) Close books of Division by December 31. …


To the Trade — Re: Discontinuance of Commercial
Record Production

Arthur Walsh
(October 29, 1929)

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As you know, the Edison Radio is a pronounced success. Present demand is about three time production. We feel that this demand will increase steadily…

Our present manufacturing facilities are inadequate to satisfy the demand for Edison Radios. These facilities must be increased immediately.

After a careful weighing of the record business and its prospects, we have decided to discontinue the production of records, except for special purposes, and to devote our great record plant to the production of radio, and kindred new developments in the radio and home entertainment field.This step is being taken regretfully because the phonograph for home entertainment was one of Mr. Edison’s favorite inventions. But, this is a case where sound business judgement must prevail over sentiment.

We must add that we are happy in the knowledge that there are many competent manufacturers, now producing excellent records, with adequate facilities to take care of all present and future phonograph owners…

We will, therefore, on November 1st discontinue the production of commercial phonograph records such as have been heretofore sold through you.On and after the same date, the name of Radio-Phonograph Division will be changed to Radio Division.

 

Faithfully yours,

THOMAS A. EDISON, INCORPORATED. Radio-Phonograph Division Arthur Walsh Vice President.


To All Dealers

The Edison Distributing Corporation
(November 13, 1929)

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Under date of October 29th a letter was mailed to you from Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Orange, N. J., announcing the “Discontinuance of Commercial Record Production.”

At this time we have in stock a limited supply of Edison Hill and Dale, and Lateral Cut Needle Records, which we will offer you, subject to prior sale, F. O. B. Chicago.

The Edison Hill and Dale Records at five cents each in lots of fifty or more to be selected by us, or ten cents each in lots of fifty or more of your selection.

Lateral Cut or Needle Records of the seventy-five cent series at fifteen cents each in lots of fifty or more of our selection, and twenty cents each, you selection. The two dollar series are priced at forty cents each.

Under no circumstances are the records returnable. …

 

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These documents (excluding editorial comments) are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. Please credit the Edison National Historical Site (West Orange, NJ) when quoting.

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Shutting Down the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the AFM Recording Ban (1942-1944)

Shutting Down the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the AFM Recording Ban (1942-1944)
By Allan Sutton

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The following is an excerpt from the author’s Recording the ‘Forties,
in preparation for 2018 publication.

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For professional musicians who wanted to broadcast or record in the 1940s, membership in the American Federation of Musicians was essential. Among the few to resist was the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose management was firmly opposed to unionization. Only under pressure from RCA’s David Sarnoff did the BSO’s management finally capitulate; the orchestra, under the direction of Serge Koussevitsky, was unionized and allowed to return to the RCA studios, after a long hiatus. But the BSO found itself almost immediately shut out again, this time by an industry-wide recording ban ordered by AFM president James Caesar Petrillo. [1]

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Petrillo testifies before the National War Labor Board (1943)

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Petrillo had long pursued a very public vendetta against what he termed “canned music,” blaming it for the downturn in  “live” performances. Widely reviled within the recording industry as an inflexible, obscenity-spewing petty dictator, he did not hesitate to employ strong-arm tactics against those who opposed him. In early 1941, he appointed Ben Selvin to undertake a fact-finding mission intended to prove that recorded music was responsible for the declining employment of union musicians. [2]

Selvin’s questionnaires, individualized for commercial record companies, transcription producers, radio stations, advertising agencies, and jukebox operators, were mailed throughout the spring. A long-time AFM member, Selvin delivered the figures Petrillo wanted. Based upon the initial responses, involving the radio-transcription business, he concluded, “The amount of money spent for musical talent on recorded [versus live] programs is much higher than anyone in the industry would have guessed.”  [3]

Petrillo made his case at the AFM’s convention on June 9, 1941. He contended that although AFM members earned approximately $3 million annually in royalties from recordings, they lost $100 million as the result of what he termed “reduced employment opportunities” from the substitution of recorded for live music:

There are 800 radio stations in the United States and Canada, and 550 of them have no live music. They just use canned music twenty-four hours a day. There is a question of who survives—we or they. If the stations can’t get records and won’t hire live bands, that will be their funeral, not ours… We are scabbing on ourselves.

Admitting he had no verifiable statistics to back up his claims, Petrillo nevertheless estimated that eight- to nine-thousand AFM musicians could be put back to work if recordings were banned  and establishments were forced to rely on live music.

The issue came to a head in June 1942, when Petrillo forced a strike by unwilling members of the Ringling Brothers–Barnum & Bailey Circus Band. Director Merle Evans’ assurance that he and his musicians were “perfectly satisfied” with salaries and working conditions were ignored, and John Ringling North’s request to personally negotiate with Petrillo went unanswered. [4] Petrillo’s  demands included higher wages, with time-and-a-half for Sunday performances, which were refused. After a brief postponement to allow the band to play a benefit for handicapped children, the strike order was enforced. “We wanted to play today,” Evans told a Billboard reporter on June 6, “but the union refused to let us.” Management responded by substituting recorded music over a public-address system during the band’s involuntary absence. [5] It apparently was lost on Petrillo that by ordering the strike, gainfully employed musicians had been replaced by recordings—the very situation he had recently railed against at the AFM conference.

Having successfully shut down a circus band, Petrillo next banned the broadcasting of a popular high-school music festival in Interlochen, Michigan, declaring that the teen-aged musicians were not union members. The action brought universal condemnation from the public, the broadcast industry, and members of Congress. Iowa Senator D. W. Clark filed a formal, if ineffectual, resolution charging Petrillo with depriving the students of their freedom to make their musical talents known, while undermining the national music education program. [6] Stanley E. Hubbard, president of station KSPT (St. Paul, Minnesota), issued a scathing denouncement of Petrillo that read in part,

Ten days ago, [Petrillo] forbade the broadcast…from the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Mich., in which 160 teen-age boys and girls from 40 states hoped to play for their folks at home. He stopped eight Chinese Boy Scouts from blowing a fanfare in Chicago unless eight union musicians were hired to stand by while the scouts tooted… That is the kind of power Fuehrer Petrillo wields today… That is the power, and that is the man, and that is the kind of outrageous tyranny which we and the other radio stations in this country…are fighting.” [7]

Undeterred, Petrillo was soon threatening to bar AFM musicians from making radio transcriptions. Key figures in the broadcast industry responded swiftly with a threat of their own. Five years earlier, broadcasters had informally agreed to retain house orchestras in response to Petrillo’s charge that their use of recorded music was causing widespread unemployment of union musicians. Now, Broadcasting magazine predicted,

If transcriptions and recordings are banned, as ordered by Mr. Petrillo, it is generally expected that the [broadcast] industry, almost as a unit, will be disposed to release staff orchestras, since the gentlemen’s agreement will have been violated… In a nutshell, the overall view appears to be that AFM has walked out on its 1937 agreement by banning transcription performance, and that the next move is up to Mr. Petrillo. [8]

Petrillo’s next move was to threaten a strike that had the potential to destroy a recording industry already crippled by wartime personnel and materials shortages. On June 27, 1942, he served notice to all transcription and record companies that he intended to ban recording by union musicians beginning on August 1. [9] The New York Times reported,

As part of a campaign to force radio stations, soda fountains, bars and restaurants to employ union musicians instead of using recordings, Mr. Petrillo has informed all the record manufacturers that the 140,000 members of his A.F. of L. organization will not make “records, electrical transcriptions or any other form of electrical reproduction of music” after July 31…

Even if Mr. Petrillo’s economics were not fantastic, it is intolerable that a labor leader should dicatate to the American people what kind of music it shall or shall not hear. But if we need waste little time in exposing the nonsense in Mr. Petrillo’s economics, we should waste less in denouncing Mr. Petrillo as an individual. It is much more important to remind ourselves that it is our political muddle-headedness and spinelessness that have made the Petrillo type of dictator possible. [10]

Petrillo agreed informally to exempt the production of transcriptions for the armed forces and government agencies involved in the war effort, although he soon reneged on even that meager concession. Recordings for motion-picture soundtracks would be allowed, provided that the recordings did not find their way onto the airwaves or commercially issued records. Private recording for home use was allowed to continue under the ban, but only if the manufacturers of recording blanks guaranteed the records would not be broadcast or used in jukeboxes—an obvious impossibility. Blanks and portable recording units remained readily available, and an underground market soon sprang up for custom-duplicated discs from private recording sessions, live performances, and broadcast captures.

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There would be no immediate concessions from the record companies, nor full-fledged support from most AFM musicians. Black band-leaders in Philadelphia loudly protested the ban, claiming a potential loss of a half-million dollars in income. [11] In New York, Eli Oberstein recruited union musicians for clandestine hotel-room recording sessions, the results of which were issued on his Hit label under some imaginative aliases. Some small labels turned to non-union talent, giving at least a temporary  boost to some rural and African-American artists the AFM had declined to accept.

Record-company executives, according to the New York Times, were content “to sit back and try to outwait Mr. Petrillo,” allowing the mounting public outrage to work in their favor. Directors and officials of the National Association of Broadcasters met informally with record company executives to plan their strategies, but apparently neither group felt any compulsion to meet with Petrillo.

The record companies were allowed to continue manufacturing and selling their pre-ban recordings, so with the strike looming, they scrambled to stockpile enough new material to sustain them during the work stoppage. “This they did on a 24-hour-per-day schedule,” Billboard reported; “when August 1 arrived, they emerged from their studios with enough masters to last well into 1943.” [12] The same article predicted a return to normal recording operations around January 1943, “assuming that all goes as expected.” It did not.

The Justice Department failed in a last-minute attempt to delay the ban, but Petrillo’s actions quickly drew fire from members of Congress. Senator Clark, still seething over the Interlochen incident, took the floor on August 29 to denounce Petrillo as a thug whose actions jeopardized national morale during a time of crisis:

An ugly note has reared its head, causing great disunity in the war effort. That ugly note is a gentleman by the name of James Caesar Petrillo. By virtue of his power, by virtue of his gangster acts, if you please, he undertakes to put out of business a whole industry and prevent working people in that industry from making a living.” [13]

At Clark’s urging, a Senate resolution was drafted empowering the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate whether the recording ban constituted restraint of trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. [14]  AFM’s counsel moved for dismissal on the grounds that anti-trust laws did not apply to label disputes; the Department of Justice countered with a request for an injunction forbidding the AFM to enforce the ban, which was denied.  As the ban dragged on, the case was referred to the Supreme Court, which in February 1943 upheld a lower-court decision that the ban was merely a labor dispute, and thus not covered under the Sherman act. [15]

Of the major consumer publications, only Life magazine sided with Petrillo. Robert Coughlan’s fawning, six-page feature article, published two days after the recording ban took effect, depicted Petrillo as a rough but good-hearted defender of the working class who was only looking out for his “boys.” [16] Coughlan was largely alone in his assessment. Three weeks after his story appeared, the American Institute of Public Opinion released the results of a George Gallup poll concerning Petrillo and the AFM action. Seventy-five percent of participants said they opposed the ban, and seventy-three percent favored intervention by the federal government. Dr. Gallup reported,

A majority of those who disapprove Petrillo’s actions feel strongly, even vehemently, about the subject. Typical of their views were such statements as, “he’s a petty dictator,” “he’s suffering from a bad case of overgrown ego,”  “it’s disgraceful,” and “he ought to go over and join Mussolini.” [17]

Some small-label producers attempted to negotiate with Petrillo, to no avail. Hazard E. Reeves (Reeves Sound Studios) and E. V. Brinckerhoff (Brinckerhoff Studios) launched a trade association comprising thirteen New York–area recording studios that Reeves felt would give them a negotiating advantage. [18] So far as is known, they received no acknowledgment  from Petrillo. Neither, initially, did Muscicraft president Paul Puner. In February 1943, he attempted to contact Petrillo with a proposal that Musicraft, as a small company, be allowed to pay a lower royalty rate than what Petrillo was demanding, in return for which Musicraft would affirm its support of the AFM’s basic principles. [19]

After receiving no response, Puner followed up on March 11 with a letter requesting a prompt reply. Petrillo’s reply was a curt rejection letter. [20] Puner persisted, next dispatching what Billboard termed an “impassioned wire” to Petrillo offering to negotiate with him under any circumstances, at a date of Petrillo’s choosing. This time Puner received a note stating the matter would be referred to the AFM’s International Executive Board on April 15. [21] Eventually Puner received a final rejection from Petrillo, who dismissed the offer as “peanuts.” [22]  Clearly, Petrillo was not looking to negotiate settlements on a company-by-company basis. [23]

The major labels at first seemed well-positioned to weather what they expected to be a short strike. For a time they made-do by drawing down their stockpiles of new masters, combing the vaults for unissued pre-strike recordings, and reissuing vintage material, including re-pressings of some 1920s jazz classics. But as the strike dragged on, they were forced to become more creative. In mid-January 1943, Billboard reported that Decca was about to release the last of its pre-ban masters, and speculated that Victor and Columbia might to have to follow suit. [24] With no more new material to offer, Decca’s solution was to resume recording, substituting vocal ensembles (vocalists generally not being AFM members, and thus not legally bound to honor the strike) for instrumental backing. The idea was soon being copied by Columbia, Victor, and a host of minor labels.

“The wholly vocal disks are not being taken seriously as a long-term substitute,” Billboard reported. [25] But  they infuriated Petrillo, who resorted to his usual strong-arms tactics in an attempt to stem the flow. “Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other leading vocalists have been contacted,” he told a reporter, “and have promised AFM they won’t make records.” [26] Petrillo next  stepped up pressure on the recording-studio directors.  In June 1943, he summoned Muzak’s Ben Selvin and RCA’s Leonard Joy before the board of Local 802 to demand they take no actions “against the best interests of the union.” A Billboard reporter observed,

Although AFM officials made no threats, their “requests” can be quickly enforced, as arrangers and copyists employed for vocal waxings are AFM members. The union has made it plain that it expects cooperation from all its members, and indicated that practically all the record and transcription firms have executives who hold union cards. [27]

One producer refused to be cowed. New band recordings continued to flow on Eli Oberstein’s Hit label, although they were not by any recognizable groups. One anonymous informant, identified in a 1976 interview only as “the music director of a major label,” remembered participating in a clandestine Oberstein session:

One day I found this ad for an arranger… I was told to report to a certain room at the Hotel Claridge at nine that night…and there was Eli Oberstein. In the room with him was a nine-piece orchestra and a disc cutter. Eli had hung blankets over the windows so that the noise from the street wouldn’t be too loud and had stuffed towels under the door so that we wouldn’t bother other guests. Between nine and six the following morning, that band must have cut a dozen hit tunes. I sat right there and did the arrangements, and they sight-read them. Eli paid us all in cash as we left. I don’t know who those guys were, but they were good. [28]

The records were attributed to such apparently fictitious band-leaders as Johnny Jones, Peter Piper, and Willie Kelly, [29] leading to a popular guessing game among record reviewers (and later, discographers) as to who was actually responsible. In his later years, Pee Wee Irwin reportedly admitted that, being short of cash at the time, he had taken a risk and directed the “Willie Kelly” sessions for Oberstein. [30]

The band recordings caught the attention of Petrillo, who questioned whether Oberstein had obtained AFM clearance to record the titles. But it was Arthur Fields’ vocal rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” on the Oberstein’s Hit label [31] that sparked what would become an epic clash between Oberstein and the AFM. The record included a sparse instrumental backing, placing it within the AFM’s jurisdiction. Oberstein initially claimed that it was a pre-ban recording made with a “local pickup crew.” [32] He also insisted that “Arthur Fields” was simply “a name that’s been used for house dates for years,” which was not entirely without some basis in fact. [33] When that explanation failed to satisfy AFM officials, Oberstein changed his story dramatically. The masters, he said, had come from Mexico, leading insiders to joke that he must mean Mexico, New Jersey. [34] “Call it bootlegging,” Oberstein told Down Beat magazine, “but it’s legal.” [35]

Oberstein apparently did have connections with one or more Mexican studios, as evidenced by the earlier release of some Mexico City recordings on his Varsity label. But “Der Fuehrer’s Face” appeared to be from the same American studio as Hit’s pre-ban recordings, and the voice was unmistakably that of Arthur Fields, a New Yorker who was unlikely to have journeyed south of the border just to cut record. [36]

Oberstein’s tale failed to convince the officials of AFM Local 802, who summoned him before the board to demand he reveal the names of the musicians involved. Oberstein ignored the summons and was given until October 22, 1942, to either face the board or be judged “guilty without explanation.” [37] The outcome was eagerly awaited by industry officials, some of whom expressed hope that Oberstein would successfully defy the union. [38]  They would be disappointed.

Examination of the union logs failed to reveal any evidence that “Der Fuehrer’s Face” had been recorded prior to the ban. Finally facing the AFM board on October 22, Oberstein elaborated on his revised tale, claiming the masters had been purchased by an unnamed “associate” from an unknown Mexican studio through one Manuel Valdez, who was not available to corroborate the story because he was “on his way back to Mexico.” [39] Oberstein went on to claim that Victor and Decca were also obtaining many of their pop-tune recordings  from Mexican studios, which officials of both companies vehemently denied. [40]

On December 24, Oberstein submitted to another grilling by the AFM board, at which he agreed to turn over a list of all masters he supposedly had obtained from Mexico. It was not forthcoming, but in the meantime, union officials were investigating some suspicious artist credits on Oberstein releases that had them “scratching their heads,” according to a Billboard report. No one had heard of Oberstein’s mysterious new band leaders, and their names did not appear on Local 802’s membership rolls. The break for Petrillo came after it was discovered that “Peter Piper” was identified on the union rolls as a pseudonym for Jack Small, who was immediately summoned to testify before the AFM’s trial board. [41]

Petrillo finally had his evidence that Eli Oberstein was secretly recording with union musicians, in defiance of the AFM ban. Oberstein was expelled from the union in June 1943, on the grounds that his continued release of instrumental recordings was “damaging to the interests of the Federation.” [42] Having vanquished Oberstein, Petrillo went after his associates. Nineteen music publishers whose songs had been recorded by Hit during the ban were summoned to Petrillo’s office. There, they were pressured into withholding recording rights from any company (like Classic Records, the maker of Hit) whose operations were deemed “unfair” by the union. [43]

However, Petrillo largely failed in his attempts to intimidate the transcription companies. Many were involved in work for the war effort and could rely on support from Congress, which had already made clear its disdain for Petrillo. Having reneged on his early promise not to interfere with war-related transcription work, Petrillo found himself facing a group of influential executives who charged him with bypassing governmental agencies. They asked that the matter be referred to the National War Labor Board. Just hours after the executives released their statement on June 23, 1943, Petrillo agreed to accept mediation, narrowly avoiding intervention by the board.

Petrillo brushed off his defeat at a press conference, dismissing the transcription business as too small to be of any interest to the AFM. [44]  Several month later, V-Disc director Robert Vincent, with the backing of Pentagon officials, began applying pressure to Petrillo to exempt the V-Disc recording program from the AFM  ban. Petrillo finally acquiesced on October 27, 1943, but only after insisting on a long list of conditions.

In the meantime, negotiations between AFM officials and a committee comprising representatives of CBS, Decca, and RCA had broken down. However, Decca attorney Milton Diamond continued to meet privately with Petrillo. [45] On September 18, 1943, president Jack Kapp announced that Decca and its World Broadcasting subsidiary had signed four-year contracts with the AFM that would allow them to  resume recording immediately. [46]  The terms were not immediately disclosed, although within the month Petrillo let it be known that they included payment of a percentage of Decca’s gross revenue directly to the AFM. [47] The proceeds—later revealed to be a flat half-cent royalty per new recording sold—were to be held in an “employment fund” that was intended to finance make-work projects for AFM members deprived of “normal employment opportunities” because of competition from recorded music. [48]

Capitol Records, which had barely begun operations before the ban was enacted, capitulated on October 9, agreeing to the same terms as Decca. [49] Four independent transcription companies signed slightly modified agreements several weeks later, amidst charges from the National Association of Broadcasters that the payment plans were “as economically and socially unsound as extortion is immoral and illegal.” [50]

With the prospect of Decca and Capitol dominating the pop-record market, industry observers predicted a rush by other labels to sign with the AFM. Within a matter of months, virtually all had done so, leaving RCA and Columbia as the last significant holdouts. “Privately,” Broadcasting magazine reported, “industry leaders made no bones about their feeling that had been ‘sold out’ and are now ‘over a barrel.’” [51]

In April 1944, attorneys for RCA and Columbia called for the War Labor Board to allow their companies to resume recordings, pending a challenge to the AFM’s “employment fund” provision. When a meeting between record-company and AFM officials ended in a stalemate, more-radical solutions (including a temporary government takeover of the Columbia and RCA facilities) were floated in some quarters. [52]

Facing rapidly escalating pressure from politicians and industry officials, the National War Labor Board ordered an end to the recording ban on June 15, which went unheeded. At a show-cause hearing held on August 18, Petrillo refused to comply with order, and the case was referred to the Office of Economic Stabilization for enforcement. President Roosevelt finally weighed in on October 4, 1944, declaring in a strongly worded telegram to Petrillo,

It is the opinion of the Director of Economic Stabilization that under all the present circumstances, the noncompliance by your union is not unduly impeding the war effort. But this noncompliance may encourage other instances of noncompliance which will impede the war effort… Therefore, in the interest of respecting the considered decision of the Board, I request your union to accept the directive orders of the National War Labor Board. What you regard as your loss will certainly be your country’s gain.” [53]

However, it would not be the AFM’s loss. After considering the matter for a week, Petrillo rejected the president’s request in a rambling nine-page response. Since nearly every other record and transcription company had already settled with the AFM, Petrillo declared, he saw no reason to offer any concessions to the final holdouts, for whom the ban remained in effect. [54] With no viable alternatives left, Columbia and RCA (including the latter’s NBC Thesaurus division) finally capitulated to Petrillo’s demands on the evening of Saturday, November 11, 1944, with a formal signing set for the following Monday.

After a twenty-eight–month hiatus, RCA resumed commercial recording activities on Sunday, November 12, at 1:43 pm. Columbia followed suit six hours later. [55] RCA recording manager James W. Murray conceded, “We had no alternative but to meet the demands that we make direct payment to the union’s treasury or to abandon our record business.”

Columbia’s Edward Wallerstein fixed the blame firmly on Washington, declaring, “We are finally accepting because of the government’s unwillingness or incapacity to enforce its orders.” [56] Although Petrillo denied that the contracts offered to CBS and RCA were punitive, they contained clauses not found in those the AFM had signed with other companies, including a provision allowing artists to cancel their recording contracts in the event of another AFM strike.

In the end, industry experts estimated that the AFM ban had done little damage to most record companies, and might actually have helped some. There had been no significant decline in record sales or profits during the first two years of the ban. The lack of significant growth was attributed more to wartime shortages, and the fact that a vast number of record customers were out of  the market until their enlistments ended, than to the ban. In addition, Capitol and other promising newcomers had gained a competitive edge by signing early with the AFM and resuming production while the two industry behemoths remained locked in battle with Petrillo. [57] The end of the ban also marked the beginning of a shift by start-up companies to the West Coast, where support for the AFM was relatively weak and non-union talent plentiful. Recording companies large and small were about to enjoy an unprecedented boom, but Petrillo was not finished with them yet.

 

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

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Notes

[1] O’Connell, Charles. The Other Side of the Record, pp. 260-261. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1947).

[2] Selvin, who had begun his recording career in the late ’teens as the director of a popular dance orchestra, was by this time the vice-president of Associated Music Publishers, and a long-time member of the American Federation of Musicians.

[3] “Cost of Record Music Talent Is Found Above Expectations.” Broadcasting (April 14, 1941), p. 54.

[4] “Settlement Talk Rumored After RB Drops Band in Pay Dispute.” The Billboard (June 13, 1942), p. 38. The strike involved the main circus band, under Merle Evans’ direction, as well as the smaller sideshow band directed by Arthur Wright.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo; Clark and Vandenberg Hits Music ‘Tyranny’ by AFM.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[7] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians, Seeking to Wreck Radio.” Broadcasting (July 27, 1942), p. 8.

[8] “Industry Remains Calm on Petrillo Ban.” Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[9] “Highlights of the Petrillo Recording Ban that Went Before; From 1942 to 1944.” Billboard (November 1, 1947), p. 20.

[10] “Mr. Petrillo Gives the Word.” New York Times (July 10, 1942), reprinted in Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[11] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians,” op. cit.

[12] “Shellac Shortage, Petrillo and War Have Little Fellows Groggy.” Billboard (August 29, 1942), p. 19.

[13] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo,” op. cit.

[14] “D of J Must Prove That AFM Conspires; ‘Labor Disputes’ Can’t Be Hit By Trust Laws.” Billboard (August 1, 1942), p. 19.

[15] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Tecord Ban.” The Billboard 1944 Music Yearbook, p. 147.

[16] Coughlan, Robert. “Petrillo.” Life (August 3, 1942), pp. 68–70, 72, 74, 76.

[17] “75% of People Against Petrillo.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[18] “Independents Form Record Association.” Broadcasting (August 10, 1942), p. 58.

[19] “Tiny Disker Tries to Steal Play from Big Firms with Petrillo Personally, But No Dice.” Billboard (April 3, 1943).

[20] “AFM Rejects Plan.” Broadcasting (March 29, 1943). P. 52.

[21] “Musicraft Asks Petrillo Again, Get Second ‘No.’” Billboard (April 10, 1943), p. 22

[22] Chasins, Gladys. “Recording Ban Grows Tighter; Vocalists Agree to Stop Recording Until AFM Lifts Ban.” Billboard (July 3, 1943).

[23] “Petrillo Won’t Settle Individually with Discers; April 15 Meeting Set.” Variety (March 31, 1943), p. 35.

[24] “Petrillo Stands Pat.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[25] “Tune Pile Getting Low.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[26] Chasins, op. cit.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Quoted in Angus, Robert: “Pirates, Prima Donas, and Plain White Wrappers.” High Fidelity (December 1976). An attempt by record researcher George Blacker in the 1980s to discover the anonymous music directors’ identity was unsuccessful.

[29] Pee Wee Irwin reportedly told writer Roy Evans that he was responsible for the Willie Kelly side

[30] Evans, Roy. Undated letter to George Blacker. William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press.

[31] Hit 7023, released on October 14, 1942.

[32] “Big Recording Whodunit; 802 to Investigate Oberstein’s Recording of Mysterious Bands.” Billboard (October 17, 1942), p. 20.

[33] “802 No Savvies New ‘Hit’ Discs of Current Pops.” Metronome (November 1942), p. 8. Fields (nee Finkelstein) was one of the most prolific studio singers of the 1920s, and his name had been used on occasion as a cover for Fred Hall’s band, as well as other groups that remain to be identified. He was largely forgotten by 1942; so much so, that some reporters failed to recognize the voice and thus accepted Oberstein’s suggestion that the name was fictional. A Billboard article on November 28, 1942, stated, “Admittedly, the name carrying the billing is merely a handy handle for label purposes.”

[34] “Whither Disk Biz, Petrillo?” Billboard (July 26, 1947), p. 23.

[35] “Discs Cut in Mexico, Says EO.” Down Beat (November 1, 1942); clipping, n.p.

[36] In a bizarre twist, Fields claimed not have made the recording  (despite indisputable aural evidence to the contrary) and reportedly sued for an injunction halting distribution and sales of the record (“Now Oberstein Says Discs Are Mexican.” Billboard, October 31, 1942, p. 21). Further references to the supposed suit have not been found, and based on the large number of surviving copies of Hit 7023, it seems unlikely an injunction was granted.

[37] “Discs Cut…,” op. cit.

[38] “Big Recording Whodunit,” op. cit.

[39] “Oberstein Defends Records.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[40] Ibid.

[41] “Oberstein’s ‘Peter Piper’ May Be 802’s Jack Small; Union Wants Some Answers.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[42] Oberstein was later readmitted to the union, but only after threatening a half-million dollar defamation suit against Petrillo, the AFM, and its officers, raising fears that “a lot of dirty linen will be washed in public” (“Obie Planning 500G Suit”; Billboard, July 10, 1943). Classic Records’ recording license was restored in early November 1943 (“AFM Okays Classic Recording License;” Billboard, November 13, 1943, p. 16).

[43] “Calls on Pubs to Put Screws on Black Market Recorders.” Billboard (June 5, 1943), p. 21.

[45] Robertson, Bruce.“Disc Meeting Discusses Performance Fee.” Broadcasting (August 9, 1943), p. 12.

[46] “Petrillo’s Permission.” Motion Picture Herald (September 25, 1943), p. 8. The AFM contracts signed by Decca, World, and the many companies that followed were effective as of January 1, 1944, but Petrillo allowed them to resume recording immediately upon signing.

[47] Robertson, Bruce. “Other Disc Firms May Yield to AFM Pact.” Broadcasting (October 4, 1943), p. 9.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Capitol Records Signs with AFM.” Broadcasting (October 18, 1943), p. 60.

[50] “NAB Hits AFM Fees; Four Disc Firms Sign.” Broadcasting (October 25, 1943), p. 9.

[51] Robertson, “Other Disc Firms,” op. cit.

[52] “Editorial: Jimmy’s Opportunities.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944), p. 44.

[53] “FDR Telegram to Petrillo.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944).

[54] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Record Ban,” op cit.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Stone, Floyd E. “Victorious Caesar Petrillo Talks; Hollywood Waits.” Motion Picture Herald (November 18, 1944), p. 13.

[57] “Ban Background and Effects.” Billboard 1944 Music Year Book, p. 146.

110 Years Ago at the Victor Talking Machine Company (November 1907)

November 1907 marked the return of the Victor studio to Camden, from Philadelphia, after an absence of more than six years. The impending move got only a vague mention in that month’s Talking Machine World, in a story on a visit by distributor Max Landay, who said, “I understand the company will remove their recording laboratory from Philadelphia to Camden, into premises that are ideal.” The move was documented by Harry O. Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer:

During November [1907] we moved the Laboratory from 424 So. 10th St., Philadelphia, to the building S.W. Corner Front and Cooper Streets, Camden, N.J., in which we occupied the fourth floor. The first large type “D” recording machine was installed in the Camden Laboratory prior to our moving into same. [“D” refers to Wilbur N. Dennison, who assigned a large number of patents to Victor over the years.]

To repeat a point we’ve made often (and wish we didn’t still have to, but old myths die hard): Any discography showing a Camden recording location between early September 1901 and late November 1907 is in error. For a detailed, documented chronology of Victor’s early studio sites, see Camden, Philadelphia, or New York? Fact-Checking the Victor Studio Locations, 1901-1920.

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Here’s the complete pictorial section of Victor’s November 1907 catalog, courtesy of Victor expert John Bolig:

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By the way, John’s landmark Victor Discography Series titles are selling out quickly as Mainspring winds down its book operation. Several are already out of print, and remaining inventory is in very short supply. If there are any titles you need, hurry over to the Mainspring Press website and order while you still can!

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Early Columbia Cylinder Phonograph Outfits (Chicago Projecting Company, c. 1901 – 1902)

Some tantalizing ads for Columbia cylinder outfits from a rare catalog issued by the Chicago Projecting Company (225 Dearborn Street). In addition to projectors, films, stereoptions and slides, and related items, the company stocked a wide array of Columbia and and Victor merchandise.

The catalog is undated but includes Victor Monarch “pre-matrix” discs that were recorded as late as October 1901, suggesting a late 1901 or early 1902 publication. By that time, high-volume molded cylinders were beginning to enter the market, and the ear-tubes, oversized “exhibition horns,” and Concert-type cylinders offered here were on the verge of obsolescence.

One page implies that the company was making its own cylinders, picturing an unbranded cylinder and bragging that “our records…made with much greater care than the ordinary records,” while another shows a Concert-type cylinder in a special Chicago Projecting Company box (but with a Columbia lid). In fact, they were all Columbia cylinders, using Columbia’s catalog numbers.

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