Columbia’s 194000 master series (which isn’t covered in The Columbia Master Book Discography and derivative works) was begun in the late 1920s for new electrical transfers from existing masters.
The series was used largely for new Western Electric dubbings from acoustic masters in the ethnic catalogs — a cheaper solution that making new recordings of numbers that had minuscule sales potential at best (note the pressing figures on the sheet below). The examples we’ve heard are not “flat” transfers; the high and low ends have been beefed up just a bit, introducing a little rumble on the low end. The absence of other transferred surface noise suggests that the engineers worked from the metal parts rather than shellac pressings.
Below is a typical Columbia label-copy sheet for a 1930 reissue using 194000-series dubbed masters. The transferred masters are two venerable sides by Charles Prince’s studio band that were first issued in late 1909. The original catalog number has been retained, with the addition of a hyphen following the prefix. Why Columbia took the trouble to update material like this is a mystery, especially since they would have owed Western Electric royalties on sales of the re-recordings, as indicated by the “W Recording” notation. However, a substantial number of antiquated ethnic-series masters received the same treatment around 1930.
(William R. Bryant papers, Mainspring Press collection)
More interesting to blues and country-music collectors is the fact that 194000-series dubbings were also made to correct technical deficiencies in current recordings, such as those from Blind Willie Johnson’s Atlanta session of April 20, 1930. This occurs most often in field-trip recordings. Technical problems generally weren’t discovered until the masters had been processed back in Bridgeport, often several weeks after a problematic session, by which time the engineers had moved on to other locations.
Bottom line: If you have a pressing from a 194000-series master, you have a dubbing, not an original. And while an original is obviously preferable in collecting (if not necessarily listening) terms, dubbings could be your only choice in the case of the late 1920s–early 1930s location recordings. Most of the original masters from the Johnson session mentioned above, for example, were transferred to new 194000-series masters shortly after their arrival in Bridgeport, well in advance of release; the corresponding original masters never saw the light of day, commercially.