New Discography • National Music Lovers and New Phonic Records (2nd Edition) — Free Download

New Free Discography Download
NATIONAL MUSIC LOVERS AND
NEW PHONIC RECORDS

Second Edition

By Allan Sutton

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The latest title in Mainspring Press’ free Online Reference Library, this new edition once and for all untangles the mess that was National Music Lovers and New Phonic by stripping away the anecdotal, speculative, and even outright-fabricated “data” that’s appeared in so many discographies over the years. We started from scratch, using information gathered solely from trusted contributors’ first-hand inspection of the original discs and ancillary materials.

The many questionable, unsubstantiated artist attributions that appear in works like The American Dance Band Discography and American Dance Bands on Records and Film are still here, but are now where they belong — mentioned in footnotes, along with an explanation in each case of why those claims are either baseless or demonstrably incorrect. 

Numerous entries have been added or updated since the original 2011 edition, with the discovery of still more alternate versions, special pressings, and previously untraced releases. Discographical details that were vague or lacking in the first edition have now been filled-in, thanks to our growing circle of trusted contributors, and our acquisition of the previously unpublished findings of the Record Research group, which investigated NML and New Phonic extensively for several decades — even running comparisons on a synchronized dual turntable to determine master sources, takes, and other fine details.

No guesswork here. Enjoy!

 

Download Free Personal-Use Edition (pdf, ~3.5 mb)

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National Music Lovers & New Phonic Records is the latest addition to free Record Collectors’ Online Reference Library, courtesy of
Mainspring Press, the leader in forensic discography.

This copyrighted publication is intended for personal, non-commercial use only. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution by any means, including but not limited to e-book or online database conversion, is prohibited. Please read, and be sure to observe, our terms of use as outlined in the file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

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The Birth of Electrical Recording — Part 2 (Compo, Brunswick, Edison, and the Minor Labels)

The Birth of Electrical Recording — Part 2
By Allan Sutton

 

>  Read Part 1

 

 

The Canadian Connection: Herbert Berliner’s Home-Grown
Electrical System

While the electrical conversion was getting under way in the United States, the Compo Company’s Herbert S. Berliner was developing his own electrical-recording system in Canada. The son of inventor Emile Berliner, Herbert had gone his own way after openly expressing dissatisfaction with what he saw as the Victor Talking Machine Company’s predatory relationship with Emile’s Berliner Gramophone Company. In the autumn of 1918, while still vice-president of Berliner Gramophone, Herbert launched the Compo Company as an independent pressing plant in Lachine, Quebec.

On July 7, 1921, Berliner made the first documented test recordings in Compo’s newly opened Montreal studio. They were followed on July 13 by what would be Compo’s first commercially issued recordings, two selections by the team of Tremblay & Germain. Apex, Compo’s flagship label, was formally announced on September 2, 1921.

By January 1924, Berliner had opened a New York studio, which initially was reserved for the production of Ajax race records for the American market. In the same month, he began making experimental electrical recordings in Compo’s Montreal studio, using equipment reportedly of his own design.

On December 4, 1924, Berliner began recording some commercial masters in both acoustic and electric versions. The switch-over to full-time electrical recording followed quickly, on January 22, 1925. Compo’s first electrical releases began reaching Canadian dealers in the early spring of 1925, just ahead of the first Columbia and Victor electrical releases in the United States. There was a mixture of acoustic and electric releases into the early summer of 1925, as the last of the acoustic masters worked their way through the system.

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Compo hints that something’s changed in the spring of 1925. Several months later, the company began marketing the new records as “Apex Electrophonic.”

 

Berliner’s New York studio appears to have been converted to electrical recording during February–March 1925, a period in which the Compo day books show no commercial recording in New York. After resuming briefly, New York operations were again suspended in April 1925, coinciding with the demise of Ajax.

The New York studio reopened on July 22, 1925, in a new location. Electrically equipped and now operating as the Berliner Recording Laboratories, it served for several years as an independent provider of masters to American companies that had yet to make the electrical conversion. It supplied many electrically recorded masters to the Pathé Phonograph and Radio Corporation beginning in January 1926, primarily by Pathé’s higher-priced talent (more run-of-the-mill artists continued to record acoustically for Pathé at the same time).

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Recording ledger sheets for New York Berliner sessions commissioned by Gennett (top) and Pathé (bottom). Gennett subsequently substituted its own false master numbers for the actual Compo E-series numbers, which has caused some less-than-knowledgeable discographers to assign an incorrect recording date. For the George Hall session, true Pathé master numbers (107450 and 107451) were assigned from the start.

 

During the summer and autumn of 1926, the Starr Piano Company commissioned electrically recorded masters from Berliner that were renumbered within the Gennett master sequence, with the addition of a BEX- prefix (which is not shown in most modern discographies). However, Pathé was by far Berliner’s major client, commissioning a large number of recordings into early 1927 — at first Compo master numbers, but later assigning numbers  from Pathé’s own series. Compo files for the latter sessions often contain instructions to “Charge Pathé,” although some of the recordings were also issued on Compo-owned labels in Canada. Berliner’s last documented New York studio recordings were made in the spring of 1927. The studio appears to have been closed after Pathé began making its own electrical recordings, possibly having purchased the equipment from Berliner.

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Notice of Compo’s experiment with commercial releases from radio broadcasts (August 1925). Berliner’s off-the-air recordings were issued under a special Apex Radia-Tone label.

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Berliner also experimented with recordings from radio broadcasts during the mid-1920s, which he issued on the Apex Radia-Tone label in Canada. The first release consisted of two hymns by the choir and congregation of the American Presbyterian Church (Montreal), with pipe-organ accompaniment, as broadcast on August 9, 1925. In 1926, after much carefully documented experimentation, Berliner began recording pipe-organ solos by Norton Payne, which were transmitted by wire from Montreal’s Capitol Theatre to the nearby studios of radio station CKAC. The records sold well in Canada, prompting a 1928 follow-up series by Leo Le Sieur (performing in Montreal’s Midway Theatre) that also appeared on numerous low-priced American labels, sometimes under pseudonyms.

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Compo as a full-service provider of electrical recordings

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Brunswick’s “Light-Ray” Debacle (or, Western Electric to the Rescue)

Back in the U.S. the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company found itself shut out of the supposedly exclusive licensing agreements that Western Electric had recently negotiated with Columbia and Victor. Now the third-largest American record producer, Brunswick suddenly found itself in dire need of an electrical process. The company’s earlier in-house electrical experiments having come to naught (see Part 1), Brunswick vice-president Percy Deutsch turned to General Electric, hoping to license their photoelectric Pallophotophone recording system — the same basic system that Victor had tested and rejected in 1922.

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Charles Hoxie and the Pallophotophone (1922).

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Elmer C. Nelson, assistant manager of Brunswick’s Boston branch, described the process  in layman’s terms:

A powerful beam of light is centered on a minute crystal mirror (weighing one two-hundredth part of a milligram) very much smaller than the head of a pin. This delicate mirror, which is held in place by a magnetic force, is vibrated by sound waves and will respond to the slightest whisper. The mirror reflects the powerful light playing upon it … This dancing beam of light acts upon an electric magnetic wire, and a weak electrical impulse is set up. This electrical impulse is carried over wires to an amplifying unit, and thence to a cutting device which cuts the wax …

 

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A highly simplified explanation of the Hoxie–General Electric system as adapted for disc mastering, used in Brunswick’s promotional materials.

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In early 1925, General Electric president Harold Swope approved the licensing of Hoxie’s process to Brunswick through the Radio Corporation of America. Brunswick and RCA had been involved in cooperative efforts since late 1924, when Brunswick agreed to install RCA Radiolas in some of its phonographs and began sponsoring broadcasts of its recording artists over RCA’s radio station, WJZ (New York).

One immediate result of this agreement was the suspension of recording activity in Brunswick’s new Chicago studio, which had opened in February 1925 and was still operating only sporadically. Unlike the earlier in-house experiments, which had been carried out in Chicago, experiments with the new GE equipment would be conducted in New York, with its long-established studios, access to inexpensive freelance studio artists, and proximity to General Electric’s headquarters.

The General Electric equipment was first installed in Room #3 in  Brunswick’s Eastern headquarters at 799 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. The company’s first electrically recorded commercial masters were produced there beginning April 7, 1925, while a steadily diminishing number of acoustic sessions continued in Rooms #1 and #2. The last acoustic master intended for release in Brunswick’s main series was made in New York on June 1, 1925, an unissued recording of “Got No Time” credited to the fictitious Carl Fenton’s Orchestra. “Carl Fenton” was merely a pseudonym for Brunswick musical director Walter G. (Gus) Haenschen, who would struggle mightily with the new process before finally scrapping it completely.

Recording activity was suspended in the New York studios during July, presumably to accommodate conversion of the older studios. Still mixing electric and acoustic sessions, Brunswick began releasing a few electrically recorded discs into the monthly lists — unannounced as such, and interspersed with the far more numerous acoustic recordings — as early as June 1925.

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“Music by Photography” (1926). Brunswick musical director Gus Haenschen recalled the system was so flawed that it was eventually scrapped it in favor of a secret licensing deal with Western Electric.

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On May 2, 1925, Brunswick also began recording electrical masters for its recently acquired Vocalion subsidiary, although acoustic recording would remain the norm for most issues intended for Vocalion label (which Brunswick officials persisted in treating as the ugly step-sister) until October 23, 1925. The Chicago studio, idled since March, was converted to GE equipment during the summer of 1925. After some prolonged testing, regularly scheduled electrical sessions began in Chicago on September 22, 1925, yielding two unissued titles by the Abe Lyman and Paul Ash orchestras. However, the company continued to use the acoustic process for some Spanish-language recordings made on the West Coast as late as May 1927.

The changeover had not been easy for Brunswick, nor had the early results been promising. The photoelectric microphones proved to be highly sensitive to extraneous noise and vibrations, requiring heavy draping of the studio. Consequently, the earliest Light-Ray recordings suffered from low volume and a distant, muffled sound. In attempting to increase the volume, the engineers overcompensated and introduced sometimes-severe distortion. The results at first were a questionable improvement over Brunswick’s high-quality acoustic recordings. Gus Haenschen recalled:

What a mess it was!… The results were all over the place because that damned process was totally unpredictable.  Most of the time, the test pressings of the recordings had so much distortion that they were worthless.  The distortion might be in the bass in one test pressing, and then in the middle or upper range in another.  About the time we thought we had solved the distortion problem in one part of the range, it would be in another part [of the range]. 

The microphone we had to use may have been the source of the problem.  It looked like an oversized telephone.  It had a flared cup that funneled the sound into the internal parts of the microphone, like telephones were equipped with back then…. That microphone was mounted on a steel pole that could be adjusted up or down in height, and the cast-iron base was on casters so it could be moved around.  But no matter where we put the thing in relation to the performers, we couldn’t get consistent, distortion-free recordings.”

Haenschen and the Brunswick and GE engineers struggled to make the most of a highly flawed system. The worst distortion had been tamed by early 1926, although the results still fell far short of what Columbia and Victor were achieving with their Western Electric equipment. Despite the unreliability of their GE equipment, Brunswick began dispatching it from Chicago to remote locations in early 1926. After an initial trip to nearby Mundelein, Illinois in March, to record the St. Mary of the Lake Seminary Choir, the Brunswick engineers began to venture farther afield. A GE-equipped team traveled to Toronto in April, to Cleveland in May, and to St. Louis in June.

Like Victor and Columbia, Brunswick initially suppressed any public announcement of its new recording process. However, it was the first company of the three to announce its conversion, breaking the news in a press release on August 12, 1925. At that time, Percy Deutsch made the curious claim that Brunswick’s first electrical recordings would be issued in October, when in fact the company had been surreptitiously issuing electrics since June. Perhaps he was trying to distance Brunswick from the company’s earliest, horrendously flawed electrics.

The announcement was tied to the introduction of Brunswick’s new all-electric phonograph, the Panatrope. The first fully integrated, entirely electrical phonograph to reach market, the Panatrope was formally unveiled on August 25, in an open letter to the trade over Brunswick vice-president Percy Deutsch’s signature. (Some small manufacturers had already offered “electric” phonographs, but these were modified acoustic machines, usually involving the placement of a microphone on the acoustic reproducer or in the tone-arm, which was connected by wire to a radio receiver and external speaker. The Panatrope, in contrast, was a fully self-contained unit employing a true electrical pickup engineered for compatibility with the unit’s own electronics.)

An advertising blitz followed in anticipation of the holiday season. General sales manager A. J. Kendrick, positioning the Panatrope as an entirely new device, declared,

We are dropping the word “phonograph” except as applied to those phonographs which we will, for the time being, continue to merchandise, or until we have decided to entirely discontinue the production and selling of phonographs … the trend of the times, both in scientific development as well as public demand and tendency, is entirely toward electrical applications and progress.”

On November 11, 1925, Brunswick hosted a gala demonstration of the Panatrope at New York’s Aeolian Hall, enlisting the aid of David Sarnoff, Otto Kahn, and other New York businessmen, celebrities, and socialites. RCA president Alfred Goldsmith first addressed the audience by radio from Washington DC. Then, taking a page from Edison, the Brunswick executives treated their guests to a sort of modified Tone Test involving live-versus-recorded performances by pianist Leopold Godowsky, tenor Mario Chamlee, and other Brunswick Gold Label celebrities. The next day, Deutsch demonstrated the new machine and records to an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd in the Wanamaker Auditorium. While neither the Panatrope nor the Light-Ray records were technically very polished at that  point, Brunswick for the time being had soundly upstaged competitors Victor and Columbia in the advertising arena. The show was then taken on the road.

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Brunswick mounted a national advertising blitz for its flawed “Light-Ray” records (June 1926)

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Brunswick soon dubbed its new recording process “Light-Ray,” likening it to “music by photography.” Deutsch, flush with enthusiasm for his new product, announced that due to the “greater delicacy” of the groove produced by the GE process, Brunswick was able to produce a 500-line-per-inch groove that would allow playing times of up to forty minutes on a twelve-inch disc. If such records were made, there is no trace of them in the Brunswick files, and they never reached the public. Brunswick’s commercial releases had a maximum playing time only marginally longer than that of their competitors, a gain realized in part by adopting a slightly finer groove spacing, and in part by later reducing the label diameter, allowing the recordable area to extend closer to the center of the disc.

But Percy Deutsch was clearly aware of the Light Ray process’ shortcoming, admitting in October 1925 that “Mr. Hoxie’s invention has been modified considerably.” Ultimately, those improvements would still prove inadequate to keep pace with Columbia and Victor. In a move that remained a well-guarded industry secret until Gus Haenschen finally disclosed it to interviewer Jim Drake many years later, Brunswick officials secretly negotiated a licensing agreement with Western Electric:

We junked that “Light-Ray” thing and made a deal with Western Electric to be able to use their process instead.  Back then, it was possible to make confidential deals like that and have them stay confidential.  Anyway, from then on the sound quality of our recordings was on a par with Victor’s.

Given the delicate nature of that arrangement, no clue appears in the Brunswick recording files as to when the transition occurred, but the improvement in audio quality does indeed become quite apparent during the course of 1927. A few early Western Electric masters show an inconspicuous “W” in the wax, the only visual evidence that a change had occurred.

 

The Electrical Bandwagon

While the major American record manufacturers enjoyed the technical support of two major corporations in converting to electrical recording, the smaller companies were left to implement electrical systems — or at least, the appearance they were employing electrical systems — on their own. The result, at first, was a flurry of new brand names suggesting that electricity might somehow be involved, without actually claiming that such was the case.

In May 1925, General Phonograph Corporation president Otto Heineman announced that Okeh’s veteran recording engineer, Charles Hibbard, had perfected a new recording process. “However,” Heineman warned, “we are not quite ready to tell anyone about the details of this new process, which we must keep secret for the time being.” When a reporter for The Talking Machine World questioned Heineman on the system, Heineman replied “with the suggestion that the new process is not electrical,” and aural evidence supports that claim. Okeh’s Ralph Peer cagily reported that the process could “be applied to either acoustic or electric recording and has been of particular value in eliminating the uncertainties from electrical recording,” but stopped short of claiming that records made by the new Truetone process were actually electrical.

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Charles Hibbard in the Okeh studio, late 1925

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Sonically, the new process was a step backwards in some regards. Although the overall response curve was generally smoother, the new recordings suffered from a peculiar “boxy” sound. After its acquisition by Columbia in late 1926, Okeh was, of course, licensed to use the Western Electric system, which it did superbly in the talented hands of Hibbard, Tommy Rockwell, and others. The “Truetone” process was promptly abandoned, although Okeh’s earliest Western Electric releases still bore old Truetone labels and showed only an inconspicuous “E” in the wax, rather than the tell-tale circled-W indicating the  Western Electric process.

Pathé’s New Process Recording system, announced in the early autumn of 1925, was also acoustic, despite Pathé’s allusions to experiments in “electrical and photo-electrical sound wave reproducing methods.” In reality, it was nothing more than an ultra-low speed version of Pathé’s traditional acoustic dubbing process, which involved copying cylinder masters to disc by means of a pantograph. The process seems primarily to have increased the rumble and other mechanical noise that had long plagued Pathé’s pantographed disc masters, in exchange for a slight gain in high-end response.

When Pathé finally did decide to produce electrical recordings in early 1926, it contracted the work to Herbert Berliner’s New York studio, as noted earlier in this article. Pathé began recording its own electrical masters at some point in 1927, coinciding with the last of Herbert Berliner’s New York sessions for the label. Touted to the trade as “Pathéphonic” (a term that did not appear on the record labels, being reserved mainly for Pathé’s new line of phonographs), the process produced rather muffled-sounding recordings.

The Cameo Record Corporation’s electrical system produced even more murky-sounding results. Experimentation had begun in mid-1925, following Cameo’s merger with David Grimes Radio. Inventor of the Grimes Inverse Duplex Circuit, David Grimes operated an audio research laboratory and radio factory in Jersey City, New Jersey. Given that, it appears likely that Cameo’s electrical recording system (which was not otherwise identified as to source in the trade papers) originated there. After a few isolated electrical sessions, Cameo commenced full-time electrical recording around March 1926. Although Cameo’s electrical recordings sound muddy to modern ears, The Talking Machine World professed fondness for them, declaring “the bass notes are particularly ‘rounded’ in the manner that is at present so popular.”

Exactly what processes were employed by many of the other small companies will probably remain a mystery. Most apparently resorted to cobbled-together systems, with predictably poor results. The Plaza Music Company-Regal Record Company alliance — producers of Banner, Domino, Regal, and a large group of dime-store and mail-order client labels — issued several electrical recordings as early as July 1925, although it is not certain that they were Plaza’s own recordings. Regular electrical sessions began in late November 1925, and some electrical recordings of the crudest sort appeared among the March 1926 releases. The changeover was formally announced the following month, on the Banner and Regal labels. Plaza’s recording quality improved to some extent in 1927, after the Crystalate Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company of Great Britain acquired a part-interest in the company, but it remained substandard.

Even America’s shoddiest record producer — the Grey Gull Record Company, purveyors of gritty  20¢ discs that favored such artist credits as “Mr. X” — managed to cobble together an electrical system in the spring of 1926, which introduced distortion the likes of which have rarely been surpassed on commercially issued phonograph records.

 

Gennett: One Step Forward, One Step Backward

The Starr Piano Company’s Gennett records division lagged behind all other companies except Edison in converting to electrical recording. Like Pathé, Gennett commissioned some electrical recordings from Compo in early 1926. The company also recorded a few of its own electrical masters at about the same time, using General Electric equipment. The resulting records were issued with a small “GE” logo added to the standard Gennett label, and were of reasonably good quality. Gennett’s initial flirtation with the new process proved brief, however.

The Gennett files document frequent problems with the GE equipment. The Indiana studio proved to be especially problematic, with manager Fred Wiggins confiding to one performer, “We have been put out so many times in regard to the new electrical recordings that we have decided to put back our horn recording apparatus here in Richmond.” The “electric” notation disappears from Gennett’s New York and Richmond matrix ledgers in mid-March 1926. It does not reappear until October 1926, and then only sporadically at first, intermixed with the more numerous acoustically recorded masters.

With a small stock of electrical masters finally ready for release, the Gennett Electrobeam disc was formally announced in January 1927. The records, sporting a new label reminiscent of Victor’s scroll design, were touted as “Lightning Tuned to Music.” Some of the problems at the Richmond studio were resolved in early 1927, after Gordon Soule replaced E. C. A. “Eck” Wickemeyer as Gennett’s chief recording engineer.

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Gennett engineer Gordon Soule and unidentified assistant on the road in 1927 with a GE electrical set-up. The presence of the antiquated acoustic horn and reproducer is puzzling; the photo caption offers no information on what purpose they might have served.

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By 1927, the GE equipment was functioning reliably enough that Soule took it on the road to Chicago, Birmingham, and other locations, recording some exceptionally interesting local jazz and blues performers in the process. But the General Electric system still left much to be desired, being prone to distortion, and in 1928 Gennett turned to the Radio Corporation of America for help.

General Electric had recently transferred its work on optical sound-film recording to RCA, which announced its new Photophone film recording system in April 1928. The Photophone system was designed primarily to record variable-density film soundtracks. However, one component of the system — based on one of Hoxie’s 1921 Pallophotophone patents — was an electromagnetic disc cutter. Thus, the system was readily adaptable to disc-record mastering. On July 1, RCA licensed the system to Gennett. The deal pre-dated any large-scale use of Photophone in the motion picture industry, which began only after RCA spun off Photophone as a separate corporation in association with Keith-Albee-Orpheum and Film Booking Offices.

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Gennett announces its long-delayed conversion (1926)

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The Photophone Gennett masters were a marked improvement over what had been achieved with the balky General Electric equipment. Curiously, the RCA Photophone credit appeared only Supertone, a Sears Roebuck client label produced by Gennett, never on Gennett’s own labels.

 

Edison’s Reluctant Conversion

While even small operations like Grey Gull moved ahead with electrical recording of a sort, Thomas A. Edison, Inc., clung tenaciously to the acoustic process. Frank L. Dyer, one of Edison’s chief engineers, had patented an electromagnetic recording head as early as 1921, but apparently no effort was made to develop the device. Charles and Theodore Edison’s attempts to persuade their father to investigate both radio and electrical recording were rebuffed.

After conducting some experiments with electrical reproduction (but apparently not electrical recording) in the autumn of 1925, Charles and Theodore persuaded their father to hire Bertil Hauffmann, a Swedish engineer, to conduct similar experiments. By then almost totally deaf, Edison reportedly auditioned Hauffmann’s phonograph with the aid of an ear trumpet, pronounced the results “distorted,” and fired the engineer.

Development of an Edison electrical phonograph was put on hold. No electrical recording seems to have been attempted during Hauffmann’s brief stay, but the Edison files reveal ongoing experimentation with alternatives, including what was presumably the unauthorized acoustic dubbing of some electrically recorded Victor discs on several occasions, for unknown reasons.

Nevertheless, it was becoming clear that Edison would have to take some action in the face of an industry-wide electrical conversion. The late 1925 Tone Test tour had been largely ignored by the press for the first time, eclipsed by Brunswick’s public demonstrations of its new electrical phonographs and records. What followed was a series of technical and marketing disasters that included the purely acoustic Edison Dance Reproducer and the fine-groove but still acoustic Long Playing discs.

It had long been apparent to Charles Edison and others that the company would have to convert to electrical recording, and that to continue to introduce acoustic products that were obsolete before ever reaching the marketplace was simply postponing the inevitable. In addition to an alarming decline in sales that he attributed in part to the company’s failure to convert, manager Walter Miller noted that artists who had become accustomed to the microphone were now reluctant to continue working in front of primitive recording horns. In the spring of 1927, Charles Edison took the unprecedented step of going outside the company for help, inviting General Electric to conduct test sessions in the Edison studio. Such a move would have been unthinkable under his father’s management.

Testing of the General Electric equipment probably began in May 1927, when J. Donald Parker and B.A. Rolfe’s Orchestra were paid for unspecified experimental recordings at Edison’s New York studio. Electrical recording of commercial masters finally began on a sporadic basis on June 30, 1927, with a session by vocalist Juan Pulido. On July 1, acoustic sessions were resumed, and they would be intermixed with electric sessions for the next month. The acoustic process would not be fully abandoned until August 1927, making Edison the last American record company to adopt an electrical process. At some point, Edison switched to more reliable RCA Photophone equipment, the presence of which is confirmed in a 1929 insurance-company inventory of the company’s assets.

In September 1927, after offering hints to the trade for many weeks, the Edison company publicly announced a new acoustic phonograph, the Edisonic. The machine was designed to play Edison’s new electrical recordings, which were erroneously credited to “Mr. Edison’s secret process of recording.” If there was a secret at all, it was that Thomas Edison had nothing to do that process, which was entirely the work of General Electric. An all-electric Edison phonograph was finally unveiled in the summer of 1928, in conjunction with Edison’s purchase of a substantial interest in the Splitdorf Radio Corporation. Splitdorf’s flawed radio and electrical phonograph circuitry reportedly required a substantial expenditure to bring it up to company standards.

The company continued to champion the vertical cut even as it struggled to keep the Phonograph Division afloat. The sole dissenter was Arthur Walsh, the division’s vice-president and general manger. On April 25, 1927, he suggested what until then would have constituted heresy in the Edison organization—that the company produce “a disc record that plays on any phonograph” (in other words, a standard lateral-cut record). Confronted with steadily declining sales figures, management took his suggestion and in late 1927 and authorized the development of a lateral-cut disc, to be marketed as the Edison Needle Type. Charles Edison delegated the management of the project to Walsh, the company’s most progressive and outspoken executive.

An experimental electrically recorded lateral-cut master was recorded on October 1, 1927, and by the end of the year, forty-two lateral recordings had been assigned experimental numbers. Development got under way in earnest on January 6, 1928, with production of the first in a new series of N-prefixed lateral masters intended for commercial release. The vertical-cut Diamond Disc was to remain in production, so a split microphone line was installed, allowing vertical and lateral cutting machines to be operated simultaneously, thus avoiding the need to dub from one format to the other. However, the Edison engineers encountered many problems in working with the unfamiliar lateral cut, and hundreds of masters were rejected during 1928, often for seemingly minor flaws. Lateral-cut masters were not judged acceptable for release with any regularity until late in the year.

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Band-leader B. A. Rolfe and friends demonstrate the new Edison Needle-Type Electric discs and acoustic portable phonograph in 1929. The portables were manufactured by an outside vendor. (Edison National Historic Site)

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Following the same pattern that had marred its launch of the Diamond Disc in 1912–1913, and the ill-fated Long Playing records in 1927, Edison announced the Needle Type prematurely, then dribbled the product out in fits and starts over a thirteen-month span. The new records were first announced in the spring of 1928, and some sample pressings were exhibited to dealers. The company then went largely silent on the subject until January 1929, when it announced once again that release of the new records was imminent. Needle Type records finally began shipping to dealers in July.

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A 1929 promotional photo for the Needle Type Electrics
(Edison National Historic Site)

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The Edison Needle Type electrics garnered generally favorable reviews from the critics, although from a technical standpoint they fell short of the results being achieved by Columbia, Okeh, and Victor. Surviving files reveal that the company lowered its strict standards in an attempt to keep a steady flow of new lateral-cut discs coming, sometimes authorizing the release of substandard or previously rejected masters. Ultimately, Edison’s conversion to electrical recording and the lateral cut came too late to save the record business operation. By the early autumn of 1929, Edison’s managers were quietly preparing to dismantle the Phonograph Division.

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As the 1920s drew to a close, the acoustically recorded phonograph record was fast becoming a relic of the past. Columbia and Victor had begun disposing of their obsolete acoustic recordings in 1926. Victor announced a final solution of sorts in the summer of 1926, introducing an exchange plan it termed “a new proposition [that] will take care of surplus stocks of all mechanically cut records.” In October 1926, Columbia also announced an exchange plan intended to clear old material from dealers’ shelves by encouraging the exchange of obsolete acoustic stock for new electrical releases. By 1927, the Columbia and Victor catalogs had been purged of most acoustic recordings.

The acoustically recorded items that remained were primarily items by deceased operatic stars that were still of some commercial value (although even Caruso’s ghost would soon suffer the indignity of having his records “modernized” with new electrically recorded accompaniments), or were slow-selling children’s or “educational” records that would not have justified the expense of remaking. Columbia’s cut-rate Harmony–Velvet Tone line, the last to regularly use acoustic masters, finally switched to all-electric in late 1929.

While the new electrical recordings were earning accolades from technicians and reviewers, the general public’s response was sometimes quite the opposite. The overwhelming majority of phonographs in American homes were still acoustic, but even the most flawed of the new electric recordings boasted volume levels and frequency ranges that exceeded the capabilities of mechanical devices. The result was distorted reproduction and accelerated record wear — particularly with Victor’s primitive but ubiquitous Exhibition and Victrola No. 2 reproducers.

For those who could afford them, however, there were expensive new exponential-horn phonographs — still acoustic, but far more capable than their predecessors of reproducing electrical recordings — and a growing selection of all-electric models, many with built-in radios. For less affluent consumers, countless after-market manufacturers offered their new reproducers, needles, and gadgets — some acoustic, some electric, and many of dubious merit, but all claiming to be better suited to the new recordings. The phonograph industry was discovering the economic benefits of forced obsolescence.

 

Selected References

 

“And Now Full Volume” (Edisonic advertisement). Saturday Evening Post (June 19, 1925), p. 122.

“Announce the Electrobeam Gennett Recording Process.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1927), p. 18.

“Banner and Domino Records Are Electrically Recorded.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1926), p. 46.

“Brunswick Co. Announces Details of Merchandising Plan of its New Line.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1925), p. 6.

“Brunswick Panatrope Enthusiastically Received at Initial New York Presentation.” Talking Machine World, (November 15, 1925), p. 180.

“Cameo Record Corp. Has New Recording Process.” Talking Machine World (April 15, 1926), p. 80.

“Charles Edison Elected President and Chief Executive of T. A. Edison, Inc.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1926), p. 1

“Chas. L. Hibbard Perfects New Recording Process.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1925), p. 1.

Compo Company day books and recording session sheets (transcripts and photocopies). William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press Collection.

Dannemann, P. E. Letter to Thomas A. Edison, Inc., concerning Photophone equipment (Dec 26, 1929).  Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, NJ.

“Demonstration of Brunswick Panatrope at Chicago Headquarters Arouses Enthusiasm.” Talking Machine World, (October 15, 1925), p. 150.

Drake, James A. Interview with Walter G. (Gus) Haenschen. From Gus Haenschen—The Brunswick Years. Mainspring Press Blog (2019).

“Edison Introduces Radio and Radio-Phonograph Combinations.” Talking Machine World (August 1928), p. 72.

Kendziora, Carl. Compo Company ephemera and research notes (unpublished). William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press Collection.

Laird, Ross: Brunswick Records, A Discography of Recordings, 1916–1931 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001).

“Lightning Tuned to Music” (Gennett advertisement). Talking Machine World (March 15, 1927), n.p.

Nelson, Elmer C. “Brunswick Electrical Recording.” Phonograph Monthly Review (October 1926), p. 19.

“Pathé Corp. Announces New Recording Process.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1925), p. 188.

“Phonograph Records Made from Radio” (Compo Company ad). Montreal Gazette (Aug 15, 1925), p. 5.

“Revolutionary Sound Reproducing Method Announced by Brunswick Co.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1925), p. 58.

“Special Record Returning Privilege Is Announced by Columbia Phonograph Co.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1929), p. 192.

Starr Piano Company. Gennett matrix ledgers, 1926–1927 (photocopies). William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press Collection.

Sutton, Allan. American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950: An Encyclopedic History (Denver: Mainspring Press, 2018).

Urner, Dave. “A Brunswick Dealer Sixty Years Ago.” Interview by Ron Dethlefson. Antique Phonograph Monthly (VI:4, 1980), p. 3.

 “General Phono. Corp. Uses New Recording Principle.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1926), p. 1.

“Victor Co. Announces New Record Exchange Plan.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1926), p. 6.

Walsh, Arthur. “Reviewing the Phonograph Situation” (report to Charles Edison, April 25, 1927). Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, NJ.

Wiggins, Fred. Letter to Doc Roberts, November 22, 1926, re electrical recording problems. Quoted in Kennedy, Rick. Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy: Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz, p. 159. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

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© 2020 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

 

 

Latest Free Download • U-S Everlasting Cylinders – Complete Issues (New Revised Edition)

Latest Free Download

U-S EVERLASTING CYLINDERS:
Complete Issues

 

New Revised Edition by Allan Sutton
Data Compiled by William R. Bryant and
The Record Research Associates

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Introducing the latest edition of Mainspring Press’ 2011 U-S Everlasting cylinderography (now out of print), fully revised using data from William R. Bryant’s and the Record Research group’s extensive research collections (a part of the Mainspring Press archive). In addition to the complete popular/standard catalog, this edition covers the Foreign, Grand Opera, Medicophone, and Singaphone series.

U-S Everlasting Cylinders is the latest addition to Mainspring’s rapidly growing Free Online Reference Library. As with all titles in the Library, this is a copyrighted publication and is offered for personal, non-commercial use only. You can help ensure that we continue to offer these free titles (and protect yourself from potential legal problems) by honoring our terms of use, as outlined at the beginning of each file.

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Download File for Personal Use (print-restricted) (pdf , ~1mb)

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Latest Free Download • Indestructible Cylinders, 1907–1921 (New Revised Edition)

Latest Free Download

INDESTRUCTIBLE CYLINDERS:
The Complete American and
British Issues, 1907–1921

 

New Revised Edition by Allan Sutton
Data Compiled by William R. Bryant and
The Record Research Associates

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Introducing the latest edition of Mainspring Press’ 2011 Indestructible cylinderography (now out of print), fully revised using data from William R. Bryant’s and the Record Research group’s extensive research collections (a part of the Mainspring Press archive).

Indestructible Cylinders is the latest addition to Mainspring’s rapidly growing Free Online Reference Library. As with all titles in the Library, this is a copyrighted publication and is offered for personal, non-commercial use only. You can help ensure that we continue to offer these free titles (and protect yourself from potential legal problems) by honoring our terms of use, as outlined at the beginning of each file.

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Download File for Personal Use (print-restricted) (.pdf, ~1mb)

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Free Download • Columbia, Graphophone Grand, and Busy Bee Cylinders: Complete Catalog Listings (American Issues, 1896–1909)

Latest Free Download:
Columbia, Graphophone Grand, and Busy Bee Cylinders:
The Complete Catalog Listings
(American Series, 1896–1909)

 

Compiled by Allan Sutton
from the Original Catalogs and Advance Bulletins

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Download File for Personal Use (pdf, ~1mb)

 

This latest addition to the Mainspring Press Free Reference Library includes all confirmed American-series catalog listings (catalog numbers, titles, artists, and release dates) for cylinder records produced for retail sale by Columbia from 1896 to the end of its commercial cylinder production in 1909.

Note that this is not a fully detailed cylinderography, which would entail identifying the numerous remakes that Columbia produced over the years (on which different artists were sometimes substituted), changes in spoken announcements and accompaniments, and other details that are not readily available due to the destruction of Columbia’s cylinder files.

Credits are given only for the artists who performed on the initial releases. Thus, you may encounter specimens in your collection that don’t correspond to the artists listed here, particularly on brown-wax numbers that were remade in XP (black wax) format, and on XP-era numbers that were remade during the transition from piano to orchestral accompaniments.

If you do, I hope you will forward that information to Mainspring Press, which will keep it on file in anticipation of eventually producing a truly comprehensive Columbia cylinderography. A work of such scope and complexity will require the involvement of countless collectors and researchers, and is still many years in the future. However, the catalog listings given here should provide a solid foundation upon which to begin building that work.

 

Like all of our free downloadable titles, this publication is offered for your personal use only. Sale or other commercial use is prohibited, as is any unauthorized duplication, distribution, or alteration, including conversion to e-books or online databases.

Please honor our terms of use, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

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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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The Chicago Premium-Scheme Labels Revisited (1904 – 1920)

The Chicago Premium-Scheme Labels Revisited
(1904 – 1920)
By Allan Sutton

 

In 1902, the Victor Talking Machine Company began producing inexpensive Type P “Premium” phonographs that retailers could give away as an incentive to purchase other merchandise. There had been similar premium schemes earlier, employing both disc and cylinder machines as the bait, but Victor’s machines were the first to enjoy any significant popularity. Unlike later premium-scheme models, the Type P played standard records.

Beginning in 1904, several Chicago distributors took the idea a step further, employing a tied-products model (sometimes referred to as the “razor-and-blade ploy”). The phonographs were modified in various ways, most often with nonstandard spindles or mandrels, to ensure that they were compatible only with the matching records. They usually were the manufacturers’ cheapest or discontinued models, given new brand names. According to the distributors’ sales pitch, any loss the dealer took by giving the machines away would quickly be recouped by sales of the compatible, high-margin records to a captive audience.

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ROBERT JOHNS AND THE STANDARD TALKING MACHINE COMPANY

The first to successfully exploit the tied-product models on a large scale was the Chicago-based Standard Talking Machine Company. Launched in 1904, and it was advertising nationally by December of that year. In reality, as later court records make clear, Standard Talking Machine was simply a trade name of Robert Johns, a jobber in pottery and other household goods who was affiliated with the East Liverpool China Company of East Liverpool, Ohio. Standard initially occupied offices at 196–202 Monroe Street and was unrelated to several other identically named firms. (An identically named company was incorporated in Chicago in March 1905, with a meager capitalization of $2,500, but none of its incorporators are persons known to have been associated with Johns’ operation, and its connection, if any, remains unclear.)

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Early Standard ads, from (top to bottom) December 1904, January 1905, and March 1905. These dealers gave away the machines with the purchase of other merchandise; later offers often required the purchase of two-dozen or more Standard records to receive the free machines. Standard’s first phonograph offering, shown here, was Columbia’s bare-bones Model AU; refitted with a ½” spindle, it became the Standard Model AA. More-substantial models were soon made available.

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East Liverpool China was a major manufacturer of tableware and crockery. Much of its output was employed in premium schemes, being given away to stimulate the sale of more profitable items. Johns would employ that model for Standard Talking Machine, offering a free phonograph to individual customers or dealers who purchased a specified number of discs. (Terms of the plans varied considerably, and retailers at first had some leeway to set their own conditions. in later years, Standard also wholesaled the discs outright, unencumbered by any “free” phonograph offers.) The phonographs employed oversized (½”) spindles to thwart the use of ordinary pressings, forcing owners to purchase Standard discs. That was the theory, at least; in reality, there were some fairly easy work-arounds, the simplest of which involved simply drilling-out ordinary discs to fit the oversized spindles.

American Graphophone (Columbia) supplied the records and phonographs, which were rebranded with the Standard name. The phonographs were obsolete or low-end Columbia models with slight modifications, the most obvious being the oversized spindles.

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A rare, early sunken-label Standard 7″ pressing (left), with Standard’s conditions sticker pasted over the Columbia original (right). Produced only briefly, the sunken-label pressings used delicate, tissue-thin labels that that were original to the discs (i.e., not paste-overs).

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Standard originally offered both 7″ and 10″ black-and-silver label single-sided discs, using the same catalog numbers as the corresponding Columbia issues. The 7″ series was phased out after Columbia discontinued production of small-diameter discs in 1906. The black-and-silver (and later, black-and-gold) labels were applied at the time the discs were pressed, disproving the widely circulated tale that all Standard records were simply relabeled dead stock. The later Standard catalogs, in particular, were reasonably up-to-date, sometimes lagging Columbia’s release of a new title by just a few months.

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Contrary to some hobbyists’ accounts, Standard was not solely a dumping-ground for Columbia’s dead inventory (although it did serve that purpose admirably). Current hits sometimes turned up on Standard just a few months after they were released on Columbia. This 1914 Standard catalog includes new titles that Columbia released in the late spring of that year.

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There were, of course, plenty of relabeled surplus Columbia pressings as well, including many titles whose sales potential had long since been exhausted. They are easily distinguished by their slightly oversized labels (at first in green-and-white labels, later in black-and-white), which were pasted over the Columbia originals.

 

BUSY BEE AND THE O’NEILL-JAMES COMPANY

At about the same time that Robert Johns was organizing Standard Talking Machine, Columbia began supplying Arthur J. O’Neill with cylinder phonograph and records for use in premium schemes, under the Busy Bee trademark. The O’Neill-James Company (originally of 185 Dearborn Street, and later Fifth Avenue at Lake Street, Chicago) was founded by O’Neill, Winifred B. James, and Sherwin N. Bisbee, with an initial capital stock offering of $25,000. Incorporation papers for the O’Neill-James Company were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State on April 14, 1904, and the final certificate of incorporation was issued on April 22.

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A December 1904 ad for the Busy Bee cylinder phonograph, in this case given free with a $10 purchase. The machine was Columbia’s bottom-of-the-line Type Q, fitted with a nonstandard mandrel that prevented the use of ordinary cylinders. More-substantial models were later offered.

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O’Neill was a master of the tied-product model, having already employed it successfully in selling non-phonographic goods. In 1904, the O’Neill-James Company began marketing a slightly modified version of the inexpensive Columbia Model Q cylinder phonograph under the Busy Bee brand. By substituting a mandrel with a nonstandard taper, O’Neill was able to create a captive market for Busy Bee cylinders, which Columbia manufactured with a corresponding nonstandard inner taper. Following the same model, in late 1905 or early 1906 O’Neill-James introduced Busy Bee disc phonographs with a large, rigid rectangular lug projecting from the turntable, which required the use of special Busy Bee discs with a corresponding cut-out through the label area. This proved to be less effective than the cylinder design, since the lug could be removed from the turntable with a bit of effort.

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John O. Prescott (of Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott / American Record Company) belatedly filed his patent for pressing Busy Bee discs, with their characteristic rectangular slots, in January1907 — the same month that Columbia won its case against the American Record Company, effectively putting it out of business. Later Busy Bee discs were supplied by several other manufacturers, including Columbia (indirectly, by way of Hawthorne & Sheble minus Prescott).

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The sequence of Busy Bee’s suppliers can be determined from its catalogs and supplements. The earliest advertised Busy Bee discs were single-sided 7″ American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) pressings, duplicating material from that company’s short-lived 7″ series, but pressed in standard black shellac rather than American’s distinctive blue. Busy Bee probably was the unnamed customer that The Talking Machine World reported had ordered a half-million 7″ pressings in February 1906. American Record’s Busy Bee releases included recordings made as early as 1904 (and some later Columbia-made releases used 1903 recordings), which has led some collectors to mistakenly assume that the label was introduced earlier than was actually the case.

American also supplied 10¾” (and, slightly later, 10″) Busy Bee pressings drawn from its catalog of 1904–1906, again pressed in standard black shellac. Some early 10¾” Busy Bee issues used the full American Record catalog numbers, but most used only the last four digits of the corresponding American issues (e.g., American Record Company 031129 = Busy Bee 1129). Like other American Record Company client-label pressings, these records often have spoken announcements that omit the artist and company credits.

Records from several suppliers appear concurrently in later Busy Bee catalogs, in different numerical blocks. Leeds & Catlin was a major supplier to Busy Bee and produced some of the highest-numbered 7″ issues. They also remade some issues that replaced the earlier American Record Company–derived versions, retaining the original titles and catalog numbers but often using different artists (much to the befuddlement of some early discographers).

Leeds’ 10″ single-sided Busy Bee issues (shown as “Grand Busy Bee Records” in the catalog, although not on the labels, and numbered in an A-prefixed series) used the same recordings as Leeds, Imperial, Sun, and related labels. They are easily recognized by Leeds’ mirror-image master-number stampings. Some of the same material was later issued in double-sided form in a short-lived D- prefixed catalog series, examples of which rank among the rarest Busy Bee issues. A wide outer band was added to labels on double-sided pressings to accommodate the disclaimers that normally appeared on the reverse-side stickers.

Masters in Busy Bee’s 2000, 3000, 4400, and 5000 catalog series are from Columbia, by way of Hawthorne & Sheble, which substituted their Star catalog numbers for Columbia’s along the way. The short-lived “Grand Busy Bee Twelve-Inch” series was from the same source, using the same 1200-series catalog numbers as Star, with the addition of a T- prefix. Most of the Columbia-derived Busy Bee discs were pressed in the Hawthorne & Sheble plant, on solid stock. A few late Star issues were laminated pressings,  almost certainly made by Columbia (which held the patent on that process) but still showing Hawthorne & Sheble’s markings and substitute catalog numbers in the wax. The Universal Talking Machine Company (Zonophone) also supplied pressing to Busy Bee for a short time before a Columbia lawsuit put an end to that relationship.

 

HARMONY AND THE GREAT NORTHERN MANUFACTURING COMPANY

Harmony, a new premium-scheme label, appeared in 1907. The records were originally marketed by the Great Northern Manufacturing Company (147–153 Fifth Avenue, Chicago), which actually was the recently reorganized East Liverpool China Company. Thus, the Harmony and Standard labels shared a common connection from the start, although at first they used different suppliers and distributors.

Great Northern marketed a wide array of crockery, tableware, and similar merchandise. Harmony records initially were part of a premium-scheme operation in which inexpensive phonographs were given free to retailers who purchased a certain quantity of Great Northern’s household goods. The company oversaw a network of traveling salesmen who peddled Harmony discs and the accompanying “free” phonographs to small-town and rural dealers. Complaints over deceptive advertisements and sales contracts were common, as exemplified by the 1911 case of Great Northern Mfg. Co. v. Brown, in which Great Northern was found guilty of misrepresentation and fraud in the wording of their advertising materials.

Harmony phonographs were manufactured with ¾” spindles, a ¼” step up from Standard. The records originally were pressed by Hawthorne & Sheble, using many of the same renumbered Columbia masters that appeared on Busy Bee. All known Hawthorne & Sheble-produced Harmony issues are single-sided pressings, with no artist credits on the labels. Hawthorne & Sheble also manufactured the early Harmony phonographs, which infringed patents on lateral recording and reproduction.

Hawthorne & Sheble’s Harmony series was discontinued in 1909, after H&S was forced into bankruptcy. Production for Great Northern was taken over by Columbia, which reintroduced Harmony as a double-sided brand, using the same couplings and catalog numbers as corresponding Columbia releases. The Columbia pressings included reissues of material recorded as early as 1903 and, unlike the earlier Hawthorne & Sheble series, they often credited the performers on the labels.

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An early Columbia-produced Harmony (left), still crediting the Great Northern Manufacturing Company; the anonymous baritone is veteran minstrel-show producer Lew Dockstader. Later versions of the Harmony label (right) credited the Harmony Talking Machine, a trade name of Robert Johns’ reorganized Standard Talking Machine Company.

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As with Standard, the labels usually were applied directly at the time of pressing, dispelling the notion that all Harmony records were relabeled surplus stock. However, many surplus Columbia pressings were also sold under Harmony paste-over labels. One of the most interesting examples is Paul Southe’s “Cubanola Glide,” the original Columbia issue of which was quickly replaced by a Collins & Harlan remake. The unsold Southe pressings ended up as anonymous Harmony paste-overs (and perhaps Standard as well, although we’ve not seen one). Southe’s “Cubanola Glide,” by the way, is not nearly the great rarity that Hobbies columnist Jim Walsh once made it out to be. A fair number of the original Columbia pressings apparently got into circulation before the delisting, and in addition to the paste-overs,  the recording even appeared later on the Climax and D&R labels, in entirely different couplings.

,Great Northern ended its involvement with the record business in late 1911. Although the company was still selling household goods late as January 1918, Harmony records from 1912 onward were marketed by the Harmony Talking Machine Company, a trade name of Robert Johns’ Standard Talking Machine Company.

 

THE BUSY BEE–TO–ARETINO TRANSITION

Although Busy Bee records continued to sell well during this period, the O’Neill-James Company’s reliance on distant, competing suppliers eventually led to the line’s downfall. Shipments from the East Coast pressing plants were often late, and O’Neill filed several lawsuits during 1908–1909 to recover damages and overcharges on rail shipments of the records. There were legal obstacles as well. In 1909, Victor sued Columbia for “the supplying of records to O’Neill-James Company of Chicago for use on infringing machines manufactured by Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company.” In turn, Columbia sued Victor’s Universal Talking Machine subsidiary to prevent it from supplying Zonophone pressings to O’Neill-James and Aretino. In the meantime, Leeds & Catlin had been forced to discontinue operations after losing to Victor in a patent-infringement suit that was decided in the latter’s favor by the Supreme Court.

With its supply line severed, O’Neill-James dropped the Busy Bee line in 1909. The last known advertisements for Busy Bee records appeared during the summer of that year. O’Neill-James continued to use the Busy Bee brand for vacuum cleaners and other household appliances for a time.

Busy Bee was not O’Neill’s only record venture, however. On June 3, 1907, he had launched The Aretino Company, which according to a Talking Machine World report was controlled by O’Neill-James. Aretino marketed phonographs equipped with massive 3″ spindles. They initially were supplied by the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company, then later by Columbia. O’Neill’s patent application of April 11, 1907, covering the oversized spindle, as well as square and polygonal spindles that were never put into production, was granted on December 31, 1907. He also patented and sold adapters that allowed Aretino discs to be used on Busy Bee and ordinary turntables. Aretino’s gaping spindle holes reduced the labels to narrow bands with barely enough room for even basic label information.

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Arthur J. O’Neill’s 1907 patent on the Aretino disc, along with square- and hexagonal-spindle versions that were never produced. The specimen pictured is a scarce Leeds & Catlin double-sided pressing, produced just shortly before the company was forced out of business by an adverse Supreme Court decision in 1909.

 

The earliest known Aretino releases were anonymous, single-sided pressings from Leeds & Catlin masters, with A-prefixed catalog numbers (not to be confused with Columbia’s A-prefixed Double Discs). Leeds also produced a series of now-rare D-prefixed double-sided Aretino pressings shortly before suspending operations in 1909. Single-sided pressings from Hawthorne & Sheble matrices, showing Busy Bee catalog numbers in the pressing (which were simply renumberings of Columbia masters) have also been reported.

Ironically (considering that Victor had successfully sued Aretino for patent infringement in 1909), O’Neill turned to Victor’s Zonophone subsidiary as its source of pressings following Leeds & Catlin’s demise. The series was brought to a quick halt by the American Graphophone Company (Columbia), which in the same year sued Universal to prevent its supplying discs to Aretino, the O’Neill-James Company, and other companies whose machines infringed its patents.

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Aretino products were used in several different premium schemes. Some companies gave the machines away with the purchase of other merchandise (top). More often, they were given away with the purchase of a specified number of records (bottom). In the case shown here, the phonograph would not have been truly “free,” since the records were marked up by a total of $6.30 to partially compensate for the cost of the machine.

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After the O’Neill-James Company’s Busy Bee label was discontinued in 1909, the company took over distribution of Aretino records, although its name never appeared on the labels. With Zonophone, Hawthorne & Sheble, and Leeds & Catlin eliminated a suppliers, O’Neill was forced to turn to Columbia, which agreed to supply the records on consignment. Columbia pressed double-sided discs for Aretino in at least two series, both of which drew on standard Columbia masters: An A-prefixed series (which duplicated Columbia’s couplings and should not be confused with Leeds & Catlin’s earlier single-sided A-prefixed series), and a D-prefixed series (which used different couplings). Columbia also produced a few 12″ Aretino pressings. Some late Aretino pressings are known with ordinary spindle holes.

The last known advertisements for Aretino record appeared in the summer of 1915, shortly before O’Neill-James Company (which had recently become a Pathé distributor) was declared bankrupt on June 12. Post-mortem reports claimed that the company’s financial troubles had begun during 1906–1907, with losses incurred from patent litigation, and were compounded by the failure of the Boston Talking Machine Company (the makers of Phono-Cut records), for which O’Neill-James was a jobber.

Columbia filed suit in July 1915 to recover unsold records it had shipped on consignment to O’Neill-James. The petition was dismissed on December 7, and the company’s trustee requested permission to sell the remaining inventory. Some of the records found their way to the obscure Duplex Record Company (unrelated to the earlier Duplex Phonograph Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan), which filled the large center holes and covered over the patch with its own Duplex labels. Similar Aretino patch-up jobs have been seen with Musique labels.

O’Neill announced his intention to re-enter the record business, but nothing further was reported in that regard. Following his death in 1916, the remains of O’Neill James and Aretino businesses were merged with the Johns brothers’ Harmony, Standard, and United operations to form the Consolidated Talking Machine Company of Chicago.

 

DOUBLE AND REVERSIBLE

The D & R Record Company was the last significant new entrant in the Chicago premium-scheme market. Launched in 1908, it was advertising nationally by December of that year. The acronym stood for “Double and Reversible,” a strong selling point at a time when double-sided discs were making their first inroads. Early D & R ads promised that a “splendid talking machine” would be given away to advertise the new records:

We are not selling talking machines, but actually giving them away, without money and without price. We are doing this to quickly advertise and introduce our wonderful D&R (Double and Reversible) Talking Machine Records in every home. … Bear in mind that you simply agree to buy “D&R” Records as you need them — and the machine becomes yours without once cent of cost…. We are absolutely independent. Hence this remarkable offer. Our business is selling records — not machines.

D&R’s early advertising was often vague, with no mention of the strings attached to the free machine. Later D&R advertisements were more forthcoming, disclosing that the machines were indeed free, but only to customers who signed agreements to purchase from twelve to twenty D&R records, depending upon the model of phonograph desired.

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Early D&R advertisements were often vague regarding what was required to secure a “free” machine. This one, from 1909, mentions near the bottom of the ad that a monthly record purchase is required, but doesn’t state how many had to be purchased, or the price.

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Initially, D&R’s records were supplied by Leeds & Catlin, which had recently begun producing double-sided pressings for other client labels. After Leeds was forced to discontinue production in 1909, the label was turned over to Columbia. Unlike the other Chicago premium-scheme labels, the D&R discs were not “handicapped” in any way. They were pressed with ordinary spindle holes, and the artists were usually credited on the labels.

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An early Leeds & Catlin D&R (left). Much to the confusion of some discographers, Leeds retained the original Imperial single-face numbers on its couplings,one of which was chosen to serve as the D&R catalog number; thus, one side will be correctly numbered, while the other will not. For the specimen above, #45179 is actually the number of Henry Burr’s “Will the Angels Let Me Play,” on the reverse side. Columbia’s later D & R offerings included Paul Southe’s “Cubanola Glide,” which had been almost immediately dropped from Columbia’s own catalog in favor of a Collins & Harlan remake.

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D&R also differed from its counterparts in not using Columbia’s catalog numbers or couplings. Many D&R couplings — such as banjoist Vess L. Ossman’s tremendously popular “St. Louis Tickle” and “The Smiler,” each of which had been paired with negligible “filler” titles on Columbia — were more appealing than Columbia’s own. By the end of 1912, however, D & R was no more.

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THE STANDARD – HARMONY – UNITED CONSOLIDATION

While O’Neill-James was struggling, and D&R was just getting its foot in the door, Roberts Johns was building Standard Talking Machine into a major business with strong nationwide sales. He was now managing three premium-scheme operations operating out of three separate offices — the Standard, Harmony, and United Talking Machine companies.

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The latter was a newly added line, sporting 1½” spindles and spindle holes. Also supplied by Columbia, United offered basically the same material as Standard and Harmony. Its dealings were not always the most ethical, if the number of lawsuit filed against the company is any indication. The case of United Talking Machine Co. v. Metcalf (175 S.W. 357) reveals its selling methods. Like Harmony, United employed traveling salesmen who required retailers to sign binding sales contracts. For $20.80, dealers were supposed to receive 32 discs United records (paying the full list price of 65¢ per record), a “free” Symphony Hornless Talking Machine, and a package of 100 needles. Under terms of their contracts, United retailers were required to give away the machines to customers who purchased a specified number of records. The retailers were assured verbally (never in writing) that they would easily recoup their losses on the machine give-aways from sales of the matching discs. Dealers could also order individual records, without the “free” machines, for 39¢ each wholesale. However, as testimony in several lawsuits revealed, the contract terms were not always made clear to United’s customers (who were often rural shopkeepers with little business acumen), the records proved to be unsalable to owners of ordinary phonographs, and the “free” machines did not always arrive as promised.

Such complaints did nothing to stall the growth of the Standard, Harmony, and United operations, which in 1912 were finally consolidated in the Heiser Building at Dearborn and Harrison Streets in Chicago. The Standard Talking Machine Company was reorganized and incorporated in 1913 to manage all three lines, with Robert Johns handling the Standard and United divisions, and Thomas E. Johns handling Harmony. Although each marketed essentially the same merchandise, court records make it clear that the three divisions continued to maintain separate legal identities.

Labeling errors sometimes occurred after the 1912 consolidation. It is not uncommon, for example, to find pressings with Standard labels on one side and Harmony labels on the other. Around 1914, decorative concentric rings were added to the Harmony and Standard labels, spaced at the exact intervals to serve as drilling guides for those label’s larger spindle holes. In a final blurring of the lines, some late Standard issues were produced with regular spindle holes, some Harmony issues appeared with Standard holes, and some pressings carried Harmony labels on one side and Standard labels on the other.

Robert Johns died in February 1915, and Standard appears to have suspended operations a short time later.

 

THE CONSOLIDATED TALKING MACHINE COMPANY

 In January 1916, the Standard, Harmony, United, and Aretino operations were merged as the Consolidated Talking Machine Company. Operating at 227 West Lake Street (later, 227–229 West Washington Street) in Chicago, Consolidated advertised itself as “Successors to Standard Talking Machine Co., United Talking Machine Co., Harmony Talking Machine Co., O’Neill-James Co., Aretino Co.” It offered surplus inventory from those companies for several years, along with a repair service for obsolete premium-scheme machines and with its own line of Consola phonographs.

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Although the company soon introduced its own Consolidated label, it was still advertising surplus Standard, Harmony, and United pressings as late as 1918 when, amazingly, the retail price of those records was raised from 75¢ to $1 each, probably killing what few sales might otherwise have remained. Like the various lines they eventually replaced, Consolidated-label records were simply modified Columbia pressings, often with Consolidated labels pasted over the originals. Harmony-type pressings (¾” spindle hole) pressings seem to have been the default, but Consolidated records are also known with normal, ½” (Standard-type), and 1½” (United-type) spindle holes, reflecting the company’s commitment to supply records for nearly the full range of nonstandard-spindle machines (Busy Bee and Aretino being the notable exceptions).

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The once-orderly allocation of spindle-hole sizes became rather haphazard during Standard Talking Machine’s last days. The Harmony pressing above has a Standard (½”) hole rather than Harmony’s usual ¾” hole, with circular drilling guides for Harmony and United. Consolidated offered pressings to fit all of the Johns brothers’ obsolete premium-scheme machines, as well as ordinary phonographs. The late example shown here has typeset label information, which was typewritten or rubber-stamped on earlier labels.

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Consolidated’s couplings and catalog numbers were identical with those of the corresponding Columbia releases, but Columbia’s “A” prefixes often were dropped from the catalog numbers. The labels were cheaply printed, with a blank space for typed or rubber-stamped titles and credits (some late printings used typeset label information). Catalog numbers confirm that Consolidated continued to purchase and relabel Columbia pressings through at least early 1920. The records were later sold at a deep discount, but any remaining stock probably was destroyed when the Consolidated Building burned in January 1924.

In the meantime, the Consolidated Talking Machine Company had become affiliated with the General Phonograph Corporation (the makers of Okeh records), and it went on to become a major distributor for Okeh. Consolidated invoices and letterheads from the early 1920s state that the company was a “Manufacturer of Talking Machines, Repair Parts, Records, and Accessories and Distributor of Okeh Records, Bubble Books, and Granby Phonographs.”

Consolidated underwent a major shift in its method of operation in the early 1920s, as it became more closely affiliated with General Phonograph. Under E. A. Fearne’s expert management, the company became actively involved in recruiting and promoting Okeh’s race-record talent. Beginning in 1923 it provided space for Chicago’s Okeh studio, and a branch office for Ralph Peer, in the Consolidated Building. The last remnant of the Chicago premium-scheme operations, Consolidated Talking Machine Company finally closed in the early 1930s.

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If you enjoyed this posting, be sure to check out A Phonograph in Every Home: The Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900-1919, available from Mainspring Press. Quantities are limited — order soon.

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Selected References

Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Illinois (Fiscal Years Beginning October 1, 1902, and Ending September 30, 1904), p. 113. Springfield: Illinois State Journal Company (1905).

Blacker, George, William R. Bryant, et al. Busy Bee ephemera, research notes, and discographical data (unpublished, n.d.). William R. Bryant papers, Mainspring Press archive.

D & R (Double & Reversible) Talking Machine Records. (1909 catalog).

Grand Busy Bee Records — Catalog D (undated).

Great Northern Mfg. Co. v. Brown. Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (February 12, 1915). 113 Me. 51, 92 A. 993.

Johns v. Jaycox et al. March 9, 1912. 67 Wash. 403, 121 P. 854.

Johns v. Wilbur. May 28, 1915. 169 A.D. 905.

O’Neill, Arthur J., Assignor to the Aretino Company. “Talking Machine.” U.S. Patent #874,985 (filed April 11, 1907; issued December 31, 1907).

O’Neill-James Co. Grand Busy Bee Records, Catalogue D (n.d.).

Standard Talking Machine Co.: Standard Double-Disc Record Catalogue (1911–1914 inclusive).

United Talking Mach. Co. v. Metcalf. Court of Appeals of Kentucky (April 22,

Untitled obituary (Robert Johns). The Pottery & Glass Salesman (February 25, 1915), p. 29.

 

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

 

 

 

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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Crown Records Studio Mystery Solved (Partially)

The Crown Record Company was incorporated in New York on October 25, 1930, as a subsidiary of the Plaza Music Company,  after Plaza was squeezed out of the record business in the American Record Corporation merger.

The studio in which Crown recorded has been a subject of debate for years, with some suggesting (not implausibly) that it might have taken over Grey Gull’s studio. But this ad from the Warren [PA] Times Mirror for January 13, 1931, tells an entirely different story:

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So there you have it, although we’re not out of the woods entirely. Edison had two studios in New York (one of them more a supplemental facility) when it shut down record production in late 1929, and there’s no way of knowing from the ad which was purchased. There was also an experimental studio within Edison’s Orange NJ plant, which can almost certainly be ruled out.

Nor can we tell what equipment was used. Edison internal documents reveal that the company at the time it ended record production had multiple RCA-Photophone recording units in its possession, which normally were rented rather than sold. Did the Photophone lease transfer to Crown, or was some other recording equipment included in the deal? The answers probably can be found in the Edison National Historic Site archives given enough time, should someone have any of that to spare (we don’t, at the moment, but it’s on the to-do-sooner-or-later list if no one else steps up).

The phrase “and made” suggests that Edison’s former pressing plant or equipment was used, but again, we can’t be certain until documentation is found at ENHS. It’s long been known that RCA’s Camden NJ plant later pressed Crown records under contract, but that didn’t begin until February 1932, as confirmed by the RCA production-history cards.

 

Camden, Philadelphia, or New York? Fact-Checking the Victor Studio Locations (1901-1920)

Camden, Philadelphia, or New York: Fact-Checking the Victor Acoustic-Era Studio Locations
By Allan Sutton

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.The facts:

  • There is no documentary evidence that the Victor Talking Machine Company operated a recording studio in Camden, New Jersey, from September 1901 through early December 1907.
  • During that period, most Victor recording sessions were held in Philadelphia. A much smaller number, by Red Seal artists only, were held in New York at that time.
  • Very early Victor recording locations are only occasionally noted in the surviving company files.
  • Brian Rust and other early discographers, when confronted with this omission, behaved as usual — They guessed (incorrectly assuming Camden for September 1901 – November 1907 sessions that were actually held in Philadelphia), and then passed off their guesses as fact.

Now that the key points are out of the way, let’s look at the supporting evidence, from the memoirs of a man who was there at the time — Harry O. Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer. The following studio chronology is based upon Sooy’s memoirs (Sarnoff Library, Princeton, New Jersey), with corroborating circumstantial evidence from the surviving Victor files:

The Camden > Philadelphia > Camden Chronology
(1900 – 1907)

 

Late 1890s – February 1900: Collings Carriage Factory Building (Front & Market Streets), Camden, NJ

According to Sooy, this was the site of Eldridge R. Johnson’s first experimental recording studio. No documentation of the recordings made there is known to have survived

 

February 1, 1900 – c. August 1, 1901: Johnson Factory Building, Camden, NJ

In late 1899, Eldridge Johnson began construction of a four-story factory building in Camden. Sooy recalled having moved Johnson’s recording equipment from the carriage factory to the new building on or around February 1, 1900. By that time, according to Sooy, Johnson was recording masters for Berliner.

Recording of Johnson’s own masters (i.e., those issued on his various Victor predecessor labels) began on May 1, 1900. The last of Johnson’s Berliner masters for which a date is confirmed was recorded two days later.

Johnson’s studio was moved from Camden to Philadelphia in September 1901, according to Sooy (and the Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated on October 3). The move was made to provide more space for the machine shop. Recording in Camden appears to have ended on August 1, 1901, and it would not resume there until December 9, 1907.

 

August 2 – September 4, 1901: No recording activity

 

September 5, 1901 – November 22, 1907: 424 S. 10th Street, Philadelphia

Sooy recalled that the Victor studio was moved to Philadelphia from its original Camden location during September 1901. The Victor files, which show that no recordings were made during August 2 – September 4, 1901, lend credence to  Sooy’s recollection.

Assuming this thirty-four day hiatus marks the Camden-to-Philadelphia transition, the last Camden session would have been Rogers & Pryor’s “Answer” (“pre-matrix” Victor 837, an August 1 remake of a May 31 session); and the first Philadelphia session would have been Frank Seiden’s “Rosinkes und Mandlein” (“pre-matrix” Victor 928, recorded September 5, 1901). The large numerical gap occurs because the Rogers & Pryor catalog number was allocated at the time of the original session.

Sooy recalled, “The moving of the Laboratory from Camden [to] Philadelphia was done…by Mr. MacEwan, a bob-tail horse and Mr. Nafey. Money in these days not being overly plentiful, MacEwan acted as teamster on the job, and Nafey, I guess, was boss; however, the moving was done in a very creditable manner… Upon entering our new quarters at 424 So. 10th St., or 10th and Lombard Sts., which was known as the colored belt of Philadelphia, we were furnished with considerable excitement in the neighborhood outside of making records.”

Philadelphia would host Victor’s main studio for six years. The studio was located on the second floor of a building formerly occupied by the Berliner Gramophone Company. A matrix-plating plant was housed in the basement, and a blank-processing department was opened on the third floor in January 1904. Stampers  were shipped to the Duranoid Company (and, for a time, to the Burt Company as well) for pressing. Victor also maintained a Philadelphia branch office in the Girard Building during this period.

As far as can be ascertained from documentary and circumstantial evidence, no Victor recording studio existed in Camden while the Philadelphia studio was in operation. Thus, the many modern citations of Camden recording sessions from September 5, 1901 through November 1907 are in error.

 

November 23 – December 8, 1907: No recording activity

 

From December 9, 1907: Front & Cooper Streets, Camden, NJ

During November 1907, the Philadelphia studio was closed, and a new studio was opened on the fourth floor of what would later come to be known as Building #15 in Camden. The transitional period is apparent in the Victor files, which show no recordings were made during November 23–December 8, 1907.

Assuming this sixteen-day hiatus marks the Philadelphia-to-Camden transition, the last Philadelphia recording would have been Alan Turner’s “The White Squall” (mx. B 4961, recorded November 22, 1907; delayed release on Victor 16006); and the first Camden recording would have been the Victor Orchestra’s “Army and Navy Medley Reel” (mx. B 4962, rejected takes 1 and 2, recorded December 9, 1907).

While many Red Seal sessions continued to be held in New York, the Camden studio was also used for Red Seal sessions beginning December 11, 1907. “From this time on,” Harry Sooy stated, “recording dates of a Red Seal nature were alternated between the Camden and New York laboratories to suit the convenience of the artists.”

On March 13, 1911, the studio was moved to the newly added seventh floor of Building #15. Additional studios were installed in the building over the years, the last major addition being a large room for orchestral sessions in late 1924. After RCA’s acquisition of Victor in 1929, the Camden studios were slowly phased out in favor of New York.

After attempts to record a large symphony orchestra in the regular studio proved unsatisfactory, the eighth-floor auditorium of the Executive Building in Camden was converted to a temporary studio in the autumn of 1917. The hundred-member Boston Symphony Orchestra under Karl Muck made its first recordings in the auditorium studio on October 2, followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski on October 22.

In early 1918, Victor purchased the Trinity Church at 114 North Fifth Street, Camden, which it converted to a studio for large vocal and instrumental ensembles, as well as sessions requiring a pipe-organ regardless of ensemble size (the original church organ was eventually replaced with a more robust model). Recording commenced there on February 27, 1918. During 1928, the main floor of the church was used on occasion as a supplemental Vitaphone sound-stage, and a basement studio was used for soundtrack dubbing.

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Victor’s New York Studios (1903 – Early 1920s)

Initially, Victor maintained a New York studio solely for the convenience of its Red Seal artists. Less-stellar  artists were required to travel to Philadelphia (or later, to Camden). Sooy stated that all Red Seal sessions prior to July 22, 1907, were held in New York, and file evidence seems to support his assertion.

 

March 26, 1903 – October 8, 1904: Carnegie Hall Annex (Room 826), New York

Victor leased studio space in the annex, not in the theater itself as has been stated in some works. Enrico Caruso made his first Victor recordings there, and as far as can be ascertained, all Carnegie Hall sessions involved Red Seal artists. Sooy recalled, “It was a great relief to get out of Carnegie Hall, and away from the Vocal Studios where vocal teachers were constantly trying voices, good, bad and otherwise.” The Carnegie Hall Annex studio was not a full-time operation.

 

October 8, 1904 – June 1, 1909: 234 Fifth Avenue, New York

As with the Carnegie Hall studio, this location was reserved primarily for Red Seal sessions and was not a full-time operation.

 

After June 1, 1909:

By the later ’teens, Victor’s New York studios were being used for popular as well as classical sessions, and cities usually are listed in the files (see DAHR’s free online Victor data for locations of each session). Victor operated its main New York studios at the following addresses during the remainder of the acoustic era:
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June 2, 1909 – April 1912: 37–39 E. 29th Street, New York (first full-time New York studio)

April 1912 – January 18, 1917: 12–14 W. 37th Street, New York

January 19, 1917 — January 5, 1921: 46 W. 38th Street, New York

From January 6, 1921: National Association Building (28 W. 44th Street, 22nd floor), New York

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By the later 1920s, Victor was operating at least three New York studios simultaneously, including leased space in Liederkranz Hall. These studios, as well as Victor’s Midwestern and West Coast studios and its field-recording locations, will be the subject of a future article.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advertisements for eight-inch Operaphone discs, 1916

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

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

*     *     *     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Coming Up:

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

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

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

__________________

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[15] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Resolutions for Discographers

Every year we have to reject work from aspiring (or, in some sad cases, published) discographers because they fail to meet basic standards for original research and source documentation. Discography has grown up in the past few decades, evolving from a hobbyists’ free-for-all into a serious discipline grounded in established academic principles — which doesn’t mean it still can’t be fun, just that it’s finally outgrown an awkward adolescence.

For anyone thinking about compiling a detailed discography, I’d like to suggest a few New Year’s resolutions, which (except for #5) are pretty much what we were all taught in high school:

(1) Cite Your Sources. Especially for things like group personnel or pseudonym identification, which have a long history of being fabricated. And cite the source within close proximity to the facts in question; listing a source in the Acknowledgments and letting it go at that isn’t a source citation, it’s — well, an acknowledgment. The mantra here is “Who Says?” (courtesy of Tim Brooks’ ARSC review of a recent dance-band discography). To which I would add, “And how do they know?”

(2) Choose Your Sources Carefully. Original recording ledgers and other primary-source materials aren’t always available, but that doesn’t mean that the foggy memories of this-or-that musician, forty years after the fact, are an equally reliable substitute; nor that trade-paper blurbs (with a few exceptions) or band photos can tell you who was actually in the studio on a given date. Are sources like these worth noting in your work? Definitely. Are they absolute proof of anything? Not so much.

(3) Show Your Work. If your source is a conclusion that you or your associates reached on your own, state how you or they arrived at that conclusion. If it’s the result of careful, reasoned analysis based on compelling circumstantial evidence, say so. If it’s the result of some record-club buddies pulling an “I hear Bix” all-nighter, say that too (if you must include such material at all, which I hope you won’t). Either way, your readers need to know.

(4) Do Original Research. Most new discographies will necessarily revisit ground that’s already been covered to some extent in previously published works. However, simply cobbling together and republishing others’ work without adding any substantial new material or insights isn’t doing research, it’s doing plagiarism.

(5) Question Authority. Don’t perpetuate others’ errors in your work.Some “authorities” in the field haven’t followed the current literature or undertaken any significant new research in years. All discographers occasionally miss things or make mistakes; many fail to disclose that their material is anecdotal or speculative; and some just plain make things up. If something in a published discography or article looks fishy, revisit Resolution (4).

(6) If You Don’t Know, Say So (to quote Bert Williams). “Probably,” “possibly,” “uncertain,” and “unknown” aren’t dirty words. I’ll take them any day over undocumented guesswork passed off as fact.

 — Allan Sutton (Publisher, Mainspring Press)