Discography of American Historical Recordings – Update: Part 1 of the American Zonophone Discography Is Now Online

If you’ve been following the Mainspring Press blog lately, you know that we are no longer publishing any new printed discographies, but instead licensing our discographical data to the University of California–Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings. As much as I love books, I’ve long felt that digital databases offer a clear advantage for archiving and disseminating this sort of material (not to mention eliminating the ever-increasing costs of production, printing, shipping, and labor).

DAHR is staffed by, and associated with, some of the most knowledgeable people in the field. In recent years it has emerged as the largest and most authoritative source of discographical data relating to the 78-rpm era. A tremendous amount of Victor, Columbia, Brunswick-Vocalion, and Decca data from the original company files have already been digitized and made freely available as searchable databases, and much more is to come.

Now we can add American Zonophone to the list, with thanks to Sam Brylawski, David Seubert, and the DAHR staff for helping to make that possible. The first Zonophone installment (covering the 10″ and 12″ standard-catalog releases of 1904–1912) is now online and includes the latest revisions and updates to the printed volume that was published by Mainspring in 2012.



The next Zonophone installment, covering the 7″ and 9″  releases of 1900–1906, is undergoing final editing and fact-checking here, for submission to DAHR within the next month or two (there are no plans for a printed edition). Much of this material is previously unpublished and includes the first systematic cataloging of remakes, reissues, relabelings, altered stampers, etc.

For book enthusiasts, the Zonophone 10” / 12” volume can still be purchased on the Mainspring Press website, although supplies are running low — We’d advise ordering soon if interested, since  Mainspring will not be reprinting any of its discographies once current the current inventory has sold out.

— Allan Sutton

A Preliminary Guide to American Zonophone Recording Dates (And What They Tell Us About Early Zonophone Operations)

American Zonophone recording dates have always been a puzzle to collectors. Aside from a portion of the 1911 ledger that somehow escaped destruction, and dates gleaned from test pressings, primary-source documentation is lacking. And because the company often waited many months or even years to release recordings, attempting to extrapolate from release dates is bound to produce false results (or “alternative facts,” as El Presidente would have it).

Fortunately, some dated Zonophone test pressings exist that provide reliable anchor-points in establishing approximate date ranges, which are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that these dates are approximate and subject to ongoing refinement, and should always be cited as “circa.” In reality, the numerical breaks would not have been as tidy as those shown here, which assume relatively consistent monthly output (more about that below). However, they should serve as a reasonably accurate guide, give-or-take a month in either direction.

These dates also mesh well with known listing and/or release dates. However, It’s important to note that Zonophone at this time assigned entirely new master numbers to remakes, and it produced a  lot of remakes. So if you find a c. December 1905 master number on a May 1904 release, the chart isn’t out-of-whack; you have a remake. Remakes are listed in detail in the data we plan to post with DAHR later this year.




The numerical ranges reveal a great deal about the Universal Talking Machine Company’s Zonophone recording operation. From mid-1903 (when master numbers first started appearing on Zonophone pressings) through the end of 1904, the company averaged a staggering 250 masters per month — more than double Victor’s output for the same period.

This activity can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s need to play “catch-up.” In mid-1903, the company began replacing its etched-label series with new paper-labeled discs. Although some of the etched-label recordings were pressed into service to fill out the new series, many new masters would be required to essentially rebuild the Zonophone catalog from scratch. Then, in March 1904, the company was forced to withdraw its entire catalog of bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” recordings, requiring extensive remake work throughout the spring and early summer to replace those issues with legal versions (see the previous post).

In early 1905, there was a sudden dramatic drop in recording activity. Total output that year fell to approximately 1130 masters, more in line with Victor’s output. The drop can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s decision to replace the seven- and nine-inch series with a new ten-inch line. Although the company continued to record small-diameter masters through the end of 1905 (isolated examples as late as November–December 1905 have been confirmed), output of those masters quickly fell to negligible levels. Zonophone’s new ten-inch series was limited to just 25 single-sided releases per month in the main catalog, with a smattering of additional operatic, ethnic, and twelve-inch releases from time to time.

We certainly can’t rule out Victor president Eldridge Johnson as having had a hand in the slowdown. Although the majority owner of the Universal Talking Machine Company, Johnson did not meddle in Zonophone’s artist-and-repertoire matters. But he  certainly would have had his say on business issues from the start, as can be seen in the 1904 decision to transfer Zonophone’s pressing operations from the Auburn Button Works to the Duranoid Company, Victor’s primary pressing plant at the time. From the start, Johnson made it clear that his sole motive in purchasing Universal was to rein-in a competitor — and what better way to do so than by capping its production? *

If you’re fortunate enough to own any dated American Zonophone test pressings, we’d be grateful for the information. The more data that become available, the more closely we can approximate the actual date ranges. At present, we’re working to extend the dating guide through the end of Zonophone’s independent period in 1909–1910, at which point its recording activities were transferred to the Victor studios.

— Allan Sutton

* For a myth-busting account of the Universal Talking Machine Company–Eldridge Johnson saga, be sure to check the author’s A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

Update • The Zonophone Records Victor Herbert Didn’t Make (1900 – 1904)

A preliminary version of this article appeared on the Mainspring Press website in April 2011. The events surrounding this case should already be familiar to well-read collectors [1], but until now, Universal Talking Machine’s actions following the decision have not been explored in a systematic manner.

In the time since the original article was posted, we’ve been fortunate in acquiring the late Bill Bryant and associates’ unpublished discography of seven- and nine-inch Zonophone records, which sheds new light on how the company handled the situation after being ordered to withdraw its bogus (but highly popular) “Victor Herbert’s Band” records in early 1904.



A group advertised as “Victor Herbert’s Band” was prominently featured in the early Zonophone catalogs. The name was in regular use by late 1900; Zonophone’s October 1900 sales bulletin (the earliest we’ve located so far) listed twenty-three selections credited to the band, three of which were accompaniments to singer Bert Morphy. [2]

What buyers of those records didn’t realize — and many collectors still don’t realize today — is that neither Victor Herbert nor his band had anything to do with them.

Based upon testimony later presented at trial, the records were actually made by the 22nd Regiment Band of the New York National Guard, and this apparently was where the Victor Herbert claim — tenuous though it was — originated. Herbert had conducted this band during the 1890s, which for a time was billed as “Victor Herbert’s 22nd Regiment Band.” [3] But he left that position in 1898, before Zonophone commenced recording operations, to serve as principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony. By the time the first “Herbert’s Band” Zonophones were advertised in 1900, Victor Herbert had left Pittsburgh and was touring (but not recording) with a new orchestra that bore his name.


A portion of the Herbert listing from the October 1900 catalog.


By early 1904, Zonophone was offering more than 120 bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” titles in both seven- and nine-inch versions, occupying three-and-a-quarter catalog pages [4], and Herbert finally took action. In January, he applied to Judge Leventritt, of the New York Supreme Court, for an injunction restraining the Universal Talking Machine Company from using his name “for the purposes of trade.”

Herbert’s suit was based on a recently enacted New York state law that prohibited the use of a person’s name for advertising purposes without prior written consent. In addition, Herbert’s attorney argued, the records were not up to his client’s standards and “tended to lower the estimation in which his music has been held by the public.” Peter B. Olney, Universal’s counsel, opposed the injunction on the grounds that Herbert had long known that his name was being used on Zonophone records, but had not asked the company to discontinue the practice [5]. His argument was rejected.

Action was delayed while Herbert tended to business in the West [6], but on March 3, 1904, Judge Leventritt ruled in Herbert’s favor and granted an injunction [7]. In his ruling, the judge affirmed his belief that Herbert “never gave the claimed permission” for Zonophone to use his name, and also expressed his opinion that the matter could be settled “without controversy” pending a full trial [8]. The injunction was allowed to stand, and it appears that the matter of damages was resolved out of court.

The injunction left a gaping hole in Zonophone’s catalog that the company scrambled to fill. Its initial response was a frenzy of remake activity during the spring of 1904, employing the house band under Fred Hager’s direction. Many of these remakes bear master numbers in the 2300–2700 range, indicating approximate recording dates of April–June 1904. [9]

Remaking the “Herbert” titles would be immensely time-consuming (and in the case of the slower-selling titles, probably unprofitable), so in the interim the company adopted a second, stopgap strategy. The “Herbert’s Band” recordings were not illegal, per se; only the use of Herbert’s name presented any legal problem. Thus, the company resorted to printing new labels, minus the Herbert credit, for use on the existing “Herbert” recordings while the remake work proceeded. The changeover is easy to pinpoint in the Zonophone sales lists. The “Herbert’s Band” records were still proudly advertised in the February 1904 catalog. But in the May 1904 catalog, the same recordings were listed with no band credit. A short time later, a new name appeared that would permanently replace Herbert’s — the Zon-O-Phone Concert Band. [10]



Herbert is still credited in the February 1904 catalog (left). The
May 1904 catalog (right) lists the same recordings, but with
no band credit.


Relabeling did not entirely solve the problem, since the relabeled records still had their original spoken announcements crediting Victor Herbert. Bill Bryant and his associates identified many specimens bearing the new Zon-O-Phone Concert Band labels, but retaining the incriminating “Herbert” announcements. And so, at some point, the company began tooling the announcements off the stampers. Pressings from 9” Zonophone mx. 87, for example, are known with and without the announcement but otherwise are aurally identical. [11]

By the time that Zonophone 7” and 9” pressings were discontinued in 1905, the last of the relabeled “Herbert” recordings had either been dropped from the catalog or been remade by the Zonophone house band, and the scandal soon faded from memory. Victor Herbert and his actual orchestra would go on to make many popular recordings beginning with Edison in 1909, which went to great lengths to assure customers that they were getting the real thing.

— Allan Sutton


[1] Passing references to the case appear in various early writings on phonograph history. A more detailed account was published in 2010, in the author’s A Phonograph Home (Mainspring Press); and in 2016, Steve Smolian made an excellent ARSC presentation on the subject.

[2] “October Bulletin. Zonophone Records” (October 1900 catalog), unnumbered pp. 2–3.

[3] Gould, Neil. Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, p. 119. Fordham University Press (2011).

[4] “The New Universal Zonophone Records” (February 1904 catalog), pp. 3–6. Copy for this catalog would have been prepared in late 1903 or very early 1904.

[5] “Victor Herbert Brings Suit.” Music Trade Review (January 30, 1904), p.40.

[6] “That Zonophone Litigation.” Music Trade Review (February 20, 1904), p. 27.

[7] “Herbert Gets Injunction.” Music Trade Review (March 9, 1904), p. 4.

[8] Victor Herbert v. Universal Talking Machine Company. New York Law Journal (March 3, 1904).

[9] Recording-date ranges has been estimated based upon known recording dates from test pressings of the period.

[10] “Zon-O-Phone Records for May.” Music Trade Review (April 23, 1904), p. 29. Copy for this list would have been prepared in late March or very early April, after the injunction was upheld. The “Zon-O-Phone Concert Band” was simply the house ensemble under Fred Hager’s direction. This was the same Fred Hager who in 1920 gave the go-ahead for Mamie Smith to make what is generally regarded as the first blues record.

[11] Zonophone C 5057 (mx. 87), 9” paper-label issue. In this and similar cases, visual inspection coupled with synchronized aural comparison confirmed that the recordings are identical, aside from deletion of the announcement, and ruled out any possibility that the altered masters are dubbings (Bill Bryant data, Mainspring Press archive). The practice was not unique to Zonophone; Columbia tooled announcements off the stampers it used on its client labels.


Bill Bryant’s Zonophone data (accumulated over several decades, and including submissions from Tim Brooks, Paul Charosh, Dick Spottswood, Jim Walsh, the Record Research associates, and many other reputable collectors and discographers) occupies several-thousand index cards, a large carton of contributor correspondence, and several iterations of Bill’s exhaustively detailed ledger. That information (much of it previously unpublished) has finally been collated and entered into a database in preparation for submission to the online Discography of American Historical Recordings later this year. A print edition is not planned.


78 Records Playlist • Ragtime in England: The Gramophone Co. Orchestras (1912 – 1913)


THE PEERLESS ORCHESTRA: The Turkey Trot (J. Bodewalt Lampe,
as Ribé Danmark)

London: November 13, 1912
Zonophone Twin 1001 (face # X-40694; mx. y 15981e)
Gramophone Co. studio group; conductor is unlisted in files


THE PEERLESS ORCHESTRA: Powder Rag (Charles L. Johnson, as Raymond Birch)

London: November 13, 1912
Zonophone Twin 1016 (face # X-40698; mx. y 15984e)
Gramophone Co. studio group; conductor is unlisted in files


THE MAYFAIR ORCHESTRA (as Peerless Orchestra) — Eli Hudson, conductor:
Fiddlesticks Rag
(Al B. Coney)

London: February 15, 1913
Zonophone Twin 1049 (face # X-40709; mx. y 16300e)
Gramophone Co. studio group; Hudson is listed in files


Discographical data are from the original Gramophone Company files, courtesy of Dr. Alan Kelly.


The Playlist • Vess L. Ossman – Early Ragtime Banjo Solos (1903–1905)



VESS L. OSSMAN: Whistling Rufus

New York: c. 1903 (remake of 1902)
Columbia 723 (take 4)
Acc: Uncredited pianist


VESS L. OSSMAN: Mississippi Bubble

Philadelphia: November 5, 1903 (remake of October 23, 1903)
Monarch 1973 (mx. B 588 – 2)
Acc: Uncredited pianist


VESS L. OSSMAN: Yankee Land

New York: Released June 1905
Zonophone 162 (mx. 4735)
Acc: Studio orchestra (probably Fred Hager, conductor)