American Record Labels • Sorting Out Paramount’s Two “National” Labels (1922 – 1924)

SORTING OUT PARAMOUNT’S TWO “NATIONAL” LABELS
(1922 – 1924)

By Allan Sutton

 

During 1922–1924, the New York Recording Laboratories supplied Paramount masters to two unrelated National labels that operated under completely different business models. Unfortunately, discographers (particularly foreign ones who have  access to only a small sampling of the actual discs, or who trust reports from unreliable sources) have muddled them together over the years.

Some progress has been made lately in sorting out a related situation (the two faces of Puritan, with more capable  discographers now distinguishing between the United Phonographs/New York Recording Laboratories and Bridgeport Die & Machine versions of the label in their work). Hopefully, this article will spark a similar effort in regard to the two Paramount-derived National labels of the early 1920s.

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The National Record Exchange Company (Iowa City, Iowa) launched its version of the National label in early 1922 and contracted production to NYRL. National Record Exchange was founded by Francis Waldemar Kracher, who filed for copyright on the slogan, “Get new records on our exchange plan,” on March 6, 1922. The company’s trademark application claimed use of the brand on phonographs (without mentioning records) since February 10, 1922. The records were used in an exchange scheme, rather than being sold outright.

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National Record Exchange agents were scattered across the country. This ad appeared in the Santa Ana [California] Register on August 7, 1922.

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The National Record Exchange’s 12000-series catalog numbers correspond to those on NYRL’s version of the Puritan label (which in turn were derived from the corresponding Paramount catalog numbers), plus 10000 — thus, in the example pictured below, National 12130 = Puritan (NYRL) 11130 = Paramount 20130. A lesser-known 8000 series featured a mixture of standards, light classics, and ethnic material from the Paramount catalog. Catalog numbers for that series correspond to Paramount’s, minus 25000 (for example, National 8113 = Paramount 33113).

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(From Allan Sutton & Kurt Nauck’s American Record Labels & Companies:
An Encyclopedia, 1891–1943
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National Record Exchange agents were scattered across the country, but like some earlier exchange plans, the idea seems not to have caught on. The label appears to have been discontinued in 1924, and today, the records range from uncommon to rare, depending upon the issue.

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The National Certificate Corporation employed a very different model for their version of the National label, which launched at approximately the same time as the National Record Exchange. In an early version of the trading-stamp scheme, National Certificate gave away coupons with purchases made from participating  dealers, which could be redeemed for National records and other goods.

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An August 1922 ad encouraging consumers to patronize stores that gave
National Certificate coupons.

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Production was also contracted to NYRL, but in this case, manufacturing was handed off to the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company in Connecticut, using Paramount masters. BD&M manufactured the East Coast version of NYRL’s Puritan label, along with Broadway, Triangle, and a host of other brands originally pressed from Paramount masters. BD&M Puritans sometimes used NYRL Puritan’s couplings and catalog numbers, but quite often, the company recoupled selections and/or reassigned NYRL’s Puritan catalog numbers to different recordings. The same situation applied with National.

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Two BD&M National pressings from Paramount masters, both unlisted in the Van Rijn–Van der Tuuk Paramount discography and similar works. These use the same couplings and catalog numbers as BD&M’s version of the Puritan label. Both selections were also issued by the National Record Exchange, under different catalog numbers derived from the corresponding Paramount numbers. (ARLAC)

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The coupon model appears to have been little more popular than the exchange model, based upon the relative rarity of National Certificate’s records. The last confirmed releases use Paramount masters recorded during the summer of 1923, and thus far, no advertising for the records after early 1924 has been found. An unrelated National label, manufactured by Grey Gull for the possibly fictitious National Record Company (location not stated), made a brief appearance in 1925.

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Last Call for “Paramount’s Rise and Fall” (Alex van der Tuuk)

We’re down to our last carton of Alex van der Tuuk’s classic Paramount’s Rise and Fall (Revised & Expanded Edition) and won’t be printing any further copies or producing a third edition.

Once these are gone, the only place you’ll be able to obtain a copy is on the collectible-book market, no doubt at an astronomical price. (Don’t believe it? Check out used-copy pricing for this and the original edition on Amazon.com.)

New sealed copies can still be ordered from the Mainspring Press website, while supplies last — and unlike the good folks at  Amazon, we won’t charge you $109!
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Some additional Paramount ads, from the Mainspring Press reference collection. If you enjoy these, be sure to check out Race Records and the American Recording Industry: An Illustrated History, 1919-1945, also available from Mainspring Press.

The Birth of Paramount Records: New York Recording Laboratories’ 1917 Incorporation Papers

One of the most persistent myths surrounding the New York Recording Laboratories (makers of Paramount records) is that the company was never legally incorporated. The misconception stems in part from testimony in a 1936 lawsuit (Wisconsin Chair Co. v. I. G. Ely Co., 91 S.W. 2d 913), in which it was stated — erroneously, as we now know — that NYRL “is not and was not at any time a corporation, a partnership, or an individual.”

However, NYRL was indeed incorporated — in Port Washington, Wisconsin, on July 2, 1917 — as the notarized copy of the incorporation filing shown below confirms. This  oversized document (from an early photostat, courtesy of Randy Stehle) is too large and faded to be easily legible online, so we’ve transcribed the most relevant portions at the end of the article.

NYRL did lose its corporate status in 1921, when (along with the United Phonographs Corporation, the original registrants of the Puritan trademark) it was merged with the parent Wisconsin Chair Company. UPC and NYRL were dissolved at that time. UPC was soon scuttled, but NYRL continued to operate, simply as a trade-name of Wisconsin Chair (although “Inc.” remained on the labels for several more years) — apparently cause for confusion in the 1936 testimony.

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MSP_NYRL-incorp-1917

Articles of Organization
Of
The New York Recording Laboratories

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Article I.

The undersigned, all of them adults and residents of the state of Wisconsin, have associated and do hereby associate themselves together for the purpose of forming a corporation under Chapter 86 of the Wisconsin Statutes; the business and purpose of which corporation shall be the manufacture and selling of phonograph records, phonographs, phonograph parts, and the manufacture and sale of all things incident to the use in connection with the same…

Article II.

The name of the said corporation shall be the New York Recording Laboratories, and its creation shall be in the city of Port Washington, county of Ozaukee, and state of Wisconsin.

Article III.

The capital stock of said corporation shall be Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000) and same shall consist of one hundred (100) shares each of which said shares be of the face or par value of One Hundred Dollars ($100).

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[Articles IV – VII deal with corporate structure and regulations, stockholder voting rights, and options for amendment.]

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In Witness Thereof, we have hereunto set our hand and seals this 2nd day of July, A.D. 1917.

F. A. Dennett
J. M. Bostwick
J. R. Dennett
Edward J. Barrett
O. E. Moesser

… [The above signed] doth each for himself depose and say that he is one of the original signers of the above declaration and articles, that the above and foregoing is a true, correct, and complete copy of said original declaration and articles and of the whole thereof.

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For the most detailed history ever published of Paramount records and the people and companies behind them, be sure to check out the second, revised and expanded edition of Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall, available from Mainspring Press and many libraries.

Paramount Records Before the Blues (May 1918)

This stunning double-sided ad ran in the May 1918 Talking Machine World. Paramount had recently introduced 10″ discs to replace its initial 9″ offerings; the last of the latter appear in the No. 6 Supplement, alongside the 10″ offerings. At this early stage, the trademark eagle perched on a phonograph rather than the more familiar globe.

The large structure to the left is the Paramount pressing plant at Grafton, Wisconsin, a converted water-powered mill that already had a long and varied history when this ad appeared — you’ll find the whole fascinating story of the Grafton complex in the new expanded edition of Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall. The smaller structure to the right would eventually house the studio in which the likes of Son House and Skip James recorded.

In 1918, however, Paramount was recording exclusively in New York, and doing its best to imitate Columbia and Victor. Note the usual NYC studio free-lancers — Henry Burr, Collins & Harlan, Louise & Ferera, Arthur Fields, Grace Kerns, the Shannon Four, et al. Even some of the portraits are the same as those used in the major companies’ catalogs. Fortunately for posterity, the powers at NYRL eventually realized there wasn’t much money to be made by following the pack, and instead turned their attention to the new race-record market (although there wasn’t much money to be made there either, as it would turn out).

MSP_TMW_paramount-may-1918_.

Grey Gull Discovery: GG Masters in the Columbia Vaults (1953)

MSP_GG-logoWhere did the Grey Gull masters go? It’s been a tantalizing question for decades, and some pretty far-fetched theories have been put forth. But as it turns out, an obscure unpublished Columbia vault listing, recently discovered among the Bill Bryant papers, has held the answer all this time.

The listing was compiled in 1953, after Columbia employee Harry Flynn discovered a large cache of masters in the Bridgeport vault that had come from the Scranton Record (née Button) Company — a major independent pressing plant, which had gobbled up many failed record companies in the 1920s and early 1930s. For nearly two decades Scranton was the manufacturing arm of the Plaza / American Record Corporation group, the latter having been officially acquired by CBS on January 1, 1939.

Flynn allowed another CBS employee to make a partial listing of the non-Columbia masters, apparently without the knowledge or blessings of Columbia archivist Helene Chmura. In October 1955, the now-former Columbia employee (whom we won’t name, as he may still be alive) forwarded the list to researcher Walter C. Allen, with a request that it not be made public, “for it was ‘lifted’ while I was an employee!” Allen honored the request, and as a result, the final disposition of Grey Gull’s masters has remained a guessing-game, until now.

The list includes masters from Arto, Emerson, Federal, and Plaza — all of whose assets were acquired by Scranton — as well as the early “LL-” prefixed National Music Lovers masters and even some early-1920s Paramount masters with Bridgeport Die & Machine (Puritan) markings. (Scranton also held 50 late Paramount masters by some outstanding blues artists for a time, but that’s another story, which you’ll find in Paramount’s Rise and Fall.)

How masters from all of these companies came to reside with Scranton is easily explainable, given the in-depth knowledge we now have of the 1920s recording industry. But there was one totally unexpected surprise — A large number of electrically recorded Grey Gull masters, beginning with # 2728 and ending at # 3643. (The list was a random sampling, so the actual range could have been wider.) There had been a Grey Gull – Emerson – Scranton link until early 1926, when GG opened its own studio and pressing plant — But the masters in the Columbia vault dated from late 1927 through approximately September 1929, long after that link had been severed; and none of those listed had been leased to Emerson, which remained a Scranton customer but occasionally issued Grey Gull recordings in the later 1920s. Material on the list ranges from pop vocals and the usual studio bands to country and jazz. Complete sets of takes (some running as high as -D and -E) were preserved.

From this, it appears certain that Scranton ended up with a least a goodly portion of the electrical Grey Gull masters, if not all of them. Have any of these masters survived in the Columbia archives (now owned by Sony)? Pretty doubtful, given the material’s lack of commercial value, and CBS’s merciless master-scrappings at Bridgeport in the early 1960s; but hope springs eternal. We’re currently in contact with Sony staff to see if anything, including any original file documentation that might have come along with the masters, has survived. Stay tuned….

 

More on the Paramount – Ed Kirkeby – Bobolink Connection

Our Paramount – Kirkeby – Bobolink posting got so many hits that we decided to delve a little deeper into Ed Kirkeby’s logs, and had some luck. More about that below, but first — Some of you asked for more information on the records, which are fairly scarce and are popular with kiddie-record and vintage-toy collectors alike (if in their original packaging, that is), so here’s a brief summary:

First advertised in the autumn of 1921, Bobolink records and phonographs were an attempt by toymaker A. C. Gilbert to compete with Columbia’s popular Bubble Book sets. The phonographs were perfectly scaled versions of the “grown-up” machines. The 7″ Bobolink discs originally were sold in sets of two, specially packaged along with Bobolink books that were illustrated by Willy Pogany and Maud and Miska Petersham. Initially they retailed for $1 per set.
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gilbert-bobo-tmwBobolink ad from the October 1921 Talking Machine World
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In early 1922 A. C. Gilbert sold the Bobolink business to brother F. W.’s newly incorporated La Velle Manufacturing Company (New Haven), and the label credits were changed accordingly. La Velle specialized in girls’ toys, so the company introduced new phonograph designs that were more decorative than the earlier A. C. Gilbert products. The La Velle discs could be purchased individually, in paper sleeves.

lavellebobo F. W. later had new  6″ Bobolink masters made, which appear to have pressed by the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company. At least one 6″ disc  is known that was pressed from one of the original 7″ masters and thus is missing its outer rim and first few grooves!

Here’s another Bobolink session we found in Kirkeby’s logs, again with the New York Recording Laboratories (Paramount). This entry is not marked for Gilbert, suggesting it might have taken place shortly after the business passed to La Velle. These recordings are # 562 and # 563 on the sleeve listing (so far we haven’t found an entry for the “John Brown” title on # 563). As with most of his other early vocal bookings, Kirkeby supplied only the singer, not the accompanists.

New York Recording Laboratories — February 27, 1922
Arthur Fields:

“Farmer in the Dell”
“London Bridge”
“Mulberry Bush”