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The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

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Recording Locations

The first recordings of the Gramophone Company were made in London, probably on Monday, August 8, 1898. The first recordings outside of London were made on the so-called Six Cities tour beginning in Leipzig in May 1899, and continuing on to Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Paris, and Madrid. A Branch Office was established in each of these cities. The recordings were all made on wax-coated zinc plates, and are Berliners with no paper labels. The recording location was usually embossed at the bottom of the central area. When paper labels were introduced in January 1901, the recording location was printed just above the catalog number. The images below show labels from the majority of European recording locations.

Recording locations do not come from ledgers but from the Weekly Return Sheet sent every week to Hanover by each expert.  The sheets are headed:

Return of Records made by.................... at...................

for the Week Ending.......................

The amount of detail seems to depend partly on the Branch and the clerk but the first column lists the serial number, the second the indicating letter, the third the recording date (sometimes omitted), the fourth (and largest) gives the title and the fifth (not very big) gives the artistes.

Alan Kelly affirms that the city indicated on the record label is not necessarily that of the recording location. Artists were frequently asked to come to a central recording location where the local recording expert had set up shop, but the label indicated the city from which the artists had come and where, presumably, the records were most likely to be sold. It was often repeated that it was cheaper to bring the artists to the studio than to take the expert and his equipment to the artists, and occasionally an entire group from, say, Amsterdam, would be recorded in Paris; the label would then specify "Amsterdam" [or even "Brussels"!]. Of course, when recording an artist like Paderewski the expert could make a special trip. In any case, there would be no problem in recording visiting artists who happened to be in Berlin while a session was in progress (courtesy of Alan Kelly).

In addition to the labels shown below, other recording locations used before February 1908 in Germany included Ansbach, Beyreuth, Cologne, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Königsberg, Leipzig, Stuttgart, and Wiesbaden. Austrian locations included Graz and Salzburg, while in Czechoslovakia the sole recording site was Prague, and in Switzerland at Zürich. Recordings were made also in Amsterdam, Belgrade, Budapest, Bucarest, the Hague, Helsinki (then Helsingfors), Kristiania, Lisbon, Lwow, Poltava, and Sofia, as well as in Algiers, Baku, Bombay, Colombo, Corea (Korea), Delhi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Lucknow, Madras, Osaka, Rangoon, Tiflis, Tokyo, and Tunis in Africa and in the Far East. Additional locations were added following the introduction of the Dog trademark. Whether or not the recording locations were identified on the issued discs is unknown at this time. One may note that all recordings in Italy were made in Milan, with the single exception of the Tamagno recordings made at his villa in Ospadeletti in February 1903. In France the sole recording location appears to have been Paris.
G&T Angel trademark
French, 1905

Riga pressing Leonid Sobinov
Moscow February-March 1904

Following the establishment of the manufacturing plant in Ivry outside of Paris, all recordings made in Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels and Paris were sent there to be processed. When the plant in Barcelona was established in 1908, the Spanish recordings were sent there. By that time the original G&T label had been discarded and replaced by the so-called pre-DOG, identified by the company designation of The Gramophone Company, Ltd, in various languages. At the same time the plant in Sealdah near Calcutta, India, was prepared to receive all recordings made in the Far East.

The G&T label of the Gramophone & Typewriter Ltd was used on all paper labels on records issued between December 10, 1900 and November 18, 1907, from both the Hanover and the Riga plants. From November 19, 1907 to February 1909, records processed at these plants were issued with the so-called pre-DOG label, in English, Russian, or other appropriate language.

 

Cairo, October 1906
Amsterdam
January 12, 1905
Berlin, 7-inch
late 1902

The first Gramophone Company recordings in the Netherlands were made in The Hague by William Sinkler Darby during his second European tour. These 97 recordings were all made in January 1900 on 7-inch wax-coated zinc plate and were thus Berliners; all had the suffix A, to distinguish them from Fred Gaisberg’s unlettered series.
Pre-DOG September 1907
Copenhagen pre-DOG September 1908

Copenhagen, February 6, 1919

recorded in late October 1904

The spelling of Constantinople on the labels above indicates that these pressings were made at the Hanover plant. The two discs below were manufactured in the Dum Dum plant outside of Calcutta.
Berlin, February 20, 1914
Dresden, Feb-Mar 1902
G&T, June-July 1904
Breslau pre-DOG, 1908
Dresden HMV Concert, June 24, 1905
Dresden, late 1907
Dresden pre-DOG, 1908

Hamburg pre-DOG 1907

Hamburg pre-DOG, 1908
Kristiania, September 25, 1908 London

pre-DOG, August 21, 1906

G&T February 8, 1907 London
HMV. August 21, 1906
HMV Monarch, Jul-Aug 1908 London
HMV Concert, July 1908
London HMV Monarch, July 20, 1909
Milan pre-DOG 1906
G&T July 1901 Milan
G&T, November 1906
Moscow, 1904
Munich, 1902 7-inch
Munich, August 1906
Paris, 1902
Paris HMV Concert 1904
HMV Monarch April 1904

Paris, October 15, 1908

Paris, April 12, 1927

The label at the right above carries the legend "Disque Fabriqué par la Cie Française de ▬▬▬▬ Gramophone, Nogent s/M. Seine, France" below the outer ring. This electrically recorded issue indicates that a pressing plant was present in Nogent-sur-Marne, some 6.7 miles to the northeast of Paris, by the year 1927. The 1907 plant opened at Ivry was some 6 kilometers southwest of the Notre Dame cathedral, just outside of Paris.
Early 1903
Prague 1903

Prague Aug-Sept 1910

April 1902
Rome
April 1904
Rome, April 1904
St. Petersburg, January 1904
St. Petersburg, pre-DOG 1908

Stockholm, pre-DOG February 1907

October 18, 1911

August 1913

Stockholm
Syria c. 1907
Vienna, 7-inch, May 1902
June 1907
pre-DOG 1908
Vienna
Leo Slezak, Vienna 1905
Warsaw 1902
Wilna, late 1903
Weimar early 1905

Zagreb, March(?) 1902

Epilogue

Men such as Fred W. Gaisberg, W. Sinkler Darby and others found themselves travelling the world in search of music to record. These pioneers were more than just recording engineers. They were required to find suitable artists, haggle over fees, make artistic and administrative decisions and only then actually conduct recording sessions. The companies relied upon their judgment absolutely and in most cases it was surprisingly sound. Listening today to pre-1914 Egyptian, Indian or Indonesian recordings, one is often aware of a purity of style and a consistently high quality of musicianship. As much as any other one factor, this is probably due to the lack of media-generated cross-cultural influence that we take for granted today. Also, there is historical evidence that most of these engineers coupled some degree of formal musical training with an ability to gauge potential appeal even if they disliked the style ─ for example, in Fred W. Gaisberg's Shanghai diary for March 18th 1903 we find the following entry;

"We made our first records. About fifteen Chinamen had come, including the accompanying band. As a Chinaman yells at the top of his power when he sings, he can only sing two songs an evening and then his throat becomes hoarse. Their idea of music is a tremendous clash and bang; with the assistance of a drum, three pairs of huge gongs, a pair of slappers, a sort of banjo, some reed instruments which sounded like bagpipes, and the yelling of the singer their so-called music was recorded on the gramophone."

"On the first day, after making ten records we had to stop. The din had so paralysed my wits that I could not think."

A classic example of culture-shock! Gaisberg however, despite his attitude, put commercial consideration before personal taste or prejudice. He recorded, among other things, street songs, 'Moon Guitar' solos and traditional Chinese opera – and he was the first to do so.

It is arguable that the first gramophones captured the public imagination world-wide. Lured by the carrot of enormous profits, the fledgling industry penetrated almost every country and, in doing so, preserved a huge and varied body of indigenous music at a key period in history. Key for two reasons. The First World War and its political and social ramifications were soon to alter the world map irrevocably, sweeping away much language, culture and social structure that had existed for centuries. The gramophone itself, by its very success, was also to alter the pattern of localised musics into other cultures. West Africa, for example, was first exposed not solely to the popular music of America and Britain, but also to that of India.

The Indian continent, colonised as it then was, had readily absorbed the new technology as early as 1900. Within five years a considerable catalogue of Indian music was being enthusiastically consumed. Significantly, Indian traders who operated throughout Africa often successfully offered their own musical taste to their new customers.

By the '20s, separate African markets had been established, principally by The Gramophone Company, Odeon, Pathé and later Decca, to sell what was uniformly referred to as 'Native Music'. However, these new African records often displayed elements of a syncretic rather than a traditional approach and a factor in this was the cross-fertilising influence of the gramophone itself. Throughout the ''30s and '40s the widespread sale of HMV's Cuban and Latin-American 'GV' series was to exert further influence on the development of West African music. This historically important catalogue introduced the music of the Sexteto Habanero, Don Azpiazu, Trio Matamoros and others to a rising generation of African musicians who absorbed and remodeled it within their own environment.

Despite publicity to the contrary, the record companies often had little idea of the historical or contextual importance of their activities. All they really cared about was continued and expanding sales. In this way they unwittingly captured for future generations seminal - and often unexpurgated - examples of the Tango, Rebetika, Fado, Jota Rhumba Son, Qassida, Tzigane and Beguine. They also recorded traditional Nigerian wrestling ballads, Maori choirs, Sardinian piping, Maltese ballads, Basque choral music and a host of other material that, in retrospect, is of vast historical importance.

The countries that represented the 'First World' in forms of technology at least during this period, were principally America, Britain, France, Germany, India and Spain. There were no mastering or manufacturing facilities in the whole of the African continent. Greece, Italy, Portugal and many other countries then starved of technology rolled upon mainly British, French or German support for the recording, manufacture and supply of music. Recording sessions would routinely be conducted on location by visiting engineers who took the masters back with them for process and manufacture. The finished product, label, sleeve and all would then be ‘exported’ to the country of origin ready for sale.

During the half-century prior to World War Two the commercial record companies preserved a staggering quantity of indigenous music by the simple expedient of recording almost anything that came their way. The recovery, preservation and appreciation of this rich heritage is both historically important and immensely enjoyable. Now that specialist record companies are making well-researched and lovingly crafted reissues available, their work deserves the awareness and support of all who wish to understand and appreciate the historical underpinnings of current World Music.




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Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

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