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The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
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The Red Label Celebrity Series

In his autobiography Fred Gaisberg relates that the Figner recordings made in St. Petersburg in 1900 were to have been the first Gramophone Company discs issued with red Celebrity labels with gold lettering. However, he says also that the red label was not introduced until April 1901, and since Figner’s first recordings were made in December 1901, Fred’s memory failed him once more! Fred made some 454 7-inch recordings and about one hundred of the new 10-inch recordings in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kazan between March 25 and early July 1901, returning to London for most of the remainder of the year. Sinkler Darby arrived in St. Petersburg from Vienna in late November or early December 1901, when the Red Label series was introduced to indicate the more outstanding performers of the day, e.g., Figner, his wife Medea, and Vialtzeva in late 1901, Chaliapin, Sobinov and Damaev in 1902, and others. All to be sold at double the usual price! In his Russian Catalogue, Bennett indicates by underlining the catalog number, that Figner’s December 1901 7-inch recordings were Red Label issues. A 7-inch Red Label Figner G&T 22601 was listed in Lawrence Holdridge’s auction catalog for 2003/4. As a further comment, in his biography of Fred Gaisberg Moore states that "Darby had made the first discs destined for the Red label in Russia during the previous winter; for these he had secured the great Figner and his wife Medea Mei." Two of Nicolai Figner’s Red Label Celebrity 7" records, 22601 and 22605, may be found on Symposium Record’s CD 1058, Emile Berliner 100 Years.

7-inch Gramophone 22601, December 1901

Darby began his second series of recording sessions in St. Petersburg on December 3, 1901. These included seven 7-inch and eight 10-inch recordings by Anastasia Dmitrievna Vialtzeva, as well as six 7-inch and sixteen 10-inch recordings by Nicolai Figner, all of which were processed as Berliner discs at the Hanover plant about December 17, 1901. When the Red Label was finally agreed upon by Theodore Birnbaum and Nicolai Rodkinson, the manager of the Russian Branch, the Vialtzeva and Figner pressings were reissued from the Riga plant in early 1902 with the first Red Label, or at that time Red Seal. The figure above may possibly be the label on the first Red Label Celebrity issue released by the Gramophone Company. Note the phrase RED SEAL, which was dropped shortly. Lawrence Holdridge has confirmed that at one time he listed one of Vialtzeva’s 7-inch Red Label discs with a similar label.

The following quotation by Peter Adamson, entitled A Scarlet Woman and intended as a jest, is taken from The Hillandale News, Number 173, April 1990, page 27.

"Many collectors will be aware that after the coming of the famous Red G & T label on 10" discs, some of the most prestigious 7" Berliner discs were converted to this high status by having the central area of the stampers flattened to allow labels to be included in the pressing process. Figner and Vialtzeva were the lucky ones in Russia, and there were also some slightly later examples of the 7" Gramophone Record Red Seal (as it was called) ─ Primo Vitti in 1902 for example. As a keen collector of early 7" records, I eagerly note anything of this sort which is out of the ordinary. So it is all the more surprising for me to find that I should have had for many years, without realizing it, a 7" Red Berliner! It is (naturally) A Russian disc made in St. Petersburg, and issued in June 1901 [sic] with catalogue number 23072. On it, a soprano with a rather plummy voice sings a typical Russian song entitled ‘Under the spell of your caresses.’ [Под периодом вашей нежности] But the oddest thing about this disc ─ in fact the only really notable thing ─ is the lady’s name. Having by now become accustomed to seeing such esoteric things as Davidov Berliners, Morskoi Berliners, Figner Berliners, I was quite amused to find that I had indeed managed to acquire a RED Berliner. The matrix number, although obscure, seems to be 2558, recorded around the beginning of April 1901 ─ possibly the 1st. The singer’s name? Madame G.L. Red…"

A final quotation is from Leonard Petts’ report of the September 1979 meeting of the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society:

"The 7-inch Red Label discs were issued in May 1902, but some had been recorded in November [sic] 1901 and issued with Berliner labels….The records we heard (listed on the next page)…."

Among the list mentioned above were Vialtzeva’s 7" Red G. & T. 23089 and Figner’s 10" Red G. & T. G.C.-22549.

The important fact to note here is, that while numerous 10-inch recordings were made in Russia and elsewhere following the introduction of the new technique in April 1901, most of those destined to be issued with red label in the new Celebrity series were probably issued initially as Berliners.. This is confirmed in Peter Adamson’s paragraph shown above.

The Gramophone Company, with the single exception of the first issues, never used the phrase RED SEAL, but always RED LABEL, as shown on the catalog cover below. The Victor Company applied for a trademark for the phrase RED SEAL on July 20, 1904, which was registered on August 30, 1904. However their first Red Seal labels were not used until March 1903, when they reissued some twenty-five G&T recordings in their new 5000 series. To quote from Michael Sherman, "Following the lead of their British affiliates, they adopted the Red label for these 10" releases."

 

The cover of the first Red Label Catalogue issued by the Gramophone Company in 1902 is shown on the left above. Featuring Madame Emma Calvé, who made her first G&T recordings in July 1902, the listed records sold for ten shillings or $2.50 each. This catalogue must have listed over 250 Red Label Celebrity recordings, which would have been available before September 1902. The cover on the right shows the February 1904 Catalogue, which includes supplements for September, October, and November. The available discs of some seventeen artists are listed, mostly with their photographs. The listings of all but two artists, Francesco Tamagno and Leonid Sobinov, have the prefix R.L. for Red Label, rather than G.C. for Gramophone Concert shown on their issued labels. Nearly all of the 51 so-called London Red G&Ts of 1902 are listed, with the exception of those of David Bispham.

Of the 237 discs listed in the February catalog, all but those of Tamagno were again priced at 10 shillings. Tamagno’s records were sold for £1 or $5 each. Only eighteen of Caruso’s twenty 1902 recordings were listed, the two remakes having been omitted. The September 1904 supplement includes eleven Victor recordings issued with G&T catalog numbers and bearing the prefix V.M. for both 10- and 12-inch discs. The artists included Caruso, Mario Ancona, Emma Albani, Fyodor Chaliapin, Anastasia Vialtzeva, Nicolai and Medea Figner, Campanari, Pol Plançon, Antonio Scotti, the celebrated violinist Jan Kubelik, as well as the choir and quartet of singers of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome.

The superb work of Alan Kelly shows that the first Red Label Celebrity series issue was introduced in December 1901 for Nicolai Figner’s recording G.C.-22547 (see also above). The great baritone Maurice Renaud was the first French artist to receive this recognition, while Caruso, Plançon, De Luca, De Lucia, Ancona, and Scotti followed. Less well known but equally outstanding artists, including Maria Michailova, and the renowned violinist Jan Kubelik (who was given Red Label status before February 1904), and Pablo de Sarasate, were issued with black labels. Red Label G&T’s are found as late as October 1906, at about which time the color was changed to pink, for the "super-celebrity" artists. A completely different shade of red was used later for the HMV labels. At the same time a slightly smaller trademark was introduced, the Angel being 27 mm wide instead of 30 mm.

 

Celebrities such as Dame Nellie Melba were occasionally accorded a label color of their own choosing, hers being mauve (actually, lilac), usually with her facsimile signature, as seen above. In March 1904, in the drawing room of her mansion on Great Cumberland Place in London and under the supervision of Fred Gaisberg, Melba recorded 16 arias. She was probably the only and last artist ever to be allocated her own unique block of matrix numbers, viz., 1 – 28. One condition for her recordings was that the issued records have a distinct and unique label color. G&T 03033 below was from her second recording session in October 1904, when she was accompanied by the great violinist Jan Kubelik. This recording bears the matrix number 401c, her unique matrix number series having been abandoned. Melba would remake this selection for Victor in New York in early February 1905.

 

Adelina Patti’s first recordings were made at her castle at Craig-y-Nos, near Penwylt in Wales, by Fred Gaisberg with his brother Will as his assistant. This was in December 1905, when Madame Patti was sixty-three years old. Patti was accorded pink labels, together with her facsimile signature. Her insistence on the pink color forced the Gramophone Company to introduce pink as a "super-celebrity" color, which was duly instituted in 1907. Caruso, Ruffo, Plançon, and Farrar were among the other artists appearing on pink labels. Both sopranos were given labels with their names in the phrasing above either the Angel or the Dog trademark, viz., GRAMOPHONE "MELBA" RECORD and GRAMOPHONE "PATTI" RECORD. Both their labels show replicated signatures. The Gramophone issues of both Melba and Patti are among the few labels that indicate the recording dates.

G.C.-52669, stamper II
GM 052146

Mattia Battistini’s first recordings made in Warsaw in February 1902 were issued with Red Celebrity labels. The disc on the top left above is the last of the ten recordings in his first session. The recordings made in 1906, illustrated by the disc on the top right above, were accorded orange labels with silver lettering, since gold lettering would not show up well. Note the various shades of orange below. The courtesy of the orange label also extended to Battistini’s Russian labels. Both discs above were recorded in Warsaw in November 1906.

Milan, November 1906
Milan, HMV 052308
June 2, 1911
Master pressing, HMV 054454
June 3, 1913
Milan, June 6, 1913 Chaliapin’s second G&T recording
Moscow, January 23-28, 1902

 

 

Sticker in Russian, similar to Victor stickers of the period

The sticker above is found on the reverse of all of Chaliapin’s early G&T recordings. It relates specifically to Chaliapin and his exclusive rights under copyright laws. The sticker reads as follows:

This translates to:

"The right for issuing, manufacturing, and sale of the phonograph records with musical compositions performed by me, F.I. Chaliapin, is transferred by me to the exclusive proprietorship of the publisher, "GRAMOPHONE and Typewriter" Company. Any copying or re-etching of these phonograph records for the purpose of sale without my, F.I. Chaliapin, and "GRAMOPHONE and Typewriter" Company permission is strictly prohibited, and culpable people and companies will be prosecuted according to the counterfeiting law with property eviction consequences, as stated in the Appendix 45 to the article of law No 420 (Note 2), Volume X, Part 1 of the Statute Book. F.I. Chaliapin."

Chaliapin’s first fourteen 12-inch recordings, made in St. Petersburg in 1907 and in Paris in 1908, were also issued initially with orange labels. Later pressings were given the usual pink labels for the later Celebrity series, as shown below.

GM 022096
St. Petersburg, Sep 24, 1907
GM 022112 and 022113
Paris, June 1908

When the HMV trademark labels were introduced, the pale green and pale blue labels were darkened, and a white label was introduced for larger groups, e.g., quartets, quintets, and sextets. The three specialty labels for Melba, Patti, and Battistini were retained. Chaliapin’s last recordings in Russia from August 3, 1910 to April 3, 1914 received pink HMV labels. Another color label, violet, was added for recordings of John McCormack and Evan Williams at that time. In addition, a dark blue label was given to the recordings of Madame Clara Butt between July 1909 and June 1915. Other female vocalists received labels with more or less distinct colors. See also below under Celebrity Labels.


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