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

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The Caruso Labels

A myth has been circulating over the past one hundred or more years, which says that the recordings that Enrico Caruso made in Milan in April 1902 encouraged many other great artists of the period to step before the recording horn. This "myth" is greatly exaggerated, if not patently untrue. The renowned Ivan Tartakov had been recorded by William Sinkler Darby on April 16, 1899. (Alan Kelly intimates that Tartakov might have been persuaded to record as early as 1897!) Many of the great Russian singers of the day had been recording since as early as June 1901, including the Figners, Labinsky, Sobinov, Vialtzeva, Nezhdanova, and even the greatest of them all, Chaliapin, who made his first recordings in late January 1902. The Italian tenor Carlo Caffetto had been recording since July 1900 and the bass Nazzareno Franchi had recorded in July 1901. The great French baritone Maurice Renaud made his first recordings in September 1901. Mario Sammarco, Giovanni Gravina, and Amelia Pinto, all of whom sang with Caruso on March 11, 1902 in the première performance of Baron Franchetti’s opera Germania at the La Scala opera House in Milan on March 11, 1902 under the direction of Arturo Toscanini, had all recorded later that month. Moreover, negotiations between Francesco Tamagno, the greatest tenor of the day, and Alfred Michaelis, Managing Director of the Italian Branch of the Gramophone Company, were already well under way before Caruso’s first recording session.

The issued records of Enrico Caruso encompass almost the entire acoustical recording era, and far beyond, even to this present day. The labels used for them are therefore particularly representative of the changes and variations used by the Gramophone Company during that early period, i.e., from April 1902 until about the end of April 1925. Caruso’s records, like those of other artists, received labels in different colors according to the number of artists involved, which also designated their price categories. Of Caruso’s 248 known recordings, only twenty-two were made under the auspices of the Gramophone Company; the remaining 226, with the exception of ten made under the auspices of the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company (which encompassed both the Zonophone flat disc and the Pathé cylinder recordings) in April 1903, were recorded in America for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Of the 211 VTMC recordings, 208 were pressed by the Gramophone Company from metal parts, i.e., stampers, imported from the United States.

Labels on pressings made in various European countries have distinguishing features. In August 1907, Caruso’s recording of the Quartet from Rigoletto was issued by G&T with a pale blue label, while his duets with Antonio Scotti were given pale green labels. Patti’s and Tetrazzini’s recordings received pink labels, while those of less outstanding artists such as De Lucia, Giorgini, Ruffo, Journet, Boronat, Galvany, and others were issued with standard Red Celebrity labels. In August 1908 Caruso recordings were being issued with pink, darker blue and green, and white labels, according to the number of artists (see above). All this was done to assign the various recordings to different price categories. These colors appear on the labels in varying shades, due to the difficulty at that period of preparing batches of ink of the same hue and saturation. None of Caruso’s Gramophone Company recordings were ever issued on double-sided records during his lifetime. However, see below under ZONOPHONE LABELS.

Through the diligent efforts of Madame Aida Favia-Artsay (see the Bibliography), a letter from the office of the Gran Magistero degli Ordine dei Santi Maurizio e Lazzaro e della Corona d’Italia (Grand Master of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and of the Crown of Italy), states that Caruso was awarded the honor of Cavaliere of the Order of the Crown of Italy by royal decree on January 4, 1900, and the rank of Commendatore on February 21, 1907. This singular honor, his first, belies another myth, that Caruso’s fame and recognition were initiated by the success of his first recordings from the Gramophone and Typewriter, Limited. None of 66 known labels from the first recording session of April 11, 1902 bear the title "Cav." On the other hand, with the exception of the labels on the two retakes from the first session, it was added to all known labels of his recordings from the second session of November-December 1902, but was dropped again during the pre-DOG period. At a later date the title "Sig." was added.

The central figures in the two rows of figures below show the large type size. Stamper III pressings of the same recordings were issued between February 29, 2903 and July 29, 1905, the so-called CO. marking period. However, we do not know whether stamper II pressings were made before or during the same period. The right-hand figures in both rows show the use of non-serif fonts for titles.

Stamper I
Apr 1902
- Feb 1903
Stamper IIII
Feb 1903 - July 1905
Stamper V
Feb 1903 - July 1905
Stamper I
Nov 1902 - Feb 1903
Stamper I
Dec 1902 - Feb 1903
G&T label for Victor
Talking Machine imports

Caruso’s twenty recordings from 1902 and his two recordings from 1904 by the Gramophone & Typewriter culminated in the use of some 66 or more stampers for the first ten, 73 or more stampers for the second ten, 28 for the 1904 10-inch and 12 for the 1904 12-inch recordings, for a total of not less than 139 stampers for the 1902 recordings and a further 40 for the 1904 recordings; more are possible. Stampers from the first session were as few as two and as many as thirteen per recording and those for the second session ranged from three to twelve per recording. The labels ranged from the G&T through the HMV period. The variations in these labels have been presented in the articles by the author listed in the Bibliography. The label variations for the 1904 recordings are described below.

All of the recordings in the first session were accompanied by the pianist Salvatore Cottone, who accompanied most of the soloists recorded by the Gaisbergs in Milan. By the second session Caruso was well known enough that several composers deigned to be his accompanist for their own compositions. Thus, Umberto Giordano was the accompanist for the recording of Amor ti vieta from his opera Fedora, in which Caruso sang the world première performance in Milan on November 17, 1898, while Francesco Cilea accompanied Caruso in his recording of No, non più nobile from his opera Adrian Lecouvreur, in which Caruso had sung for the world première in Milan on November 6, 1901. Labels for both of these issues included the phrase Accompagnato dall’Autore, either with or without parentheses below the artist’s name. It occurs on issues from the first three stampers used for G.C.-52419, including the period from February 19, 1903 to July 29, 1905, and up through stamper IV pressings of G.C.-52439 but not on the Stamper VI pressing shown at the right below, which was issued following July 29, 1905.

Of the two recordings that Caruso made in April 1904 under the supervision of William Sinkler Darby, the ten-inch recording shows the name through the labels under the Recording Angel trademark from first, second, and seventh stamper pressings. They are the only recordings made by the Gramophone Company which bear an artist’s name on the record surface itself, in contrast to the multitude of such names on Victor recordings. No such names have been found on late stamper pressings (IIII, VI, and XII) of the 12-inch recording of Mi par d’udir from Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles, made in the same April 1904 recording session. It is interesting to note that the word is almost identical with Caruso’s actual signature on a testimonial written on the Zonophone envelope, as shown below.

Caruso’s signature

The labels from two original stamper pressings shown below are quite different. The selection title "Mattinata" on the (probably) early label is 42 mm across, while that on the (probably) later label is 52 mm. across. On the former the words TRADE and MARK are closely spaced, while on the latter they are widely spaced. On the former the two words PATENTED are considerably larger than on the latter. These labels are shown below.

Stamper II pressings

 

It becomes apparent from these two labels that it was necessary for the Hanover plant to print a second batch of labels for these stamper II pressings before the stamper itself was worn out. We are thus left with two quandaries, the first being the number of acceptable pressings that was possible from a given stamper at this period, and the second being the number of labels per batch that were ordered from the printer! The author’s calculations from other information indicate that about 350 acceptable pressings could be obtained from each stamper at this time. It would therefore appear that the number of labels ordered in a batch were somewhat less than that number.

[Author’s note: one may conjecture that the steps required to press one more or less finished record included 1) placing a softened quantity of shellac compound into the hydraulic press, 2) putting the label in place, 3) pressing the record, 4) cooling the finished pressing, and 5) removing the record from the press. This process may have taken about one minute by an experienced technician, who could have pressed some 360 records in an 8-hour working day, with the usual time off. This provides one with a very approximate figure for the number of pressings that could have been made from one stamper before it was could no longer be expected to produce audibly acceptable records.]

Depending on public demand and the period in which they were issued, many recordings may be found with labels of different designs. For example, G.C.-52034, Caruso’s 1904 recording of Leoncavallo’s "Mattinata," with the composer at the piano, proved to be extremely popular. One can estimate that some 24,500 records were pressed. Six labels from forty-seven known stampers are shown below. The stamper XXVIII pressing shown below indicates that some 98,000 copies had been pressed during the slightly more than three and one-half years between the original recording on April 8, 1904 and the end of the G&T label period in November 1907. A stamper XXXIX pressing with a pre-DOG pink label indicates that it had been pressed after July 29, 1905, while the pressings from the previous stamper had been made before that date. The stamper AH (37) pressing, made before August 1910, indicates an additional 3,000 records produced. A German pressing from stamper MH (47) is also known.

Stamper II
Stamper II
Stamper VII

The labels on two stamper II pressings of this recording appear to be identical. However, they differ by the spacing of the words TRADE and MARK. It may be noted further that this recording is one of three by Caruso that indicate on the label that he was accompanied by the composer, in this instance, Ruggiero Leoncavallo. The labels from all issues of the Mattinata recording bear this inscription, even on the HMV label as well as on the pirated German Schallplatte label. In contrast, the label for the selection Amor ti vieta bears this notation up through stamper III pressings, but not on a stamper VII label. The phrase was also used on Caruso’s recording of No, non più nobile, G.C.-52419 (see above).

Stamper XXVIII
Stamper GL(=18)
Stamper AH (=37)
Stamper VIII
Stamper VII
Stamper IX

Stamper VII
Stamper VIII

Three recordings from the first session and two from the second session were issued with original G&T labels following the change in the red Celebrity color to pink, as shown above.

Three pre-DOG labels from the first G&T session and one from the second session have also been seen, as shown below. These four recordings continued to be processed and issued between November 19, 1907 and February 1909, after which date the DOG trademark became the standard for all Gramophone Company labels. G.C.-52347 required ten stampers, indicating a probable total printing of about 3,500 issued records. The issued records of G.C.-52349 used nine stampers, for a total issue of some 3,200 records. (Author’s note: it is probable that between 1903, from which the estimated stamper usage is calculated, and the beginning of the pre-DOG label in late 1907, considerable advances were made in record processing technology. It is quite possible that by that date a stamper could press 500 or more records before wearing out.




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

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