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

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Celebrity Labels

The G&T Red label was introduced in Russia, not only to distinguish the most celebrated artists, but to command a high price for their issued records, usually double the usual figure. These commanded the highest prices until the recordings of Francesco Tamagno, Mattia Battistini, Nellie Melba, and Adelina Patti, all of whom received special labels.

The disc on the left below was recorded by the great nineteenth century violinist Joseph Joachim on August 22, 1903 in Berlin. The matrix number 218y shows an early use of this suffix by William Sinkler Darby. The two records on the right below were issued privately for another nineteenth century violinist Jan Kubelik. They were recorded on October 26, 1902, the first and last of a group of five recordings made on that date. They were issued privately without catalog numbers and having matrix numbers of 2200 and 2204-W2, respectively. Joachim was in his seventy-second year, while the young Kubelik was only 22.

(photos courtesy of Lawrence Holdridge)

Francesco Tamagno’s records carried labels showing the number of copies actually pressed and assumed sold, so that he would be paid the proper royalties. This policy was continued for the labels used by the Victor Company on Tamagno’s records pressed and sold in the United States. The disc in the middle below was on of the first 12-inch recordings issued by the Gramophone Company. The disc on the right is a most unusual recording, having a piano introduction of 22 seconds, a vocal portion of 44 seconds, and a final silent portion of 45 seconds. The entire recording lasts less than 2 minutes, and could have fit easily onto a ten-inch record. The disc on the right has the phrase Manufactured by Deutsche Grammophon Aktien-Gesellschaft Berlin under the Recording Angel, rather than the English version. This was the name of the German branch of the Gramophone Company. The date of manufacture is unknown, but was probably before August 1914, since following World War I the company was reestablished independently as the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (DGG).

Tamagno’s recordings are unique in another respect, together with the recordings of three other artists, viz., Caruso, Melba, and Patti. The latter two were accorded labels, not only in colors of their choice but with their signatures in facsimile, as well as the date of the recording. When Victor issued their records, Melba’s were designated VICTOR "MELBA" RECORD, on a lilac label with her signature in facsimile. Patti received the usual Victor Red Seal label, designated as VICTOR "PATTI" RECORD, but without the signature or the recording date.

Francesco Tamagno
Feb 7, 1903
Gramophone Monarch
GM 052101
Feb 10, 1903

Manufactured by
Deutsche Grammophon-
Aktien-Gesellschaft, Berlin


Tamagno inscribed his initials within a circle following the matrix number on those of the 32 ten-inch recordings that he made on February 7-11, 1903 of which he approved, but not on the 12-inch recordings. His initials can also be seen on the Victor imported pressings made from the G&T stampers.

The ten recordings made by Enrico Caruso on April 11, 1902 all bear his name in one spelling or another, viz., Caruso, Carouso, Caruoso, Cauroso, or Carusso, inscribed in the central area to the right of the spindle hole. Whether these writings were entered by either Fred Gaisberg or his assistant at the time of these recordings, or by various technicians at the Hanover plant, is moot. What is most notable about the April 1902 recordings is that the information inscribed in the central area of each of the ten wax recording tablets appears, disappears, and reappears under the label, depending on the position of the label, i.e., flush, raised, flush within a ring, or sunken.

Of the estimated twenty-two wax recording tablets which arrived at the Hanover plant with the Weekly Return from Milan from April 6 to 11, 1902, two would have been observed to bear identical matrix numbers, namely, 1782. It is highly likely that, not only did one or more Hanover plant technicians decide to distinguish the two tablets by adding the suffixes BG and nB, to the Pinto and Caruso recording tablets, but another technician made doubly (decimally?) sure that the ten discs from the singer Caruso would be completely differentiated from the five recordings made by Amelia Pinto. Hence the addition of Caruso’s name to all ten tablets! The suffix nB has been conjectured to mean neue Berliner, referring to the new all-wax recording technique, although at this relatively late date following its first use a year or so earlier is somewhat suspect. The meaning of BG has never been determined, and occurs on three of Caruso’s first G&T recordings.

Many recordings were made in Vatican City in the early days of the last century. The first of these were supervised by Fred Gaisberg during the week before the first Caruso recording session in Milan in April 1902. The recordings were made chiefly of the choir of the Sistine Chapel. The last and most notable (being the only one ever known to have been recorded!) of the castrati, Alessandro Moreschi, and other notable soloists.

The first issued records bore black labels with gold lettering, and were distinguished with a unique trademark in place of the usual Recording Angel, consisting of the papal coat of arms to which was added two small Recording Angels, on each side. Despite all his efforts, Fred Gaisberg was never able to record the voice of the Pope Leo XIII. The labels below show the Double Angel trademark with the papal coat of arms, on two different disc sizes with German and French pressings from April 1903.


Special Labels

Perhaps the most unusual labels issued by the Gramophone and Typewriter Limited are the following four memorial plates. The Gramophone Commemorative Plate, issued in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, is shown below. The leading rim of the Coronation Commemorative Plate reads "EDWARD VII D.G. BRITT. OMN. REX. F.D. IND. IMP. ET ALEXANDRA REGINA CORONATI DIE XXVI MENS JUNI MDCCCCII. The reverse of this seven-inch record shows eight small Recording Angel trademarks. All of these discs are actually Berliners, since they have no paper labels. The top figures below are courtesy of Kurt Nauck., and have been observed on several websites on the Internet.

see enlarged images 

Similar issues were made for Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII, and Kaiser Wilhelm II, as shown below.

see enlarged images

 The Queen Victoria disc reads "Born MAY 24TH, 1819_CROWNED JUNE 28TH 1838_MARRIED FEBRUARY 10th 1840_DIED JANUARY 22ND 1901 – GRAMOPHONE MEMORIAL PLATE –" The illustrated record was issued to mark an occasion in British history. Collectors will observe that the Berliner ‘plate’, issued in between January and February 1901, has a finish far superior to other discs contemporary of this time. This disc marked L 2 was issued after the death of Queen Victoria, and is the normal size of 7 inches. Unlike normal Berliners however, the thickness around the rim is nearly ¼ inch. The recording is very clear and forward, also luckily it has not been played very much, the recording, I think, having a lot to do with the condition of the disc.

The recording cut, in appearance, resembles the London cutter but it may be more than a coincidence that the number prefix is L, this may be one of the first discs pressed in England, as the time involved must have been very short, as public mourning only lasted one month. The recording is of Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor, the third movement, commonly known as the Funeral March. This is played by a brass band, with muffled side drums, which are very well captured. Allowing for the slow speed this disc is recorded at about 70 rpm. Comparing other contemporary Berliners produced, with handwritten and etched labels, the Trade mark Angel and Berliner Gramophone signs at this time only being stamped, this Victoria disc stands out in finish. All the lettering is stamped, the highlights of her reign being given around the circumference. The centre area has an embossed relief portrait, similar to the short lived one employed on British currency in the 1880s

The reverse has a polished surface with 8 angels set symmetrically positioned across the area. The centre portion is enclosed with a raised ring in this area is the Berliner Gramophone stamp and the record number. This disc, lacking any centre spindle hole, came complete in a circular cardboard box with an ebonised saucer shaped timber plate, the disc fitting into the slight lip around the circumference. The saucer is nearly 1 inch thick, which allows the spindle to be accommodated in the thickness.

see enlarged images

The Pope Leo XIII Memorial Plate has no writing around the outer rim. The inner rim says "LEO XIII and PONT. MAX". The pope died on July 20 1903.

see enlarged images

The inscription on the commemorative disc for the 25th year of the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II reads ZUR ERINNERUNG AN DAS FUNF UND ZWANZIG JÄHRIGE REGIERUNGS – JUBILÄUM SEINER MAJESTÄT DES KAISERS UND KÖNIGS WILHELM II. 1888 – 1913. This translates to "In commemoration of the twenty-fifth Jubilee year of the reign of His Majesty Kaiser and King Wilhelm II 1888-1913." The image on the right shows the central relief enlarged.

see enlarged images

Two Gramophone Company labels are shown above. Each label is 8 inches in diameter, while the central label on the left is 4 inches in diameter. The white label on the left is on the reverse of the commemorative plate, and reads "Mit althöchster Genehmigung Sr. Majestät des Kaisers und Königs aus Anlass des fünfundzwanzigjährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum des Monarchen," which says in English: "With highest permission of his Majesty, the Kaiser and King, GRAMMOPHON-JUBILEE-RECORDING, on occasion of the twenty-fifth jubilee year of the reign of the monarch," while the lower label say "Give to the best for the Kaiser Wilhelm-Children-Camp, in Ahlbeck." The label on the right was placed on the outside of the cardboard box, which c0ntained a metal base covered with felt to support the 12" disc.

Since the Kaiser's relief image occupies the center of the disc, there is no center hole (unlike every other phonograph record ever made). Disc and metal base had a concave bulge. Attached to the bottom center of the inner box was also a green ribbon to lift the disc and the original metal tray, enabling the record to be played on a normal gramophone, victrola or even modern turntable. On the reverse side is the red and gold label of the GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, in tradition of their red label used for their Celebrity series started in 1902. In the center is a small depression. These plates were intended to be purchased by rich and aristocratic households.  They were only produced for German aristocracy by the German branch of the Grammophon Company. Proceeds from the sale of these records were intended to benefit a recovery and holiday camp in AHLBECK for poor children from Berlin.

These extremely rare records were produced in 1913 with 9 different recordings in small, but very expensive editions. Three of the nine recordings include the selection Carl Loewe: Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter – Prince Eugene, the noble Knight, sung by Paul Knüpfer (basso with orchestra), recorded April 16, 1913, catalog number M 042399, Das Herz am Rhein ("Es liegt eine Krone) – The Heart of Rhein ("There lies a Crown"), sung by Elisabeth Böhm van Endert on M 043226, and the Jubilee March Heil, Kaiser, composed by Bruno Seidler-Winkler, and recorded by the Gramophone Orchestra of Berlin under his direction on April 17, 1913, catalog number is 040747. A fourth recording was identified in 1985 as 043227, recorded by Adelaide Andrejewa von Skilondz, singing aria from an opera Il Re Pastore by Frederick the Great of Prussia.

During the two World Wars most of these records were broken. The very thick, but easy breakable records were a symbol of aristocracy. The ending of aristocracy and the beginning of other forms of government, wars, soldiers, and poor people destroyed most of these records. Most of those seen today have no dust case or green cover, and many have had spindle holes drilled through the Kaiser’s image to accommodate a turntable.

(Author’s note: The three paired images above are courtesy of Rainer Lotz. Further information was obtained from the website

Empire Day Message
Canadian Issue

Special label for Their Majesties’ Empire Day Message, 1923

The special label on the left below was designed for the recording of King Alfonso XII of Spain’s address to the Spanish-American people, made in Barcelona on December 16, 1924. The label on the right should have borne the catalog number 41164, with a matrix number 1032x-B0’-2z. It was recorded by William Sinkler Darby in Vienna on May 17, 1902, but was not issued until after November 17, 1907. The reason for its lack of a catalog number and its designation as a Special Gramophone Record is not certain. However, it may have been due to the apparent death of the performer on September 20, 1910, as indicated by cross following the name.

In 1903 A German named Oscar Messter invented a film process, called Biophon, which integrated sound recorded on gramophone discs (see above) with motion pictures. Although his films had little artistic merit, he was able to present some 120 of the sound films at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It would appear that the world was not ready for sound moving pictures until 1927.

The Messter Projection system, based in Berlin, was an early effort to provide a musical sound track for silent films. Specially made discs were co-ordinated with the projected images to add the proper musical background. Like the later Vitaphone system in the USA, it had limited success, as the problem of synchronization was always difficult. If the film broke or had been repaired, or if the needle on the record skipped a groove, it was almost impossible to regain coordination between the record and the film. The discs for the Messter system were pressed by Gramophone & Typewriter Ltd.

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

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