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

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Siamese Recordings

The label on the left above, matrix E752 is from a 10-inch disc recorded in Bangkok in June 1903 by Fred Gaisberg on the First Far East Tour. The label on the right is on a 7-inch disc, matrix E1860, recorded in Singapore in May 1903. The labels below show recordings made in the Siamese language, probably after 1908.

Later Indian Recordings


The disc on the left above was recorded by Franz Hampe in 1905 in Meerut, a small town about 40 miles northeast of Delhi. It was in the area surrounding this town and Dehli that the Hindustani language developed. Alan Kelly identified this recording, together with many others, as having been made in Rangoon in Burma. The negative image on the right below shows clearly that the record was processed in Calcutta.

Will Gaisberg left London shortly after March 1906, accompanied by George Dillnutt, and spent about seven months from May through November in India, where he made 1,254 ten-inch and 148 twelve-inch recordings in Calcutta, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Madras, Rangoon, and Delhi. Several labels used for these recordings are shown below.

Bombay 1906
Delhi 1906
Calcutta 1906
Lucknow 1906

The recording date and location of the disc on the left above is unknown, although it was probably recorded between February 1903 and the end of November 1907. The disc on the right was recorded by George Dillnutt around 1920 and processed in Calcutta, with a matrix number 3464ak. The two discs shown below were recorded by Dillnutt in Mysore in August 1910, and were processed in Calcutta. The recordings are in Sanskrit and Canarese, two of the 22 official languages of India.

The disc on the left below was recorded in July 1910 in the Madras presidency, and processed in the Calcutta plant. India consists of 28 separate states, each with an official language. Tamil, together with Sanskrit, Bengali, and Hindi, is one of the oldest languages in the world, having developed in the Tamil region of southern India and in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. The recording on the right was undoubtedly manufactured by the Gramophone Company in Calcutta after August 1910. Bhagat Kanwar (1885 1928) was a renowned Indian literary figure, and is regarded as a saint in the Sindhi religion.

In 1909, the Gramophone Company of London sent Franz Hampe on an epic 5,000 mile journey across the southern regions of the Russian Empire. From the Causasus Mountains to the deserts of Central Asia, he recorded the various cultures and ethnic groups he encountered. What resulted was an incredibly intimate view of pre-Soviet life, in the form of almost 1,200 music recordings. Now, for the first time in over 90 years, a representative sample from the expedition can be heard, from Caucasian male choirs to classical maqam singers from Bukhara and the Ferghana Valley, and including several musicians who have attained legendary status in the intervening decades, such as Jabbar Karyagdy from Baku/Shushi and Mulla Tuichi Tashmuhammedov from Tashkent From GEORGIA, ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN, CHECHNYA and other culture groups in the northern Caucasus, as well as AFGHANISTAN, KAZAKHSTAN, TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN and XINJIANG in Central Asia, they were recorded at a point when few of these names appeared on any map.

The following excerpts from W. Prentice on the Internet Musigi Dunyasi website (http://www.musiqi-dunyasi.az/Magazine3/articles/05/05.html) describe in detail the route and activities of Franz Hampe during his six-month sojourn. Items in brackets have been added by the author.

"Scattered among the 10,000 or so 78rpm discs held by the International Music Collection (IMC) were 46 ten-inch records, each recorded and released before the First World War, some in the Caucasus and some in Russian Turkestan (now known as Central Asia), by the Gramophone Company’s regional office in Tiflis. The company began operations there in 1901, continuing after the war forced their departure in May 1918. Each record stands as a tantalizing artifact in its own right, and when considered together, they help construct a cultural picture of the region during its final pre-Soviet years. As they were sold originally in their "home" regions, it is not known how most of them came to be in the IMC. We do know that ten were donated by the daughter of Philips Price, an economist, traveler, and journalist who based his 1912 book Siberia on his trip across the land, through what is now Tuva, and into Mongolia. He accompanied Douglas Carruthers, who went on to write the definitive early account of the region, Unknown Mongolia (1913). It is quite likely that Price picked up his records on this trip. With one exception from 1907, the remaining 36 discs all feature at least one side recorded in 1909, and none were recorded later, suggesting that they were purchased within a relatively narrow timespan, possibly by only one or two collectors.

"Thanks to the systematic approach of the Gramophone Company, the matrix numbers stamped into the runoff grooves on each side tell us in coded form, who recorded the song, approximately when, and in what order. We know that one of the sides was recorded by William Sinkler Darby in 1901 (the year ten-inch records first appeared), three were recorded by Franz Hampe from Berlin in 1903-4, thirteen by his brother Max in 1907, 75 by Franz Hampe in 1909 and two by the Englishman Edmund Pearse in 1911.

"By arranging the 765 recordings made in 1909 in chronological order, the locations stated on the labels show us the route taken by Hampe, starting in the northern Caucasus, then to Tiflis in Georgia, down to Alexandropol in Armenia, through Azerbaijan and across the Caspian Sea to Merv in Turkestan, heading east to the border with Chinese Turkestan via Bukhara (then the capital of a nominally independent emirate), Samrkand, Tashkent, and various other small towns. The precise route through Turkestan was somewhat haphazard, until considered on a contemporary map, where we can see that he was following the only extant railway in the region.

"Having arrived in Tiflis for the beginning of his expedition, Hampe faced a round trip of over 3,000 miles with extremely delicate equipment, through difficult and no doubt sometimes dangerous circumstances. Tj Theobald Noble, who recorded for the Pathé Company in the same region, described in a contemporary account traveling for eight hours on horseback through the Caucasus to audition a single choir, only to be ambushed and robbed by bandits on the return journey.

"Although towns along the railway route through Turkestan were their main market there, the company was keen to expand. A letter from Fred Tyler, the manager in Tiflis, to the London Head Office in 1911, explains that an employee was being sent to the more remote regions, taking horses and donkeys loaded with gramophones and records. He was instructed to travel from town to town, giving demonstrations and making sales where possible.

"The labels on the discs state the culture group to which each song belongs. From the northern Caucasus fro example, the IMC holds recordings of Chechen, Ingush, Kumyk, Kabardin and Ossetian music, as well as Georgian, Armenian and Persian-Tartar (Azeri) recordings. All of the major Central Asian cultural groups are represented, as well as musicians from Afghanistan who were recorded in Merv [in May 1909], and from Chinese Turkestan, recorded in Margelian [in August 1909].

"Hampe’s route in 1909 was typical of that taken by the other recordists, and he recorded several musicians who had recorded before and would be again. Bagrat Bagramov, a singer from Tiflis for example, had already proved himself popular through records on previous trips, and so in [May] 1909 recorded 30 titles, significantly more than most other musicians. Accompanied by two duduk players and known simply as Bagrat, he recorded four instrumental, with himself playing hand-drum, and 26 songs; nine are sung in Armenian, seven in Georgian and ten are Persian-Tartar. Tiflis was known as a particularly cosmopolitan city at that time, and the collection bears this out. Armenian and Georgian musicians were willing and able to play Armenian, Georgian and Azeri music, as musicians such as Bagrat demonstrate. Azeri musicians, on the other hand, such as the incredible singer Dzhabbar Kariagdiev (DZHADBAR KARPIYAGDIEV in Kelly’s catalog), apparently concentrated on Azeri music. Like Bagrat, Kariagdiev was obviously highly regarded by the Gramophone Company, recording 25 titles in May 1909, twelve of which had appeared on record by October of that year, according to a contemporary catalogue. The IMC holds six recordings of Bagrat and tow of Dzhabbar Kariagdiev. Altogether, Hampe recorded 60 hours’ worth of music in the region between April and September of that year, over 55 hours of which were released on ten and twelve inch 78rpm discs. Solo male vocalists with instrumental accompaniment proved to be most popular in the Caucasus and Russian Turkestan, followed by choirs in the former and vocal duets and trios in the latter. The recordists were aware that the acoustic technology of the time could pick up and reproduce strong voices more effectively than it could most musical instruments, and so relatively few instrumental titles were recorded. The relative lack of female vocal recordings, at least in Turkestan, may be partly illuminated by the following excerpt from Fred Tyler’s memoirs: To obtain women’s voices it is sometimes necessary to make records in their own quarters, as, being Mohammedans, they could not visit a public caravanserai with propriety. In order, therefore, to avoid scandal, we sometimes packed all our equipment on a cart and set out after dark to set up our studio in the woman’s "house".

"From Bukhara, during the 1911 recording trip, Edmund Pearse wrote home that ‘in Samarkand we made some records of Harem women, a thing that has never been done before. We had to take the machine to the house of the chief magistrate and set up there, who thereupon brought forth the women, and gave them permission to uncover themselves (only their faces, however). It was quite romantic, especially as it all had to be done after ten o’clock at night.’

"The Gramophone Company’s motives for recording in the region were purely commercial. In recording such a vast catalogue of indigenous music, their first thoughts were of increased sales of gramophones it would encourage. Nonetheless, in deliberately setting out to record a representative selection of local music, they created what would later become an invaluable resource for different cultures who, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, feel a strong need to reconnect with their pre-Soviet heritage.

"It is not known how many of these discs have survived in their respective localities, but it seems unlikely that many have. Over the past few years, researchers from former Soviet territories, including Georgia and Adygea (Circassia) have visited the NSA and the British Library, consulting the discs and microfilmed documentation relating to the Gramophone Company. Some of those musicians recorded have become national folk legends, such as Magomet Khfgudzh, an Adygean accordionist recorded on several trips, who, along with all the adult males in his village was shot by the Russian army during the war of 1918. One recording of his survives in the IMC (NSA Ref ICS0055110). His story and those of a great many others are waiting to be researched and told, and there has never been a better time to unearth them."

Hampe’s route can be followed from the recording sessions listed in Kelly’s catalogs. Starting in Vladikavkas (at one time Ordzhonikidze) in April 1909, he proceeded to Tiflis in Georgia, Merv in what is now Turkmenistan, Tashkent, Kokand, Skobelev, and Kashgar in Uzbekistan, back to Tiflis in late August 1909 before proceeding to what was probably Kutaisi in Georgia, and then returned to Moscow in early October. These travels resulted in one 7-inch, some 1,062 10-inch, and 31 12-inch discs.

Chinese label
Indian label

The first Persian records were made in 1899 in London by Emile Berliner's Gramophone Company, featuring poems of Hafez, Ferdowsi and Zahir e Faryabi recited by an Indian called Dr. Ahmad) on 7" without paper label records. The disc on the left below is a 10-inch Berliner 12201 made in Baku on February 5, 1902. That on the right is a 7-inch Berliner 22971 made in Tiflis (Russia) on February 15, 1902 by Emile Berliner's Gramophone co as Persian or Persian Tartar.

Berliner 12201, February 5, 1902
Berliner 22971 February 15, 1902


The unusual label shown above recently came to the author’s attention. It is listed in Kelly’s catalog as

(His Imperial Majesty the Shah of Persia)

968 16-1-06  
(original spoilt)
969 16-1-06 2-11002
970 16-1-06 2-11000
971 16-1-06 2-11001


Max Hampe made the two discs shown below in Teheran, Persia in January 1906. These were from the first recording sessions, comprised of 148 10-inch discs and only eleven 12-inch discs. The disc on the left below seems to have been recorded in 1908 and manufactured in Calcutta. Although the label gives the language as Chinese, Alan Kelly indicates that it is probably Bengali. The disc on the right below was recorded in the Madras Presidency in July 1910.


The four discs below were recorded in Tiflis, the two on the top by Franz Hampe in February 1902 and May 1909, respectively. Those on the bottom were recorded by Edmond Pearse in late July, 1911. The disc on the top right was recorded in Tiflis, despite the indication of Baku. All Persian recordings were processed in the Riga plant.

February 13, 1902

May 1909

Tiflis, July, 1911
February 6, 1912


[Author’s note: from the Wikipedia website ─ The kamancheh, kamānche, kamāncha or qyamancha (Persian: , Azeri: kamança), referred to on the top left label below, is a Persian and Azeri instrument related to the violin. …This instrument is widely played in classical Mugham music of Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, with slight variations in the structure of the instrument. Kemenche is a Persian word derived from the word keman(=bow, curve)" and suffix -che (gives "small" meaning) means "little instrument played by bow". The same instrument is called "kevançe" in Kurdish and "kemençe" in Turkish. The kamancheh is the only bowed string instrument in classical Persian and Kurdish music.

   In central Asia many instruments can be the origin of kemenche. Studies show that even there some different names like KIYAK and IKLIG the name of instrument played by a bow is generally KEMENECHE among the Mongol and Turk tribes in central and far Asia.

    In Turkey, different instruments are called kemenche. The Blacksea Kemenche and the Türkmen Kemenche (Southeastern Kemenche) are used in folk music. The instrument used in Turkish Classical Music is called as Classical Kemenche In some parts of Asia and Europe one can see some instruments very similar  to Turkish classical kemenches with different names like LYRA in Greece, GADULGA in Bulgaria, REBAB in some Arabic countries. On the other hand also you can find similar instruments like Turkmen kemenche in Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia. ]

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Howard Friedman

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