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

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Zonophone Labels

Following the establishment of the National Gramophone Company in New York on 28 October 1896 and the Universal Talking Machine Company in Yonkers, New York on January 26, 1898, Zonophone was founded in 1899 by Frank Seaman. The Zonophone name was not that of the original company, but was applied to the records and machines sold by Seaman from 1899-1900 to 1903. Seaman had worked for Emile Berliner as early as February 7, 1896. "Zon-O-Phone" records design and technology were shamelessly stolen from Berliner, and the machines similarly copied from the products of Eldridge Johnson's Consolidated Talking Machine Company. Seaman then sued Berliner and Johnson for violating his technology! With the help of lawyer Phillip Mauro, Seaman arranged for an alliance with Columbia Records.

Columbia was originally the local company distributing and selling Edison phonographs and phonograph cylinders in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware. As was the custom of some of the regional phonograph companies, Columbia produced many commercial cylinder recordings of its own. It was here that Fred Gaisberg served his apprenticeship in the recording industry, by making cylinder recordings for the Columbia Company. Columbia severed its ties to Edison and the North American Phonograph Company in 1893, and thereafter sold only records and phonographs of their own manufacture, arguing that the patents held by Columbia concerning cylinders applied to any type of recording where a stylus vibrated in a groove, and that Zon-O-Phone would pay royalties if Columbia helped him drive Berliner out of business. In 1900 Seaman and Mauro succeeded in getting a judge to file an injunction that Berliner and Johnson stop making their products.

Johnson and Berliner counter-sued, and the following year emerged victorious in court—prompting the name of their new combined company, The Victor. The Victor Talking Machine Company (1901─1929) was a United States corporation, the leading American producer of phonographs and phonograph records and one of the leading phonograph companies in the world at the time.

After a series of bitter and prolonged lawsuits regarding patents and other rights, Seaman established the International Zonophone Company in Berlin, Germany in 1901, in order to compete with the Gramophone Company of London on its own turf. An announcement to this effect appeared in the Phonographische Zeitschrift in Berlin on June 7, 1901. Zonophone established commercial liaisons with leading agencies throughout Europe, including Pathé Frères in Paris, and the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company in Milan. It soon acquired a roster of artists comparable to that of the Gramophone Company.

The history of the Zonophone Companies, their sister companies and agencies has been documented superbly by Ernie Bayly and Michael Kinnear (see the Bibliography). The following extract is from the website on the Internet, viz., http://www.bajakhana.com.au/Zon-3B.htm.

"The "Zon-o-phone" talking machine was introduced in 1898, originally as an "Improved Gramophone" built by the Universal Talking Machine Company. By 1899, the company had begun to produced 'etched-face' discs, distributed by the National Gramophone Corporation. Exports of these talking machines were handled by Frederick Marion Prescott, who engaged agents in Europe to the market the "Zon-o-phone" products. In March 1901, Frederick Prescott organized the International Zonophone Company, in New York, and then traveled to Berlin where he set up the European offices of the company.

Between 1901 and June 1903, the International Zonophone Company produced about 6000 recordings in association with several agents including the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company of Milan, Ch. & J. Ullmann of Paris and London, along with agents in Russia, Germany, Austria, Spain and South America. Between 1901 and June 1903, the International Zonophone Company produced about 6,000 recordings in association with several agents including the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company of Milan, Ch. & J. Ullmann of Paris and London, along with agents in Russia, Germany, Austria, Spain and South America.

The Brazilian agent Casa Edison was the first enterprise to introduce commercial supplies of a double-sided disc record. In September 1901, the American distributing agency National Gramophone Corporation was declared bankrupt, and soon after reformed as the Universal Talking Machine Manufacturing Company, which held a substantial interest in the manufacturing of "Zonophone" products, including the European operations. The Brazilian agent Casa Edison was the first enterprise to introduce commercial supplies of a double-sided disc record. In September 1901, the American distributing agency National Gramophone Corporation was declared bankrupt, and soon after reformed as the Universal Talking Machine Manufacturing Company, which held a substantial interest in the manufacturing of "Zonophone" products, including the European operations.

The International Zonophone Company offered strong competition to The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd; Columbia Phonograph Company; and the Victor Talking Machine Company. Concerned with the International Zonophone Company's success, The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd., purchased the controlling interest in the company through its German affiliate Deutsche Grammophon, AG Berlin, acquiring control of the Universal Talking Machine Manufacturing Company, which was sold off to the Victor Talking Machine Company. The International Zonophone Company offered strong competition to The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd; Columbia Phonograph Company; and the Victor Talking Machine Company. Concerned with the International Zonophone Company's success, The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd, purchased the controlling interest in the company through its German affiliate Deutsche Grammophon, AG Berlin, acquiring control of the Universal Talking Machine Manufacturing Company, which was sold off to the Victor Talking Machine Company.

The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd., continued to market the original European "Zonophone" recordings for a couple of years, gradually replacing the original recordings and augmenting the 'Zonophone' catalogues with its own recordings, marketed as a cheaper priced label to its "Gramophone" products. Similarly the American 'Zonophone' catalogue was marketed under the auspices of the Victor Talking Machine Company until 1912, at which time the label disappeared from the American market. The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd, continued to market the original European "Zonophone" recordings for a couple of years, gradually replacing the original recordings and augmenting the 'Zonophone' catalogues with its own recordings, marketed as a cheaper priced label to its " Gramophone "products. Similarly the American 'Zonophone' catalogue was marketed under the auspices of the Victor Talking Machine Company until 1912, at which time the label disappeared from the American market.

The Gramophone Company, Limited continued to market the "Zonophone Record" in several countries through to the early 1930's. The early recordings produced by the independent International Zonophone Company, between 1899 and 1903, include numerous selections of artistic and historical interest, which are most sought after by record collectors. The Gramophone Company, Limited continued to market the "Zonophone Record" in several countries through to the early 1930's. The early recordings produced by the independent International Zonophone Company, between 1899 and 1903, include numerous selections of artistic and historical interest, which are most sought after by record collectors.

Although the "Zon-o-phone Record" was amongst the first entrants in the disc record field, up until now there has not been any significant discographic study on the brand. Ernie Bayly, the former editor of 'The Hillandale News' and editor and publisher of 'The Talking Machine Review, International' - both well respected journals in the field of record research, and Michael Kinnear have collaborated to publish a discography of the "Zon-o-phone Record". This discography focuses on the output of the International Zonophone Company's products between 1901 and 1903, and includes numerical listing of known recordings issued before and after the company was absorbed by The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd., in 1903. Although the "Zon-o-phone Record" was amongst the first entrants in the disc record field, and up until now there has not been any significant discographic study on the brand. Ernie Bayly, the former editor of 'The Hillandale News' and editor and publisher of 'The Talking Machine Review, International' - both well respected journals in the field of record research, and Michael Kinnear have collaborated to publish a discography of the "Zon-o-phone Record." This discography focuses on the output of the International Zonophone Company's products between 1901 and 1903, and includes numerical listing of known recordings issued before and after the company was absorbed by The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd, in 1903."

before June 1903

after June 1903

Pressings made for the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company by the International Zonophone Company in Berlin had the reverse impression shown at the left above, while those pressed in Hanover for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company had the reverse shown on the right. According to Bauer, early European Zonophone discs had smooth backs. By mid-1903 pressings for the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company made by the International Zonophone Company in Berlin had the reverse impression shown at the left above, while those pressed at Hanover for the Gramophone and Typewriter Limited had the reverse shown at the right. Some reverses used by the Gramophone Company have the phrase MADE IN GERMANY in the lower left quadrant; all of the Caruso Zonophone recordings issued by the Gramophone Company have this phrase, while at least one of the Plançon recordings has it and at least one does not. Its use on a later issue with a Zonophone label, X-44170, recorded in London on September 28, 1910, does not.

Zonophone 11944, Brussels,
early 1903
Pathé 84003, Brussels

The disc on the left above, shown in reverse, was manufactured under the auspices of the Charles and Jacques Ullmann Company, the sole agent in France for the International Zonophone Company of Berlin by virtue of a contract dated October 4, 1902. Ullmann in turn established the Compagnie Belge du Zonophone on October 7, 1902. The Pathé disc on the right was also manufactured in Belgium, as indicated by the small diamond lozenge above the label.

The discs shown above are two of four known recordings made for the Zonophone Company by the Russian artist Anastasia Dmitrevna Vialtseva (Анастасия Д. Вялцева), in St. Petersburg in October 1901. The photo is complements of http://www.russian-records.com/categories.php?cat_id=208

An early seven-inch recording manufactured by the International Zonophone Company in Berlin in November-December 1901 is shown on the left above. The ten-inch disc on the right was recorded at about the same time in Milan. Note the two different styles of label design, based on the recording location and the language.

The disc below was recorded by Franz Hampe in St. Petersburg in early 1902, issued originally as disc 22126 for the Gramophone & Typewriter, and later re-issued under the inexpensive Zonophone label. Note the new embossed catalog number 62177.

 

Zonophone introduced its Light-Blue label about the same time that Gramophone introduced its Red Label Celebrity series. By early 1903 Gramophone began to be affected by the competition, and on June 6 of that year acquired the International Zonophone Company and its assets, which included a large number of metal parts, i.e., stampers, the International Zonophone Company, with headquarters in Berlin, and the two "Universal" companies in America. The latter were sold off immediately to the Victor Talking Machine Company. The Berlin company was reorganized as a subsidiary of Gramophone’s sister company, Deutsche Grammophon Aktien-Gesellschaft. A subdivision was created in London under the name of the British Zonophone Company, under the directorship of Theodore Birnbaum, to handle domestic business.

Early light blue labels used by the International Zonophone Company before its sale to the Gramophone Company were distinctly darker in shade than those used by the Gramophone Company when it reissued many of the Zonophone recordings. These are usually found with original AICC reverses (see above), used before June 1903. Many of the labels used by the International Zonophone Company were short-lived, under both its own egis as well as that of the Gramophone Company. The following illustrations show other distinguishing differences.

Zonophone pressing

Gramophone pressing

Double-sided Zonophone discs were pressed from European recordings made in various countries. In fact, the roster of artists who recorded for Zonophone and included such names as Ackté, Affre, Agussol, Calvé, Cucini, Daddi, Farkoa, Labinsky, Tartakov, Vialtzeva, the great Pol Plançon, and the inimitable Enrico Caruso, rivaled that of the Gramophone Company and which led to the latter’s takeover. The Zonophone sides all had catalog numbers in the X-1 to X-499 series. When they were shipped to Brazil, they were usually coupled with a Brazilian recording, generally in the X-500 to X-1023 series. The European sides had labels in various colors with Zon-o-phone Schallplatte, РЕКОРДЪ ЗОНОФОНЪ (Record Zon-o-phone), Disco Zonofono, Zon-o-phone Record, and Disque Zon-o-phone, for recordings made in Germany, Russia, Italy and Spain, England, and France, respectively. The reverse sides generally had a Spanish recording with an orange label.

When the Gramophone Company took over the assets of the International Zonophone Company on June 6, 1903, it retained the dark green labels for recordings made from Zonophone parts, i.e., metal stampers. As early as 1911 these pressings were given Gramophone Company labels, but the dark green color was retained.

Paris, Jan-Feb 1903
Paris, 1905

The takeover was considered to be of such importance that Company General Manager Theodore Birnbaum himself took on the Managing Directorship of Zonophone with the task of capitalizing the Zonophone assets, making use of the stock of metal plates, shellac pressings and artists contracts, not to mention the services of the employees of the company and, as a priority, preparing a new revised and enlarged Record Catalogue, scheduled to appear in October, 1903.

Zonophone X-93001, Milan, October 1903

Following the takeover in June 1903, the Gramophone Company engineers began to make a series of recordings to be issued under the new green Zonophone label. Four short series of temporary matrix numbers were used as follows. Fred Gaisberg used matrix numbers 1001a to 1049a 1b to 67b for 7- and 10-inch recordings, respectively in 1904. Will used matrix numbers rad0100 to rad0232 and rad0500 to rad0597 in October 1903 into 1904. Darby used matrix number 1a to 120a and 1b to 219b, while Franz Hampe used 1h to 159h and 1zo to 360zo. These series were later abandoned following the introduction of the triple letter suffix system. The disc shown above was recorded by Will Gaisberg in Milan during October 1903. It bears the matrix number RAD0504, and is the fourth in a series of some 60 10-inch recordings made by Will Gaisberg in Milan to be issued under the newly acquired Zonophone label.

When the Zonophone name was discontinued in Italy after 1909, the green color was retained as a sign of a lower-priced Gramophone issue. The new label style first resembled that known to collectors as "pre-DOG,’ and then took the form of an ordinary Gramophone label, except that the color was green.

Zonophone Concert label
dark green

G&T Concert, pre-DOG label
dark green

In June 1903 numerous European and American companies were using the Zonophone name in one way or another. Many legal obligations among them were involved. Several contracts had been made by the International Zonophone Company of Berlin, several of which involved recordings to be made in certain areas, e.g., Rumania. In addition to ensuring that these contracts were consummated, Gramophone’s initial reaction was to continue to issue records from Zonophone stampers with Zonophone labels in the manner done before the takeover. These were issued largely with green Zonophone labels of appropriate designation, according to the country of origin. Thus, many Zonophone recordings from the metal parts sent to Hanover from Berlin continued to appear under the old Zonophone label. There were however some slight differences observable in font types and sizes, as well as in color shades.

Among the assets in Berlin were some 4,771 7-inch stampers and 2,635 10-inch stampers, a rather remarkable legacy from a company that had only been in existence for almost exactly two years! Among the latter were the Caruso recordings of 19 April 1903, which were transferred to the Hanover pressing plant, where they continued to be issued with more or less original light blue Disco Zonofono labels as late as November 1907. Inquiries made by the London office indicated that some 1105 pressings of the seven Caruso stampers had been made since January 1, 1906. This further indicated that some 6382 records had been manufactured between the recording date of 19 April 1903 and the end of 1905. At this time the Hanover plant was instructed to stop pressing Caruso records. Of the 7 recordings, only some 7,487 total copies were issued. The highest known catalog number for seven-inch Zonophone disc before its takeover by the Gramophone Company in June 1903 was 13097, while that for ten-inch discs was X-2635. Any discs with Zonophone labels bearing higher numbers in each series were recorded and issued by the Gramophone Company.

In this regard it may be noted that Caruso had made three recordings on cylinders under the auspices of Pathé Frères, for whom the Anglo-Italian Commerce Company was the agent. While some authorities believe that these recordings were probably made in October 1903, it should be noted further that Gramophone and Typewriter had acquired the International Zonophone Company, together with all of its assets, in June of that year. It is now generally believed that the arrangements between A.I.C.C. and the two recording companies ran more or less concurrently. In other words, the Caruso recordings for Pathé Frères were probably made at the same time as the Zonophone recordings of April 1903. (see Girard and Barnes)

A website (URL: http://www.truesoundtransfers.de/Titellisten/TT2117.htm) lists the three Caruso cylinders as having been recorded in April 1903, the same month in which he made the Zonophone recordings. I am inclined to agree with this earlier date.

It was at about this time that the confusion arose among the various recording engineers, as well as that occasioned by two sets of metal parts now stored at the Hanover plant. This made it necessary to develop a better system of identifying the sequence, size, and maker of the recording. The first system, which most discographers agree was devised most likely by William Conrad Gaisberg, involved the triplet letter suffix system discussed above. The second was to assign new series to the old Zonophone recordings for both matrix and catalog numbers. The former were discontinued in late 1904, and reverted to those used by the Gramophone Company. The new catalog numbers remained in use for several more years. These are outlined in various works of Alan Kelly.

In addition to their color, Gramophone Company pressings from Zonophone stampers are further distinguished by the catalog numbers. Two new series were required, on for issues of discs processed from original Zonophone stampers, and another for new recordings to be assigned the less expensive Zonophone numbers and labels. For the first series a 2 was added before each number, without a hyphen, regardless of the country series. Twelve-inch recordings were prefixed with 02. When further series were required, they were indicated in the usual manner, thus, 2-222000 in the Russian series, 2-252000 in the Italian series, and so forth. The old numbering system continued in use for a short time, with the prefix "X-" (used to indicate a ten-inch Zonophone label) changing to "V*" (to indicate a Gramophone label), but was then replaced by a modified Gramophone catalog number containing the extra digits (see Alan Kelly)

For the newer less expensive issues, the ten series of catalog numbers used for G&T issues according to the country or region of origin were replaced with a new series for Zonophone recordings. The 1, 10000, 20000, 30000, 40000, 50000, 60000, 70000, 80000, and 90000 series were replaced with 40000, 100000, 60000, 80000, 20000, 90000, 50000, 10000, 70000, and 30000 series, respectively. The G&T matrix number system was retained for both series, as were those made by G&T engineers in both instances. The new Zonophone series retained the numbering system for the record content, e.g., band, talking, solo male, and so forth.

X-1554

X-612
Zonophone X-1555

Zonophone X-673

The two pairs of labels shown above are from several double-side Zonophone recordings of Caruso known to exist. The Caruso sides were recorded in Milan, probably on April 19, 1903, while the opposite sides were probably recorded in Rio de Janeiro in February-April 1902, according to Zwarg. The Caruso double-sided Zonophone records are not unique, as a perusal of Bayly and Kinnear’s Zonophone discography will reveal that quite a few recordings were issued on double-sided discs. Communication with several collectors has revealed pairings of X-1553 and X-1554 with X-612 (the latter seen below), as well as X-1555 with X-673 (see below) and X-1556 with X-1051.

Early light blue labels used by the International Zonophone Company before its sale to the Gramophone Company were distinctly darker in shade than those used by the Gramophone Company when it reissued many of the Zonophone recordings. These are usually found with original AICC reverses (see above), used before June 1903. Many of the labels used by the International Zonophone Company were short-lived, under both its own egis as well as that of the Gramophone Company. The following illustrations show other distinguishing differences.

November-December 1901, Milan
February-April 1902, Rio de Janeiro


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Howard Friedman

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