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

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Label Positions

The term label position refers to the relationship between the label and the record surface. The first paper labels used by the Gramophone Company were applied flush to the record surface. A significant feature of this position, one of considerable importance, is that it generally allows one to see the recording engineer’s information engraved in the central area of the recording tablet, impressed through the label. Its major disadvantage is that both the label itself and possibly the recorded area may be damaged by records rubbing against one another. To correct this, Eldridge Johnson devised a modified method affixing labels, for which he applied for a patent on September 22, 1903, although it seems to have been used at least a year earlier. This method provided a plateau for the label raised about 1/64 to 1/32 of an inch above the record surface, which more or less eliminated the rubbing of the recorded area by records being stacked one on another. The simplest way of providing this plateau was to place a round metal disc about 1/64 to 1/32 of an inch thick with a diameter just slightly larger than that of the label in use at the time in the center of the finished wax recording. As this would have obliterated any data inscribed in the central area, the matrix number was now entered in the runoff area of the finished recording, usually close to the edge of the recorded grooves.

This change appears to have occurred between April and August 1902, as this method was in place by the latter date. A first stamper pressing of Maurice Renaud’s recording on G.C.-2-2713, matrix 2112 nB, issued in July/August 1902 shows a raised label. Several stamper II pressings from Pol Plançon’s issues in May 1902 also show raised labels. Examination of seven stamper II pressings from Caruso’s first recording session reveals that all have raised labels, and that all of the engraved data seen on first stamper pressings with flush labels has been completely obliterated. Since all of the first stamper pressings show engraving outside the label itself, none of which is apparent on stamper II pressings, and in light of what we consider to have been the manufacturing process at that time, one cannot be certain as to the mechanism used to achieve these results. One can only say that the area which was obliterated was considerably larger than that of the label itself. The period during which the raised label was used did not extend much beyond February 19, 1903, although three of Caruso’s 1902 recordings with CO. markings have raised labels.

phantom original matrix number
embossed matrix number

The record above, G.C.-52376, was recorded by the Italian tenor Carlo Caffetto in March 1902. It is a first stamper pressing issued with a raised label. The original inscribed matrix number 1686 can be seen faintly on the left in the runout area, while a second embossed matrix number, complete with Fred Gaisberg’s G, was entered at 6 o’clock. This disc shows a rather early use of the raised label, since it was followed by the Caruso recordings of April 1902, of which all first stamper pressings were issued with flush labels. Moreover, it was assigned a catalog number just before the last one assigned to Caruso.

This must be compared with a second Caffetto recording, G.C.-52340, with a flush label and the matrix number 1651 clearly visible under the label. This was recorded after the Oxilia recording described below, and before the later Caffetto recording. All three of these records are first stamper pressings, and therefore appear to have been processed and issued at times other than near their recording dates.

Unfortunately, this method did not reduce the wear on the labels themselves. A further modification introduced a slightly raised ring surrounding the label, which was still flush with the record surface within the ring. This change occurred some time after February 19, 1903, since several instances of pressings from the same stamper during this period have been observed with both raised labels and flush labels within a ring. This change prevented wear and abrasion of both the label and the recorded area. In most instances the engineer’s markings can still be seen impressed through the label. However, a first stamper pressing of G.C.-52332, with matrix number 1630 and recorded earlier in March 1902 than the Caffetto disc described above, shows no matrix number. The label appears to be flush within a slightly raised ring that is not as deep as others seen. Nevertheless, no markings of any kind can be seen impressed through the label, nor in the runout area other than the catalog number. It would appear therefore that at the time of the recording the matrix number was inscribed in the central area, and was somehow removed before the issued record was pressed.

Stamper I
stamper IIII
Stamper V, Riga

Pressings from six different stamper of matrix 1790, Caruso’s first recording of E lucevan le stelle made in April 1902 show interesting variations in the labels and in the visible information. The figure on the left above shows the matrix number 1790, Fred Gaisberg’s G, and the name Caruoso or Carouso under the flush label, including the so outside the label. Stamper II pressings show no information other than the catalog number at mid-12 o’clock and the matrix number 1790 midway at 6 o’clock, both embossed. The stamper IIII pressing has a raised label, and while it shows the catalog number, there is no matrix number. Nevertheless the so can be seen outside the label.

The stamper V pressing shown above has a raised label made in Riga, but still shows the so outside the label. The CO. marking at 3 o’clock would indicate that the stamper was produced between February 19, 1903 and July 29, 1905

stamper VI
Hanover Stamper VII
Hanover stamper VIII, Riga

All of the original data in the central area can be seen impressed through the ringed flush label on stamper VI, as well as a CO. marking and a newly embossed matrix number in a different position from that seen on earlier stampers. The stamper VII pressing shows all of the original information through a ringed flush label, although the so cannot be seen. In addition a new feature seems to have been added, or at least was begun to be added, as one can see the beginning of Ca under the original Caruoso. The stamper VIII pressing from Riga with a flush label within a raised ring shows all of the engraving seen on the stamper I pressing, while a stamper VIII pressing from Hanover was issued with a sunken label and shows no data under the label. This implies that the Riga plant received a metal part from which still retained all of the information engraved in the center of the recording tablet. The Russian stamper V pressing shows a CO. marking, indicating that the metal part had been made, probably at Hanover, after February 19, 1903. (Author’s note: the Russian labels of this period were notoriously poor.)

The Oxilia record shown below, matrix number 1630, although recorded before the Caffetto disc described above, matrix number 1651, is a first stamper pressing with a flush label within a raised ring. It was probably manufactured after July 29, 1905, at which time the original stamper was still capable of producing satisfactory pressings. No information is visible through the label, and there is no matrix number.

Recorded in Milan in March 1902

The rather unusual label below was recorded in St. Petersburg in January 1904, and is flush within a raised ring. The negative image shows quite clearly the impression of the handwritten matrix number 1772 L incused across the name Olimpia in the lower half of the label, preceded by the recording engineer Franz Hampe’s H. The raised catalog number 53348 III appears clearly across the top of the trademark, while the CO. marking appears just under the label at 9 o’clock. A second matrix number can be seen completely within the ring just under the label at 6 o’clock. To the right of and above the printed catalog number appear to be markings by technicians at the Hanover plant. It is quite characteristic of Boronat’s first G&T recordings, that she recorded essentially right up to the edge of the label. Hence some of Franz Hampe’s markings are often seen at the very edge of the runoff area, as shown below.

The disc shown below was processed in Russia, and bears the company designation in Russian. It reveals the re-embossed catalog number and stamper indicator 53348 GO 8, indicating the fifteenth stamper, at the very top of the label, which is now sunk below the record surface. The original matrix number can be seen just below the label at 6 o’clock. A final change occurred after July 1905, when the label was sunk below the record surface, which obscured any inscriptions that had been made in the central area. The reason for this last change is not clear, since the previous position had protected both the label and the recorded area. A possible explanation is that the company desired to hide any information of that nature from the public. Flush labels have been seen on issues of 1910, and even of 1917, these being Gramophone Company pressings from imported Victor Talking Machine Company metal parts., which still retained such information as the artist(s) and the matrix number in the central area. In both instances the recordist’s data may be seen impressed through the label.

     


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

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