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

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Preface and Acknowledgments

The seminal inspiration for this paper is the work of Michael W. Sherman, who, in collaboration with William Moran and Kurt Nauck, has presented the evolution and development of the labels used by the Victor Talking Machine Company and its successors. It was felt that a similar effort should be given to the introduction and evolution of record labels used by the Gramophone Company of London, its sister companies and its successors during the acoustical recording era. This document will attempt to place those labels that have been seen, either directly or indirectly, in some sort of chronological order, and to show the variations in colors, sizes, and other aspects, together with the reasons for and, where ascertainable, the times of these variations.

To my knowledge there has never been a book or other document devoted to the evolution and chronology of the labels used by the Gramophone Company, its sister companies, and successors. It has come to my attention that at one time there was in the EMI Archives a book which contained all of the labels actually used, as well as those designed for use, by the Gramophone Company. This book has since been moved to EMI Headquarters, and is no longer available for viewing. This paper will perforce deal with such labels as have been seen or made available to me during the course of this research.

Many of the images shown throughout this paper have been copied from records placed for sale or auction on various Internet sites. As such, they do not always appear in pristine condition. Many others are from my own collection. Still others have been borrowed liberally from various publications, with my grateful thanks and apologies to any authors who take exception, and in the hope that their further dissemination will stimulate further interest of current and potential collectors and devotees.

I am sincerely grateful for the many items of information relative to the labels, methods, institutions, and historical information described in this paper. The donors, collectors, and dealers throughout the world are too numerous to mention, although I have tried to give credit to the major contributors throughout the following sections. Among the many dealers from whom I have borrowed images of labels, as well as being the recipient of their knowledge, are Sergio Alfonsi, Carlos M. Ballester, Omar Facelli, Raymond Glaspole, Lawrence Holdridge, Rainer Lotz, Kurt Nauck, Rudi Sazunic, and Andreas Schmauder. As with many papers of this nature, the contributions from the publications listed in the Bibliography, particularly those in The Record Collector and The Hillandale News, have contributed numerous tidbits of information. Of particular value are the publications and other materials afforded to me by Alan Kelly, who has devoted over fifty years to the discography of over 200,000 recordings made by the Gramophone Company. I hope that I have given due credit throughout this paper to his efforts, as well as to those of other contributors. Any omissions are purely unintentional.


The evolution and chronology of labels used by the Gramophone Company during the acoustical recording era appear at first to be extremely complex. These labels did not evolve in the same manner as those used by the Victor Talking Machine Company. Moreover, the designs and printing of the Victor labels were more centrally controlled than those of the Gramophone Company, which printed their labels in the various cities and locations of some six or more major manufacturing plants located throughout Europe and the Far East. In contrast to their Victor counterparts Gramophone Company labels did not progress through any orderly series of more or less distinct designs, from the Consolidated to the Colored Trademark.

The various Berliner companies in America (see below) were making flat disc recordings almost ten years before the Victor Talking Machine Company made its first recordings in January 1900. The recording engineers responsible for making these records had been trained by Emile Berliner himself, and were the same ones who went to London in July 1898 and later. They were responsible for setting up the recording studios in London, Hanover, and elsewhere in Europe, and for developing and refining the recording methods first established by Emile Berliner. They included, among others, Frederick William Gaisberg, his brother William Conrad Gaisberg, William Sinkler Darby, and Belford Royal. Nor should one forget that Emile Berliner had sent his nephew Joseph Sanders, whom he had trained in the arts of processing completed recordings on wax-coated zinc plates for the manufactured of issued records. The Hanover plant was manufacturing finished records for sale from shells imported from various Berliner companies in the United States and Canada as early as April 1898. Even the London recordings predated those made by Victor by more than seventeen months.

Gramophone Company records during the acoustical era fall into three major categories. The earliest are the so-called pre-label E. Berliner’s Gramophone, generally known as Berliners (August 8, 1898 to as late as December 1905). These discs are a nominal 7 inches in diameter, with no paper labels, but having the necessary details of the recording inscribed in the central area by the recording engineer, his assistant, various technicians at the processing plant, or a combination of these. For a short time after June 1901, Berliners were also issued without labels on 10-inch discs.

The second group have paper labels bearing the Recording Angel trademark (see below under The Recording Angel Trademark), and include both 10-inch and twelve-inch discs known as G&Ts (December 10, 1900 to November 18, 1907) and GCLs or pre-DOGs (November 19, 1907 to February 1909), respectively. The third group carries the "His Master’s Voice" or DOG trademark, first known as HMV Concerts or DOG Concerts for 10-inch discs and HMV Monarch or DOG Monarch for 12-inch discs, respectively, from February 1909 to August 1910, and later as HMV’s from August 1910 to the end of the acoustical era, about April 1925. These can be subdivided further according to various properties described below under "His Master’s Voice" Trademark. Even within these parameters, numerous variations and exceptions exist.

One must also consider the labels used by the sister companies, as well as those of various successors. The former include the International Zonophone Company of Berlin, following its purchase by the Gramophone Company in June 1903. An offshoot of this purchase resulted in the formation of the British Zonophone Company in 1909. We have included also labels used by the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, the company formed by the German government following the outbreak of World War I and the subsequent seizure of all assets of the Deutsche Grammophon Aktien-Gesellschaft, viz., Stock Company, which was the German branch of the Gramophone Company. These labels also extend to those used by the Opera Disc Company of New York, which acquired numerous Gramophone Company metal parts by purchase after the end of World War I.

Historical Background

Emile Berliner (the founder of the feast!) began working on the development of a recording machine in Washington D.C. after having seen the Graphophone unveiled by Tainter and Bell in 1886. He showed an early device to the patent attorney Joseph Lyons by April 1887, which recorded a lateral pattern on lamp-blacked paper wrapped on a cylinder, similar to the phonautograph of Leon Scott, but with an oil mixed with lampblack applied to the surface to make a fatty ink better able to be engraved with a cutting stylus, then producing a stereotyped copy engraved into metal by a photoengraving process, and played back on another device with a stylus following the lateral grooves and making a diaphragm vibrate.

By December 1888 Berliner had improved his device sufficiently to begin making plans for sale to the public. By July 1889 he was using hard vulcanized rubber rather than celluloid for his disc copies. He departed on a trip in August 1889, and gave a demonstration of his device on November 26, 1889 at the Electro-Technical Society in Berlin. The first pressing of 25,000 single-sided 5-inch Berliner discs was made in Europe in late 1889, but "the sound quality was so dubious that a small rectangular paper label imprinted with the actual words was glued to the back." (Koenigsberg 1990 p. lvi)

According to Raymond Wile, "It was in Germany that the first commercial beginnings of the gramophone occurred - presumably in July 1890. The toy makers Kammer and Reinhardt in Waltershausen (Thuringia) began to market small hand-propelled gramophones and a talking-doll….For an additional price, zinc discs also were available. The records were produced by two companies, one known solely by the initials GFKC, the other was the Rhenische Gummi und Celluloid Fabrik Werkes of Necharan, Mannheim. The machines and records also were imported into England, notably by J. Lewis Young, but were available for only a few years in both countries" (Wile 1990 p. 16). Berliner's efforts led to the establishment of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (DGG, later to become Polygram).

In 1891 Berliner paid a New York clock maker to produce a spring mechanism to power his gramophone, and on April 23, 1891 he created the short-lived American Gramophone Company. In 1892 he organized the United States Gramophone Company in Washington, D.C., marking the beginning of the record industry that would spread around the world. All of Berliner’s patents were assigned to that company, and thus became corporate, rather than individual assets. In April 1893 Berliner transferred all patents to a new company, the United States Gramophone Company at 1205 G Street NW in Washington D.C., and hired Fred Gaisberg to record talented singers and other artists.

In 1894 Berliner opened a factory and showroom at 109 North Charles Street in Baltimore. The flat record size was standardized at 7 inches, and 2 gramophone models were produced with electric motors in addition to the hand-cranked model. By the fall of 1894, Berliner published his first list of gramophone discs for sale, at 60 cents each, 6.875-inch diameter (after 1895 7-inch), 2 minutes in duration, made of celluloid (after 1895 in hard vulcanized rubber), one-sided, with name and date stamped in the center (paper labels after 1900.)

On February 19, 1895 Berliner received patent 534,543, filed March 30, 1892. He signed an agreement with William C. Jones who organized the new Berliner Gramophone Company of Philadelphia, chartered October 8, 1895, and in 1896 sold a territorial license to Frank Seaman who formed the National Gramophone Company of New York on October 19, 1896 to expand the sales and production of gramophones and records to sell records and machines in New York and New Jersey. "Berliner's best year for record sales was 1898 when he sold, mainly through Frank Seaman's National Gramophone Co., 713,753 discs" (Koenigsberg, 1990, p. xxxvii). Other licenses were sold to the New England Gramophone Company and to the Berliner Gramophone Company in Great Britain, founded by William Barry Owen in 1897.

Having obtained various patents in Germany and England in 1887 and in Italy, France, Belgium and Austria in 1889, Berliner sent William Barry Owen, the Sales Director of the National Gramophone Company, as his agent to London in July 1897, where in May 1898 and together with Trevor Williams, a barrister, Owen organized financial backing for and became the first Managing Director of what was originally known as the Berliner Gramophone Company, which had exclusive rights (from Berliner!) to sell gramophone instruments and records in Europe. Trevor Williams became the first Chairman of the newly established company. The Berliner name was shortly dropped from the company name, which became the Gramophone Company of London.

Berliner also sent his nephew Joseph Sanders and Frederick Gaisberg, both of whom he had trained in the art of making and reproducing recordings on flat discs. They embarked for London on July 30, 1898. Gaisberg stayed in London to organize the recording studio, established at 31 Maiden Lane, The Strand, London, and assembled from instruments provided by Eldridge Reeves Johnson (see below). Joseph Sanders went on to Hanover, Germany where Emile’s brother Joseph operated the Telefon Fabrik, a telephone factory. This was converted to the world's first shellac record production line, as the German branch of the Gramophone Company in Berlin, from which sub-branches were formed in Russia and Austria. Shortly afterwards mass production began, and all finished plates recorded from August 8, 1898 were processed there until the completion of the pressing plant in Riga in 1902. From that time forward all recording locations within the Russian empire shipped their finished plates to Riga. Finished plates were shipped from the recording locations to the various manufacturing plants as these became available. Before any other processing plant was available, labels for use at the Hanover plant might be in any of several languages, e.g., English, Italian, Russian, and so forth.

On December 6, 1898 Owen established the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft at Kniestraße in Hanover, Germany. In the beginning there were four presses which had been imported from the United States. The pressing material was supplied by Duranoid Company of Newark, and consisted of shellac, barytes, slate dust and cow hair. It was to be several years before the cow hair could he replaced by cotton flock. At first the masters also came from the United States, but soon they also came from England where Berliner had helped to found the Gramophone Company, whose purpose was to supply the whole European market with recordings, as well as to make use of his various patents. The first masters brought from the United States were zinc discs, and they appear to have been rather delicate; we are told that damaged matrices could be repaired with an engraving tool. However it soon became possible to make galvanic impressions from the original recordings by mounting the zinc discs on rubber plates and brushing them with powdered graphite, after which copper masters could be produced in a galvanic bath.

In 1898 the Berliner brothers installed ten record presses in Joseph Berliner’s telephone factory in their native Hanover, Germany. Arrangements were soon under way to have records pressed in Hanover from Berliner matrices either made by the Gramophone Company of London or imported from the United States. The first records were pressed in June 1898. In 1899 the Hanover plant had fourteen hydraulic presses together with six or more electrolytic baths for preparing the original stampers, and by October 1899 the plant was providing London with 5,000 records per day. In February 1901, the plant had 40 presses capable of producing some 14,000 7-inch discs per day, an average of 350 finished records from each press. In October 1901 the plant manufactured 24,256 ten-inch discs, about 800 per day, using the new ten-inch presses recently acquired from the Victor Talking Machine Company. Just over a year later this output had risen to about 2,000 discs per day. Due to the necessary differences in the equipment for manufacturing 7- and 10-inch (and later 12-inch) discs, one can only conjecture how many of the forty or more presses were devoted to each size. One can estimate that one operator running a single press with a single stamper or "shell" could turn out between 350 and 500 finished records per day, depending on several factors, including the durability of the stamper. By the beginning of 1904, some 25,000 discs were produced each day. The Hanover factory now had no fewer than 200 presses and during the Christmas weeks of 1907 the daily production was 36,000 discs. In the following year the total production reached 6.2 million discs, the highest figure before World War I.

During the first foreign or Six Cities tour between May and August 1899, sales branches were established in Leipzig, Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Paris, and Madrid (that is, in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, and Spain). The Compagnie Française du Gramophone was established in Paris in 1899. On January 1, 1900 Deutsche Grammophon became a joint-stock company, i.e. Aktien-Gesellschaft (DGA) with 60% of shares belonging to the Gramophone Company in London, and the trademark "His Master's Voice" was registered in the United States Patent Office under Registration 34,890, July 10, 1900, under Emil Berliner's name. In 1904 Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft moved to its new facilities at Celler Chaussee (now called Podbielskistraße.)

In December 1900 Owen acquired the Lambert typewriter manufactory for $20,000, and shortly thereafter changed the name of the company to the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. Soon after this he introduced an electric clock. Both of these enterprises failed; fortunately, he did not change the company’s name again. By the end of 1904, Owen had sold his interest, resigned his directorship in the company, and retired to the United States to raise chickens in the town of Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard, his family’s ancestral home. His departure ended the company’s infancy and childhood, and it now entered adolescence.

A letter on official Head Office stationery dated November 25, 1904 (see below) lists Sales Branches in London, Berlin, Hanover, Paris, (May 1899), Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm (1903), Copenhagen (1904), Milan, Barcelona, Lisbon, Sydney, Calcutta, and Cape Town. Later branches would be established in Alexandria, Bombay, Budapest, and Warsaw. Offices were opened in Japan and China in 1902 and 1903, respectively. In 1905, daily production at the Deutsche Grammophon record plant in Hanover was already 21,000, equivalent to a yearly capacity of 7-8 million records, while the plant in Riga managed to produce 12,000 records per day. Gramophone’s total production in 1905 was estimated at 21 million units.

Head Office letterhead, 1904

By the end of 1906 it was apparent that the Hanover factory could not handle the increasing volume of recordings that were being shipped to it from all over the Continent. A new factory was therefore proposed to be built at Hayes in Middlesex, England. Ground was broken on February 9, 1907, and the new factory was completed by June 1908. By November of that year it was turning out 165,000 records monthly. (Author’s note: This figure indicates about 5,500 records per day with perhaps ten or twelve presses, and can be compared to the Hanover plant’s production of 14,000 7-inch discs per day using 40 presses as early as February 1901.)

The global Gramophone Company conglomerate in 1910.
Click for enlarged image

By the summer of 1912 The Gramophone Company had factories operating in Austria (Aussig), England (Hayes), France (Ivry), Germany (Hanover), India (Sealdah), Poland (Warsaw), Russia (Riga), and Spain (Barcelona). Distributors were located in Australia, Ceylon, East Prussia, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, Persian Gulf, South Africa, and Tasmania (from the EMI website).

The Recording Engineers

The first recording engineer was Frederick William Gaisberg, a native of Washington, D.C. Having worked for the Columbia Phonograph Company where he became proficient in recording on wax cylinders, he visited the Berliner laboratory, and was hired almost immediately and trained in the art of making gramophone recordings by Emile Berliner. In July 1898 he went to England and became the first, and at that time, the only recording engineer for the newly formed Gramophone Company of London. He was soon joined by William Sinkler Darby and Belford Royal, both trained by Berliner, and later by his brother William Conrad Gaisberg. These four engineers were responsible for some 21,000 recordings on 7-inch tablets, 49,500 on 10-inch tablets, and 12,500 12-inch recordings, a total of over 83,000 recordings. Belford Royal made many recordings, usually in association with Will Gaisberg, and his suffix R is found frequently on these discs.

Between August 8, 1898 and the spring of 1900, a total of just over 7,600 recordings were made on 7-inch wax-coated zinc plates, better known as "zincs." They can be classified as follows.

Series Dates Location Engineer Number
"original" 8 Aug 1898 - 31 Oct 1898 London FWG 406
"unlettered" 1 Nov 1898 - Jun 1900 London FWG 2089
No matrix 30 Mar 1899 - 25 Apr 1899 St. Petersburg 1st WSD 245
Suffix-A Dec 1899 - Dec 1900 St. Petersburg 2nd WSD 2449
Six Cities 17 May 1899 - 10 Aug 1899   FWG and WSD 1433
British 5 Sep 1899 - 11 Jun 1900   FWG 1041

All subsequent recordings during the acoustical era were made on all-wax tablets. The early itineraries are as follows.

Fred Gaisberg
(with George Dillnutt)

1 May 1900 – Sep 1906




8 Apr 1901 – 3 Jul 1919




Feb 1902 – Jul 1919




Far East Tour

Nov 1902 – Jun 1903

&" and 10"



Suffix d/e/f series

Oct 1903 – 26 Nov 1908

All sizes



Suffix g/h/i/ (B/x/y/

1901 – Sep 1909

All sizes




Of the next four recording engineers, Franz and Max Hampe supervised some 36,000 recordings, largely in Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and Eastern Europe, while Cleveland Walcutt and Charles Scheuplein were responsible for over 14,000 recordings, mainly in France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Further details of these and additional recording engineers and their recording sessions in various locations may be found in detail in Alan Kelly’s catalogues.

Manufacturing Methods

Following the successful invention of a machine for recording sound on flat discs and of another machine to replay these discs, numerous rival companies arose in both the United States and Europe, ready to compete with the Berliner companies. The competition was not only fierce ─ it was cutthroat, to the extent that even the patents applied for and received by the various participants barely indicated the actual composition of the materials used, nor their size, shape, dimensions, or other qualities, conditions, and specifications that might be useful to other interested parties. In other words, corporate espionage was rampant in this budding and rapidly expanding industry! Moreover, certain unscrupulous individuals who had been employed in Berliner’s laboratory and made privy to various trade secrets later applied for patents based on various aspects of his methods! Much of what we know today of the methods and materials used more than a century ago has been derived by inductive reasoning from two major sources, viz., the metal parts and machines that have survived and the records themselves. Much of the information presented here and in other related documents is derived from the direct examination of these surviving items. Another important source of information is the surviving correspondence between officers and employees of the Gramophone Company’s Head Office and those in the various sales offices and manufacturing plants and branches throughout Europe, Africa, and the Far East.

Over the half century or more during which 78rpm discs were recorded both acoustically and electrically, numerous changes were made in both the various steps of record production as well as in the materials and machinery used. These will be presented in more detail in the following paragraphs. As an early example, in a manuscript dated November 21, 1897, Berliner described the making of a matrix, viz,

The zinc record is mounted on a tablet of hard rubber with a thin sheet of gutta percha with moderate heat and pressure. Connection by wire having been made previously the zinc is cleaned with strong alcohol, lye and whiting [a mixture of 85-90% fine calcium carbonate and boiled linseed oil], carefully rinsed and brushed with soft brush. It is then suspended for 10-15 seconds in a moderately strong cyanide of potash in water solution and a current of about amperes using the zinc record as anode and a piece of carbon as cathode. It is then put into a bath prepared as follows.

Cyanide of copper bath

Dissolve 8oz. of best cyanide of potash per gallon of water. To a saturated solution of sulphate of copper add enough concentrated ammonia to barely re-dissolve the ammoniaret of copper. Add enough of this copper mixture to the cyanide solution - - stirring constantly - - until a light amethyst color is obtained. Add this to either cyanide of silver or gold or both just enough to enoble the solution or more at pleasure.

Into this bath immerse the zinc disc after use of soft brush using a carbon hard retort and silver anode and a current of about amperes. Leave 5 minutes, brush with whiting and nickel in ordinary nickelbath using at least 5 volts tension. Leave in nickelbath about 5 minutes. Take out, brush strongly with whiting, screw around disc a hard rubber flat ring and put in sulphate of copper depositing tank (current on) of about 18º density.

Deposit from 5 to 7 days (and nights) using about 4 amperes and about ¾ volt per tank with constant agitating device.

When thick enough detach, turn off edge and back to standard size and etch zinc off from the copper deposit, then nickel in ordinary manner.

The cyanide copper bath after being freshly made contains free ammonia which should be nearly gotten out by continued stirring.

(The above was published previously in The Hillandale News, Vol. 138, page 36, June 1984, and affirms that the initial copper shell was reinforced further with a layer of nickel.)

Between August 8, 1898 and May 1900 all Gramophone Company recordings were made on 7-inch wax-coated zinc plates. During that period Frederick William Gaisberg and William Sinkler Darby were the only recording engineers known to be employed by the Gramophone and Typewriter and, although not always mentioned, each appears to have had an assistant who was responsible for "keeping the record straight," that is, entering the correct information for each recording into the Weekly Return (see below under Recording Locations), which included the title of the selection, the artist’s name, the recording location, and usually the recording date. He was probably responsible also for entering the same information in the central area of the finished recording, together with the daily matrix or serial number and the catalog number, although sometimes this was done by the engineer.

Before being shipped to Hanover, Germany, the finished recordings were "fixed" by etching them in an acid solution of sodium dichromate, and then dipping them in an organic solvent to remove the remaining wax. Some sources say that the backs of the finished plates were coated with varnish before "fixing," but this appears to have been unnecessary, since the dichromate wash generally took less than fifteen minutes. At the processing plant the zinc plates were subjected to electrolysis, also called electroplating, electrodeposition, and galvanization, by which a film of metal, usually from a copper and later a nickel anode, was deposited onto the original master recording, which served as the cathode, to produce a negative mirror image, much as described in Berliner’s manuscript of 1897 cited above. This metal film, of proper thickness, usually about 1/16 inch, and backed with further metal as necessary, was the "shell," a negative image of the original recording. In most instances it was the sole copy of the original, which could be subjected to repeated electrolysis to provide additional shells as these wore out. The shell was used to press positive finished records until it wore out. The original recording might then be used again to produce a secondary shell, from which additional finished records could be stamped. When the original recording itself was no longer useful, and if additional issued records were required by dealers, the artist was often asked to return to the studio and re-record the selection. This practice was done frequently in the United States.

From Alan Kelly’s Holland Catalogue:

"The techniques of record making also changed. To make a record on a zinc plate the expert had to clean the plate and then coat it with beeswax. Before use, he had to warm it and moisten it with alcohol to provide the cutting stylus with as free a run as possible. The stylus was affixed to a diaphragm that vibrated in sympathy with the sound waves of the song and music, sung or played into the large mouth of a horn. After recording, he had to develop the plate by placing it in a bath containing a chromic acid solution for about ten minutes, and then wash and dry it before it was in a suitably safe state to be crated for dispatch to Hanover. Such discs could be played back immediately.

The new wax blanks still had to be warmed but they arrived from the factory almost ready for use. (One may assume that the blank wax recording tablets were prepared at the Hanover plant, and shipped to the location of the recording engineer.) The composition of the wax varied according to the recording location and the time of year ─ softer wax would be required in winter in Finland and harder wax in summer in India. The processing however was by electroplating and this was done at Hanover so that the expert was no longer troubled by complaints from hotelkeepers and their guests about the injurious effects of leaking acids. Although the recorded surface of the wax matrix was fragile and could easily be damaged by even slight contact, the blank itself was over an inch thick and with properly designed packing was well able to survive the rigors of rail and sea travel. Most of them did, though a few arrived cracked and unusable."

Following the expiration of Bell and Tainter’s patent rights for all-wax recording on May 1, 1900, the Gramophone Company introduced the all-wax recording tablet in June 1900. Finished recordings were sent to the processing plant with the matrix/serial number, the selection, the artist’s name, the recording location, and the recording date inscribed on them, but without the Berliner logo or the Recording Angel trademark. At the processing plant, the associated information from the Weekly Return was entered into the appropriate Register, and each wax tablet was coated with fine graphite to allow it to conduct electricity. It was then subjected to electrolysis as described above. The "shell" so obtained was then used to provide "a carefully pressed black shellac record," containing only the recording and the serial number, as an exact duplicate of the original wax recording tablet, which was usually distorted or destroyed during the electrolytic process. There is some evidence that a "second shell" was occasionally obtained from the wax tablet, but in most cases the latter was rendered unusable. The wax recording tablets were about one inch thick, but the surface was still subject to distortion when the metal shell was separated from it.

The black shellac record, which is equivalent to Alan Kelly’s "COpy matrix," was treated in the same manner as the original wax tablet, to produce the first stamper. It was also in effect the equivalent of Eldridge Johnson’s "mother" part, except that it was shellac rather than metal. The Berliner logo and the Recording Angel trademark were now embossed on the stamper together with the assigned catalog number; the stamper was then ready to be used to press finished and issued records.

In his brief summation of the history of the Berliner companies in North America, Michael Sherman makes the following comment in reference to the need for additional "takes" being made for popular selections. Thus,

"In addition, pressings were occasionally made on a special thick, hard rubber blank which enabled the creation of a new stamper. Complaints about the ‘groove spread’ on the pressings curtailed this process, though it is believed that the small ‘2’ sometimes found on Berliners indicated the use of this technique."

This provides further confirmation that the various Berliner Gramophone companies in North America were using a form of Copy matrix system to produce secondary stampers as early as 1895.

Each zinc plate was just under 7 inches (some 17.7 cm.) in diameter and about 0.0196 inch (0.5 millimeter) in thickness, and weighed just under four ounces, approximately one-quarter pound. To travel with 500 or more of these plates, as was usually the case, would add some 125 pounds of baggage, and occupy less than one-half of a cubic foot of space, roughly 7x7x10 cubic inches! They appear to have been packed into wooden crates holding 50 plates each. To prepare the discs for use, they would have to be brushed with a solution of suitable wax compounds in alcohol and allowed to dry. In his patent U.S. No. 382,790, dated May 15, 1888, Emile Berliner states that, "a plate or cylinder so prepared may be preserved indefinitely, and is at all times in good condition to received the phonautographic record." This would require additional baggage in the form of such a solution, as well as the highly corrosive solution of sodium bichromate in a sulfuric acid solution, necessary for the initial etching of each plate following the completed recording. Additional pure alcohol would also be required to remove the excess wax during the recording process as well as from the finished and etched recording plate.

The need for the two latter items was eliminated with the introduction of the all-wax recording tablet, reputedly by Eldridge Reeves Johnson, president and founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey. These were approximately one inch in thickness and about twelve inches in diameter, each weighing about 26 ounces, or a little over one and one-half pounds. In terms of baggage, 500 of these tablets would weigh approximately 800 pounds, and occupy some 45 cubic feet of cargo space, and such space would have to be cold enough to maintain the solidity of the tablets without their melting! As indicated below, they were packed in wooden packing cases holding 30 to 50 blanks, weighing between 40 and 80 pounds each.

There is evidence that the thickness was reduced to three-quarters of an inch at some later date. Whether the diameter of wax tablets was altered over the years is unknown to the author. The use of wax for recording on cylinders had been suggested by the Volta Laboratory of Washington, D.C., as early as 1885. Volta brought this suggestion to Thomas Edison, who turned it away. The use of wax cylinders then devolved to the Columbia Phonograph Company, licensed in Washington, D.C., in 1889.

More than a quarter-century later, R.E. Beckett, a recording engineer on his three month sojourn in India and the Far East in a report dated June 14th, 1929 wrote:

The apparatus and personal baggage weighed approximately one and a half tons. Considerable weight could be reduced by establishing suitable centres for storing spares, i.e., Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore. It takes 14 days to get spares from Calcutta to Java by the quickest route.

Steps were taken to reduce weight, by having machine stands for each recording centre. Therefore I suggest (the) same could be done with regard to the wax cupboards and other heavy accessories at present being transported. The apparatus continually arrives at its destination in a damaged condition, although every care was taken with the packing. It took several days during the Bangkok session to repair broken parts.

Blanks were usually despatched to the Far East in common wooden packing cases, containing 30 to 50 blanks, these cases were nailed down, and a considerable time was spent by the recorder every morning, in opening them, and again each evening in packing the scrap and originals. From 30 to 50 originals and approximately 15 scrap were made each day.

Every morning, before recording, the floor was swept by the engineer to prevent the excessive dust from getting on the surface of the waxes. A man could be employed at each centre, for the packing of blanks, cleaning the studio and helping with the heavy work generally.

The representatives in Rangoon, Calcutta, Bombay and Lucknow complained of the number of records that they were expected to make, and in the case of the Lucknow records, the agent said that out of the 800 made, only about 250 were anticipated to be good sellers.

Very little attention could be made to individual records, owing to the large number made per day; therefore, no extra time was possible on the more important singers. With regard to one operator doing the Eastern recordings, and in view of the present amount of records required by the Calcutta branch, I consider this to be unadvisable. During my stay in India, the electrical engineer marked the blanks, and did most of the booking that was necessary. He also had to spend a considerable amount of time attending to batteries before and after the session. If this work becomes part of the recorder's duty it would mean less time for actual recording.

From the detailed summary of work in this report, it is clear that during his four and a half month tour Beckett worked an average of six days a week and was sick for three days with 'fever'. Working alone, Beckett had to arrange all shipping, undertake running repairs, find his own accommodation in each city, deal with Customs officers, sea captains, local traders, agents and artists, as well as the job of actually making recordings. Beckett had joined the Gramophone Company in 1919 as a mechanical draughtsman, left to work elsewhere then rejoined in 1922 as one of some eight recording engineers working between 1921 and 1929. He toured Europe and Africa, visited Egypt and Iraq as well as India and the Far East. He then spent 9 years resident in Berlin, leaving only upon the outbreak of war. Spending the war years as Joint Night Manager at Hayes, he re-transferred to the Recording Department in 1945.

When Johnson’s 5-stage manufacturing process was introduced in 1903, the first negative metal part from the original wax tablet was still the "shell," and contained only the recording and the serial or matrix number. The difference between this process and the Gramophone Company’s previous method was that all shells from recordings made after this time were now used to prepare a positive metal part by electrolysis, and this became Johnson’s "mother" part. Since the "mother" was produced by electrolysis, the shell could be used repeatedly to produce more mother parts, and each mother could be used to produce multiple stampers (Author’s note: the three metal parts of the five-stage process have been referred to as "father," "mother," and "daughters," the last being the stampers).

The first manufacturing process described above produced 7-inch Berliner records without paper labels. The last two processes both produced finished records with paper labels. Since both the black shellac record in the second process and the "mother" part in the third process bore only the matrix number, the catalog number and any other necessary information were embossed into the stampers following their production from the mother or duplicate shell. When the label position (see below) was raised above the record surface some time between April 11 and August 1902, the matrix number was no longer visible through the label, and had to be entered in the runoff area (see below under Label Positions). The recording engineer or his assistant then entered the matrix number in the runoff area near the edge of the recorded area, rather than in the central area. Similarly, as new stampers were required, both the catalog and matrix numbers were entered in the runoff area, thus accounting for the various locations and different fonts noted for these numbers.

The most critical stage in the manufacturing process was the placement and drilling of the central hole in each stamper before it was placed into use. By 1942 that was done by observing through a magnifying glass the movement of the ridges on each stamper as it was mounted on a rotating turntable. When the stamper was placed so that the ridges no longer wobbled from side to side, the central or spindle hole was drilled into the stamper in its exact center.

By October 1896, Berliner had changed from vulcanized rubber to shellac records, using material from the Duranoid Co. of Newark NJ. On July 7, 1898, Berliner contracted with the Burt Company, makers of billiard balls, to provide record material in preference to that of the Duranoid Company. In a letter to William Owen dated July 30, 1898, Berliner said,

"I have carefully read all you say about record pressing and I am very sure that you undervalue the superiority of Burt records so far as his samples show over the Duranoid records. I hardly think that you have in mind the fact that after Duranoid records have been used 50 times they show an undoubted roughness and rapidly wear out and become anything but a recommendation for the Gramophone. The argument has been made that when the records are worn out people will buy new ones but I believe you will side with me in protesting to this as a dangerous plea. People should buy new records on account of the enjoyment they get out of the old ones and the longer these remain in good shape and are shown to admiring friends the better for the Gramophone business. It has taken me a great deal of diplomacy to get to the arrangement which I have made with Burt. He is a man way ahead of Duranoid….If Burt records wear only twice as long as Duranoid then I say most emphatically let us pay two or three cents apiece more for them. Furthermore by Burt’s system the matrices are much better preserved than by the Duranoid system."

Information from a company presently (2007) making vinyl records from original wax or lacquer master recordings indicates that the original recording is plated with a thin layer of silver, which is then electroplated with nickel to the thickness of about fifteen thousandths (0.015) of an inch. This plate, called the father plate, is then plated again, to produce as many as ten positive metal parts, known as mother plates. Each mother is then plated again, and can produce up to ten negative metal parts known as stampers. Each stamper can produce up to 1,000 vinyl records. Thus one father plate can produce up to 100,000 finished records. This series of manufacturing steps has been used almost unchanged during the past century or more, except to refine the materials and machinery used for the several steps.

About the most succinct way of looking at the manufacturing process is as follows:

A recorded wax is first metalized [by coating it with carbon powder] by the latest scientific electrical process. It is then placed in a deposition bath of copper sulphate solution, and connected to an electrical circuit as the cathode, while copper anodes maintain the copper in the bath. The wax, in the same way that a magnet attracts steel, attracts the copper in the bath, which flies to the metalized wax face. After twelve hours a sheet of copper has been grown, and is known as the "Master." This sheet is stripped from the wax, and on it is the negative impression of the original sound wave grooves. As the sounds stand up from the surface of the copper shell, it would not be possible to play this impression. A great many duplicates are required to produce the large number of records demanded by the public, and therefore the Master [also called the "shell" or original stamper] is placed in the deposition bath and another impression is grown in the same way as before. This is a positive [equivalent to the "mother"], and again, by the same process, final working shells are grown. These are "stampers," and are therefore negatives. To obtain the necessary thickness for production purposes, a copper back plate is soldered on. From this negative stamper the record is pressed with positive grooves as on the original wax.

Pressings are not taken from the Master, because a knock on the working face would destroy the recording. Fresh copies can be grown from the "Mother," or positive, and if the latter is damaged, another can be drawn from the Master. The average life of each stamper gives several thousand records. The stamper then passes to the press room, where it is fixed in a hydraulic press together with the corresponding stamper for the other side of the record, one stamper being fixed to the bottom jaw of the press, and the other to the top. Each is in direct contact with a metal die, which is a block of metal drilled to take a grid of pipes. These pipes are attached to the heating and cooling system, and operated by a valve which at a given moment closes the steam and allows cooling water to circulate through the pipes.

Each pressman has a supply of record material biscuits, which are of the necessary size to produce one record. The material is composed of shellac and a specially selected "filler." The biscuits are placed on a heater and brought to a temperature of 250oF, and the material becomes of a putty-like consistency. The pressman places a label face downwards on the centre of the bottom stamper, puts the softened material on top of this, and the label for the other side of the record face upwards. The jaws of the press are closed, one stamper being directly above the other, and the hydraulic pressure released, so that the bottom stamper moves towards the top with a pressure of a ton to the square inch. At the same time the cooling water valve is operated, and the trapped material between the stampers is cooled down to a solid state. After thirty seconds the pressure is released, the press opened and the record, complete with labels, ready for removal to the edging department, where the edge is removed. Experts minutely examine each record for flaws, and if it is passed it is placed in an envelope and sent to the assembly department to await orders from dealers

The following extract is adapted from the Wikipedia website, December 2007, especially for the manufacture of long playing records:

For the first several decades of disc record manufacturing, sound was recorded directly on to the master disc (also called the matrix, sometimes just the master) at the recording studio. From about 1950 on (earlier for some large record companies, later for some small ones) it became usual to have the performance first recorded on audio tape, which could then be processed and/or edited, and then dubbed on to the master disc.

A record cutter would engrave the grooves into the master disc. Early versions of these master discs were soft wax, and later a harder lacquer was used….Sometimes the engineer would sign his work, or leave humorous or cryptic comments in the run-off groove area, where it was normal to scratch or stamp identifying codes to distinguish each master.

The soft master known as a lacquer would then be silvered using the same process as the silvering of mirrors, commonly the lacquer was sprayed with a saponin mix, rinsed, spraying with Stannous Chloride which sensitized the surface, rinsed again before the finally simultaneously spraying the Silver solution and dextrose reducer. This silver coating provided the conductive layer to carry the current for the subsequent nickel plating electroplated with a metal, commonly a nickel alloy. In the early days (1940-60) the nickel plating was only brief, just an hour or less, before transferring to a copper plating tank. This was due to copper plating being both quicker and simpler to manage at that time. Later with advent of Nickel Sulphamate plating solutions all matrices were solid nickel. Most factories transferred the Master Matrix after an initial flash of Nickel in a slow warm nickel electroplating bath at around 15 ampere to a hot 130 degree Nickel plating bath where the amperage would be raised at regular intervals until the amperage reached between 110A and 200A depending on the standard of the equipment and the skill of the operators. This and all subsequent metal copies were known as matrices. When this metal master was removed from the lacquer (master), it would be a negative master or Master Matrix, since it was a negative copy of the lacquer. (In the UK, this was called the master; note the difference from soft master/lacquer disc above). In the earliest days the negative master was used as a mold to press records sold to the public, but as demand for mass production of records grew, another step was added to the process.

The metal master was then electroplated (electroformed) to create metal positive matrices, or "mothers". From these positives, stampers (negative) would be formed. Producing mothers was similar to electroforming Masters, except the time allowed to turn-up to full amperage was much shorter and the heavier Mothers could be produced in as little as one hour and stampers (145 grams) could be made in 45 minutes. Prior to plating either the Nickel Master or Nickel Mother it needed to be passified to prevent the next matrix adhering to the previous matrix. There were several methods used, EMI favoured the fairly difficult, Albumin soaking method where as CBS Records and Phillips used the Electrolytic method. Soaking in a dichromate solution was another popular method. The electrolytic method was similar to the standard electrolytic cleaning method except the cycles were reversed finishing the process with Matrix as the anode. This also cleaned the surface of the matrix about to be copied. After separating from the Master a new mother was polished with a fine abrasive to remove or at least round-off the microscopic "horns" at the top of the grooves, produced by the cutting lathe. This allowed the vinyl to flow better in the pressing stage and reduced the non-fill problem. Stampers produced from the mothers after separating were chrome plated to provide a hard stain-free surface. Each stamper was next centre punched, methods used included aligning the final locked groove over three pins or tapping the edge while rotating under the punch until the grooves could be seen (through a microscope) to move constantly towards the centre. Either method was quite skilled and took much effort to learn. The centre punch not only punched a hole but formed a lip which would be used to secure the stamper into the press. The stamper was next trimmed to size and the back sanded smooth to ensure a smooth finish to the mouldings and improve contact between the stamper and the press die. The edge was then pressed hydraulically to form another lip to clamp the edge down on the press. The stampers would be used in hydraulic presses to mould the LP discs. The advantages of this system over the earlier more direct system included ability to make a large number of records quickly by using multiple stampers. Also, more records could be produced from each master since molds would eventually wear out.

Since the master was the unique source of the positive, made to produce the stampers, it was considered a library item. Accordingly, copy positives, required to replace worn positives, were made from unused early stampers. These were known as copy shells and were the physical equivalent of the first positive.

The "pedigree" of any record can be traced through the stamper/positive identities used, by reading the lettering found on the record run-out area.

[Author’s note: The Association of Recorded Sound Collectors (ARSC) has established the ARSC Recorded Sound Discussion List (ARSCLIST) to facilitate the exchange of information on sound archives and promote communication among those interested in preserving, documenting, and making accessible the history of recorded sound. An ARSCLIST Thread with the subject Metal Parts is comprised of three or four Email messages which confirm that the original shells consisted of electroplated copper followed by electroplated nickel as late as the 1940’s. The first message reads:

"What is the preferred method of cleaning and storing metal parts?

I would think that alcohol would be a safe and effective cleaning agent

Should anything be applied to keep them from corroding (gun oil, perhaps)?

Weren't fathers and stampers usually copper with a nickel backing?"


The second message is:

"I recently cleaned up an early Gramophone Company stamper of nickel-plated copper, which had been coated in paraffin wax to prevent tarnishing. Following able advice from Mark Hogan at the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia, I placed the stamper in a 50/50 solution of isopropanol and de-ionised water, bringing it up to a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius. The ridges (negative grooves) were lightly brushed to loosen the melting wax, and afterwards the disc was rinsed in isopropanol.

In consultation with the EMI Archive and others, after use the stamper wasn't recoated, but placed between acid-free paper in a sealed container for storage."


The third message read:

"All the Victor/Bluebird, and Decca parts I have transferred (fathers, mothers and stampers) have been nickel-plated copper, the nickel being the recorded surface.

(The film Command Performance says Victor also employed a final plating of platinum (!), but I find that more than a little hard to believe.)

My experience with parts from the 20's, 30's and 40's is that the nickel rarely shows any signs of tarnish. In any case, I use Noxon metal polish and a suitable soft brush, followed by distilled water and drying with lint-free paper towels. My tests have shown this treatment does not degrade the surface in any audible way. At the Sony Studios they are doing the same."


The last message says,

"I believe record companies actually cleaned them with naphtha. Victor stored them vertically in large envelopes, or so they showed in the promo film "Command Performance"

Gun oil might work; you need something to keep the copper from turning green, but removable so that the recording itself is accessible. I don't remember what mothers and matrices were made from, or whether those are susceptible to corrosion..."


I have confirmed the second message above with the writer.]

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