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The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
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Foreign Language Labels

From his first recordings in London on August 8, 1898 until well into the First World War, Fred Gaisberg made over 20,000 recordings in nearly every country in Europe and in Asia, commonly referred to as the Far East, in some thirty languages and dialects. Many of these were issued with labels in appropriate language, in order to maximize sales in that particular country. It was customary for labels bearing the Recording Angel trademark to note the city where the recording had been made, e.g., London, Paris, Milan, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest, and so forth. In some instances labels bore inscriptions in the language of the recorded selection, while in others it indicated the recording location. Recordings made in Russia frequently did not indicate where they had been made, but were printed largely in Russian, using the Cyrillic alphabet. Recordings made in Arabic, Hindustani and other Asiatic languages, including Chinese, often bore labels in those respective languages.

On May 17, 1899 Fred Gaisberg and William Sinkler Darby embarked on the first foreign tour, the so-called Six Cities tour, which began in Leipzig and included recording sessions in Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Paris, and Madrid. The serial or matrix numbers were assigned by continuing the sequential series begun in London in the previous year, beginning with matrix 2124 in Leipzig and ending with 3494 in Madrid. By this time the catalog system that was to be used throughout the acoustical era had been established. Thus, the recordings in Leipzig were assigned catalog numbers in the 40000 series, denoting Germany, while those in Budapest and Vienna were given numbers in the 70000 series to indicate what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia but which then included Austria and Hungary. The Milan recordings were numbered in the 50000 series for Italy, in Paris in the 30000 series for France, and in Madrid in the 60000 series for Spain and Portugal. Thus the fifth number from the right indicated the country or region of origin or the language of the selection. When the recording engineers returned to London, the system was continued. Details may be found in Alan Kelly’s work, referenced in the Bibliography.

Far East Recordings

In 1901, J W Hawd came to Calcutta and soon a branch office was opened. Frederick William Gaisberg arrived in November 1902 for his first recording expedition, together with George Dillnutt as his assistant, and recorded about five hundred songs. On his first trip to the Far East from September 29, 1902 to August 8, 1903, he made recordings in seven countries in no less than twenty different languages and dialects. Between November 8, 1902 and some time in June 1903, he and George Dillnutt made some 1,132 seven-inch and 711 ten-inch recordings in nine different languages, in Calcutta, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, and Rangoon. They returned to London on August 8, 1903. Of the 554 matrices sent from Calcutta back to the Hanover plant, only about half were processed into issued records for sale in India, the remainder having been deemed musically unsuitable. The recordings made on this tour were the only ones to ever use the E prefix. [Author’s note: the team carried with them some 2,000 wax recording tablets, packed in wooden crates and weighing well over 500 pounds.]


10" Records

7" Records

Recording Dates


Calcutta, India

E100 to E316

E1000 to E1336

8-11-02 to 6-12-02

(Bengali, Hindi)

Tokyo, Japan

E317 to E428

E1337 to E1502

4-2-03 to 28-2-03


Shanghai, China

E429 to E557

E1503 to E1702

18-3-03 to 27-3-03


Hong Kong

E558 TO E618

E1703 to E1788

23-4-03 to 26-4-03



E619 TO E688

E1789 to E1932

-5-03 to -5-03

(Malay, Javanese)


E750 TO E780

E2000 to E2065

-6-03 to -6-03


Rangoon, Burma

E800 to E868

E2100 to E2189

-6o3 to -6-03



Recorded in Calcutta, November 16, 1902


Indian Labels and Recordings

The first ever Indian voice was recorded by Fred Gaisberg at the Maiden Lane studio in London in February 1899.  These were 7" Berliner records with recording on one side only.  None of these records have been found by the collectors but these were listed in Gramophone Company’s ‘foreign’ lists up to 1904. Some 44 7-inch Berliner recordings, numbered 10000 to 10043, were made in Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, and Sikh. These have not been listed in Alan Kelly’s catalogs, and have no serial numbers. Some of these numbers were used again for the recordings made in Fred Gaisberg’s first Far East tour. Thus, his recordings with matrix numbers E1042 through E1056 were issued as Berliners 10000 through 10014. The latter can be distinguished from the first series by the serial numbers with E prefixes.

In 1900 the population of India was approximately 234 million, nearly five times that of the Russian Empire. The inhabitants spoke more than twenty different languages and dialects, and had a musical culture reaching back several thousand years. India, like Russia and China, represented a vast potential market for gramophone instruments and records. This potential market led to three major recording tours by Gramophone Company experts between 1902 and 1908, led by Fred Gaisberg, William Sinkler Darby, and Will Gaisberg, respectively.

During 1902-08, ‘The Gramophone Company’ issued over 1000 recordings on shellac discs. This was an outcome of the recording expeditions led by F. W. Gaisberg. Recordings of over 8-10 very famous artists helped in establishing the business in India. However, in this process some five hundred artists made recordings for the Company. They belong to North and South Indian states and have recorded vocal and instrumental music. Their names are mentioned in the company registers and catalogues, and some examples of discs have also been found. However, these are almost forgotten now. Hence it is necessary to record their work. Here is an attempt to note female singers of that period.

In the beginning around 1902, many artists of Star, Minerva, Emerald and Corinthian theaters in Calcutta recorded songs and dialogues from stage plays. Prominent among them were – Miss Soshi Mukhi, Miss Fani Bala, Miss Susheela, Miss Acheria, Miss Binodini, Miss Kitten, and Miss Rani. Another category of the artists consists of ‘Bai’, ‘Jan’ and ‘Dasi’. They were either kothewali’s/tawaifs or in the services/patronage of kings and wealthy landlords belonging to elite class. They belonged to Lucknow, Banaras, Panipat, Avadh, Jalandhar, Calcutta, Delhi, Patna, Gaya, State of Jawara. (From The journal of the ‘Society of Indian Record Collectors’, 2006)

On November 14, 1902 (Alan Kelly says November 11), the first (!) recording of Indian classical music was engraved in the grooves of a gramophone record. A very rudimentary and makeshift recording studio had been set up in two large rooms of a hotel in Calcutta by the Gramophone Company.  Frederick William Gaisberg and his assistants had arrived just three weeks before from England on their first Far East recording expedition for the Gramophone Company.  They had appointed a local agent for selecting and training artists for recording on gramophone discs.  However, the agent selected Anglo-Indian artists and completely ignored local talent.  Gaisberg then sought the help of the local Police Superintendent, visited several theaters, attended mehfils at wealthy Jamindars’ palaces, and thus found at least one promising artist to begin with.  The artist was a very famous dancing girl, and her voice was very sweet; although not for European ears.  She agreed to a recording session for the handsome fee of 3,000 rupees.  Such an artist was necessary in order to build a firm business foundation on the Indian scene, especially when several other German, French and American recording companies were also planning to capture the Asian market in general and the Indian market in particular.

At around 9 a.m. a young lady entered the studio with all her paraphernalia, including accompanists and relatives.  Loaded fully with very expensive ornaments and jewelry, this 30 year old, fair, medium-built lady went onto the stage prepared for the recordings. 
Sarangi (Hindi:is a bowed string instrument of India, Nepal and Pakistan, harmonium, and tabla players began to tune their instruments. (The tabla is a popular Indian percussion instrument used in the classical, popular and religious music of the Indian subcontinent and in Hindustani classical music. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres.) Gaisberg personally checked the equipment.  A thick wax master record was placed on the turntable rotating at 78 rpm.  A huge recording horn was fitted on the wall behind her and close to her face, and she was asked to sing loudly into the horn.  At the narrow end of the long horn a diaphragm fitted with a needle was connected to the recording machinery, with a needle placed on rotating disc for cutting the grooves.  Gaisberg requested her to sing for three minutes and announce her name at the end of the recording.  At the end of the trial recording she announced - "My name is Gauhar Jan". This announcement was necessary since the wax masters were sent to Hanover in Germany for pressing the records and the technicians would make proper labels and confirm the name by listening to these announcements at the end of the three minutes performance.

[Author’s note: Several references indicate clearly that the first Indian recordings in Calcutta were made by Miss Soshi Mukhi on Saturday, November 8, 1902. The first ever `native' recording in India, done professionally by the engineers of the Gramophone Company, England, one of the two major companies in this field during the acoustic era, was in 1902. "Two little nautch (dancing) girls, aged 14 and 16 with miserable voices," as one of the engineers, Fred Gaisberg, sent on this expedition noted in his diary, were the first Indians to have their voices recorded. The two little girls were Soshi Mukhi and Fani Bala, who were associated with the Classic Theatre. The first ever Indian song on a gramophone disc was "Kanha jeevan dhan... " from the play, Sri Krishna.]

(Above is from the website The following is from Michael Kinnear’s website.)

In order to have recorded documentation for making paper labels, the artists were asked to announce their names in English at the end of singing.  This helped the technicians in Germany in making the final records ready for sale.  Hence, several records of that period have words ‘Made in Germany/Hanover’ printed on the label and the announcement at the end.  Initial recordings were taken from ‘Nautch Girls’ (dancing girls) and ‘Baiji’s’ or ‘Kothewalis’.  Later on celebrities like ‘Gauhar Jan of Calcutta’, ‘Jankibai of Allahabad’, ‘Peara Saheb’ recorded prolifically for the company.  This continued for two more recording expeditions and about 3000 wax records were made, pressed in Germany and brought back to India for marketing.  F W Gaisberg writes:

"All the female singers were of course from the caste of the public women, and in those days it was practically impossible to record the voice of a respectable woman.  The songs and dances were passed by word of mouth from mother to daughter.  They began public appearances at the age of ten to twelve years.  The clever ones went up to the top and sometimes travelled all over the country in great demand at the wedding feasts of the wealthy.  As they began to make names for themselves many of them insisted that the word ‘amateur’ should be printed on the record label.  Fees as a rule, were very reasonable in comparison to those paid in Europe, but recording expenses were heavy, since most of the artists had to be trained over long periods before they developed into acceptable gramophone singers."

During Fred’s absence, his brother Will, usually assisted by Belford Royal, made some 461 seven-inch, 1,625 ten-inch, and about 256 twelve-inch recordings in various locations using Fred’s series of allocated matrix numbers. The latter included the twelve-inch recordings of Francesco Tamagno made in February 1903, the first made by the Gramophone & Typewriter Limited.

Following Fred Gaisberg’s first trip to the Far East in late 1902, further trips were undertaken by William Sinkler Darby in December 1904, Franz Hampe in 1905, and Will Gaisberg in 1907. William Sinkler Darby, with Max Hampe as his assistant, arrived in India from Constantinople in early December 1904, where he made 395 seven-inch, 821 ten-inch, and 58 twelve-inch recordings in Calcutta, Delhi, Lahore, Bombay, Madras, and Lucknow. The recordings below were made by Darby.

Calcutta December 1904
Lucknow, January 1905 (Darby)
Calcutta, January 1905 (Darby)

This was followed by series of recording expeditions in Europe, Russia and Asia - including India.  Michael Kinnear has given detailed history in his book The Gramophone Company’s First Indian Recordings [1899-1908], Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1994. 

Between 1902 and 1908, when the parent company in London operated in the name of The Gramophone and Typewriter, Limited, all pressings of ‘Gramophone’ disc records of Indian repertoire made by the company were manufactured at the Deutsche Grammophon, A.G., factory at Hanover, Germany. In 1906, the board of directors in London considered the prospect of building a factory in India, with a site at Jubbalpore in Central India being the first choice, however, with the lack of water and problems on acquiring the land being taken into consideration, a site near the Sealdah railway station was chosen, with building of the factory commencing in early 1907.

In July 1908 the manufacturing of disc records began at the Sealdah factory located at 139 Beliaghata Road, Calcutta. The name of this site originates from the local name given to The Gramophone Co., Ltd factory at Sealdah, nearby the Sealdah Railway Station, in those days, the main passenger and freight terminus, close to the business centre of Calcutta. Between 1902 and 1908, when the parent company in London operated in the name of The Gramophone and Typewriter, Limited, all pressings of ‘Gramophone’ disc records of Indian repertoire made by the company were manufactured at the Deutsche Grammophon, A.G. factory at Hannover, Germany. In January 1908, the name of company reverted back to its original title of The Gramophone Company, Limited, as did the branch in Calcutta.

On 18 December 1908, the ‘official’ opening of the Sealdah factory was celebrated with an ‘at home’ function which featured a concert ‘in the tent' by Miss Gauhar Jan of Calcutta, who was first recorded by The Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd., on 11th November 1902, and over the next few years became the most celebrated artist that the company had on its roster of artists.

Within a few years the Sealdah factory was manufacturing discs and assembling machines, not only for India, Burma and Ceylon, but also the repertoires of the Dutch East Indies, The Malay States, Siam, and also Hong Kong and China. By 1921 the Sealdah factory had become very congested and was in need of an overhaul, and so in 1922 the power plant, engine-room and pressing plant were modernized to cope with the increased work-load.

Most of the labor force was drawn from the local community who referred to the factory as "Bajakhana", and as the means of providing their livelihood, the workers inferred that they ate ‘sound’ for a living as if it was a gymkhana of sound.  Incidentally, Michael Kinnear’s web page address on internet contains this word ‘Bajakhana’ as - and it gives a detailed history of sound recording in India in last one hundred years.

Considering the enormous market in India, several rival gramophone companies from Germany, France and England entered the market [like the present multinational companies].  Until 1916, about 75 different record labels/brands were seen in Indian market, the important ones being - Nicole, Universal, Neophone, Elephone, H Bose, Beka, Kamla, Binapani, Royal, Ram-a-Phone (Ramagraph), James Opera, Singer, Sun, Odeon, and Pathe.  With time, all these companies either disappeared or were merged with Gramophone Company.  The name His Master’s Voice (HMV) and the label first appeared in 1916 and soon established their monopoly in the market.

In the ‘acoustic era’ up to 1926, the Sealdah factory was the busiest in Asia, and added a cabinet making house in 1926, on the open area in front of the tank, thus obscuring the original ‘majestic’ profile of the record factory and offices, which included recording rooms (on the first floor), from which emanated the many great recordings that kept the company profitable.

In 1928, the Sealdah factory was closed and building work commenced at the new factory located at 33 Jessore Road, Dum Dum. The main building at the Dum Dum site had at one time been the infirmary of the Robert Clive Hospital, and was converted to the main offices of the company. The Dum Dum factory was equipped with the latest disc record pressing machinery and a separate facility for the manufacture of wooden cabinets for gramophones, and commenced operations in May 1929.

A new record pressing plant and other facilities were built on the site, including a separate building for recordings, which became known as the ‘Dum Dum Studios’. Although The Gramophone Co., Ltd., set up recording studios in Bombay, Delhi, Madras and other places, all pressing of the discs produced by the company, both for it’s own labels and several ‘private recording companies’ was done at the ‘HMV works’, Dum Dum.

The first Indian records were pressed at the Sealdah plant on June 29, 1908, from matrices that had been transferred from the Hanover plant (see above under Far East Recordings.). The establishment of the plant in Hayes, Middlesex, England, allowed all recordings made in London to be processed there. From 1908 until the end of the acoustical recording era in 1925, all other recording locations sent their finished tablets to the Hanover plant. During the First World War (1914-1918), the gramophone record industry depended largely on India for the supply of shellac.  Due to high demand from gramophone record companies, India faced extensive export orders and was the single largest supplier for about 75 years. Availability of plenty of lac/shellac was one of the reasons for setting up a record pressing plant at Sealdah, Calcutta in 1908.  As the complete factory was built there was no need to send the wax masters to Germany and as a result announcements at the end of the song also disappeared.

Japanese Recordings

Fred Gaisberg arrived in Yokohama from India in the first week of January 1903, with his assistant George Dillnutt and his business affairs manager Tom Addiss to make the recordings for the London Gramophone Company. It took two weeks for the equipment to pass through customs and arrive at the Metropole Hotel in Tokyo where Gaisberg set about recording a number of musicians and vocal artists with the assistance of Henry Black, whom Gaisberg described as a ‘godsend’. In Tokyo, Gaisberg’s team worked throughout the month of February 1903 to complete their assignment, Gaisberg making use of Black’s contacts in the entertainment industry to bring together a wide range of talent after ‘two weeks visiting theatres and teahouses and holding auditions’.

The Metropole was central and near enough to entertainment quarters frequented by many of the blind musicians, geisha, and rakugoka whom Black recruited for Gaisberg. The records they cut included a geisha band of ‘little women with big European band instruments’ which Gaisberg described as ‘the funniest thing imaginable,’ the Imperial Household Band, whose music was ‘weird and fascinating indeed,’ and narrations by Black. Gaisberg’s dairy entry for his first day of recording in Tokyo on February 4, 1903, indicates he did not have much initial empathy for Japanese music.

"We made some 54 records. Japanese music is simply too horrible, but funny to relate, Europeans who have been long in the country profess to really enjoy it, and say that there is more in the music and acting than a casual observer would believe."

Gaisberg was frequently amused to find that some of the actors whom he auditioned to perform scenes from the kabuki would at first insist on donning their makeup and bringing their costumes, unused to the idea that it was only their voices he wanted for posterity. Gaisberg devoted considerable space in his memoirs to a detailed description of a visit to the kabuki, but very little to rakugo, noting merely that Black, whom he described as ‘almost a professional story teller,’ performed while seated at a table delivering narrations which lasted ‘from thirty to sixty minutes, an amusement of which the Japanese were extremely fond. The scholar Shimizu Yasuyuki has claimed that, as the first recordings made in Japan, Black made a valuable contribution to the linguistic study of the Japanese language as it was spoken at the time. Shimizu has praised Black’s spoken Japanese as fluent and as exemplifying the standard Tokyo dialect of the day. Thanks largely to Black’s contacts, Gaisberg recorded ‘some six hundred titles covering every variety of the national music.


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