An Audiophile Guide to the Prestige Label
The LJC Prestige Label Cheat Sheet v2.1
Collectors Note:Whilst the Blue Note Catalogue Number remained constant throughout various subsequent pressings and reissues, Prestige issued a new catalogue number when a recording was formally reissued, and two or even three catalogue numbers will be found in the run-out as the master/mother was renumbered.
1. The Yellow/Black “Fireworks” Label – 446 W. 50th St NYC address (1955-8)
One of the first 12-inch microgroove LPs from Prestige manufactured 1955-8, Van Gelder mastered - hand-written initials RVG - and pressing by Abbey Manufacturing – AB - red highlighting is simulating infrared mapping, not actually red in real life.
The magic number which divides first and subsequent Prestige pressings is 7140. If the catalogue number is 7140 or below and it has an NY label, it is an original first pressing. If it is 7140 or below but has an NJ label it is a second or subsequent re-pressing, though still an “original” Prestige.
The audio quality of these very first 12-inch recordings is generally excellent – recorded and mastered in most cases by Van Gelder, though the earliest releases can sound a little “boxed in” due to the limited dynamic range of very early microphones, which improved dramatically towards the later Fifties.
2. Fireworks Label, NJ – 203 South Washington Ave address (1958-64)
The first Prestige label address, 446 West 50th Street, New York, changed in 1958 to 203 South Washington Avenue, Bergenfield, NJ. PRLP 7141, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis “Cookbook”, was the first release bearing the NJ address. Catalogue numbers higher than 7140 with the NJ address label may be first pressing or a second pressing, as further copies of popular titles were pressed and the label remained in use until 1964.
The audio quality of NJ pressings is generally very high, falling within the golden era of vinyl quality production and benefitting from improvements in microphone dynamic range and recording equipment, and of course the engineering skills of Van Gelder and his studios.
The only criticism made is the quality of the music, which on some titles was an unrehearsed “blowing session”. The famous Prestige All Stars meant whoever was in town and available for that date. Weinstock was not as fastidious a producer as Alfred Lion at Blue Note, who funded rehearsal time, supervised recording sessions along side Rudy Van Gelder, and often rejected takes according to his own artistic judgement.
3. Firework label – NJ – Stereo -black/silver 1958-64
Early Stereo from Prestige, black and silver fireworks label. A picture found on the net as personally I have never seen or heard one of these. Prestige’s UK licensee Esquire only ever pressed mono editions.
Early stereo is not always a good experience, often with only a very primitive concept of “soundstage”. Front line solo instruments would be placed either extreme left or right, and the rhythm section oddly skewed, with perhaps piano and bass centre but drums on the far right. It can add up to an unsettling listening experience and accounts for some collectors preference for mono at this time, though no doubt it has its fans. Engineers like Roy duNann at Contemporary had a much more sophisticated approach which delivered up a superior stereo presentation as early as the late Fifties, and stereo the preferred edition, according to taste.
There is alo a detailed argument among stereophiles as to integrity of the “recording intent” – where mono editions were created by folding down a recording made originally in stereo, which should be heard as intended. One area of agreement however is recordings “electronically engineered to simulate stereo” which should be avoided like the plague. Universally dreadful, unsucessful in stereo presentation, and the original dynamics ruined in the process. Good only for coasters.
4. New Jazz
A Prestige new release label employed 1958 – 1964 (series 8200 – 8300)
New Jazz – a Prestige label sometimes marred by the random presence of recycled vinyl among releases. Some pressings are perfectly fine, others have the dreaded background hiss throughout. There is no consistency – even the same title can be found with hissy copies and not hissy. It all depend on whether the raw vinylite delivered to the pressing plant that week had been bulked up with recycled vinyl or not. To Weinstock, reducing the cost of vinyl seemed just good business, unaware of the consequences for future generations with Hi Fi .
European editions of these titles may be preferred as they do not suffer the same problem, though sometimes there is no option. The music and engineering is nevertheless superb and some artists are found only on the New Jazz label.
5. The Prestige Specialty Labels – Moodsville, Swingville and Bluesville
Often with RVG initials in the runout, these are Prestige proper recordings
(Swingville picture courtesy of Bob Djukic)
(Bluesville picture courtesy of Bob Djukic)
Sound every bit as good as Prestige of the same period. As to why these specialty labels were introduced, the story has been told that Weinstock created these new labels not as a stroke of marketing genius, but as a device to reduce tax liabilities on sales on his primary label. Possibly true, but sums owing to the IRS has never been a good indicator as to the quality of music.
6. The failed revolution – 16 rpm
Just as the 12″ LP replaced the 10″ single by extending playing time, in the late Fifties Prestige lanched an innovation planned to double the length of playing time, by halving the record speed. Whilst quite suited to the spoken word, 16rpm was a disaster to the quality of music, and within a dozen titles, disappeared. The innovation that would embraced by the public in the next few years was not length of playing time, but Stereo.
(16rpm picture courtesy of Bob Djukic)
6.The Trident Label 1964 – 1971
The Blue Label/Silver Trident was the primary label format successor to the yellow/ black fireworks label from 1964, adopted both for new releases and reissues of earlier titles.
Example below illustrates typical runout engravings – Van Gelder mastering (early handwritten form “RVG”), Abbey Manufacturing pressing plant (“AB”) and catalogue number updates (original scratched out, reissue catalogue number added, A/B side error correction)
Example 2 above, a reissue of an earlier New Jazz title, showingboth New Jazz and Prestige catalogue numbers. The Blue/ silver trident audio quality is generally superb, with wide dynamic range and engaging presence.Reissues are especially great value, being pressed with metalwork derived from the original master, but not considered as collectible and therefore no where near as expensive.
Stereo label – Blue (1964)
Exists in two known variations – with and without deep groove, and variation in position of the silver trident
(Photo courtesy of Albert of Ohio)
Mono Label – Gold
Stereo Label – Black
Stereo editions account for a large proportion of variations in label design – colours and position of trident, whether enclosed within a circle as a logo, and of course the word “STEREO” to be fitted in.
7.Prestige’s “budget label” Status 1960′s
Difficult to see what was budget apart from saving on ink, providing minimal information saved nothing, but made it look budget. Working in Marketing in the Seventies, the big fear was always “cannibalisation”. You wanted all the sales you could get at the premium price, and extra sales at the budget price, without losing the one to the other. Extra effort was incurred to make things look less attractive. More marketing genius from Weinstock.
9. Modern Prestige 1971+
In 1971 what remained of the Weinstock empire of Prestige was sold to new owners, Fantasy Records of Los Angeles California. In the years that followed Fantasy flooded the market with re-issues from the Prestige Catalogue, variously attributed to “Fantasy Records” or “Prestige Records”, cover address Berkley California, Tenth and Parker to be found on label and cover.
A pale shadow of their former glory, they are universally feeble pressings – better in such cases to buy the CD. From time to time I have “chanced it” for a filler and have never failed to be disappointed. Merely being vinyl confers no magic.
The dreaded OJC Reissue – 100gm vinyl weight
To be continued…
http://fipres.com (go to tab called “Guide)
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