BLUE NOTE UNDER-COVER DETECTIVES an occasional post for the Blue Note collector that doesn’t have everything, but would like to.

BLUE-NOTE-DETECTIVE-1200-LJCThe 12″ microgroove unbreakable record brought record cover art to the fore, and developments in printing technology enabled these new generation covers to be laminated, and bear the artist name, title, label and catalogue number printed on the spine. With Blue Note records, each of these elements form a pattern which can be used to help identify original covers from later manufacture.


Manufactured in the two years between 1956-58, BN 1501 to BN 1586, all Blue Note original covers have a blank spine, and from BN 1587 onwards, a printed spine. The presence of a printed spine is useful to distinguish early from later printed covers of early titles.


In the examples above, BN 1508 Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia Volume 2 is an original first cover. Not only does it have the frame cover construction (shadow lines top and left) and Lexington address on the back, it has a blank spine.

LJC---sherlock--RTThe cover behind, BN 1537 Paul Chambers Whim of Chambers, is alas not a first cover. With a catalogue number below 1587, the original should have a blank spine and be un-laminated. This cover has a printed spine, is laminated, and carries the 43 West 61st New York 23 cover address which was in use around 1959-60. Beautiful, but a second or later cover, not the 1956 original.


Original covers numbered between BN 1501 and 1546 are un-laminated with a slightly matt printed finish. Lamination of covers commenced with BN 1547 A Date with Jimmy Smith, and with a small number of exceptions, effectively ceased in early 1964, the last being BN 4149 Hank Mobley No Room For Squares. The depth of lamination does seem variable across time, with the 1500’s a really high gloss compared with later titles.

With their thick card base, a laminated Blue Note cover, with its dimpled glossy surface and hopefully still sharp corners is a truly beautiful artefact to hold. Born of printing technology of its day, no one has achieved a successful modern replication, though I have read Sawano Brothers in Tokyo have restored a 1950’s colour printing machine in an attempt to replicate vintage quality. Got to love them for that.


In 1964, from BN 4150, the high gloss surface cover art is replaced by a low sheen flat print finish. The weight of the cover drops from around 125 grams to 115 grams on my sample, only 8%, but feels more in reduced emotional impact.

Lamination close up:

BN 1599 Bennie Green   Laminated cover

BN 4003 Moanin Blakey Laminated cover

Reid Miles strong design has always looked at its best in the tactile physical presence of a vintage laminated cover.


The cover address solicited prospective record buyers to send for a catalogue, to the current Blue Note addresses as printed at the bottom of the liner notes.

Blue Note Catalogue cover

As well as the address changes, first appearing on BN 4013, the abbreviation for its incorporation, INC. is added to the company name BLUE NOTE RECORDS. From BN 4017, Horace Silver Blowin’ the Blues Away, along with the registered trademark “R”. INC. also appears in the company name on all record labels up to the redesignation of Blue Note Records as a BLUE NOTE RECORDS A DIVISION OF LIBERTY RECORDS INC.


LJC-Lichael-Caine-fastshow30The post is about original Blue Note covers, something which I should have paid more attention to than I have to date. In some of these matters I didn’t know my INC from my Rs. I now feel I’ve caught up, though there are still a few loose ends. I haven’t tried to venture into the Liberty Years, but cut off at BN 4250. Something for another day I think.

I am indebted to Dottor Jazz, our resident First Pressing Fundamentalist, for his tireless research on the holy grail of Blue Note original editions.

Errors and omissions are almost certainly my own, however I would be very surprised if there are not some exceptions out there to these general rules and classifications. If anyone wants to add to our knowledge they are very welcome to.

There is some  controversy on the exact specification of first pressings for certain high profile records, in the matter of the vinyl, deep groove on one or other side, or both, or neither, and the mixing of labels. It is my intention to go further into those matters at a future date, and also the matter of alternate covers, and probably some more stuff about other things. Any questions or suggestions, just ask.

As for those who think: it is all really about the music, isn’t it?  You’ll learn.






  1. I was surprised to see the reproduction of the Blue Note tri-fold catalog. Starting with 1939, I have four of the 78 catalogs for different years but don’t recall if I have an LP catalog. To me, catalogs are important ancillary information for listing what’s available and for the text commenting on features of this or that record. As for collecting Blue Note, the 78s come first for me, then some of the 10-inch LPs, and lastly, a small selection of 12-inch LPs. There is only so much that can be said about the music so venturing into an analysis of the physical artifacts is a way to keep the discussion alive.

  2. Jazz police are looking through my folders
    Jazz police are talking to my niece
    Jazz police have got their final orders
    Jazzer, drop your axe, it’s Jazz police!

    (With apologies to Mr. Cohen….Leonard, that is, NOT Fred)

  3. Another outstanding post to feast our eyes on. It probably will make me run for my record cabinet more than I could wish for once I’m back from a few days away 🙂

  4. Your last semi-cryptic comment says it all, doesn’t it? Whatever else you and the devotees of this site are, you’re not purely fans of the music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As a loose analogy, I know people who claim to be into photography when really they’re into buying, collecting and/ or over-analyzing cameras and gear – to the point that it affects or interferes with their pursuit of the hobby or craft. I find it refreshing that you admit that your focus (your primary focus, I think it’s fair to observe) is not in respect of the music – it’s the merchandising. Again, I wish to repeat – in my view, there’s nothing wrong with this, especially if one is self-aware in this regard. Speaking personally, my interest starts and stops with the music itself, although all else being equal, I appreciate a higher “fi” product over a lower “fi” one. But I’m able to fully appreciate the music, without a second thought, regardless of the packaging or particular historical context of the delivery mechanism.

    • I am one of those who share your view, almost. Let me just add that in order to “fully appreciate the music” one must be able to understand its historical context, which includes what you call “packaging”. Just listening to recorded music without having the slightest idea of cover images, liner notes etc. would leave me utterly dissatisfied. But it certainly isn’t my primary goal to own high-priced “originals” whose value is based on nothing else but their scarcity.

      • I’m absolutely with you on context – which is why I draw the line (or at least I have thus far) on mp3 downloads. I should gave been more careful in my comments as I’m absolutely in favour of liner notes, etc., just not into the whole vinyl collector thang, as much as I otherwise enjoy this website.

  5. Your ears must have been burning (your eyes must have been twitching?) because I just started working on a post for Nutmegging This Up that approaches the Blue Note hallmarks from a slightly different angle. I do plan to link your blog as the finest source in the exact breakdown of all the labels, addresses, etc. if that would be alright.

  6. Not sure what made me think about this, but does anyone have any of these catalogs that you could send away for at that time? That would be a pretty cool artifact to see!

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