Plastylite pressed Blue Note, the quality is there for all to hear. The Plastylite “ear” in the run-out of all their pressings is not much of a mystery, it is a hand-written (cursive, in the jargon) letter “P“. Problem is, it doesn’t actually look like a “P”, at least not until you view it transposed and inverted.
Voila, now it makes sense. What hasn’t made sense is the 9M etching found in the run-out of 10″ Blue Notes, two thirds of mono 1500 series pressings and some 4000 series titles.
The mysterious “9M”, which some collectors mischeviously question as possibly “W6” is the certificate of authenticity of original metalwork of a Blue Note 1500 series pressing, whatever the label – Lexington, 47 West 63rd, NY, it is even sometimes found on a Liberty reissue, even United Artists, where original metal has been used.. Unlike the Plastylite ear, which was applied only in the Plastylite Pressing plant (hence it disappeared when Blue Note was sold to Liberty in 1966 and pressing moved elsewhere) the original metalwork and its derivative mothers and stampers went on to live a “life after death”.
9M or 6W?
In my opinion (what else?) the direction of initiation of the characters, pressure of stroke and where they lift off tells me it is a 9M not a W6.
All my few original 1500 series have 9M on both sides, as do a number of later reissuers on later labels. Even this later Liberty pressing of 1519 below, on old stock Lexington labels but no “ear”, confirms use of originally sourced metalwork, mothers or stampers derived from the original van Gelder master.
That means you are effectively listening to a copy of the original pressing, inevitable pressing variations aside (first-to-last-off-stamper, reducing vinyl thickness and weight, quality control, whatever) That is some bonus.
The later pressing shown below, of BN 1593, Lou Donaldson Blues Walk, released originally in early 1959, shown here on New York labels, but with the provenance of original metalwork, “9M” etched in the run-out, in a large hand. There is no consistency in the writing of 9M, it is found in a number of different hands.
Original-sourced metal, but what does 9M mean?
What did “9M” mean? No one knew – not even the great authorities on Blue Note . When the 9M became a hot topic a while back among some of us hard core collectors , someone contacted Fred Cohen, author of the authoritative Guide to Blue Note 1st Pressings, who confessed it’s meaning was unknown, and gets no mention in his book. If Fred doesn’t know, no-one knows. I think someone even contacted Michael Cuscuna, but my recollection could be hazy on that one.
In any event, the 9M earned its place among the world’s great mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, and the true identity of Jack the Ripper, albeit on a slightly more humble scale. It was a “known unknown” and sensible people were content to leave it at that. However being a modern jazz and Blue Note collector means sometimes taking leave of your senses.
LJC reader felixstrange came up with a plausible new theory
9M is consistently found on Blue Note and not any other alpha-numeric permutation. But Blue Note wasn’t the only label Plastylite pressed. In the early days they also pressed Prestige, and other labels. Below you see an early Prestige title with “ear” and what else but another but different code, 7E. Is Plastylite the common connection with these additional codes?
This caused me to go back to my only 10-inch Prestige pressed by Plastylite, and lo and behold, the answer had been staring me in the face but I was looking at the ear so I didn’t see it.7E.
The hunt was on. Who else did Plastylite press for? Collectors obligingly rummaged through their early jazz titles and came up with more examples, confirming Felixstrange‘s notions about Plastylite’s or their supplier’s code system. Note these codes consistently relate to particular labels. They are not random. They don’t refer to stamper alignment in presses, an early theory discarded for 9M.
Dottorjazz, now demon photographer
Plastylite /ESOTERIC: 10Z.
Mystery solved! Sort of… there are still too many loose ends..
(Updated with further insights from expert comments, September 15, 2014)
9M was one of a range of numeric/alpha codes identified with metalwork destined for various labels pressed by Plastylite, possibly others, applied at some point in the chain of manufacture either by a metal-plating department of Plastylite or a supplier to Plastylite if plating was done externally, to them and maybe others.
The etching appears always centrally placed between two lead-out grooves, never seen cut by the groove. That must narrow the window of opportunity for its’ placement. It is always at right-angles to the groove, never in the direction of the groove. Though it is often in a different hand, it always follows these conventions, so there is a common purpose, and I suspect, common organisation.
In a chaotic system, 9Ms would be written in many diverse ways. This smacks of “we do it this way because that is how we have always done it in this organisation.” Precedent rules, a single organisation. Perhaps when an acetate is plated, there is a one opportunity in the workflow to apply an identifying code, and a place where you can apply it. Speculation, but intruiging.
Why did it disappear from Blue Note pressings around 1962? Any number of possible explanations. Perhaps they changed supplier, perhaps there was no need for it. Or perhaps the original plating process changed practice, a supplier was bought up, closed down, or business moved to another. But it disappears from Blue Note new titles after 4067.
BN 4001 Rollins, Newks Time – first 9M on 4000 series
Unlike the “ear”, which disappeared in 1966 when pressing was moved from Plastylite to new owner Liberty’s plant, the 9M continues to pop up occasionally on Liberty reissues of Blue Note 1500 series, where Liberty had access to legacy stampers which naturally display all the original etchings of the original metalware (apart from the factory-applied ear) ie matrix codes, RVG/ VAN GELDER stamp, and 9M. When a 9M present on a reissue or later pressing, you are effectively listening to a copy of the “original”, though not necessarily sounding the exact same because of many other variables in later pressing.
LJC Update September 15, 2014
There are lots of people who have wrestled with this mystery, me included, lots of theories and every time lots of loose ends, we may not have it all. Take the contrary evidence of “anomalies”. There may be alternative explanations for anomalies. For example, what if an record is found with two codes? Well, what if that was an operator error in that one occasion? Or a product intended for one customer was subsequently supplied to another? Anomalies may be just that, or they may fatally unravel an until then good theory. One thing I support here is evidence, which trumps anecdote and speculation.
There are two possible competing motives in this enquiry as any other, both valid in their own way. One is a commitment to discovering what is right, the other a determination to prove something wrong, without contributing to discovery of what is right. I leave you to be the judge which gets us further forward..
9M: what does it mean? 9M meant Blue Note, for a crucial period of time.. To whom, why, and the rest of the chaos may never be unravelled. That much I think stands as a given. For the rest, good luck.
My thanks to Felixstrange, Aaron, DottorJazz, Rudolf, Bob Djukic and others who contributed information opinion and pictures to this original research.
To readers, the information is valuable. Use it wisely.If you have other examples of Plastylite/label codes, send them. However, we are more or less done with this topic. Back to the music.
LJC UPDATE November 7, 2015
New find: a 9M found on the RVG STEREO master of BN 84057 Stanley Turrentine and the 3 Sounds Blue Hour. (release August 1961, this United Artists re-issue circa 1975 using original RVG Stereo master) Having stated the 9M disappeared after BN 4001 (released Jan 1959) the new sighting puts it two and a half years later.
There are nearly a dozen others in the 4000 series with 9M, found on pressings manufactured between 1959 and 1962. One hypothesis is that a number of blank acetates had been prepared for Blue Note which were stock items, a consumable from one supplier (the origin of these codes) along with a number of other suppliers, which were finally used up. Beyond that, it is a random by-product of record manufacturing technology.
If it is present, and should be present, it is associated with the original master. If it is absent on a record where it should be present (a third of original 1500 series don’t have it) then it is likely you have a later remastered pressing.
UPDATE: July 10, 2016
Folkways Records, ©1954 “Custom Molded by Plastylite” – by rights there should be a unique custom code for Folkways, 3T, and may be a Plastylite “ear” but it went unremarked by the Discogs uploader
If you have one of these early ’50s Folkways and you can get a picture of the 3T custom code, email it to me, support the cause.