NOTE: this post was past work-in-progress. The final write-up of the Kind of Blue case study, which corrects some of the statements below, is found here:
(Update Nov 11, 12 and 13, see foot of post, super-anorak addendum, label font variation, Canadian pressings, and two eye )
Columbia matrix codes have been bugging me for a long time .I thought I had them figured, in theory at least, but a chance exchange of emails with an LJC reader who is working on a book about Kind of Blue, Hi Enrico!, opened up more possibilities.
There is a record which is perfect to test the theory, on which lots of matrix information has been collected by record sellers, to see how well it explains and dates the manufacture of Columbia records – the immortal Kind of Blue. And it may add some useful knowledge for collectors too. A closer look at the auction history of Kind of Blue copies had me scratching my head again. What do you have to know in the search for the earliest pressing, to increase your confidence, impress friends with your knowledge? More than at first I thought.
First too, a recap on information from others, the usual suspects:
“In addition to the prefix code and job number, there would also be a number/letter combination at the end – the number indicates the tape/mix used, whilst the letter refers to the lacquer used. Only the letters A to L were used, excluding I: A 1st cutting; B 2nd; C 3rd; D 4th; E 5th; F 6th; G 7th; H 8th; J 9th; K 10th; L 11th; AA 12th; AB 13th; AC 14th; AD 15h etc -“
A 1st cutting; B 2nd; C 3rd; D 4th; E 5th; F 6th;
G 7th; H 8th; J 9th; K 10th; L 11th; AA 12th;
AB 13th; AC 14th; AD 15th; AE 16th; AF 17th; AG 18th;
AH 19th; AJ 20th; AK 21st; AL 22nd; BA 23rd; BB 24th;
BC 25th; BD 26th; BE 27th; BF 28th; BG 29th; BH 30th;
BJ 31st; BK 32nd; BL 33rd; CA 34th; CB 35th; CC 36th;
CD 37th; CE 38th; CF 39th; CG 40th; CH 41st; CJ 42nd;
CK 43rd; CL 44th; DA 45th; DB 46th; DC 47th; DD 48th;
DE 49th;………………ad infinitum.
Kevin Gray: “Columbia used PAL and PBL prefixes for side 1 and 2, and A and B suffixes for the Santa Maria, Ca. plant, C and D for Terra Haute, In. and E and F for Pitman N.J. Six (or more) sets of lacquers were usually cut for any big-name artist, so the very first mastering would be 1A,1B,1C,1D,1E,and1F.
Any recuts would be the next higher number for that plant”. (LJC: so 1G and 1H would be the 2nd cut from Santa Maria) “That way they could easily keep track of how many replacements were needed for each plant. “
Discogs has 247 entries against Kind of Blue.
Columbia at this time pressed vinyl at up to four pressing plants of their own (and possibly made use of many others) The dates these came into operation, according to Discogs:
(Post updated to include Bridgeport references, October 2019)
- When KoB was first released, in August 1959, Columbia had two plants of its own in operation: Bridgeport CT and Terre Haute IN.
- The Columbia Six-Eye label was in use between 1958 and early 1963.
On its first release in August 1959, an error was made in the track listing of the Side 2 label. Flamenco Sketches was wrongly listed as the first track, and All Blues as the second. All mono promos have the Side 2 track-listing error. The sequence was corrected (ie Side 2 track order reversed) on the label, around November 1959, on commercial release pressings. Hence promos are all pre 11/59. The sequence error remained on the jacket indefinitely, and was never corrected.
Matrix codes found on mono promos:
1D/1H, 1H/1D, 1D/1G, 1G/1D, no other letters or variations were made mention of, no symmetrical pairs found (eg 1G/1G). The four variations are offset pairs eg 1D/1H and 1H/1D. The only unique letters found are D, G and H, and each letter is found as Side 1 and Side 2. D is found in every permutation, G and H are never found paired with each other, or at least not found in my sample (not to say they do not exist, possibly other letters, but none in my sample).
The press operator at the plant tasked with pressing the promo had at least three laquer sets to work with – D, G and H. He chose Side 1 from one set, and married it up with Side 2 from another set. If a second press was in use, which seems likely, the opposite pairing was mounted in the second press. If a third press was employed, Side 1 was chosen from a third lacguer, and married up with Side 2 from another available lacquer at the time.(each laquer could have several stampers with the same matrix letter) .
The most plausible explanation for simultaneous use of multiple presses is to speed up the job time to produce the promo. Since several lacquer sets were available, why not?
Stereo promos replicate the early track sequence error seen on the mono promo labels ie they too are pre 11/59.
The matrix code found on stereo promos are:
1E/1K, 1K/1E, 1AC/1AE, 1AE/1AC
Similar to mono, stereo promos were found in four combinations of offset letter pairs, unique letters are E, K, AC and AE, each found as side 1 and side 2, but never mixed eg there is no 1E/1AC or 1K/AE. No other letters were found. Stereo promos leapfrog the expected alphabetic progression jumping from E (5th cutting) to AE (16th cutting). A small number of lacquers were responsible for generating promos, in one place. Likely multiple presses operating simultaneously, with opposite pairings of side 1 and side 2.
Summary – what we now know from promos
KoB promos are all pre 11/59 (have Side 2 track-list error) and matrix code letter 1D or higher. None were found 1A,1B or 1C, ( which are found on the commercial release). All promos were probably manufactured at Bridgeport CT. A lacquer includes Side 1 and Side 2. A limited number of lacquers/ stampers were used in pressing promos, Side 1 and Side 2 were drawn from different pairings, not symmetrical (not 1A/1A) nor sequential (not 1A/1B).
Conclusion: Tidiness and order are retrospective intellectual concepts not manifest in practice. Conventional Wisdom™ is no guide to what actually happens.
US first commercial release – six-eye label – mono
Most sellers copies have the corrected Side 2 label, and many claim theirs is an original first pressing, simply because it is a Six-Eye. One even declared it was the first pressing because the matrix suffix started with a 1 (simply original tape mix, like all).
Time to dig deeper.
Side 2 mono : early vs later pressing –
Illustrated below, the Side 2 track listing error, left pre-November 1959 (1.Flamenco Sketches 2. All Blues) and the track-list corrected after November 1959, right (1. All Blues 2. Flamenco Sketches)
US first commercial release – six eye label -Stereo
Side 2 stereo: early vs later pressing – also initial track listing error corrected
The label correction is believed to have taken place around November 1959, on the instruction of Teo Macero (hat tip Enrico!). It is not known how many labels with the side 2 error were printed, but the presence of the Side 2 error is proof of “early pressing” status 8/59 to 11/59. Columbia was a major, not the sort of small operator that would “use up” wrong labels to save money. In all likelihood they simply canned the misprinted label and replaced it with a fresh print-run. Or so Conventional Wisdom™ suggests
US commercial release pressings – matrix codes
Matrix 1A/1A with Side 2 track-listing error
It exists! the holy grail 1A/1A. One of the few samples found where the matrix codes Side 1 and Side 2 are taken the same lacquer.
The very few commercial mono copies were found with matrix codes in the range 1A to 1C on both sides ( five records only in the sample, they are very rare), all had the Side 2 track-list error. At 1D on both sides, Side 2 was found in both correct and incorrect track listing order i.e. lacquer letter progression rapidly stops being a useful guide to the very earliest pressings. Early letter-denominated mothers and stampers were used to press further copies with the corrected label for Side 2. Worse: later, rare combinations such as 1AC/1AA are found with and without the Side 2 error. Bummer.
The most frequently occurring matrix code on mono pressings is D, which was also used in manufacturing promos; after that, AC, AE, and AJ. . The highest value found was 1BD for Side 1 and 1BE (27th lacquer) for Side 2. Doesn’t mean there aren’t others higher, just not in my sample. There are clusters around certain letters, for example 1AJ on Side 1 is found with Side 2 as 1AD, 1AE,1AF and 1AG. There may have been 27 lacquers cut but many letters never appear, and only a limited number of lacquers appear to have been actually used for pressing. You have to ask, what the hell were the rest doing, hiding? What part was played by Customatrix, Columbia’s metal producing division?
The Deep Groove
The presence or absence of deep groove is often a signal of earlier pressings on some labels, like Blue Note However in the case of Kind of Blue Six-Eye, almost all the Six-Eye mono’s are deep groove (example, left) and very few non-DG (example, right) which had a very high matrix value (1BF)
Inner sleeves can often provide supporting evidence of original, early/first pressing status. A number of inner sleeves are found with Six-Eye mono and stereo Kind of Blue, but the black and white upper example (front and back) seems most closely associated with very early matrix codes A to D
The red polka dots sleeve is associated with higher matrix codes, as is the blue perspectival stripe inner sleeve. The inner sleeves advertising other Columbia titles could probably be dated by the release dates of the records pictured, if anyone had the energy to collect them all, I certainly had not at this point.
Finally, inside the cover, some copies have the dreaded Columbia inner bag:
I don’t know if it helps or hinders assessing pressing status, may be you do. The few copies found are associated with later matrix numbers.
Misprint! Mis-spelling! Much ado (about nothing).
As all sellers point out, the authentic original cover of Kind of Blue has Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s name miss-spelt “Adderly”. Unlike the track-list error, which is a vital clue to the earliest of pressings, the miss-spelling of Adderley’s name remained on the cover for over a decade, and is irrelevant.
No doubt it was corrected at some point, but not during six-eye era, the later CBS over-print, Guaranteed High Fidelity/two-eye 360º Sound, nor Columbia all-round. Didn’t seem to bother “Cannonball” that much, he’s no cissy worrying about a misprint, he’s bigger than that. Now if they had miss-spelt “Cannonball” things might have been a little different.
Back cover track-listsequence error
The back cover listing of tracks repeats the initial side 2 track-listing error, both mono and stereo editions. The back cover error remained uncorrected from 1959 to at least 1977. PC 8163 Columbia all-round red label still has it. In that respect, the back cover error does not add any information about dating pressings. Like the Adderly misprint, sellers often talk it up as though something significant has been being found, like a rare penny black stamp misprint, worth millions! Some sellers claim their copy has a “misprint” merely because the Side 2 label is the corrected one, at odds with the cover track list. All copies are like that.
Lesson’s for First Pressing Fundamentalists
Buyers in search of the earliest KoB pressing, you have been warned:
“VERY FIRST ORIGINAL AUTHENTIC ULTRA RARE”…baloney.
- Six-eye Promos are the first pressings, guaranteed.
- However, the six-eye label was in use on KoB for nearly four years. Only a combination of early matrix code 1A to 1C and the Side 2 label track-list error identifies first pressing commercial release.
- 1D is found with and without the s2 track error, which suggests the transitional point
- Six-eye without deep groove, presence of CBS overprint, and very high letter values like 1BH is a warning flag of being late in series, 1963
- Of the rest, you pays your money you makes your choice, condition is king: mint, looks un-played, still-sealed, storage find, you know the spiel, just forget “insanely rare!”
As for dating Columbia matrix codes, we know this record example is very very old, because it’s from 1 BC
Perhaps the others side is from 1 AD, just a couple of years later.
If you have stayed with me, first, congratulations, you have learned to speak a little Columbian. The sort of question everyone wants an answer to, you are a long way towards having, possibly. If both sides are early alpha 1A to1D, its early, if both sides are 1BA or higher, it’s late, end of six-eye. In between, anything goes. The use of lacquers was not a chronological progression, and they were paired in some very disparate combinations (1BC/1J,1A/1AC, 1AC/1B and so on) so the driving force is something else we do not yet understand, and are still working on.
It could be the explanation is one like those DG and non-DG dies at Blue Note -no “systematic” working practice to guide future collectors, no adherence to alphabetic sequence, it didn’t matter, the operative just used whatever stamper (from whatever lacquer) came to hand for the job, from those the plant was sent. Additional pressing runs yielded differently matched pairs, or sometimes, matching pairs. However they are not random pairs, but neither are they alphabetically sequential pairs. Conventional Wisdom™ is not having a good day.
That was my understanding too when I started out on this investigation, not quite where I ended up now. I think we have increased the amount of stuff we know, but at the same time, increased the amount of stuff we don’t know. That is what usually passes for progress.
LJC says: please feel free to weigh in if you think I’ve got something wrong (which you can put straight), or you can add something to the story, speak up, perhaps your promo doesn’t fit with my m.o. another theory could crash and burn (If you want to let everyone know your KoB is a CD/, that joke is disallowed, don’t.)
The floor is yours.
UPDATE Friday November 11, 2016
Eagle-eyed reader Acode has spotted label font styles as another potentially significant variable. Great! (heart sinks, more work) I’ve combed through my database and come up with these three variations. (v.1, v.2 and v.3)
Like with the Prestige study we see the different label printers decisions on typographical layout. Track titles are often in a condensed font, tall and thin, to squeeze more in, but in this case it’s the album title font that marks out the printer, and probably the collocated pressing plant.
We see three solutions, v.1 an ultra condensed font to fit the title in a single line,v.2 a regular font of smaller point size on one line, and v.3 to hell with it, a bold regular typeface and two lines. So far I haven’t found any other variation. I reckon only two locations, local printing for that plant.
The interesting thing is the matrix codes associated with the different printers. Almost all the 1D/1D and 1D/ 1AD or 1AE pressings are v.1, one-line title in an extra-condensed font. It is very similar to the font on promos, but with tighter spacing. None of the promos have the larger rounded regular bold font and all are two line . Another fingerprint, the plant in question tended to issue copies with symmetrical matrix codes – 1D/1D and 1J/1J – unlike other plants, which pressed with unmatched stampers e.g. 1AE/1AJ
(Updated Feb 24, 2017) The v.3 two line title is found exclusively on the very earliest commercial release matrix codes 1A, 1B and 1C (either side in any permutation and not paired with any higher letter), and in much later copies around 1AE-to 1AJ
UPDATE Saturday November 12, 2016
It’s been raining, it’s a miserable cold day, so I’ve looked at another 500 KOB auction results, that is a thousand in total. (Virtually every time, “Rare!” If I see another KOB six-eye described as rare again I shall punch someone. Some interesting finds amongst the dross.
We now know where lacquer B went (or at least mothers derived from it) : Canada. Both mono and stereo six-eyes with a uniquely “Canadian” touch. Band 1. Band 2…so French. The suffix -1B is visible on mono Side 1 and seller described both sides 1B/1B. This could be a quite desirable source for early pressings.
In another development, stereo copies with 1AG and 1AH and mono copies with 1AF and 1AJ have been turning up with a letter “T” and alpha suffix – TA, TB and TC found – stamped mechanically like the matrix stamp. One visible on a photo:
As yet unexplained, but has to be a pressing plant process control identifier.
UPDATE Sunday November 13, 2016
We’ve had relatives staying, leading to escape to the study and more data on KoB auctions.
A little icing on the cake, the Columbia two-eye KoB has a degree of chronology, so there are early and later two-eye. It follows more or less the overall Columbia evolution – Guaranteed High Fidelity becoming <-360º SOUND -> MONO (white print); and <-360º SOUND -> STEREO first in black print then white print. In a further variation the word “UNBREAKABLE” under the catalogue number disappears.
The interesting part is the lacquer numbers associated with two-eye edition, commencing with the tail end of the 1BA-1BL run, and the start of the 1CA – 1CL run. Those lacquers existed, and were put into service from 1963 onwards until the early ’70s.
On the original study ambition, the analysis of the matrix data from six-eye auctions now covers over a thousand auctions, those over $40, which has doubled the number of matrix pairs in the database to 200. The pattern of deployment of lacquers is starting to come through loud and clear, resulting in a fatal blow to Conventional Wisdom™. All will be revealed. Very soon.
Note: This post was works in Progress. The final report will be found here: