Thank you readers who contributed Kind of Blue six-eye label matrix codes. The pattern and frequency of codes more or less mirrors the findings in my larger sample of now around two hundred matrix pairs, which it should, enough to give a high level of confidence in the findings about the use of Columbia lacquer cuttings and the search for the earliest pressings of Kind of Blue (1959).
The only significant difference was LJC readers were more likely to own the stereo edition than was found in the marketplace. Modern times! Over two thirds of six-eye copies at auction are mono, which probably reflects purchasing habits in the three to four years following its release in 1959.
You will recall Conventional Wisdom™ says
Columbia’s alphabetic matrix code system starts at A and works through to L (11 unique letters in first cohort) then AA to AL (11 in second cohort) then BA to BL (11 in third cohort), and CA to CL thereafter. All lacquers are cut from the 1st tape mix at the same time, and numbered sequentially, to the matrix code format XLP (mono) or XSM (stereo) recording serial number – 1alpha, stamped into the deadwax area of the lacquer between the grooves and centre label.
Lacquers (or metal sets, including mothers and stampers, the exact medium of distribution is not known) were supplied to pressing plants in an orderly sequence (A to this plant, B to that plant C to …etc.)
Since a lacquer includes Side 1 and Side 2 for that matrix code, each matrix code can appear on both sides, or just one side if two lacquer/sets were supplied to each pressing location and stampers were transposed setting up the press (1A/1A, or 1A/1B or 1B/1A or 1B/1B)
Kind of Blue PROMOs
White label promotional copies were pressed in both mono (red text label) and stereo (black text label), with DEMONSTRATION, and NOT FOR SALE on the label. We know all promos were manufactured in mid 1959 as they all have the Side 2 track-list error, Flamenco Sketches first, corrected in November 1959
All the lacquers were cut at the same time, mid 1959. In no special order, a handful were selected to press promotional copies, at one or possibly two plants (not known) but consistent label printer, so probably one.
Mono promos were produced from three lacquers: G, D and H. They occur in offset mirrored pairs H/D D/H, D/G and G/D
LJC confidante Andrew C (the Vinyl Detective) loaned me his mono KOB promo for this forensic shot (above). It has 1D/ 1G stamper matrices, the Side 2 label track sequence error, but more interesting are the T/ TA stamps on the opposite side of the deadwax, something overlooked by many sellers. Terre Haute mother/stamper process control process? A few other sharp-eyed KOB sellers noted T stamps – a TA/ TB permutation, and a TB/ TC permutation. I think it confirms these promos were pressed at Columbia’s Terre Haute Indiana facility.
Most but not all lacquers used to press promos went on to be used to press the commercial release.
Stereo promos were produced from four lacquers: E, K, AC and AE. They occur in similar offset mirrored pairs: E/K, K/E, AC/AE, AE/AC.
There may be a mechanical reason why they are all offset mirrored pairs (Side 1 stamper from one lacquer, side 2 stamper from another lacquer) and not symmetrical pairs (e.g.1E/1E), possibly to run two presses simultaneously, or to ensure metal sets from each lacquer wear equally, but that is for another day.
Lacquers used to press Kind of Blue stereo promos continued in use, except E, which joined the list of lacquers which are The Disappeared Ones.
Commercial release mono CL 1355
Evidenced by the Side 2 track-listing error, mono lacquers A, B, C and D (any on both sides) were used in the first pressing run, together with a small number of others: a minority of D1/D1 copies had the track list error, and one 1H/1D (1H lacquer used also for promo) was found with the error label, though there may be others.
This was effectively the first identifiable pressing, running up to the August 1959 launch and during the first three months of sales. Seems a reasonable definition. Beyond that, you end up with any six-eye pressed between 1959 and 1963. Identifiable “early pressings” are very rare, where are they? Not in the hands of LJC or his readers, according to my poll data. Possibly in the hands of sinister and elite first pressing fundamentalists, stashed away in the vaults of their private island retreats reached only by submarine or helicopter.
The above examples of 1A 1B and 1C labels (note, always 1A as Side 2) each feature the two line bold album title. With 1D (different printer and pressing location?) the typesetting differs, a small point-size round font on one line There are a very large number of 1D/1D and 1J/1J – matching letter pairs found, which all have the same one line album title label style.
The presence of an 1A or 1B on one side, and a higher value on the other, is not an early mono pressing, obviously. The majority of 1A and 1B matrix pairs are found as Side 2 paired with a higher letter on Side 1 (e.g. 1AL/1A, 1AK/1A and 1AC/1A, 1AC/1B 1AE/1B), all with corrected Side 2 listing. Metal from 1A and 1B lacquers was still being used some years later, mix and match.
Why introduce a new lacquer 1AL when 1A is still capable of churning out acceptable quality pressings? Good question. The record industry says, conservatively, one master lacquer can generate at least five mothers of acceptable quality, each mother can generate at least five stampers, with each stamper capable of pressing around 4,000 albums. That is 100,000 albums per lacquer. I reckon sales of KoB was maybe ¼m between 1959 and 1963, pure guesswork. A,B and C could have manufactured the lot. Instead of three lacquers, over thirty were in use, out by a factor of ten. One of these assumptions is wrong by a factor of ten, crazy, but we find what we find. A known unknown.
Though many different permutations eventually occur, almost half of all mono copies were pressed from only three laquers: D, J, and AE.
A further five lacquers account for the next quarter of all mono copies: A, B, AC, AD, and AJ.
In line with Conventional Wisdom™ first pressing on mono starts A, B, C, and (some) D, after which it is a veritable free for all, mix and not match. The mystery is the “missing lacquers” – the next letters which never appear on any side of any mono copy of Kind of Blue : E, F, K and L. None appear in the auctions sample or the reader poll. Spooky, damit. (For clarity, just in the case of Kind of Blue, not other Columbia titles)
Commercial release STEREO CS 8163
Only one -1A/ -1B/ or -1C stereo six-eye was found, claimed as mythical “1B/1B” of which I am highly sceptical. I caught one seller claiming he had a 1A/1A in the auction headline which later in the description expanded to 1AC/1AE. (Yeah, they start with an “A”.) Another waxed lyrical over a 1A/1B six-eye stereo – RARE! ORIGINAL! FIRST! but failed to notice the CBS overprint and absence of deep groove. CBS overprint non-DG illustrated below (1962/3).
I am not convinced the first stereo pressings followed the 1A/ 1B/ 1C/ route at all.
The earliest pressing of stereo six eye is I believe stereo promos (E, K, AC, and AE), some other rare single alpha (1E and 1H) and some 1AA and 1AC which also have the Side 2 track-listing error – most of them do not. These identifiable early stereo pressings are pictured below.
1A stereo is only found paired with higher value letter (e.g. 1A/1AE) with the Side 2 track-list error corrected, so stereo lacquer 1A was used only in later pressings, not in any earl stereo pressing run.
In the case of Stereo, six lacquers account for half of all the copies manufactured, none of which are single alphabetic 1A to 1L. The most frequently found are in, order of magnitude, AJ, AD, BC, AA, AE and AG.
A further four lacquers BB, BG, AL and BH, take us up to the three-quarter mark of all stereo copies manufactured
Another fifteen lacquers contribute to the final tally of all those found. Mostly these are high values like BC/BG and BH/BJ , close to the CBS overprint and transition to two-eye label (1962/63) where lacquers from the third cohort 1CA to 1CL begin to appear.
There are also six missing lacquers, matrix code letters not found on either side on any stereo six eye: C, D, F, G, K and L.
Regarding the mono edition, it can be argued the lacquers used to generate promos are the genuine first pressing, then 1A,1B and 1C and a handful of 1D among the very earliest commercial release copies, evidenced by the presence of the Side 2 label track-listing error. These command a significant price premium at auction.
Withthe Stereo edition, different principles seem to apply. Stereo promos, like mono, don’t follow any -1A -1B -1C pattern at all: they are E, K, AC and AE. In the commercial release, 1E, 1H, 1AA and 1AC among the first pressings, evidenced by the Side 2 label track-listing error.
More than thirty lacquers of Kind of Blue were cut. Over the four years of the six-eye label, fresh pressing runs would draw on the stock of lacquers, a general chronological drift, but many “mismatched” stamper combinations. There may not be much significance the matrix code being an “early alpha” beyond mono A-B-C.
There is no reason to believe a pressing off a 1BJ stamper will sound any different or better than one off an 1A stamper. They are not a second or third generation copy, or a copy of a copy. Each lacquer is merely a cutting from the first master tape mix, all made at the same time. They are all “first generation” (if I understand the technology). However you have to deal with collector sentiment: 1A! FIRST! ORIGINAL!
Much ado is made of the 1½% speed error and therefore pitch difference which followed from the 30th St. Studio primary three track deck running slightly slow, affecting the stereo edition. I read this first came to light in the early ’90s. It didn’t matter to Miles, to any of the musicians or the producers and for thirty years it didn’t matter to anyone. To my mind, it is like the misspelling Adderly on the cover. That didn’t matter much to anyone either. It’s a feature. Certainly doesn’t matter to me. (Agh!! You Philistine! you fail to notice 1½% pitch difference!!)
The alternative “originals” to US six-eye: look overseas
In this alternative early pressings review I am want to breathe genuine polluted 1960’s air, not Classic Records, MoFi, Legacy or other modern editions. That is for Hoffman Forum discussions.
Looking to Europe and further abroad. Mono Fontana French first pressing, Dutch pressing and briefly, the British pressing. Note the Side 2 track listing error Flamenco Sketches first on each (my thanks to Emmanuel C for the French Fontana original Side 2 label)
Alternative European Fontana cover, which didn’t last long with the UK edition, after they scrapped it to eliminate the track sequence error, and reverted to the US cover.
Or there are our friends from Japan, with a mono and stereo first pressing complete with the Side 2 track-listing error.
Or damn it, go for broke: original stereo test pressing, first release Japan.
With Japan alternative cover, white labels, only around $500. Genuinely RARE! (as opposed to the three thousand auction US copies described as “rare”)
Early pressings of Kind of Blue done, for now anyway. Happy listening, it is a wonderful piece of music, whatever edition you have. Hope we have learned something along the way about speaking Columbian, and Conventional Wisdom™ There are almost certainly some exceptions and gaps to what I have found despite looking at a thousand auctions – a label that turns up contrary-wise, no problem, it’s all good.
What we have is not “knowledge”, it is a working hypothesis of how things work. As Einstein said, it doesn’t matter if 99 of times we agree with the hypothesis, it takes only one example to invalidate it.
Columbia excorcism, finished.Great! Back to the music.
Postscript – Technical Appendix – the data
Ebay auctions of Kind of Blue on six-eye label over last three years where, seller identified matrix on both sides (198 auctions in total).
In addition, the eBay auction search found a further 10 mono and 10 stereo promo copies with both matrix codes identified by the seller.