It’s as easy as A, B, C… or perhaps not! All aboard the RVG Prestige mystery train.

(Updated June 12, 2018 – see foot of post)

Saxophone Colossus overlooked (and that’s a tall order!) The mystery of RVG/ Prestige alphabetic stamp codes. Followers of The Evil Silver Disc might want to sit this one out. It’s deep vinyl.

Jim R has a jazz vinyl collection to die for. He and stalwart Van-Gelderophile and LJC Forum moderator DGmono have been grappling with something I confess I had completely overlooked: the presence on Prestige records of an alphabetic code next to Van Gelder’s hand etched initials, in this case on copies of Saxophone Colossus. What could they mean? Do they differentiate first pressings in any way? More importantly, to a revered global authority on all things vintage vinyl jazz, why don’t I know the answer to this? 

Jim R drew my attention to the codes found on his two (yes, he has two!) original copies of Saxophone Colossus on the NY label (spit!). Jim  R has the real deal and he noticed these codes differed from one copy to another. Here is what he found, in his own words (saves me rewriting them):

“There appears to be at least two versions of the release bearing the same 446 West 50th labels. 

Version 1 has a true flat edge vinyl with a very small B stamped next to RVG on one side and a very small c stamped into the opposite side. This version came with the green tint jacket. 

Version 2 has a very slightly raised lip with the letter A stamped next to RVG on both sides. This version came with a more blue jacket, but not nearly as bright blue as later issues on the Bergenfield labels”

Picture: an A stamp (which seems likely later):

Picture: a B stamp (which paired with a C stamp on the other side) seem earlier:

Remember: Jim’s flat edge copy – which corroborating and circumstantial evidence suggests is the earliest – has a B and a C stamp. The copy that appears to be of later manufacture but still within the years of the New York label has an A stamp on both sides. Both pressed by Abbey Mfg. Holy Non-synchronicity!

I love it when “logical” assumptions lead you astray. Everyone thought the mighty Columbia worked in an orderly alphabetic sequence with Kind of Blue, as though following the order of the alphabet was part of process control. However when thirty cuttings were made simultaneously, all the same, sent to multiple plants, it didn’t matter who got which letter when.

Logic (intelligent guesswork as to how you think things ought to work) is an unreliable friend. Sometimes, possibly often, different from how things actually work.

The long-suffering Mrs LJC has a touching but misplaced faith in weather forecasts and railway timetables (train forecasts, really), unshaken by the number of occasions when something different happens. I am one of the “let’s see what happens” school of thinkers. There may be principles, hidden from view, which you don’t know of. Sometimes things have failed to work as intended (passenger taken ill, points failure, whatever) so different outcomes emerge. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, turn up and see what happens, it will be somewhere between the two.  But I digress…

My Saxophone Colossus has feet of clay. It is a later pressing on the Bergenfield label.  Intrigued, I fished out my Bergenfield copy, only to find yet more RVG codes:

 

Close up, and I’ll be hornswaggled (again) Not just a C stamp. Dammit the flip side offered up an E stamp.

Remember: Jim R has a flat edge original original copy which also has a C stamp on one side but paired with a B stamp. I have E. What gives?

Questions, questions…

Is it the same stamper code on both side A and side B consistently between other copies? Do the Side A/ Side B codes ever reverse (like KoB’s1D/1J and 1J/1D)

Plastylite ears, 9Ms  and other etchings often appear randomly positioned around the central vinyl land, but in every case so far, the alpha code is positioned next to RVG’s signature. Not exactly the same position, some are before the RVG, some after the RVG, but always close enough to suggest by design, not randomness. Rudy was using a coding attached to his name. It’s a Van Gelder managed code: cut on a sequence of intermediate mothers perhaps?

Is there a D stamper out there? Does it go beyond E to F or higher?

Was it a control system Van Gelder  applied to other Prestige titles, not just Saxophone Colossus. I have a sneaky feeling I have seen it a number of times, but thought little about it at the time. (See postscript)

Appeal for witnesses. Collectors: check your Saxophone Colossus copies for alpha stamps. Maybe other Prestige. No time for logic, we need to gather experience, find out what  happened. Do you have knowledge that could contribute to solving this mystery? Tell us what you’ve got. If you already know the answer, share it.

My thanks to Jim R and DGmono for tirelessly chasing these fascinating vinyl mysteries, and giving me no peace. Who needs peace when there are mysteries to solve?

Oh, by the way, it’s a great album. Did I get round to mentioning that?

LJC

POSTSCRIPT

Jim R has sent in an analysis of the Van Gelder codes found in his Prestige collection. Alpha Madness, it seems a large number have a stamper code:

Prestige LPs
Cat. No. Side 1 Side 2 Flat Edge
7020 RVG RVG No
7035 RVG RVG No
7038 RVG B RVG B No
7043 B RVG A RVG Yes
7047 D RVG D RVG No
7058 RVG A RVG A No
7061 A RVG B RVG No
7063 RVG A C RVG No
7068 RVG A RVG A Yes
7079 B RVG C RVG Yes
7079 RVG A RVG A No
7080 RVG A RVG A No
7085 RVG A RVG A No
7088 A RVG A RVG No
7090 RVG A RVG A No
7094 RVG RVG Yes
7102 A RVG B RVG No
7103 A RVG A RVG No
7115 A RVG A RVG No
7117 RVG RVG No
7119 A RVG A RVG No
7129 RVG A A RVG No
7130 RVG RVG No
7142 RVG A RVG A No
7166 RVG RVG No
7188 RVG RVG No
7200 RVG RVG No
7213 RVG RVG No

UPDATE 2 – June 11, 2018 Pressing Matters

Peter dJ has sent in another Colossus oddity. On his  NYC copy, in addition to A and C stamps, he found what I believe to be a pressing plant identifier, an arrow “this way up” symbol:

I have seen this symbol several times before, but I keep it in my “Unsolved Mysteries” file, as I have no idea who it is. Whilst Prestige’s preferred pressing plant was Abbey Record Mfg. as indicated by the frequent presence of an AB stamp or etching, this looks like someone else’s work*. When records sold in record numbers, and more copies were needed quickly, other plants with any spare capacity would be brought in, as possibly here? Any owners of the NYC label copy have other indications of pressing plant origins? It might throw up some previously unknown association with the stamper codes.

My thanks to Peter dJ for sending this in.

UPDATE III, June 12, 2018 – *Peter dJ tells me the pressing with the “This Way Up” mystery symbol also has an AB stamp, so it is connected with Abbey Record Mfg. in some way. Now I am totally baffled.

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33 thoughts on “It’s as easy as A, B, C… or perhaps not! All aboard the RVG Prestige mystery train.

  1. Since the talk is of Sonny, I checked my 2 NYC pressings:

    7020 Rollins Plus 4. NYC, Raised Edge. Very small embossed “B” on both sides, close to etched “RVG”.

    7095 Rollins Plays for Bird. NYC, Flat Edge. Very small embossed “B” on both sides, close to etched “RVG”. Etched “AB” on both sides.

    When I get a chance, I will check other NYC pressings and report back.

    Question- when was the last Flat Edge pressing released ? Jim’s list included in the post above indicates his copy of 7094 is a flat edge. My copy of 7095 is a flat edge. Both are c1957. Surely these are near the end, correct ?

  2. I have a (PRLP 7079) 466 west 50th, with etched RVG and a stamped B on side 1 (etched AB). Side 2 has stamped A next to the etched RVG and etched AB.

  3. Interesting topic!

    My Colossus has:
    – green cover
    – flat edge (as in “no safetly lip”)
    – 50th St., N.Y.C. address on labels
    – Side 1: (large) A right from RVG
    – Side 2: (small) C left from RVG.

    What I never noticed before: side 1 has a sort of upwards directing arrow stamped into the dead wax, directly right from: “PRLP – 7079 – A”. Not sure what that means.
    Will send a close up pic to LJC, just in case 😉

  4. I also have a 50th St NYC copy and mine has an A stamped in BOTH sides, and the cover is deep blue, no tinge of green. Is this a mother pressing? Wishful thinking, who knows ..

  5. I’ve inspected my whole Rollins Prestige series:
    7020: RVG only
    7027 (with wrong 7020 on cover: RVG and one I on side two, five I on side one
    7038: RVG; AB hand etched and A machine etched, both sides
    7047: RVG; side one: AB hand etched and A machine etched; side two: AB hand etched and B machine etched
    7058: RVG; AB hand etched and A machine etched, both sides
    7079: RVG and AB both sides, side one C, side two E.
    7095: RVG machine etched, AB hand etched, B machine etched
    7126: RVG machine etched, AB side two only, B on side one and C on side two BUT preceeded by a cancelled B.
    dear LJC, have a nice headache!!

  6. Note that the letters (to my knowledge) only appear on Prestige records. Also note that Dott’s NYC copy has C on side 1 and E on side 2. Dott says his also has a “flat edge”, though he says it doesn’t have the sort of “cylindrical” shape of Blue Note flat edges. I will say, I currently have two NYC Prestiges (both of which have A on both sides), and the “raised lip” on them is quite minimal, meaning they almost look like flat edges. Then again, Jim R has two copies and says that one is flatter than the other, it’s also interesting to think that some NYC copies of Sax Colossus are flat edge and some aren’t.

    The letters look “embossed”, right? So that would mean they were in all likelihood created at the stamper stage, which would mean Van Gelder did not put them there?

    My guess is that you will see a lot more “A” copies out there for various titles, and that the letters indicate an order for the way in which the stampers were made. Without the flat edge on Jim’s B/C copy, were would probably conclude without objection that the letters indicate an order for the stampers. But the flat edge B/C copy makes me wonder if the pressing plant was perhaps using two presses simultaneously to press Sax Colossus, one with flat edge stampers and one without?? And if a letter gets skipped, the stamper may have broken early on in its run or maybe was rejected?

    • Flat edge or not is a result of the electro-plating process. As long as we don’t know which plating plant Prestige has sent the lacquers to, this is a highly irrelevant information. I doubt that we will find out about this fact without browsing the Prestige archives, as there had been more than one hundred plating plants in the NYC vicinity focusing on electro-plating metal parts for the record industry.

      Given that the above letters really represent the different stampers, this would mean that only between 20.000 and 25.000 copies of Saxophone Colossus have been sold between 1956 and 1964 (about 2.500 copies per year) – if Abbey really pressed 5.000 copies/stamper like EMI’s Hayes plant in the early Sixties (a extraordinarily high number of copies per stamper). And the stamper hypothesis doesn’t answer the question, why most releases, no matter if pressed by Abbey, have no letter at all – you would expect an ‘A’ representing the first stamper on all of these releases.

      BTW: all stamps embossed in either lacquer, mother or vinyl look embossed, stamped information on metal masters and stampers appear raised.

      • By “embossed” I meant raised.

        I never knew that metalwork was sometimes (often?) made somewhere other than the pressing plant, interesting! I agree, it’s really difficult to draw a conclusion here.

        Kevin Gray once said to me that it’s rare for a stamper to press more than 1,000 copies of an album. That being said, my guess is that even the most popular of these jazz albums were pressed in relatively small quantities, though there doesn’t appear to be a lot of information on how many copies of these jazz albums were pressed or sold.

        • The number of 5.000 copies per stamper has been researched by Frank Daniels when talking to employees responsible for the first Beatles pressings at Hayes plant. Decca seems to have limited the number to about 600 copies (according to Frank Wonneberg).

          All mayor companies (no matter if located in the UK, US or on the continent) had their own plating plants being separate departments of their pressing plants. Here’s a nice movie about RCA’s manufacturing process:

          Has been shot in 1956, made to fit Saxophone Colossus perfectly.

          Pressing plants like Plastylite were much too small to afford a plating plant of their own, they didn’t even have a printing department.

  7. I just looked at my prestige records and only found 2 with codes :
    Miles Davis 7150 promo has RVG A on both sides.
    Shirley scott 7155 has RVG A on side one, RVG on side two

  8. Great post. Wish I could add to the Colossus mystery but alas, for me a W 50th St. New York (or a Bergenfield for that matter) copy is but a pipe-dream. As for the tongue in cheek Phantom appeal, yes, yes and yes I can…thank goodness for “affordable” Blue Notes!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Try to catch one of the 1995 Steve Hofmann DCC Compact Classics – they sound excellent (at least better than the average 1.000 USD vg+ 50th W. copy [“it’s vg+, but it clicks a lot and crackles like a beautiful bonfire”]) and you don’t have to sell your baby brother. If you don’t like the frame around it (well: I don’t), you may cut it off…;-)

      • Some later OJC (Original Jazz Classics) pressings of Saxophone Colossus (and Tenor Madness) use the old DCC stampers and lack the tacky gold frame on the cover.

  9. If memory serves, these letter stamps are actually not pressed “in” the vinyl but are in relief. It seems likely that they are indeed stamper codes since the various letters, when pressed “in” the stamper, would create a relief when pressing the actual record. The matrix etching is the same on these so they are not different lacquer cuts but the letters were put on at a later stage in the process, like the Plastylite “P” was.

  10. I’m a bit puzzled – I never came across US pressing plants using stamper codes (like you will find them on Decca or EMI related labels), US record labels usually indicate the tape masters and lacquers as part of the matrices, like in case of the well known Columbia -1A/-1A scheme. The lacquers are sent to the pressing plants and these electro-plated their own metal parts, usually without marking the respective stampers (sometimes, you’ll find faint slashes, ‘V’s or ‘X’s in the run-out which may refer to the respective stamper). But this was only true for the mayor labels, smaller pressing plants like Plastylite or Abbey Manufacturing had no electro-plating department, so Prestige sent their lacquers to an unknown plating company and the metal parts were sent back to Prestige. I would say that most probably the letters refer to Van Gelder’s lacquers, as he certainly had to cut more than one for issues exceeding 50.000 copies and the stampers might have been sent to different pressing plants bearing the same lacquer-letter. Just an educated guess.

    • To my knowledge the Columbia codes are embossed, which would mean that they are not created at the mastering stage that creates the lacquer. Embossed codes must occur at either of the “negative” pressing phases, which would be the first metal master or stamper stages (the mother would be a positive in between them).

      I’m not an expert on the Columbia codes, but I would guess that the number either represents the metal master or the mother, that the letter represents the stamper, and that the code was added at the stamper stage. And the same with Prestige, that the letters were added to the stampers. The engraved V’s and X’s you are talking about would have been added at one of the positive stages, either the lacquer or mother.

      What leads you to believe that the metal parts for Prestige titles weren’t made by Abbey? Isn’t that the primary responsibility of the pressing plant? I’ve never heard of the metal parts being made anywhere other than the pressing plant.

      I’m led to believe that on very rare occasions (“wildly” popular jazz albums — which isn’t saying much in terms of quantity — titles like Somethin Else and Blue Train) Van Gelder would have needed to cut more than one lacquer. I have no idea how many copies a single lacquer could make usually but it would appear that it was a lot, as we occasionally see the same lacquers being used to create copies over a decade after the first pressing of an album.

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