After a decade of writing about vinyl, and in passing, the minutae of it’s manufacture as a route to determining provenance, I admit I had never actually seen the metal part that actually created the final grooves in the vinyl that we play: the stamper. At least not until now. So a post that will mean nothing to most people. History may look back on this moment with different eyes.
Larry The Plastylite Guy stumbled on some stampers being sold on a certain auction site. I am not sure why anyone would be in the market for stampers – it’s not like you could use them to press records you wouldn’t want anyway, however they are a fascinating artefact, to some of us at least.
The haul was delivered to Larry. A batch, seemingly dating back to 1975, not of any records of note, but forty five years old, and the real thing.Larry made me an offer, in the best spirit of American generosity, would I like one? Would I heck!
FedEx swings into action, stampers move through cargo handling, and eventually, in another country, far far away. . . and some time later . . . arrive! Larry did a good job packing, bubble wrap, packing tape, protective plywood sheets, it took nearly five minutes to extract them.
Record stamper envelope
Out of the box, the silent witness, a filing/record-keeping envelope for a stamper designed to keep track of usage of its use. Stamper library functions: In Date Out Date, process control markers, Press Number, Set Up Man, Mono Stereo, and the most important numbers of all – the number pressed with that stamper in that session. It is blank, but what a story a card like this card could tell.
Something similar must have existed at Plastylite: Van Gelder metal, filing jacket, the running total of number of pressings made with that stamper, the dates of those pressing runs – in the original issue run, subsequent additional pressing sessions. Two years later the same stamper goes to work again. No-one needed to know this except Plastylite.
If you had this record filing card for the stamper of every Blue Note title, you would know the detailed pressing history of everything. Launch issue, 4,000 copies pressed of this title, 2,000 of that title, an extra run of a 1,000 to keep up with sales, actual dates. Collectors worship at your feet. But we don’t have them. The use of Van Gelder metal ceased with the handover by United Artists to EMI. These jackets and their precious metal cargo tossed as unnecessary use of storage space, I could weep.
Inside the envelope, this little beauty emerged into the daylight, surprisingly light and thin, just under 160 grams. A curved edge with marks where they have been fitted into a press. The large centre hole awaits central pressing die, around whose rim the groove is defined.
Engravings, matrix codes, Van Gelder Stamp (if present, which it isn’t) on the run-off groove area , reversed and transposed right to left. I think I can spot a deep groove in the making. Turn it over, hollowed-out back.
The back of the stamper shows rough finishing marks, and the interval between the tracks on the pressing side can be seen.
Larry kindly sent two stampers on holiday to London. The second stamper is quite different: unlike the curved profile Stamper 1, Stamper No.2 is entirely steam-rollered, pancake flat.
For collectors of music history, the prized item is actually the acetate rather than the down-stream derivative metal parts. In theory it can be played. A London store was offering these acetates of ’70s prog-rock, as collectable items. Want to be the only person in the world with something? For a price, you can be.
“Closely supervised viewing only”. Somebody bought them not long after put on display. People want a piece of history, not an infinitely reproducible copy.
I can relate to that, good for them, preserving history, times that will never be repeated.