Last updated: January 7, 2021
This overview is primarily about vinyl pressing plants in the ’50s and ’60s which were significant players in the manufacture of jazz records. (Beatles, Northern Soul, Rock and other genres are amply covered by other collecting authorities)
Runout Stamps/ etchings and centre labels
Some US pressing plants have clear unambiguous stamps. Others can be identified only through a combination of runout detail and proprietary fonts on centre labels, linked to various makes of typesetting machines used by their local print supplier.
The original FiPres.com collection, which is no longer available on-line, is preserved here, and offers a good number of non-alphanumeric symbols. It is not quite as forensic as I would like, but it provides a good starting point.
Largely textual descriptions but contains occasional links to photographic samples held on photo-hosting sites
LJC: REAL WORLD PHOTOGRAPHIC EXAMPLES
Abbey Manufacturing Co. Inc., 1 Central Avenue, E Newark, New Jersey
Long-term pressing plant for Prestige Records and some other labels. AB hand-etched usually at or near 12 o’clock position, sometimes near or under the label edge
The AB appears initially as a pressed or drilled stamp, but later is found as hand-etched initials. Other forensic characteristics of early Abbey pressings is deep groove, and a small circular pressing ring around the spindle hole mostly though not always on Side Two.
All Disk, Roselle, New Jersey
Independent New Jersey plant until purchased by Liberty Records in 1966. All Disc had no formal identifier in the run-out area of its pressings so identification is rooted in chronology and centre-label type-setting. They pressed a significant proportion of Liberty Blue Notes after 1966, generally using Van Gelder mastered metal stampers. Paper labels were supplied to both original Blue Note Plastylite and Liberty All Disc Records by the same printer, Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton PA., who long held Blue Note’s centre-label templates, and offered continuity in quality paper and inks. Those labels have artist and album title set in Intertype Vogue Bold. (“Side 1” in proper upper and lower case, 1 straight vertical no serif) and well-formed ® registration mark.
These labels distinguish East Coast pressings from those manufactured on the West Coast, printed by Bert-Co and pressed by Research Craft LA.
Bell Sound, New York
Bell Sound was an unusual end-to-end complete service, from studio recording, to mastering and pressing. Often includes “sf” engineer Sam Feldman initials.
In its 1968 Bell Sound Report in Billboard, Bell Sound proudly boasted to be the first fully-transistorised studio. Oh dear…
Bestway Products, 1125 Globe Ave., Mountainside, New Jersey.
Founded 1945 by Al Massler, Stamp is easily identified, as it says “Bestway”.
WB says: used paper labels from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Progressive Label Co., manufacturer of die cut label specialities that operated in Brooklyn, New York from the 1920s until the 1980s
Major player who had plants located east and west coast with different markings.
Scranton, PA – the anvil symbol.
In use 1949 to 1963. Note: for ten weeks, late June until early September 1959, Capitol’s Scranton plant was on strike and Capitol pressings farmed out to other plants.
Los Angeles – the star symbol
Capitol also prepared metal for other plants, who undertook the actual pressing, such as RCA Hollywood, so it is possible to find different organisation’s markings on the same record.
Complex national operation of up to five plants at any one time, finally reducing down to three:
Columbia Bridgeport Conn. 1473 Barnum Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06610 Founded in 1934 active until 1964, replaced by Pitman.
Hollywood Alden Drive, replaced by Santa Maria
WB: It was in late March, 1964, that Columbia shut down its Bridgeport plant, transferring all East Coast pressing activities to their newer Pitman, NJ plant that first went into operation in May 1961, closed in March 1981;
The label typesetting associated with Bridgeport would also go to Pitman, though on Columbia, Epic and subsidiary releases, the Linotype fonts would not really reappear on a regular basis until summer 1965. The Pitman plant ceased manufacturing vinyl in 1986-87
Bridgeport and later Pitman used paper labels with Artist, Title and Track names set in Linotype Erbar LT Bold Condensed – shown below is a 1959 KoB promo (with Erbar Light Condensed for comparison). This font set distinguishes Bridgeport/Pitman pressings from those at other Columbia Plants, where other fonts were in use.
WB: “Many have erroneously cited the code “CT” as signifying the Bridgeport plant when, in fact, it was a code for Columbia’s Terre Haute, IN plant (as was ‘CTH’). Back when Columbia was pressing records in Bridgeport, the common abbreviation for the state was ‘Conn.’; ‘CT’ was not used as a state abbreviation until starting in the later 1970’s;
Thereafter, all East Coast pressing was transferred to Pitman, NJ which began some pressing late 1960 and became more fully operational by May 1961. A Billboard article from September of 1963 noted that Columbia was phasing out pressing operations in Bridgeport. Given when the plant finally closed, this wind-down took six months.
At about the same time Bridgeport ended pressing operations, they also shut down a West Coast plant in Hollywood, CA (on Alden Drive) after a newer plant in Santa Maria, CA (which opened some time in late 1963 and would close in 1981) reached 100% online status in terms of pressing.
Thus, for a time in the late 1963/early ’64 period, Columbia operated five plants across the country”.
The old Columbia Hollywood Alden Drive plant signature is a hand-etched letter H
Pressings at Terre Haute commonly have a letter “T” hand etched or stamped in the run-out, and in some cases a mother code (A B and C have been seen) and here a stamper count five-bar gate.
Santa Maria plant pressings reportedly carry a letter S in the run out.
Though the subject is contentious, Columbia cut multiple lacquers “simultaneously” – some say “on the same day”, and distributed these laquers to plants nationally, who used these to manufacture metal parts locally (Customatrix Division) which ensured equally quality of pressings between manufacturing locations. In this sense, it is not especially important which plant pressed a Columbia recording.
The presence of Columbia pressing plant etchings is inconsistent. Around half the Columbia records in my collection have no visible indicator, merely the matrix code, and often an etched stamper count.
Keel Mfg., Hauppage, Long Island
Believed to be the source of serrated pressings, though the evidence is circumstantial, and based on only one Discogs entry.
MGM Record Manufacturing Division, Bloomfield, New Jersey
Contract pressing for Atlantic, 1960s. MGM’s signature is that Rune-like symbol, ghostly spirit rising, or if you prefer, ice-cream cone with sign bar. It is often associated with the hand-etched letter “M”.
WB: MGM labels typeset by a New York City printer, Pace Press, Inc., which had a relationship to the MGM film studio dating to the 1930’s Their printing labels for MGM began with the startup of the record label in early 1947, and lasted a year past the closure of the label’s Bloomfield, NJ plant .
Plastylite Corporation, North Plainfield, New Jersey
Blue Note pressings (and some other labels) up until 1966. The Plastylite stamp was applied during pressing, and is found in random position, angle and depth, with no consistency. Paper labels were sourced from Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton PA, typeset on Intertype line-casting machines, artist and album titles set in Intertype Vogue Bold.
Some variations of the Vogue font set use a conventional “W” and not the double overlapping V illustrated above. The font is most easily identified by the elongated horizontal in the letter “G”, and the “1” has no serif, just a simple vertical.
Research Craft, L.A.
This west coast plant had no formal run-out stamp or etching, but for a period of time probably early’60s, had Gruve-guard thin/thick rim type registered patent references in the run-out.
A Research Craft pressing of Blue Note can best be identified by the font sets used to print the labels. Research Craft paper labels were sourced from Hollywood giant Bert Co., who used Linotype line-casting machines, with artist and album titles set mostly in only capitals from Linotype Spartan Medium, readily identifiable by its serif-capped number “1” and “SIDE” in capitals.
Purchased by Liberty in 1965, it was responsible for west coast pressing of Blue Note back catalogue reissues, which they remastered from copy tape, not using Van Gelder original metal. As always with a few exceptions. New Liberty Blue Note titles however were generally pressed by Research Craft with Van Gelder metal, however with the passing of time Liberty operations became increasingly focused on the West Coast, using other engineers and studios.
Work in progress….if you can add any more real-world examples, be a giver not a taker.