Illustrated Label Guide to Atlantic First Pressings
Last Updated: April 9, 2020
Part One: Mono
I hope this will be the enduring and unique visual “Labelology” of Atlantic Jazz, the go-to reference for title by title identification. (There are other label variations which accompany other Atlantic Series issues, which are outside the scope of this guide)
Which is the “original” Coltrane Giant Steps?
The one on the left, of course: the First of the First.
Label detail is inconveniently (or conveniently) lacking in many auction seller descriptions. Charitably, they were all waiting for the LJC definitive Guide. No excuses, here it comes. Well, first attempt.
Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane are just two good reasons to become familiar with Atlantic. My first stab at this label in a title by title forensic guide, completely is evidence-based – you see, not I say.
Sources the bounty of the Internet, not an entirely complete collection of the label of every title, but concentrated around the points of transition, to determine the cut-off and any transitional overlaps or anomalies. The inclusion of promo’s where found is a guarantee of early provenance. Not every title has been found at good quality picture and a few are not found at all. Cover detail, at this stage I have nothing to offer, though covers often overlap periods of issues. The label is the thing, bonded to the vinyl during pressing
One or two titles not found, but the label is consistent (so far) – a black label exists for each title in the wild, in some cases it appears to be quite rare, outnumbered many times by later reissues. The tableau can be viewed at 2000 pixel wide full screen, mostly legible, (except where the only source is a seller’s tiny picture of jacket and record in one.)
The 2000 Series is preceded by an early Binaural recording, that uses two microphones, arranged with the intent to create a 3-D stereo sound sensation for the listener of actually being in the room with the performers or instruments. Atlantic Jazz 1200 series 12 inch LP commences at 2012:
From 1212 to 1304 the 1st label is always black. Atlantic seems to have had an orderly manufacturing process, not like small independent jazz labels who cannibalised old labels. With the 1300 series, matters become a more complicated, especially as revenue streams were sought from reissues alongside new titles.
Contrary to my expectations from general Atlantic labelography, detailed research title by title reveals the “bullseye” design which some refer to as the “pinwheel”, appears only for selected releases, starting with 1305 Mingus Blues and Roots, whilst the black label continued in general use. The bullseye label did not “take over” from the black label.
Pictured below are those titles where the bullseye is the 1st release (ie there is no earlier black label found) and those where an earlier black label is found. The bullseye was also used for some second pressings of earlier back label titles – not shown here.
This was news to me, I hope I have got it right but that is what the examination title by title suggests.
There are titles where black, pinwheel and plum orange white fan are all found – here for example, three mono editions, 1312 The Genius of Ray Charles:
The existence of a black label is definitive. More than a few pinwheel are second pressings, several years following the black label. There is no evidence that different pressing plants unilaterally decided to issue different labels, or there would be more evidence of chaotic variation than is the case. All possibilities need to be considered, but looking at the choice of titles on which the first pressing is on the pinwheel/ bullseye (ie a black label is not found), these are no doubt high-profile prestigious release for Atlantic, and that is where I think the better explanation is likely to be found. That is my hypothesis. See that long run of black labels which continues after the pinwheel first appears, then a continuous run of plum/orange.
The pairing between mono and stereo original pressings is not always symmetrical. For example where you might expect the plain green stereo equivalent to the plain black, there is the green/blue bullseye (possibly by reason of the time-lag between release of the mono and stereo editions).
(Stereo labels will be looked at more closely in later section of this guide)
1960-62 Plum Orange White Fan, and the Registered Trademark arrives
On to the Plum/Orange Black Fan transition from the White Fan.It is not uncommon to find auctions where sellers claim “original” status merely because the label is Plum/Orange, or bullseye, without regard to the existence of earlier labels. Examples currently found:
Gentlemen, gentlemen, they can’t all be “originals” can they?
The significance of “R”
As with Blue Note, trademark registration occurred around 1961. Note the presence or otherwise of the Registered Trademark R symbol on the label. If it is the pre-R range and it has an R, or it is black fan where it should be white fan, it is a later pressing. Example:
Transition from Black label to Plum/Orange Black Fan via the white fan, replaced by black during 1962. Many of this series were first issued in white fan, reissued in black fan. The fan-colour is the essential identifier of provenance.
Plum/Orange Black Fan
(Work in progress) This is a fairly mammoth task, but it is clear there are two important design variants which effectively “datestamp” a plum/orange black fan label – the “Atlantic” name appears in the logobox either as a vertical left sidebar (up to 1966), or later as a horizontal footer from 1966-68.
Black Fan/Left Sidebar kicks in at Atlantic 1390. During research I came across a good number of especially Herbie Mann titles which were first released on Black Fan/Left Sidebar which went on to be reissued on Plum/Orange with Black Fan 2nd design, “ATLANTIC” below the fan, which was in use 1966-8.
My God, what a year of transition: 1968, it looks like mono is officially certified “dead”. Plum/ Orange is jettisoned – last year’s colours, the future is Blue/Green, (until killed off rapidly by new corporate branding: Green/Orange). The 1500 series kicks off in Stereo only with 1501 (shadowed at 1500 by the well established stereo series in Blue/Green Black Fan) Perhaps nervous execs at Atlantic worry about backlash from buyers without stereo equipment, so a new magic “scientific process” CSG is rushed out of the marketing laboratory. (Compatible Stereo Generator) CSG is compatible. The matrix numbers switch to a CSG -A prefix. Briefly
The catalogue number of the 1500 series is re-branded SC 1501 (stereo compatible, for mono users?) instead of SD. False alarm, the new SC identity reverts within a few titles to the familiar SD catalogue number, leaving only collectors baffled.Strange things happen in the footer of the label. Suddenly, sales distribution is credited to Atlantic, then suddenly manufacturing credits appear.
From SD 1512 onwards the green/orange/multi maintains the continuity of label for first pressings in the 1500 series.
None of this matters except if you are concerned about the provenance of a record, particularly its’ status as an “original pressing” . In the course of this research I have seen the over-used word “original” in countless auctions where it does not stand scrutiny, to a large extent due to the lack of knowledge on the part of sellers. It’s a nice word, and if no-one really knows, why not? As far as Atlantic is concerned that is now game-over.
Still to follow: -Stereo, though that would appear much less complicated, plain green label becomes blue green, easy peasy. I hope*.
*Correction (October 12, 2014)
:Stereo is wearing me down! I will return to it at a later date.
Never mind the labels, LJC, what about the music?
The Atlantic Jazz 12″ 1200 series is extraordinarily diverse. Along side the pioneering cutting edge of Mingus, Coltrane, and Ornette, and the soul of ray Charles, there are Dixieland and Southern Heritage, Avant Garde numerous popular jazz singers like Chris Conner and a stable of others with little lasting appeal, lots and lots of Herbie Mann, more than a few novelty records, a mirror to American life in the Fifties and early Sixties. Some things to treasure, and a few things better forgotten.
The long run of the Plum/Orange Black Fan through to the eponymous Red/Green label between 1962 and 1968 contains fewer interesting revelations and wanders into less musically interesting territory.Coltrane moved to Impulse, and Atlantic focussed on the emerging teenage markets for rock and pop. The markets had spoken, Atlantic jazz was a spent force except for reissues from the back catalogue, but they left a rich legacy from the early years, and thank them for that.