COLUMBIA PRESSING PLANTS
Last Updated: August 20,2022
Columbia was one of the major national labels in the 50’s and 60’s record industry. Unlike small coastal-based independent labels, who shopped around for pressing capacity, or used preferred local plant, Columbia operated its own facilities for metal parts fabrication, mastering and pressing, using a system of lacquer copy distribution which ensured uniform quality control across several manufacturing centres, and hugely scaleable capacity to support record sales which might be counted in millions.
Though the subject is contentious, Columbia cut multiple lacquers from a master tape mix “simultaneously” and distributed these laquers to their plants, who used these to manufacture metal parts locally (Customatrix Division). At least two laquers were sent to each plant, inexpensive redundancy in case of damage, and not always in an alphabetic sequence. From the audio-quality point of view, it is not especially important which plant pressed a Columbia recording, they all sound basically the same, unlike labels like Liberty, where there are important sonic differences due to different local practices.
As the demand for home-listening grew, Columbia increased pressing capacity. In the early ’60s, Columbia was operating as many as five plants, before finally consolidating down to three:
Hollywood, Alden Drive, CA (replaced by Santa Maria)
Columbia Bridgeport Conn. 1473 Barnum Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06610. Founded in 1934, Bridgeport closed in 1964.
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;
Pitman, NJ (P)
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.
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.
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.
However there is one unique Columbia etching, sent to my by Frederik from Stockholm. Seen below on a six-eye mono copy of CL 949, Miles Davis ‘Round About Midnight. My 6-eye mono s pressed at Hollywood, Alden Drive plant (H).) is without this etching.
Someone with access to Columbia metal stampers, and a great sense of humour. If you know more, email me.
WB New York authority on all matters fonts and labels:
Another factor in dating some pressings is what can be found on the left and right sides of deep-catalogue Columbia LP’s. During mid-1970, Columbia switched its type itinerary from the combo of 12 point Erbar Bold Condensed (for catalogue number and side number) and 7 point Gothic No. 4 (for matrix numbers) that had been in use since fall 1967 – such as seen on Blood, Sweat And Tears – Blood, Sweat And Tears ( http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=1456515 ) – to a new combo of 10 point Intertype Franklin Gothic Italic (for catalogue and side numbers), 8 point Trade Gothic (for “STEREO”) and 8 point Trade Gothic Bold (for matrix numbers). This first took effect midway through the CS 1000 series, some of the earliest examples being Robert Goulet – Robert Goulet Sings Today’s Greatest Hits ( http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=5314114 ) and Mongo Santamaria – Mongo Santamaria’s Greatest Hits ( http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=1538222 ) and would have dovetailed with the change in label design to the red/orange “Columbia[eye]Columbia[eye]Columbia[eye]…” label layout, though some plants used older stock for the labels as in Charlie Byrd – Let It Be ( http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=2937782 ); however, for deep-catalogue releases which bore this new layout, the old two-eye “360 Sound Stereo” label was initially used as can be seen on some copies of Simon & Garfunkel – Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. ( http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=4610090 ) or It’s A Beautiful Day – Marrying Maiden ( http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=3573053 ). (This contributor has a 2-eye copy, pressed in Pitman, of S&G’s Bridge Over Troubled Water where, comparing other pressings thereof and pressings of other LP’s by the plant from later in the year, it would appear it was pressed in August or September 1970, 2 – 3 months after the newer label design was first introduced – one factor being the contours of the outer edge of the record, which differ from first-pressings of this LP, as well as being slightly lighter in weight.) While there has been no “official” guide pertaining to this, this conclusion has been made due to continual comparisons of the last few CS 1000 series releases and contemporaneous pressings of deep-catalogue albums as mentioned above.