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(Last updated: November 4, 2016)
Always read the label – and the matrix
For some years the British company EMI owned the rights to the Columbia name and the “Magic Notes” logo in the UK, and published both UK and US recordings under the Columbia name. To get around EMI, the giant American Columbia Records began to release new Columbia recordings in the British market anonymously on the Philips-owned Fontana label. This “distribution agreement” lasted through the late Fifties and early Sixties and many important Columbia jazz releases, such as Kind of Blue, enjoyed their first European release on Fontana. Then, in 1962, Columbia launched its own label, CBS, to release Columbia recordings outside the US, and for the following two decades operated under the CBS name.
Thus there are three “Columbias” in the UK: the EMI Columbia captive label, the Philips Fontana releases of Columbia, and from 1962 onwards the CBS label – the “real Columbia”. To complicate matters, Philips continued to press CBS recordings until CBS finally acquired its own pressing capacity – unfortunately for audiophiles, the two plants owned by the Oriole label, worn out by high-volume contract pressing .
1. EMI “Columbia Graphophone Company Limited”.
1.1 Columbia Clef “Trumpeter” – Magic Notes logo – EMI pressing
In the 1950’s, the Columbia name was registered in the UK to The Columbia Graphophone Company Ltd, who held a manufacturing and distribution agreement with EMI.
The matrix numbers are in the classic EMI house style – machine “drilled” font in a curve which follows the curve of the runout, A-1N / B-1N:
1.2. Columbia Graphophone Company Limited – Green Gold – magic notes logo (1960)
1.3 Columbia Graphophone Company Limited – Magic Notes Trade Mark (1957) Stereophonic Long Play
Another Roulette recording, this time “stereophonic” mastered and pressed by EMI Hayes Middlesex,
1.3 The Gramophone Co Ltd Magic Notes logo (1965)
EMI here releasing British as well as American jazz artists on the Columbia label, credited to “The Gramophone Co. Ltd.”, an earlier name for EMI Records Ltd
2. The Philips/ Fontana Columbia years
From some point up until 1962 Columbia’s US recordings were released in the UK under a distribution agreement with Philips, on the Philips-owned Fontana label.
In order to bypass EMI lawyers, Fontana makes no reference to the originating recording or Columbia catalogue number on either the label or the cover, merely “A product of Philips Electrical Ltd” and its own catalogue numbering system. Blimey! It’s as though Columbia didn’t exist!
Fontana were pressed by Philips UK at their Walthamstow plant (matrix with code 420), or some times in Holland (matrix code with 670), both reliable high quality pressings.
2. CBS Records (1962- 90)
From 1962 through to 1990, Columbia’s American recordings were released outside the U.S. and Canada on the newly established CBS Records label. As a result, Columbia modern jazz recordings from the Sixties – notably, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk- are found in European countries on the ubiquitous orange “one eye” CBS label. For titles released before 1962 there will generally be a Fontana 1st UK pressing, and subsequent UK first issues or reissues on CBS.
For two to three years CBS’s UK records continued to be pressed by Philips, as CBS did not own their own pressing facilities. This is important as Philips CBS pressings are generally sonically superior to later CBS. In September 1964, CBS bought Oriole Records, and with them, acquired the ageing Oriole pressing plants at Aston Clinton, Bucks and Colnbrook, Slough.
Oriole pressing 1959
Oriole had an honourable history in pressing jazz however its main factory output had become the Embassy budget label pressings for Woolworths. The Colnbrook plant was closed some time after the CBS takeover and Aston Clinton was in need of refitting, which may go some way to explaining the noticeable drop in pressing quality from Philips to Oriole’s plants. The priority of the Columbia managers sent to run CBS in the UK was business and marketing records, and not manufacturing them. As far s they were concerned, they had their own facilities.
UPDATE (November 4, 2016)
The Kind of Blue “anomaly” above almost certainly isn’t a 1960 release, merely “date first issued” (on Fontana) in 1960. It is like copyright assertion, it is not the date of manufacture. My guess KoB/CBS was not released until 1963 at the earliest.
Whatever the explanation, always look for the signature matrix style in the runout of orange CBS one-eye: CBS/Philips, or CBS/Oriole? Record dealers often attach significance to the “texture” of the orange CBS label, with so-called “rough textured” indicative of earlier pressings which are more valued. In practice, the pressing origin indicated by the matrix is more important. The Philps/CBS mastering and pressing is generally very good. As regards Oriole/CBS, I recommend seeking out US original (red label two-eye) in preference.
Italian 1968 pressing bearing “proper” Columbia matrix stamp XSM #######, albeit a second mix (-2A)
Not the design of UK CBS, nor local mastering, it appears to be a typical US Columbia cutting, save some very strange etchings, with crossed out boxes, asterisks, and three zeds, more like doodles than characters, and acknowledgement it was “Made in Italy”. And it’s that new-fangled STEREOMONO.
SONY CBS 1970’s/ 80’s
One walking eye, Red/yellow sunset, tricksy pacman CBS logo, manufactured in Holland. Example below, 1978 recording of Herbie Hancock/Carter/Williams/Shorter VSOP band live in Japan. A very unpleasant-sounding recording. – no doubt “state of the art” Sony digital electronics a couple of years before CD was launched commercially, but altogether unlistenable, and the live stadium concert audience given to yelps and piercing whistles – a long way geographically and culturally from 60’s Village Vanguard or Café Bohemia.
In 1991, CBS Records was officially renamed Columbia Records by new owners Sony, and reintroduced the Columbia name worldwide, part of the Sony Corporation’s move into the worldwide ownership and distribution of legally protected intellectual property aka music, and out of the ultimately doomed manufacture of electrical equipment.
A comparison of the main UK pressing plants matrix house-style is here, for Sixties Philips, Decca, EMI, and CBS/Oriole.
3. CBS Realm Jazz
Somewhere along the line CBS introduced a budget label to reissue jazz, named Realm Jazz. Realm Jazz also published Savoy titles, and the rear sleeve prominently displays the logo of ORIOLE RECORDS.
“Realm Jazz” Savoy Series, Oriole Records 1963 on the cover, no attribution to CBS, but the year CBS purchased Oriole Records
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Hi LJC and LJC readers,
Anyone has had a chance to listen to Japanese CBS/Sony pressings from the 70s? I am talking about the white/orange labels like these ones:
Your thoughts on these would be appreciated!
I have had several of these and I can say that they are excellent.
Hi there LJC,
What is your advice on the Art Tatum/Ben Webster Columbia from 1957? Are there notable differences in sound quality between the US Verve Clef (black label trumpeter logo) and the UK version (white label Trumpeter logo)?
I have exactly three Verve US Black/Trumpeter and one UK white/ trumpeter, so not a lot to go on. All of them are good punchy sounding recordings, I wouldn’t have any concerns, though I would generally defer to the US edition as more likely to be mastered from original tapes. In theory.
Thanks for the quick reply. I’m considering a UK edition. From what I see on popsike, the difference in price between both versions is huge, but that can be understood, though even taking into account historical and original sound, I think prices are too high for the US versions anyway…thanks again.
LJC or anyone out there. How do the mono Green/Gold label pressings sound? Good quality?
Rock-solid engineering by EMI, Hayes. EMI knew what they were doing, the mastering full dynamic and tonal range, the only limitation is the quality of the original recording. From the few in my collection I wouldn’t have any concerns.
Great! Thanks for the info. So, what would you choose? An original US Roulette or a UK green/gold label Columbia? Difficult choice. 😎
Personally I’d go for the authentic Roulette. Though EMI generally did a very fine job, quite a few times I’ve been able to compare original US pressing with a UK re-mastered from tape, and the US original generally sounds more fresh and more bite. But you wouldn’t know that unless you went head to head.
Does anyone have information about a Columbia records stamping plate it has a man holding a Columbia records book in one arm and a gramophone in the other and it is numbered 1823 its made of copper or brass and mounted to a block of wood any information about it would be greatly appreciated
Hi, just wonder if “Columbia Gramophone” should be “Columbia Graphophone Company Ltd.”
Hi Darren, maybe I’m a little slow on the uptake, which text are you referring to? There is “The Columbia Gramaphone Company Limited” and then there is the “The Gramophone Co Ltd” which I think was the British EMI company business name which held the rights for “Magic Notes” trademark.
If you are confused maybe I am.
Following up on Darren’s comment: he was referring to a typo/mistake in your text. The first time you mention it, you write “Columbia Gramaphone”, which is a typo anyway, it’s spelled “Gramophone” (you spell it correctly later on). However, the labels you refer to all actually read “Graphophone”, not Gramophone.
“Columbia Graphophone Company Limited”/ “The Gramophone Co. Ltd.”, quite right, always read the label. Thank you, Cristian, now corrected.
Wondering if you might know about a stamp block I have Columbia records 1823 I can’t seem to post pictures but if you can send an email address I can send pictures to you
See my email address under the LJC banner top pull-down menu item “CONTACT LJC”
(It is never a good idea to type a genuine email address in correct format online! Bots harvest these to add to spam files they resell to online pharmacy scams and such like. An invitation to trouble!)
Send photo as attachment.
Thanks for the fast reply! I figured as much, but just wanted to check
LJC: Any chance you can comment on the mono pressing of Mingus Ah-Um on the Realm Jazz label? I saw that you weren’t too thrilled with the original pressing on Philips, and I’m looking for a decent sounding mono copy.
Hi I’m traveling right now, but I have enough experience with all these European releases – time again, the US original release is the one to go for. By the time a copy tape has been remastered by an overseas manufacturer, it is rarely the case that they produce anything better.
LJC, can you attest to the quality of records released under the white Columbia EMI trumpeter label? Saw one I was interested in but have no idea as to the quality of those pressings. Any thoughts are as always appreciated!
Yes I have listened to one. EMI generally did a nice job of mastering and pressing at this time. I wouldn’t have any concerns, though of course you are always a hostage to the original sound engineer did.
Thanks very much. I appreciate your insights as always, LJC.