Jump to: Columbia Matrix Numbers
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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
“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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