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THE LJC COLUMBIA LABEL CHEAT SHEET
Last Update: October 15, 2016
1. Columbia: The Early Years pre-1956
1.1 Black Columbia “Magic Notes” logo
Down at the 6 o’clock position above the circled “LP” is the “Magic Notes” symbol, a black beamed semi-quaver reversed out on a white circle, which was the registered trademark of Columbia.
(Photo courtesy of Joe L)
1.2 Red Columbia /Gold print “Magic Notes” logo (1954)
(The Magic Notes symbol was licensed for use in the UK to EMI, hence the invention in the early ’60s of the CBS label to release Columbia recordings in Europe)
Photo courtesy of Jay C
2. Columbia US (1956-61)
2.1 Columbia six eye promo, mono and stereo
(examples from Ebay, montage by LJC)
2.2 Columbia six-eye mono DG “walking eye” ™ (1956-61)
The Magic Notes logo gives way to the “Walking Eye” logo, a design which encompassed records TV and film in its ingenious ambiguity. The design commences with the “Six-Eye”, which is later reduced to two-eye, and finally one-eye, symbolising the more economical rate of eye-consumption in the manufacture of Columbia records. No, really.
2.3 Columbia Six-Eye Stereo DG (1958-61)
The Holy Grail, Kind of Blue, six eye stereo KoB
3. Columbia-CBS US (1961-67)
The Six-Eye Columbias were the stars of Fifties audiophile recording engineering and pressing, however, however around 1961 corporate changes at Columbia were signalled by the introduction of the “CBS” name in addition to “Columbia”. To judge from the few samples I have, the CBS Six-Eyes are inferior sonically to the original editions, in the case of my copy of Brubeck’s Time Out below, significantly so..
3.1 Columbia CBS overprint Six-Eye Mono US (1961)
Usually not DG, though there has been a sighting of CBS with Deep Groove.
Note the CBS overprint now appears, positioned at 12 o’clock. Not deep groove. The matrix confirms the cutting source as tape mix 1.The label says Six-Eye but the turnable says “hmmm…” May be just an end-of-run stamper artefact, but it sounds pretty poor – stodgy bass, blurred piano lacking transients, and Morello’s ringing cymbals all but disappeared. Many labelographies omit the CBS-overprint edition.
3.2 Columbia CBS overprint Six-Eye Stereo US (1961) no DG
(Photo courtesy of Joe L)
Note “CBS” added to the Stereo “arrows”, matrix number in brackets, smaller font and different kerning, notably the large Side number.
4. Columbia US Two-Eye (1962-70)
Changing times, the classic serif font is replaced and “modernised” by a gothic (sans-serif) font, the legendary Six Eyes reduced two. Two-Eye sound quality remains very much up there with the best, at least US pressings. Europe was saddled with CBS local production after they acquired the UK Oriole label and its “clapped out” plants. In most cases I have auditioned, Oriole pressings are markedly inferior to both the earlier Philips UK pressings and the US counterparts.
4.1 Columbia Two-Eye – Promo white label
4.2 Columbia Two-Eye “Guaranteed High Fidelity” US (mono)
The first variety (1962-1963) featured the words “Guaranteed High Fidelity” at the bottom for mono LP’s
4.3 Columbia Two-Eye “360 SOUND” STEREO – black type
(Photo courtesy of Joe L)
4.4 Columbia 2-eye black font / black arrows (Canada)
360 Sound stereo with arrows, this copy printed and one assumes pressed in Canada. Interestingly, deep groove.
Initially the “360 SOUND” logo used black type, up until 1963, when it was replaced with white type.
WB Notes: The first two-eye design (on the later CL 1397 pressing, and also CS 8612), lasted from mid-1962 to about summer 1965. However, there were two variants of both “Guaranteed High Fidelity” (set here in Venus Medium, later replaced by mid-’63 with a smaller variant set in Copperplate Gothic Bold Condensed) and the “360 Sound” Stereo (first variant had no arrows, after mid-’63 the “360 Sound’s” were reduced in size and the arrows added on).
4.4 Columbia Two-Eye “360 SOUND” white type and arrows – MONO.
(Photo courtesy of Joe L)
The mono version from 1967 onwards is stripped of the white arrows and “360 SOUND” legend, with just the sole word “MONO” in its place.
WB Notes: The “360 Sound” Mono two-eye on the Brubeck “Time In” LP was almost wholly cribbed from the Columbia Masterworks two-eye LP design, except for the positioning of the 360 Sounds and the rim print at bottom. That variant was used from early 1966 to about spring 1967
4.5 Columbia Two-Eye “360 SOUND” white type and arrows, STEREO
Initially the 360 degree logo used black type. In 1963, the print on both mono and stereo copies was changed to white, and white arrows were added to the stereo logo.
The 360 degree sound was used for both mono and stereo editions up until 1967, when it was dropped from Mono, probably after someone asked the obvious question: how does Mono produce 360 degrees of sound?
WB notes: (CS 9632) first appeared (with uncoated paper stock in warm red ink) in fall 1967, and switched to glossy paper (with Pantone 199 Red) at the very end of the year. The ‘® “Columbia”,’ and ‘Marcas Reg. Printed in U.S.A.’ as well as the “360 Sound’s” on that variant were all cribbed from the Columbia Masterworks label design. The walking eye at the bottom was a new addition. Anyone who’s seen mono LP pressings from 1967-68 will note that the ‘® “Columbia”, … ” rim print at bottom is positioned slightly differently from on the stereo label.
5. Columbia-all-round – the modern label found on many later reissues
First editions and re-issues on the “Columbia all round” red label, date from the Seventies onward . This label had a life of probably twenty year or more, and there are some excellent pressings here, as well as some less than stellar transfers, depending on title and over the decades.
Columbia operated three principal vinyl pressing plants: Terre Haute, IN (1953 -1982), Pitman, NJ (1960 – 1986), and Santa Maria, CA (1963 – 1981). With ’60s and ’70s jazz LPs, two of the three are readily identifiable: by trail-off etchings – “T” and “COLUMBIA NY” – and distinctive font colour, orange – Indiana, and bright yellow – New York. There is no noticeable sonic difference between pressings from Columbia’s different plants (that I can detect). Columbia sent master cuttings for local manufacture to each of their plants, of which one, by definition, was the first cutting.
Though initially I had misgivings about the Columbia-all-round label, revisiting them after a number of turntable upgrades, they are generally very good and astonishing value.The stereo titles are a particularly nice addition to any collection.
Columbia vinyl last gasp – the fusion years and digital
How many Columbia engineers does it take to change a light bulb? This 1989 edition of Jean Luc Ponty’s Storytelling tells a story alright. Eight apparently, or nine if you include the eponymous Bernie Grundman. “More is better” motif (just don’t tell van Gelder) and in digital format “The Future!” ( just don’t tell the audiophile turntable manufacturers). A very ’90s view of the world.
The famed Columbia matrix number machine stamp and its legion of cuttings has disappeared, replaced by a handwritten matrix code, and the sleeve notes proudly declare this analogue vinyl record has been recorded, mixed and mastered “in the digital format”, an inglorious end to the Columbia legacy.
WB Notes: After the “Columbia Columbia” red/orange label was inaugurated c.June 1970, the two-eyes were consigned solely to deep-catalogue releases, with the last stereo labels used up by fall 1970 – and mono two-eyes continuing to be used well into the spring of 1972
6. Columbia Special Products
The Special Products service reissues classic recordings still on vinyl. Interesting to note the matrix indicates a second tape mix as source for the master, and the familiar excessive number of lacquer cuttings.
PRINTING COLUMBIA COVERS (added April 9, 2015)
At the bottom right corner of Columbia back covers is usually a number. According to the eponymous WB, these identify the following LP cover manufacturers:
‘2’ Imperial Paper Box Corp., Inc. of Brooklyn, NY
‘3’ Modern Album, Long Island, NY
‘4’ Imperial Packing Co., Inc., Indianapolis, IN
‘5’ Modern Album, Terre Haute, IN
These with the location of Columbia principal record plants East and Central US, which makes good sense, but not from the point of view of West Coast distribution. There has to be a 1 code and it is almost certainly located around L.A.
Postscript: COLUMBIA “MASTERWORKS”
Not strictly a jazz label, the classical “Masterworks” label seems to steer the same course: six-eye, two-eye, and finally Columbia-all-round. Examples below covering the period 1961 to 1972 .
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