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THE LJC COLUMBIA LABEL CHEAT SHEET
Last Update: December 17, 2020 – Added Columbia pressing plant identifiers
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, and Retailer
Retailer promo of forthcoming releases – record store ephemera c.1955
Formal promo labels for mono and stereo, below circa 1959
(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
Stamps in runout include what looks like it might be a letter “T” (Terre Haute?”) and a “horse-shoe” shaped small oval ring. Matrix codes on this title CL 2038 are all mix -2, as mix -1 was withdrawn due to a track sequence error/ conflicting with the printed centre 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
UPDATE: WB Info 1967-70 variants July 27, 2020
The rim print: that’s a key indicator. The ‘NONBREAKABLE’ was struck from all LP label copy in or around February 1967, and there were three different label design variants between then and mid-1970. It was with the third that, around November-December 1967, the label printer shifted from using uncoated “Offset” paper (in which period the two-eyes seemed almost tomato red-ish) to “Gloss” coated stock (which saw the more magenta-ish red that appears to be PMS 199 restored to the label). Maybe I can help (with another album or albums):
LEFT: (though this label design variant had been in use since c.January 1966, for the purposes of judging copies without ‘NONBREAKABLE’ this design would have been in effect from February to March 1967)
CENTRE (label variant in effect from c.April to October 1967; 80(?) lb. Offset paper)
RIGHT: (post November-December 1967, label printed on 80 lb. Gloss paper, PMS 199 Red; copies pressed in Oct-Nov had this very design variant on uncoated stock with the tomato red)
You will see subtle differences in the spacing below especially.
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 at one time had five plants in operation, over time consolidated into three: Terre Haute, IN (1953 -1982), Pitman, NJ (1960 – 1986), and Santa Maria, CA (1963 – 1981). Bridgeport Conn and Hollywood Alden Drive plants transferred into their successor plants Pitman and Santa Maria. 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.
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 .
or go to: Columbia Matrix Codes
PRINTING COLUMBIA COVERS (Updated April 13, 2020)
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 ‘6’ Imperial Packing Co., Inc., Indianapolis, IN, (when supply LA plants)
Examples of 2, 4 and 6 on 1959 promo copies of Kind of Blue.
Columbia owned pressing plants , with co-located metal parts and plating companies, at East, West and Central US locations. The manufacture of jackets seems to have been delegated to specialist local print and packaging companies. There has to be one or two cover manufacturers located around LA/Hollywood. Beatles fanatic have come up with this map
“The following factories used the following identification numbers in the mid-60s ”
|Cover fabricator||Number||Send||Press Plant|
|Imperial Paper Box Corporation, Inc., Brooklyn, New York||2||–>||Scranton factory|
|Modern Album, Long Island, New York||3||–>|
|Imperial Packing Co., Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana||4||–>||Jacksonville plant|
|Modern Album, Terre Haute, Indiana||5||–>|
This suggests the “6” is one of two codes of Imperial Packing Indianapolis, used when suppling covers to the Capitol plant in LA.
“W.B.” …… Writes.
“As far as the numbers are concerned, they corresponded to the respective factories from which the covers were produced. Per the Spizer book, on mid-’60’s rainbow label Beatles LP’s #2 indicated Imperial Paper Box Corp., Inc. of Brooklyn, NY, #3 indicated Modern Album of Long Island, NY, #5 was Modern Album of Terre Haute, IN and #6 was Imperial Packing Co., Inc. of Indianapolis, IN. This latter firm may have also been #4 (as on Jacksonville, IL pressings), and later-’60’s Jacksonville pressings also had a #9 which may have come from Modern (IN). Apparently, #2 and #3 were associated with Scranton pressings, with #5 and #6 associated with L.A. pressings. But the numbers themselves were related more to the jacket fabricators.
For many years after that point, Columbia-pressed copies of LP covers with black-and-white print on the back had the following symbols on the lower right-hand side thereof: a heart shape (either black or light grey) for Pitman, N.J.; an “A” designation for Terre Haute, Ind.; and an “S” (either as a letter or as a distorted bold symbol) for Santa Maria, Calif.”
Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Terre Haute = letter “T” etched or stamped into the run-outs. Many times it will be a “T 1”, “T 2”, etc. or written in the reverse, “1 T”, “2 T”, etc.
This is from the Perry Cox guide (cited on Discogs) a Beatlefan adds applicable dates
None Scranton Up to 1966 2 Imperial Paper Box Corp., Inc. of Brooklyn, NY . Scranton Up to 1967 ,
3 Modern Album of Long Island, NY > Scranton Up to 1969,
4 Imperial Packing Co., Inc. of Indianapolis, IN > Jacksonville, IL 1965-1968,
5 Modern Album of Terre Haute, IN > Los Angeles 1964-1966,
6 Imperial Packing Co., Inc. of Indianapolis, IN LA or Winchester 1964-1971,
7 Columbia 1969 (original or subsidiary label)
8 Decca? c. 1966
9 Modern Album of Terre Haute, IN Jacksonville, IL 1968, 1970-1974,
COLUMBIA PRESSING PLANTS
Complex national operation of up to five plants at any one time, finally reducing down to three:
Columbia Bridgeport Conn. 1473 Barnum Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06610 Founded in 1934 active until 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;
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.
Thus, for a time in the late 1963/early ’64 period, Columbia operated five plants across the country”.
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.
Though the subject is contentious, Columbia cut multiple lacquers “simultaneously” – some say “on the same day”, and distributed these laquers to plants, who used these to manufacture metal parts locally (Customatrix Division) which ensured equally quality of pressings between manufacturing locations. In this sense, it is not especially important which plant pressed a Columbia recording.
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 copy, which is without this etching, was pressed at Hollywood, Alden Drive CA plant.
Someone with access to Columbia metal stampers, and a great sense of humour. If you know more, email me.