The LJC Collector’s Guide to Contemporary Records – Introduction

contemporary-book[1]The Contemporary record label was founded by Lester Koenig in 1951 in Los Angeles, initially issuing jazz on 78rpm shellac, moving to 10″ and finally 12″LP. Its roster of artists included many in the pantheon of modern  jazz. The label was one of the first pioneers of stereo, and by employing the new tube-based microphones, Contemporary engineer Roy Du Nann produced some of the best sounding records you can hear today. The label includes a large number of highly collectable records, with a paucity of information to enable collectors to identify originals from reissues . Hence this guide, to make sense of Contemporary Records.


Guide to the labels of Contemporary Records

Early covers, coloured text and frames

LK stamper codes, and vinyl weight

Reference Set: original issue label, by title (1956- 84)

Reference Set: original issue cover, by title (1956- 84)

Contemporary catalogue: inner sleeves (early ’60s)

Contemporary Records in Europe – Contemporary Vogue – and Japan

Contemporary Record Catalogue Listing

What to look for: the essential Collector’s Guide:


Note for Record Collectors

Record Collectors are not well served in identifying original pressings, as the Contemporary catalogue has been extensively reissued over five decades. Contemporary reissued many records from the catalogue themselves through the ’60s and ’70s.  Fantasy re-mastered most of the entire catalogue in the ’80s, discarding the lineage with Koenig’s fine original metalwork. More recently, cheap copies cloned from digital sources made their way into the market.   The current owners of the catalogue have themselves have taken to issuing “original” reissues, in the manner of Blue Note’s 75th reissues.

Contemporary Records provided little or no information  regarding date of manufacture on any of their pressings, and the recording session date and year of copyright are in the vast majority of cases not the year of manufacture, which can be inferred only  by attention to  detail of labels and covers, and vinyl weight.


The music and the sale of the Contemporary catalogue to Fantasy Records (1984)

Contemporary Billboad 1959 jazz goes to Broadway

Though parts of the catalogue have dated – Broadway goes to Jazz hasn’t worn well,  – the label produced Art Pepper records which are highly sought after by collectors today, significant work by pianists Phineus Newborn Hampton Hawes and Cecil Taylor,  and a string of West Coast jazz sessions at The Lighthouse, , along with iconic recordings of Sonny Rollins. Audio quality puts it on a par with Blue Note.

Contemporary 1985 Capture

Though its heyday was in the late ’50s, the company continued to issue new titles and reissue its back catalogue through until its sale to Fantasy Records in 1984. Fantasy initiated the OJC (Original Jazz Classics) series, re-mastering most of the titles in the catalogue, however it has been noted, sometimes without reference to the necessary adjustments Contemporary engineers added during original mastering.

 Read on: Guide to the Contemporary Records labels


24 thoughts on “Contemporary

  1. I picked up a couple more contemporary records today and have some stamper codes if anyone is interested.
    Hampton Hawes C3515
    Yellow /black label, DG, H stamp
    Los Angeles 46 address on cover
    LKL . 12 . 61
    LKL . 12 . 62
    This record has no D and # stamp?

    Hampton Hawes C 3523
    yellow /black label , DG, H stamp
    Los Angeles 46 address and green frame on back cover
    LKL . 12 . 79 . D3
    LKL . 12 . 80 . D3

    Shelly Manne S 7527
    black / gold label, DG, no H stamp , CR logo
    STEREO LKS 1 D11
    STEREO LKS 2 D11
    on side one ‘STEREO’ is raised, on side two it is engraved?

    A very confusing label!


  2. Hello, just picked up my first contemporary on vinyl. Hampton Hawes C 3523. It is a yellow label with black print (mono ). It is a deep groove with H stamp. The master number is D3. The address on the cover is los angeles 46. Would this be considered a 3rd pressing?


    • Session date January 25, 1956. Most of the signs suggest an early copy anywhere between 1956 and 1963: mono, DG, H, 46 cover address, the only question mark is the D3 stamper. The sequential numbering of stamper codes was not entirely consistent – there are anomalies where higher numbers appears to be early if not 1st. Mostly 1st issue was a D1 mother/stamper code and the 2 and 3 appear a few years later. My guess is very early ’60s, a copy I would be very happy to have.


      • Thanks Rudolf and LJC for the replies. What do you make of the C3515 with the missing D# stamp?

        I have a couple more :
        Shelly Manne M 3527
        Yellow /black label, DG, no ‘H’
        LA 46 address and red frame on back cover
        LKL. 12. 93. D19
        LKL. 12. 94. D20

        Lennie Niehaus C 3524
        Yellow /black label, DG, H
        LA 46 address and blue frame on back cover
        LKL. 12. 91. D2
        LKL. 12. 92. D2


  3. Regarding Contemporary labels:

    I have two Black and Gold US issues:
    S 7003 The Leroy Vinnegar Sextet 1958 (this one is STEREO Records)
    S 7571 Helen Humes

    I don’t have a camera at hand, but if it os of interest, I will look for one.


    Truls Bjerke
    Oslo, Norway


  4. I have a copy of Together Again, Teddy Edwards & Howard McGhee on Black Gold “Contemporary Records” labels, S7588 with DG on both sides and STEREO LKS 193 D2 in the runout, which I believe is an original 1961 pressing. I cant see the label above though in your listing of different labels…


  5. I have got a black gold label, deep groove stereo pressing that has not got stereo records on it but the words Contemporary records. It looks similar to the green gold label and the matrix code is LKS-34-D2.( printed)
    Where do I put this ?
    Somewhere between the first stereo pressing and the green gold label ?
    Does anybody know ?
    Great sounding Sonny Rollins on this one .


    • The crossover from Stereo Records to Contemporary Records (Stereo) is 1959 I believe – at least that is what Goldmine says for Rollins Way Out West. They dont comment on the colour of the label.

      You wonder about the logic of black/gold early, green gold later, when both Stereo Records and Contemporary Records (Stereo) both go through the black to green changeover. At some point Contemporary started issuing their own recordings in stereo – was that the end of “Stereo Records“?

      Stereo records from Stereo Records all begins to sound like Catch 22 and Major Major.


    • I’m not going to argue, Shaft, I’ve never seen a Black Gold but I will take your word for it. See how trusting I am? We see very few actual US Contemporary in the UK due to the historical licensing arrangement with Vogue – mostly all made in England, pressed by Decca. Stereo are rarer still. If you or anyone has a decent picture of a stereo black and gold US Contemporary, they can mail me at adress at foot of “About LJC” page. No reward but name in lights. Small lights.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s