Last Updated: June 11, 2019
Collector’s Guide to the Blue Note fonts (warning: Geek Rating 11/10)
On every Blue Note label, the one in “thirty three and one-third” speed is sans-serif if it is Mono, and with serif if it is Stereo. Not a lot of people know that, or need to, as it is completely irrelevant. The point illustrates how easily our brains interpolate – fill in the gaps, and see what we expect to see, rather than attend to what is actually there.
The Collector needs to pay close attention to detail, and to make side-by-side comparisons that make differences jump out.
Fontography – Cover Design
Reid Miles Blue Note covers elevated fonts to an essential part of cover design, integrating large blocks of text with carefully cropped or enlarged photo of the artist by Francis Wolff. The choice of fonts was eclectic, selected for dramatic effect.
Typography professionals have spotted these well-known Blue Note covers, and identified the font used in the design.
The back cover of Blue Notes operated a “house style” of sorts, with the three-column body copy set in a font selected purely for maximum readability, typically Franklin Gothic, whilst the catalogue number, headline album title and artist name and instrument players was set in Bodoni Bold. The track-listing contrasts in a small bold sans-serif face.
Artist Name, Album Title, Catalogue Number and artist credits : Bodoni Bold
Song Titles: a san serif face (unknown), in upper case
Body Copy: Franklin Gothic (sans serif face popularly used for legibility)
In the early days the catalogue number follows the Arts/Title in Bodoni Bold, though later on a sans-serif face was deployed,
From 1956, the classic serif font is found on most Blue Note 1500 series and most of the 4000 series Blue Note originals in the Blue Note Years. Then suddenly, sometime between 1965 and 1966 the house style of Blue Note covers changed from serif to sans-serif, coinciding with the change of management to Liberty Records.
Within a year or so the Catalogue number had shrunk to insignificance and then all-but disappeared from the jacket design. Miles Reid’s influence was replaced by whatever designers were in favour with the new owners Liberty, and United Artists,
A large sans-serif catalogue number on the back cover is associated with “Liberty-NY Blue Note” – cover manufactured for Liberty. These include 4118 and 4171 ( font anomaly), 4193 Art Blakey’s Indestructible, 4203 Andrew Hill’s Andrew!!, 4219 Wayne Shorter’s All seeing Eye, and many other titles assigned a catalogue number by Blue Note Records Inc but whose release was produced by Liberty Records Inc.
These Liberty first editions are of course without “the ear”, rendering them as Van Goghs
Blue Note / Liberty label printing
The “corporate design” of the Blue note classic white/blue label – microgroove and stereo outer block text and BLUE NOTE, in blue segments, remained a constant for whoever printed labels. It was the album-specific artist name and album title text font and typesetting that identified the printer linked to the pressing plant.
From 1956 to 1966, and possibly earlier, Blue Note labels were typeset and printed by Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton PA. Keystone continued to print labels for Liberty Blue Note pressings on the East Coast, whose plants were predominantly All Disc Records Roselle NJ, Keel Mfg, Hauppage LI, and in the latter years , Columbia’s Pitman Plant, who had their own print facilities and different font preferences.
Keystone were equipped with Intertype line-casting machines, which for artist and album title used the geometric sans-serif font Intertype Vogue in upper case only , with different point-size for each. Keystone labels generally have a slightly different greenish-tint ink for the album detail than for the corporate elements (which were usually in reflex blue)
On the West Coast the task of typesetting and printing labels fell to the Hollywood giant, Bert-Co., equipped with Linotype line-casting machines. Linotype’s geometric sans-serif font choice was Linotype Spartan family, and generally album title and artist name were printed in only uppercase Spartan at the same point size.
The distinguishing feature of Spartan was that despite being a sans serif font, the number 1 as in “SIDE 1” has a horizontal left top serif. Keystone’s Vogue face has a pure sans-serif I – usually typeset in upper and lower case “Side l” with a simple without serif number I. Bert-Co also used the same inks for the whole label, including the elements of corporate design, and their incorporation symbol ® is poorly formed, due to type of ink and paper.
On purchase of the Blue Note company, Liberty Records acquired the old stock inventory of previously printed covers and labels, many New York USA labels, which were used in the reissue of earlier Blue Note titles by East Coast plants.
Reissues by the West Coast plant Research Craft, who re-mastered reissues from copy tape, were required to print fresh Division of Liberty labels, which were typeset and printed by Bert-Co.
These are easily distinguished by their font and typesetting choices (Linotype Spartan, capitals only) , and drifting colour fidelity from the problematic Reflex Blue to intermixed shades verging on navy blue or excessive cyan tints.
In the final years of Liberty – 1969-70 – Blue Note new releases were pressed at a variety of plants and the label printing devolved to whoever was local to them.