Blue Note typography: fonts and typesetting

Collector’s Guide to the Blue Note fonts (warning: Geek Rating 9/10)

The appearance of the catalogue number on the back of a Blue Note record sleeve can tell you a great deal about the origin of the vinyl pressing, especially during the  transition of ownership from Blue Note to Liberty Records in 1965/6. Given the premium price which original pressings attract, and it pays to be alert to the telltale signs, which are often merely the style and size of font used in printing. Sometimes it is of no importance, at others it can be definitive.

Here is an example of font difference. On every Blue Note label, the one in “thirty three and one-third” speed is sans-serif if it is Microgroove (Mono), and with a serif if it is Stereo. Not a lot of people know that, or need to, as it is completely irrelevant. The point is to illustrate how our brains interpolate – fill in the gaps, or just assume what we expect. The Collector needs to pay close attention to  detail.

I will try to pick out the important identifiers in reading the back cover of Blue Note records. As always with these things there are anomalies which, for their own reasons, do not follow the general pattern of titles around them.

Fontography

Typography professionals have spotted these well-known Blue Note covers, and identified the font used in the design. Clever.

Blue Note Fonts

The above examples are all the work of Reid Miles, who successfully integrated type into design and photography to create masterpiece covers.

More mundane, the catalogue number typesetting

The font-style is a rough and ready indication of records issued by Blue Note with Plastylite pressings  and those issued by Liberty pressed elsewhere. Be warned, there are a small number of exceptions, and further information may be required to confirm provenance.

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 and coinciding with the change of pressing plant from Plastylite to the Liberty’s chosen plants.

Reid Miles remained responsible for Blue Note cover design before and for some years after the sale to Liberty. The font change may have been merely a design-refresh, unrelated to the sale, however the  timing remains significant as  almost without exception, the large font sans-serif design covers are non-Plastylite pressings  – without the Plastylite cursive “p” in the deadwax.

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 printing

On purchase of the Blue Note company, Liberty Records acquired the stock inventory of previously printed covers and labels . Whilst pressing of discs moved from Plastylite to Liberty-owned All-Disc, Roselle, NJ., the similarity between Blue Note labels and early Division of Liberty labels suggests they were printed by the same company – Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton PA. Later, printing supply diversified, as indicated by different tints of blue and white and special font characters like ®.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Blue Note typography: fonts and typesetting

  1. I am also interested in knowing that font. This font is for the address below “MICROGROOVE”. The font looks like a script, likley a unique hand-drawn font. If you find out the name, even if it is only available via purchase, I am interested to know. Also, if you know, where can it be purchased. Likewise, I am interested in knowing the font type used for “MICROGROOVE.” Thank you.

  2. Any clue what the label font is on the “Blue Note Note Records Lexington 161 Ave NYC” part is? Or something Blue Note cooked up themselves? That font is IMO gorgeous.

    It would be really cool if that could be a downloadable font. Imagine using it on a business card *cue American Psycho

    “New card. What do you think?”
    “Look at that subtle off-blue coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh, my God, I think it is the Lexington address font”
    “Only a Blue Note collector would recognize it”
    smiles and nods

    • (Ahem, it’s 767 Lexington) Only one man knows the fonts used by US record label printers – the enigmatically titled “WB” of New York.. He calls in occasionally here at LJC

      Most of these commercial fonts are proprietary – someone owns the design, and you have to pay a license for their use. Sounds crazy but this stuff pre-dates mass use of the internet and desk-top publishing.

      • I have the experience how misleading the way is Americans are writing a seven: a couple of years ago I had laid my hands on a mint 6-eye copy of Kind of Blue (I always did with the Dutch Fontana pressings). The American seller had handwritten my postal code 74. The parcel ended up in 14 (Calvados, not a bad place to be). It has made the rounds of all the villages during two months before being returned to the US. It never occurred to the French post that it could have been 74 and I don’t blame them. Untill recently I always thought Blue Note’s adress to be 161 Lex.

          • Hey LJC, I was in NYC not that long ago and wasn’t sure how close I was to some of these ‘famous’ BN addresses. Unfortunately after looking them all up and since time didn’t permit I wasn’t able to go by them. Of course the company I was with had zero interest, very sad….

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