Last Updated: December 5, 2019
The 12″ microgroove unbreakable record brought LP cover art to the fore, and Blue Notes cover designer of choice, Reid Miles. Developments in printing technology enabled these new generation covers to be beautifully laminated, and printed on the spine with the artist name, title, label and catalogue number . With Blue Note records, each of these elements form a pattern which can be used to help identify original covers from later manufacture.
Beware! Covers can be a false friend in identifying original pressings. With some titles, a stock of covers (along with labels) surplus to the first pressing were held in the inventory, for use in the event of further repressing. Worse, over time, original vinyl has sometimes been teamed up by sellers with a later cover, because the original cover was no longer in acceptable condition.
The method of manufacturing covers in the early days made seam-splits a risk, and some record owners would use clear now yellowed Sellotape to bind the edges together. Sellotape after 40-50 years doesn’t look great, and will often lift the printed surface if you try to remove it. On rare occasions, record owners would use industrial fabric tape to bind split edges, which is unsalvageable. For these reasons, sometimes cover substitutes were made, though most times the cover is synchronous with the pressing. It is worth being aware, not always in the wild.
BLANK AND PRINTED SPINES
Manufactured in the two years between 1956-58, BN 1501 to BN 1586, all Blue Note original covers have a blank spine, and from BN 1587 onwards, a printed spine. The presence of a printed spine is useful to distinguish early from later printed covers of early titles.
In the examples above, BN 1508 Jazz Messengers at the Café Bohemia Volume 2 is an original first cover. Not only does it have the frame cover construction (shadow lines top and left) and Lexington address on the back, it has a blank spine.
The cover behind, BN 1537 Paul Chambers Whim of Chambers, is alas not a first cover. With a catalogue number below 1568, the original should have a blank spine and be un-laminated. This cover has a printed spine, is laminated, and carries the 43 West 61st New York 23 cover address which was in use around 1959-60. Beautiful, but a second or later cover, not the 1956 original.
Original covers numbered between BN 1501 and 1546 are un-laminated with a slightly matt printed finish. Lamination of covers commenced with BN 1547 A Date with Jimmy Smith, and with a small number of exceptions, effectively ceased in early 1964, the last being BN 4149 Hank Mobley No Room For Squares.
With their thick card base, a laminated Blue Note cover, with its dimpled glossy surface and hopefully still sharp corners is a truly beautiful artefact to hold. Born of printing technology of its day, no one has achieved a successful modern replication, though I have read Sawano Brothers in Tokyo have restored a 1950’s colour printing machine in an attempt to replicate vintage quality. Got to love them for that.
In 1964, from BN 4150, the high gloss surface cover art is replaced by a low sheen flat print finish. The weight of the cover drops from around 125 grams to 115 grams on my sample, only 8%, but feels more in reduced emotional impact.
BLUE NOTE COVER ADDRESS AND INCORPORATION
The cover address solicited prospective record buyers to send for a catalogue, to the current Blue Note addresses as printed at the bottom of the liner notes.
The principal changes to note are:
- Company Name, “BLUE NOTE RECORDS,” adds letters INC. following incorporation in late 1959, to become “BLUE NOTE RECORDS INC.”
- Company address changes from 47 West 63rd to 43 West 61st at around the same time in late 1959.
- After the end of the Lexington Ave. address, New York postal District 23 is used consistently on cover addresses,which appears only fleetingly on the equivalent address on the labels
- Address adds US postal code, 10023, in the final two years of Blue Note, before sale to Liberty, and then to 10019 two years into Liberty ownership, and entrance of Transamerica Corp.
Catalogue numbers and address changes:
I am indebted to Dottor Jazz, our resident First Pressing Fundementalist, for his tireless research on the holy grail of Blue Note original editions.