Blue Note covers: frame construction

The Gakubushi Frame Cover (left), circa 1956

The covers of very earliest Blue Note,  Prestige, Atlantic and no doubt others labels have a cover construction method referred to by the Japanese word “gakubushi” meaning a “frame cover”. They appear in the mid Fifties, and the evidence of frame construction can be helpful in determining the issue date of a pressing, being a first or later pressing.

In a “frame cover”, the paper from the back sleeve has been folded around the cover and appears in front, under the art sleeve paper, creating a shadow line not unlike a frame, about a half inch wide, along two edges.  The frame cover is with two frame stripes only, never four all around.

On Blue Note records (12″ LP)  the gakubushi frame cover is found on the earliest releases of 1500 to 1543, with Lexington label, from 1956 to 1957. The cover is not laminated like later covers in the Sixties, and there is no printing of the record title on the spine, a practice which came later with more sophisticated printing technology. The records themselves are heavy flat-edge vinyl with the characteristic deep groove die impression within the label, and hand-written initials RVG in the run-out.

Gakubushi frame covers were replaced by more sophisticated printing and assembly methods a short time later, where the front cover appeared flat and level.

18 thoughts on “Blue Note covers: frame construction

  1. I believe I have a Blue Note 1501 Miles Davis which has the Gakubushi Frame and blank spine. But the front seems laminated to me. Any ideas about this? If Im correct, then either the Lamination dates or Gakubushi seem incorrect.
    I wonder if these were not printed somewhere else, because the red lettering seems a bit more muted on mine.

    • It is fairly well established “collector lore” that original covers 1501 (released November 1955) to 1546 are not laminated. Lamination of covers commenced with 1547, released in May1957. The last frame cover was 1545, released around the same time, April 1957. Seems the method of manufacturing Blue Note covers went through a major technical change in Spring 1957.

      The aforementioned dates are simply Schwan catalogue release date information documented by Fred Cohen’s Guide. This seems fairly solid ground, and I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong, there are sometimes other explanations for apparent anomalies.

      Covers were expensive to manufacture and probably not often held in inventory for future repressings, so a leading indicator of date of manufacture, new batches ordered. Unlike labels, often held in stock for years, a lagging indicator of date of manufacture. LJC’s resident Plastylite press operator (1960s) Larry C noted many Blue Note titles were pressed repeatedly in small batches, so cover manufacture changes should reflect pressing date, though how things worked in the mid 1950’s we can only guess.

      If you have a laminated cover, or one that looks laminated, that suggests the accompanying vinyl is an early repressing after Spring 1957. Could be many other explanations, we don’t have enough information to know for sure. No axe to grind, I have no originals of these early titles

      • I see, so Framed covers ended about the time Lamination started. Ive seen quite a few of what I believe to be these sold on Ebay as originals too. I wonder if it should be considered one, I guess its sort of fair either way, since its just lamination that differs and its not too long in between them, a year or so possibly.
        Perhaps these are more rare than non laminated framed covers even. What do you think, should I go for it? Im on the fence about it right now.

        • Is the cover actually laminated with a clear sheet of plastic or does it just look glossy (or semigloss)? Ways to tell are by looking at the opening edge where flaking often occurs or by looking for bubbling around dinged corners. My frame-cover 1501 has a glossy-ish cover but is definitely not laminated.

          • Thats the thing, I saw no peeling going on which was surprising, but it just felt so glossy to the touch and sight anyway. Ill have a look once again and report back if its still there.

            • Lamination created the most beautiful Blue Note covers. It is quite different from the use of semi-gloss printing paper, which replaced it. Lamination used a sheet of cellulose acetate laid onto the printed cover, then heated to the point it melts, following the contours of the printed paper cover, sealing the artwork. Fabrication of covers went aesthetically down hill from there, but construction became more robust less prone to seam splits. Unfortunately Sellotape became the wrong solution.

          • My copy of 1501 is also glossy but not laminated. Interestingly, it doesn’t have a full frame, but a narrower frame on the left-side only. Not sure what to make of that.

            • Below are 2 images of the back and front that I hope you can see. Its clear that the front is much more reflective of the window light than the back but I can see 0 peeling of any laminate layer even at the opening. Is this how your “glossy” sleeve also appears?
              Maybe it should be specified as glossy instead of non laminated if they all are as pictured?

                • Great to know, thanks for the help. I think a description of “Glossy, Non Laminated” would be helpful to add, because it sure fooled me anyway.
                  Yeah I bought it today and it played about as good as it looked, no need to upgrade from this one for sure.

  2. Hi, great website.

    I do understand what you are saying in this post about cover construction. Like the previous poster, I’m curious about the frame appearing on the rear only.

    I have a BN 1531 that has all of the other markers listed as an early pressing, but when I look at the front cover, I can “maybe” just about see an indication of the frame. If it is a frame, it is so faint, I cannot feel it with my finger, and just barely see a hint of what “might” be a frame.

    Looking at the rear cover however, a frame is plainly visible on all 3 edges of cover (looking identical to picture posted at the beginning of this article) and easily felt when running my fingers over it.

    I’m not sure what to make of it. Have you ever seen this?

    • I have not seen a cover with the shadow-line only on the back, but it is possible if the construction method evolved using finer grade tape, or dispensing with the tape joint altogether and relying on the cover art and liner to form the joint.I glean a lot of knowledge from online auction photos, but covers are generally poorly photographed by sellers and its generally impossible to discern fine detail like this.

    • The “frame” appears top and closed side on both the front and the back, if I understand your question correctly.

      Frame cover construction starts with a rectangular sheet of cardboard, about 12″x24″, folded in half to create the basic front and back of the cover . Tape is applied joining the front and back top edge and closed side edge, the bottom edge being solid folded cardboard, leaving one edge open for inserting the record. The cover art, slightly oversize, is pasted down on the front, overlap folded over onto the back, the liner notes slightly undersize pasted down on the back, covering the artwork overlap.

      The two tape joints leave a shadow line on both front and back, though less prominently on the back because they are covered by two rather than one layer of paper.

      Looks like this method of construction was overtaken by advances in packaging technology. Cover manufacturers are rarely acknowledged, unlike pressing plants and label printers, and I haven’t any information who manufactured covers for Blue Note.

      If anyone has more insight into cover manufacture during the ’50s, or knows who manufactured Blue Note covers, welcome to share.

  3. Fred Cohen makes mention of “The Notch”: short internal reinforcement strip inside the cover either at the top and bottom centres or opening corners. Of my miniscule number of 1500 series Lexingtons, only one looks like the a first press and it has no notch, and, as you might expect, a complete seam split on the bottom edge. My others Lexies are probably later pressings, with Blue Note using up inventory stock of surplus older labels. No notches, nowhere. 😦

    • The Notch: I like that one. Never felt the need to buy Fred’s book. Too frustrating to be confronted with my own conneries, in exchanging blindly my original purchases against later, new copies.

  4. According to Larry Cohen, the other authority on Blue Note and vintage jazz recordings of the fifties, there are three types of original Blue Note sleeves:
    – the frame cover;
    – the protection knob design. The laminated sleeve gets an extra protection in the middle of the top and bottom seam, where the record rim touches the cover. This reinforcement is visible under light. On light coloured sleeves, the protection knob shows effects of browning. The white on “Peckin’ Time 1574 is an example in my collection. Sometimes the right top and bottom corners are also visibly reinforced. A manifest example right here in my hands: 4001 (Newk’s Time). This protection feature was later abandoned. (Original Verve albums had this feature too.)
    – the lean, just laminated, sleeve, without protection.

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