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.

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7 thoughts on “Blue Note covers: frame construction

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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