Blue Note labels: sides 1 and 2 differ

Welcome to the Blue Note Zoo, and one of the more perplexing aspects of collecting Blue Note records, the phenomenom of labels and pressing rings on one side don’t match the other. Never assume that what is on side 1 is the same as side 2.

PushMePullYou

The ten examples below from my own collection  illustrate the chaotic world of later re-pressings of early Blue Note titles, where earlier labels  have been used on later pressings. One example in my collection is a record  with Lexington labels both sides (label in use 1956-7) which has no “ear”, hence pressed by Liberty after 1966.

These are the bargains of the collectors bin if you know what’s what, or a big fall in value if you don’t.

Why non-matching labels?

The first pressing run of early Blue Note titles title was perhaps only one or two thousand copies.  If a title sold well, over time, further copies would be pressed according to demand, in small additional runs.

With print, most of the cost incurred is in the initial type-setting and artwork.  It must have made economic sense  to print more labels than initially required, and to keep surplus in stock for use in subsequent pressings

The Blue Note label detail changed every few years, with each change of the company address, – initially 767 Lexington Av., then 47 West 63rd St, then finally simply New York, USA. Old labels were used on new pressings. therefore the Blue Note label on any particular record  is merely a reflection of label  stock position  for that title at the time. It is not necessarily the approximate year of pressing, which may have been anything up to a decade later. Even where you have a record with “original labels”, it is often found that the accompanying inner sleeve “demonstrates” it was  manufactured many years after the first release.

It seems one imperative in manufacture of records at small companies was to save cost (where the majors couldn’t care less).  When pressing more copies of any title, they would  use up any old stock of labels before printing new ones. When stock of a title ran out, a new print run of labels would be ordered, of course bearing the latest company address.

The second priority, after 1961,  was to assert registered trademark protection, the newly acquired status of Blue Note Records Inc. and Blue Note as a registered trademark. The label design added a circled ® under the E of NOTE, and the company name on the label (and cover) changed from Blue Note Records to Blue Note Records Inc. The practice in using up old labels was to mix a batch of old  labels on one side with a batch of new labels on the other. This ensured that  at least one side displayed copyright protection,  the ®, good enough.

The incorporation of Blue Note Records occurred during the last year of the 47 West 63rd label, in use between 1957 and 1961. Hence that W63 label appears in two forms – with, and without the INC. and ® . It is possible to find a later 1961-2 pressing, with W63rd labels on each side, but ® on one and a no ® on the other.

It is axiomatic that the presence of a more modern label invalidates the older label for the purpose of establishing the likely year of pressing, though I have seen examples where both  labels were “old”, for example, a Lexington (1956) and a W63rd with ® (1961) on a Liberty pressing with no ear (1966) .

The greatest uncertainty rests with ’50s titles where “original first release” and continued pressing took place before the introduction of the registered trademark. In such cases it is useful to examine the  weight of the vinyl. Vinyl weight and thickness dropped significantly over the years, and can help pinpoint the probable time of manufacture, whatever the label suggests.

In the mid ’50s records pressed  on the East Coast  weighed typically 190-220gm. (For some reason, West coast pressings were often significantly lighter)  By the early Sixties this had fallen to 160-180 gm and by the time Liberty came on the scene in 1966, 150-160gm was the norm. Eventually, in the closing decade of vinyl production, labels like Fantasy were pressing at below 100 grams.

The label may say one thing but the weight says not. However, there is a degree of natural variation in vinyl biscuit weight, and records can fall outside the norm for their time e.g. a 140gm Lexington. I emphasise: these are exceptions. Most records conformed to the pressing practice of their day.

Deep Groove

Blue Note pressings are found with several different pressing ring combinations, which affects their status as “original” pressing, or not.

Up until 1961, all Blue Note pressings have a deep groove pressing ring on both sides. This includes all the 1500 12″ series and 4000 series up to either 4058 or 4059. (Some collectors have argued  BLP 4059 was the last “genuine” deep groove original pressing, though copies exist without deep groove which have promo status.) Any copy of these early titles without a deep groove both sides is certainly  a later pressing manufactured after 1961.

New dies that  left a single step pressing ring, not a deep groove, came into use at the Plastylite plant around 1960-1 . Thereafter, pressings of new titles and re-pressings of earlier titles appear with a deep groove on just one or other side, or none at all, or by chance, both.

It was argued by some collectors the non-DG new dies were reserved for first pressings and the older DG dies sometimes used in repressing orders, though as some commentators have  noted (me included) , manufacturing often  involves an element of using “whatever is to hand”.

Mono/ Stereo

In all  of these examples, note the label mongrels are a MONO edition, as stereo was a later development. On some titles, a Stereo Van Gelder master might be produced at a later date. My mixed label collection are all later pressings from the original mono Van Gelder master.

Sound Quality

In almost all cases the metalwork shows a direct lineage to Van Gelder original masters, and the sound quality is superb. The vinyl, being more recent,  will often be in better condition than earlier pressings.

Implications for buying and selling Blue Notes

It is not uncommon for ebay sellers to describe the label on one side and assume the other side is the same. Mistakes happen.

It also happens that sellers will describe a Liberty pressing (no “ear”) as having “original Blue Note labels”, which is strictly correct. The labels are “originals” just not the record, whose pressing occurred after the sale of Blue Note to Liberty.

On the positive side, the mixed label is a sign of the copy being among the earliest part of a second or third pressing run, and there are some titles which have mixed labels in their very first pressing.

These “manufacturers seconds” are fantastic sound quality and fantastic price (sometimes after adjustment where labels were mis-described)

1. BLP 1502 – with ear and RVG stamp, mixed NY and 47 West 63rd labels, both INC. and®, DG on side 2 only, 180gm vinyl

1502-NY-W63rd

A record first released in 1956 (Lexington label) which enjoyed several later pressing runs, at least one evidenced here on later W63rd labels  (W63rd label with INC. and ® = 1961-2) and another in the New York label period (1962-6). It is “an original Blue Note”, just not the original first pressing Blue Note.

2. BLP 1503 –  NY and Lexington, ear, RVG, DG on side 2, 181gm vinyl

1503-NY-LEX

Here is a mismatch! –  1956/7 label (Lexington) and a NY label (1962-6). The bad news: it’s not a Lexington; the good news, it’s probably an early NY, at the 1962-end rather than the 1966-end, as they were still cannibalising stocks of the older label. The relatively heavy vinyl tends to confirm early NY provenance. To clinch it, all it needs is an undated (early) corporate inner sleeve. (The inner sleeve is often the best indicator of when pressed, between 1962 and 1966))

3. BLP 1521 – NY and West63rd neither side DG, both have the R, ear, 181gm vinyl

1521-NY-W63rd

Ear confirms pre 1966 Blue Note not Liberty, NY label confirms 1962 onwards, both having ® means after 1961, 180gm vinyl confirms older manufacture, neither side DG suggests after 1961. Despite being manufactured in the emerging Stereo era, thankfully mono, as stereo 1521 would not be a pleasant experience. First true stereo release was BLP 1554.

4. NY and Lexington, ear, R on the NY,  DG side 2, 170gm vinyl

1526-NY-LEX

5. BLP 1534 – Lexington and W63rd, DG, ear, RVG, 173gm vinyl

1534-LEX-W63rdNY23

This is a really interesting example. Neither label has the R or the Inc, and  both sides are DG, but the W63rd label betrays a second pressing, some time between 1957 and 1961. Original would be Lexington both sides. A very early second pressing.

6. BLP 1539  W63rd no R and NY, ear, RVG,  side 2 DG, 185gm vinyl

1539-W63rd-NY

Interesting signpost here is the early “faint” inked font on Side 1, compared with the more heavily-inked blocky font of Side 2. Faint font indicates earlier.

7. BLP 1562 – W63rd no R  and NY, ear, RVG, both DG, 189gm vinyl

1562-W63rd-NY

8. BLP 4003  W63rd with R, and NY, ear, RVG, no DG, 165gm vinyl

4003-W63rd-NY

9. BLP 4017 NY and W63rd both Inc and R, ear, RVG,  both DG, 158gm vinyl

4017-NY-W63rd

10. BLP 4067 NY and W63rd, both R and Inc, no ear, no DG either side, 148gm vinyl (Liberty press)

4067-NY-W63rd-no-ear

This stuff would drive you crazy, but its all terrific sounding records, and great value for the “mongrels”. If a pressing’s original status is hotly disputed, take Fred Cohen’s word for it, or my own preference, that of Rhett Butler: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”

30 thoughts on “Blue Note labels: sides 1 and 2 differ

  1. Just found another blue note with mismatched labels. jimmy smith 84164, one side is division of liberty and the other is NY USA. 27 years blue note inner.
    Both sides have van gelder and stereo stamps. I’ve never seen this combination of labels before.

    • Interesting find, mixing Division of Liberty i.e. post BN acquisition, commissioned new label print with Liberty boilerplate, yet still using up old stock NY: canibalisation of inventory raised to an art form, with the final corporate inner sleeve “27 years” just icing on the cake. Tells a story about 1966.

  2. Hello, I recently found a milt Jackson 1509 with mismatched labels just like your example #5. I know it is a second pressing but the price was fair and it plays very well. I am really happy to have it as a guy on my budget doesn’t get a chance to own to many 1500 series blue notes 😉

  3. Hi. I just found one thats a little more confusing – Finger Poppin’ with the Horace Silver Quintet (BLP 4008) with a stereo side 1 and a mono side 2 (but 2 different mono labels). Side 1 has a BLP 4008 New York, USA label with circled R, but the deadwax is inscribed with “RVG STEREO(stamped) BN-ST 4008 A” (no ear). Side 2 has a BLP 4008 West 63rd, NYC label with circled R, and the deadwax in inscribed with “RVG(stamped) BN-LP 4008 B” (no ear). Can’t find a mention of it anywhere. Any thoughts are appreciated. Thanks.

    • Of the first twelve 4000 series, nine were not issued in stereo until Liberty came along. My 84004 and 84005 are no ear no RVG and Division of Liberty label

      Oddly enough, 4008 was one of the few which was, as BST 4008, so a Van Gelder master did exist, and stereo labels will have been printed.

      Sounds like Liberty set about reissuing those low 4000 series in mono and stereo, maybe there were RVG stereo masters for some titles and not others, possibly some printed labels in the inventory for some and not others, and in the general confusion, the operator matched up the wrong stampers, wrong labels, total clusterf****.

      They just don’t make mistakes like that any more, lol.

  4. I have a Sidney Bechet 1202, new York USA label on side one, Lexington label side two. Has the ‘p’ stamp, no DG either side. Inner sleeve is ’25 years blue note 1939 – 1964′

  5. I have an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with New York, NY on side one and side two. I have yet to see that anywhere else. All other ones seem to have the address on one side or both. Any idea when it would be from?

    • Sorry, it’s the “Moanin'” lp, though that isn’t the proper name. Just for research purposes, I’ll use that.

      • Is it deep groove with the Van Gelder Stamp and “ear”. It was a big seller for Blue Note and repressed as demand warranted. I’ve seen quite a few variations.

        • It is deep groove. The odd thing is that there is a sleeve that talks about 25 years of Blue Note. 1939-1964. I guess it’s just a much later pressing, I’ve just been unable to find it.

          • You can’t go by the inner sleeve, I’ve seen collections where the owner had mixed up the inner sleeves over the years…They weren’t collection for future sale but just for the music.

  6. I just found an “Art Blakey a night at bird land volume 1” with a Lexington ave. label on side one and a W 67th no New York 23. Has the RVG handwritten the ear and 9m. And the sleeve appears to be the original pinkish with the 2 birds and the fold. What year do you think it was pressed?

    • W67th? 47W63rd I think on the label. My guess if that label has no INC or ®, then probably late 1958 0r 1959 (if it has the INC & ® then 1961) The early cover suggests ’58 as they would have quickly used up the stock of the first cover.

      The etchings don’t help date pressing as they are simply on metal derived from the RVG master, which could be used any time and can be found on pressings a decade later.

      Other thoughts?

  7. Just bought a stereo copy of Donald Byrd – At the Half Note vol 2 – I’m thinking it’s a Liberty pressing, W63 address, and 9M but no “ear”. Sounds so good, I’ll take it for 30 bucks!
    On another note, also bought Mingus Ah Hum, seems to be a very early Australian pressing on Coronet label (1959). No idea how these were done back then, may be a copy of the master tape shipped to Australia, or the metalwork…but it’s MINT, not a speck of dust on it! For $25….astonishing sound! If anyone can shed a light on Coronet label pressings, would be thankful!

    • Hi – the Byrd, At The Half Note Vol 2 – BNST 84061 ? Double check that 9M etching. As far as I know, the last 9M was BN 4001 Rollins – Newk’s Time. There were no 9M after that, but you may have some kind of anomaly in your hands. Check also that it bears the RVG STEREO machine stamp. in the run out. All being well, ear or no ear, you have a steal at $30. All RVGs live recording are pretty special but the Half Note session is exceptionally lively. All Liberty had to do was not screw up.

      Re Coronet: from what I have seen, 50’s/60’s Australia had its own pressing and distribution of records under license. Coronet was a CBS label, which would have distributed Columbia recordings in Australia, which would include Mingus Ah Um. Now I’m guessing, but Columbia will have shipped tape to overseas distributors, as it did to its three US manufacturing plants. They were geared to selling records by the million worldwide, so it’s not at all likely they shipped physical metal. Happy to be corrected if anyone knows more.

      If you ever get a chance to A:B that Australian pressing against US pressing of Ah Um, that would indeed be quite revealing. I find UK and US pressings of the same recording sound different, as mastered from the same tape mix but by different engineers. Who knows what generation the copy tapes were.

      US is generally best, except on those occasions when it isn’t. (Riverside is a good example where UK is often better)

      • Yep, RVG STEREO on both sides, and very small hand etched 9M on both sides. Yes, this one has incredible presence. To be fair, the vinyl on visual inspection at the store was not in very good condition, that’s why they possibly priced it low, and I was skeptical about buying it. But after I cleaned it and gave it a spin at home, aside from the occasional surface noise, it sounded incredible.

        As for the Mingus…I was just hoping it’s better quality than any recent audiophile reissues. I’m sure it will not hold up against an original, but I was surprised by the quality.

        I also prefer the Japanese Verve pressings, they are usually in incredible condition and sound great, whereas the US pressings even in great condition are sometimes very noisy, for example one of my favorite records, “Intermodulation”, I bought two US copies and both are pretty noisy, even after multiple cleaning, yet they look excellent visually.

  8. I have an exact match of No. 3 above (BLP 1521). Very inexpensive, original metalwork (handwritten RVG and 9M) but no ear, in the 1966 “27 Years Blue Note” Liberty inner sleeve. Sounds terrific.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s