Welcome to the Blue Note Zoo, and one of the more perplexing aspects of collecting Blue Note records, the phenomenom of labels that don’t match, mixed up label.
The ten examples below from my own collection illustrate the chaotic world of second and third pressings of early Blue Note titles. Titles first released after 1961 will have “R” registered trademark on both labels and by 1962 everything was on NY labels, and are consistent, so no problem. The problematic provenance is the second or third pressing of earlier titles. It is more common than you might think to find mixed labels, which indicate the judicious use of labels from stock for second and later pressings, even up to the last NY label and beyond, to pressings by Liberty. In one example even an apparent Lexington has no “ear”. 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 mixed up labels?
The first tentative run of vinyl pressing on any early record title was perhaps only one or two thousand copies. If a title sold well, a further pressing run would be ordered. With print, most of the cost incurred is in the initial set up of a print run, to create the first thousand, the next thousand being just the marginal extra cost of paper and ink and keep the presses running. It made economic sense to print more labels than initially required, and to hold stock. If the title bombed, little lost, if it boomed, quick response to market at little cost. Thus the label (Blue Note address) found on a particular vinyl pressing is not a guarantee of its date of pressing, which may be anything up to a decade later.
It seems there were two imperatives in manufacture: first, to use up old stock of labels before printing new ones, and second, to assert registered trademark protection, by at least one of the two labels. As stock was used up, a second print run of labels would be ordered, displaying the latest corporate address, and from 1961 onwards, the newly acquired status of Blue Note Records Inc and Blue Note as a registered trademark, with a circled “R” under the E of NOTE.
The incorporation of Blue Note Records occurred during the last year of the 47 West 63rd label in use between 1957 and 1961. Hence it appears in two forms – with, and without the INC and “R”. It is even possible to find a later pressing on W63rd labels with R one side and a no R on the other.
It is axiomatic that 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 “R” (1961) on a Liberty pressing with no ear (1966) . Greatest uncertainty rests with Fifties titles where both first and second pressings took place before the registered trademark date. In such cases I refer to the weight of the vinyl, which dropped significantly over time. Mid fifties pressings weighed 190-220gm, by the early Sixties this had fallen to 160-180 gm and by the time Liberty came on the scene, 150-160gm was the norm. The label may say one thing but the weight says not. However there was a degree of natural variation in vinyl biscuit weight, and copies have been observed that fall outside the norm for their period e.g. a 140gm Lexington. Emphasise: these are exceptions.
The appearance of a deep groove DG die on only one side, or sometimes both or neither along with these “wrong labels” is also a characteristic of these later pressings. The non-DG dies first came into use at the Plastylite plant around 1960-1 . It is said the non-DG new dies were reserved for first pressings and the older DG dies sometimes used in repressing orders, though as others have noted, manufacturing involves an element of using “whatever is to hand” . In most cases, after 1961, the presence of DG on one or both sides of an earlier pre-1961 title an indicator of second or later pressing. Some collectors believe BLP 4059 to be the last “genuine” deep groove original pressing, though non-compliant examples are disputable.
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.
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 – NY and 47 West 63rd, has ear and RVG, both R, DG on side 2, 180gm vinyl
A record first released in 1956 (Lexington label) which enjoyed several later pressing runs, at least one evidenced here on later W63rd labels (with “R” = 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
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
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
5. BLP 1534 – Lexington and W63rd, DG, ear, RVG, 173gm vinyl
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
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
8. BLP 4003 W63rd with R, and NY, ear, RVG, no DG, 165gm vinyl
9. BLP 4017 NY and W63rd both Inc and R, ear, RVG, both DG, 158gm vinyl
10. BLP 4067 NY and W63rd, both R and Inc, no ear, no DG either side, 148gm vinyl (Liberty press)
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”