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 that don’t match, mixed up label.

PushMePullYou

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.

Deep Groove

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.

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 – NY and 47 West 63rd, has ear and RVG, both R, DG on side 2, 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  (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

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”

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

  1. 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 😉

  2. 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.

  3. 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′

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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