The Blue Note 1500 series, (1956-58) has some isolated examples of ” promo copies”, the provenance which can not be totally verified, some of these are examined at the conclusion of this post. Nevertheless, there are many examples of Blue Note promotional copies in the early to mid 60’s, in the Blue Note 4000 series. They are fairly rare. Scarcity motivates some collectors, but leaves many uncertain what is genuine and what may not be. It’s all in the pictures. Fred Cohen’s Guide covers the specific case of Liberty mono audition LPs, but I don’t think anyone has covered the whole field of Blue Note promotion records, so it needs to be done. LJC steps in. Or, steps in it.
BLUE NOTE 4000 SERIES PROMOTIONAL COPIES
In the early Sixties, Blue Note sent copies of forthcoming releases to radio station disk jockeys, stamped “for promotion” in various forms, “not for sale” necessary to circumvent sales tax on records for sale. Wiki lists around 500 50’s and 60s radio disk jockeys by name, and there were over several thousand radio stations, which adds up to potentially a lot of promos. Those “promos” have eventually filtered back into the collector community through auctions, a collector niche which often pushes promo-stamped records into the upper levels of auction prices.
The format of stamps and words changed over time, and five below appear in specific years betwen 1961 and 1968.: REVIEW COPY, D.J.COPY and AUDITION COPY.
Promos are of particular interest to audiophile collectors, as pressing from the first run on new stampers has the most intense audio fidelity. As owner of a few test pressings and audition copies, I can vouch for that.
“REVIEW COPY” LABEL STAMP (1961-2)
The first widely seen “for promotion” copies, labels stamped “REVIEW COPY”, are found on titles released between March 1961 to February 1962. The stamp is the same on every copy and two separate but consistent colours from the ink pad – cyan-leaning blue, and purple-indigo. Just one also referenced the admonition “NOT FOR SALE”.
The stamp is on one of the labels, side one or side two, at random. (I figure only one side to avoid the ink smudging if you turned it over and laid it flat to stamp the other side) Occasionally the back of the jacket is also stamped “REVIEW COPY, but mostly one stamp on the label is the only indication of promo status. I found fifteen different titles at auction stamped review copy, between BLP 4045 and 4093, no doubt there are many others.
These review copy stamps are found on titles issued in 1961 and early 1962. They are extremely rare, usually only one copy has come to auction for any given title, but many for some titles (Lee Morgan’s Gigolo had a large number). They are often among the highest price auctions, and promo is generally noted in the auction headline.
“REVIEW COPY” Jacket rear stamp (1961-65)
“Review copy” stamped jackets were issued between May 1961 and January 1965. They are also quite rare, usually only one or two have appeared at auction for any title, some none among many hundreds of original copies A handful of records are found in this period stamped D.J.COPY instead, around 1963-4.
Review Copies were radio station promos. Some station record libraries stamped them with their four letter call sign. A few jackets are disfigured by disk jockey’s comments, doodles, picks, library filing codes, and coffee stains. D.J’s seem unnaturally fond of red felt-tip pens.
Titles stamped D.J.COPY were issued between November 1962 and April 1965. They overlap chronologically the REVIEW COPY label stamp. Copies of the same title are found with a D.J.COPY stamp and with the large AUDITION COPY stamp on the back , so may have been promotions at different times, used interchangeably, or despatched from different parts of the US. The D.J.COPY stamped titles have no other promo markings, just the back cover stamp.
Liberty AUDITION MONO LP sticker (1967-8)
Liberty Records is important to Blue Note lovers, because Liberty was the first to issue so many terrific recordings from the Blue Note catalogue. Particularly special was a small series of seventeen titles given hallowed promo status through a unique mono pressing for radio stations.
Van Gelder was enlisted to master mono copies of records released commercially only in Stereo. A special AUDITION MONO LP sticker was placed over the word “STEREO” on the front cover. With the commercial release only in Stereo, these mono auditon copies are very sought after, judging from auction prices.
Most but not all of these bear the VAN GELDER stamp. Unfortunately, it seems the exception was 4244 Bobby Hutcherson’s Stick-Up! which it appears was remastered for mono only by Research Craft, LA. All auction copies have Bert-Co labels, and do not have VAN GELDER mastering stamp. The commercial stereo edition is however Van Gelder mastered, and ironically also found as a stereo audition copy.
Completist: 10 more MONO AUDITION LPs, released in 1968.
“AUDITION COPY” large stamp (1967-8)
Cover selection dedicated to McCoy Tyner
Issued between January 1967 and October 1968, perhaps the least attractive promo stamp and the most commonly found. The earliest examples are still mono, though after Liberty introduced the dedicated mono promo stickered MONO AUDITION LP, stereo promos were also issued to radio stations, back cover stamped AUDITION COPY as seen here.
Front cover debossed corner (1967-72)
“NOT FOR SALE FOR PROMOTION USE ONLY” embossed stamp on a top corner, left or right, stereo copies now as the commercial release. These first appear in late 1967 through to the early ’70s, after which United Artists took control. New recordings produced in the twighlight years of Liberty Blue Note era are a mixed bag, but include some excellent titles by Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter and Grant Green.
The debossed stamp was eventually replaced by a simple circular white sticker stating “PROMOTIONAL COPY NOT FOR SALE” – not especially of interest as the catalogue was now thin on quality.
1500 Series sightings
On October 28, 2018, there was an appearance of a 1500 series promo stamp, on 1577 Blue Train in an auction copy by a US Seller (Idmontpop67). The auction attracted 21 bids and closed at $3,419, the fourth highest price in Blue Train’s auction history. That it was not still higher possibly suggests a degree of scepticism as to the authenticity of the stamp. It is the first I had seen.
And it is not the only sighting of that promo stamp in the 1500 series. On Hank Mobley’s self-titled BLP 1568, one of the most sought after and expensive records in the Blue Note catalogue. In August 17, 2017, the JazzRecordCentre (Fred Cohen) auctioned this unusual copy of 1568, which attracted 16 bids and ended finally at $4,539.
The “FOR PROMOTION” stamp on 1568 is the same stamp as found on two different copies of 1577. Fred Cohen ‘s standing and reputation in the record collecting community is impeccable. Three independent sightings of the same stamp, strengthens its credibility, and the 1577 covers share the same characteristics of other very very early pressings, like that of collector Rudolf F (green tint, grey catalogue number).
It is for the collector to decide whether they want the record, in the condition as offered, irrespective of the authenticity of stamp.
The strange sale of a Mobley 1568, “Not For Sale”
On February 12, 2018, a copy of Hank Mobley self-titled 1568 went to auction, also with a promotional stamp, this time one with “NOT FOR SALE” on Side 1, Side 2 with NEW YORK 23. This attracted an incendiary 53 bids, closing at $7,970. The seller was listed as Sungsookim1, from South Korea.
Exactly one month later, March 12, 2018, the same “promo” copy with the same supporting photographs was relisted, I guess the second placed bidder was awarded an auction win due to non-payment by the previous winner, and price adjusted down to runner up bid of $7,400. It pays to be wary of non-payment at these levels, someone’s moment of madness.
Five months later, on August 4, 2018, seller kl489-3, coincidentally also from South Korea, auctioned exactly the same “Not For Sale” stamped copy, attracting 51 bids, netting only $6,100 – a loss of $1,300 on the previous auction price, before Ebay auction commission.
No other “Not For Sale” promos in the 1500 series have come to light, which I guess tells you something. From the seller point of view, it seems a high-risk gambit to boost the price of what is already a rare and highly valuable artifact. It’s like you have a fourteenth century Ming vase, in perfect condition, and you whip out a felt-tip pen, and add “Rare! Signed by The Great Ming himself!“
If you have any Blue Note promo covers or labels, email pictures to me, help build the knowledge pool.
UPDATE July 18, 2022
Reader Timothy D has sent in pictures of BLP 1540, Lexington labels with “FOR PROMOTION” stamp both sides. The stamp font is characteristic of other copies similarly stamped, etchings correct and frame cover, credible common point of origin.
Any more contributions welcome.