Arrival of the Blue Note printed inner sleeve, January 1961
(Page last updated: April 22, 2019)
Between 1956 and 1960, Blue Note 12″ LP records were packed with a plain paper inner sleeve. This took various forms over time, and pictured below is an example of the last type of plain paper sleeve, from my collection, accompanying BN 4019, released December 1959. An identical plain sleeve was found accompanied BN 4029 released May 1960. My remaining pre-4050 titles had all been rehoused in later Blue Note, modern generic or unrelated inner sleeves.
Newly pressed records were placed in the inner sleeve at the Plastylite plant, before being shipped in large boxes to Blue Note, to be matched with the cover.
Between 1961 and 1966, a printed inner sleeve was used, promoting 36 other Blue Note titles each side. Starting in September 1964, these printed sleeves carried the headline “25/26/27 YEARS BLUE NOTE The First Name In Jazz”.
In the Summer of 1966, with the purchase of Blue Note Records Inc., a large stock of inner sleeves , bearing the last design,”1939-1966 27 YEARS BLUE NOTE”, came into the hands of Liberty. These last inner sleeves were used to pack early Liberty Blue Note pressings, until used up, and a formal Liberty inner sleeve printed to replace it. As a result, the last inner sleeve is commonly found with early Liberty pressings from the latter part of 1966, including reissues and records in preparation for first release by Liberty.
Confirming date of LP manufacture
Despite the limitation of sleeves being sometimes missing, and the possibility of being swapped with that of other records, the “correct” Blue Note inner sleeve can be helpful in confirming the provenance of a Blue Note record as an original pressing. A particular title, pressed at a particular time, bagged as it left the Plastylite pressing plant, should have the inner sleeve design that was in use at that time. Similarly, a later subsequent pressing, at a later time, will have a later inner sleeve. Effectively, the inner sleeve is a “date stamp”, narrowing the date of manufacture to a three or four month period.
Nine unique designs
Fred Cohen’s Guide to Blue Note First Pressings identifies nine different inner sleeves. Each sleeve, front and back, displays a 6 x 6 grid of Blue Note releases , 72 titles in total. Among the 36 releases on the front of each inner sleeve is one unique record title which does not appear on any other inner sleeve. The unique title, which identifies each of the nine designs, is in a different grid position on each design.
Each inner sleeve design is linked to a run of Blue Note releases. Titles were released in broadly chronological sequence over the four years, not exactly sequential, occasional anomalies, but broadly. Schwann Catalogues indicate the official release month of each Blue Note title, hence identifying the approximate dates that sleeve was in use, and the likely date it left the factory. It is a better guide to the date of manufacture than the date of the original recording session, which could be anywhere between six months and several years earlier.
(Updated September 12, 2014)
Between 1962-6, several hundred new titles were released and thousands of copies re-pressed. The Blue Note NY label remained a constant over the four years, but there were nine changes of inner sleeve design during those four years. You may think you have the 1962 “original” pressing, but what if has a late 1964 inner?
When I went through all my Blue Notes, the first thing I noticed was the large number of Blue Notes dating from the time when sleeves were plain, that a seller had added a Blue Note picture inner sleeve, I guess to make it look “more authentically Blue Note”. Many titles, ones I thought to be original, had a wrong inner sleeve and almost always a wrong later sleeve.
Chronology of Blue Note inner sleeves
Prior to 1962, Blue Note inner sleeves were a simple plain white, now yellowed with age. I have only a few originals in the 1500 series, and none with an original plain inner sleeve.
Between 1962-66, inner sleeves were used to promote titles in the Blue Note catalogue, headed simply “Blue Note” bearing the legend BLUE NOTE (plain) / 25/ 26/ 27 YEARS BLUE NOTE, for the years 1962/3, 1964, 1965 and 1966. Within these four annual variations are a total on nine unique designs .
Inner sleeve vs label on record
Much store is set by collectors on a Blue Note title bearing the correct record label design/address of its original release i.e. 47 West 63rd with or without ®, NY etc However we know labels were printed in batches (by Keystone Printed Specialties, Scranton PA) and after the initial pressing run of a title, a stock of any surplus labels held in inventory for use on further pressings and re-pressings of that title. The presence of an “original label” on a record is not proof it is from the original pressing run, and in some cases it conceals a later pressing.
The picture inner sleeve commenced use in 1962, so is of use in dating only records manufactured from 1962 onwards. The inner sleeve was a generic consumable item, designed to promote the latest releases from Blue Note, as the record sailed out the factory gate. It wasn’t tied to any particular title, so it could be used for any pressing. Inner sleeve designs were updated periodically, to promote the most recent releases, fresh batches of inner sleeves of the latest design supplied to Plastylite. .
The inner sleeve is an indicator of the time of pressing.An original pressing should have a matching inner sleeve, plain, or correct picture sleeve. If not, that record may have been pressed much later than the labels or jacket indicate.
Evidence from a Blue Note Collector
Around half in my Blue Note collection have a picture inner sleeve, but very few had the “correct” first release sleeve. I found a disproportionate number of records with inner sleeves later than that of the original release. The mismatches were not “random”, which would have suggested accidental mixing up, they were almost always later inners.
We know thanks to a reader who worked as a press operator at Plastylite at that time that Blue Note pressing runs were in small batches, and paired with the inner current at the time. There is some evidence to suggest the first pressing runs for a typical a Blue Note title was about 2,500, to possibly 4,000. (evidence: photo of Lee Morgan in the stockroom surrounded by boxes of numbered Blue Note titles shipped in from Plastylite, record in inner sleeve, waiting jackets)
Further copies were pressed according to sales, which would explain the appearance of later inner sleeves on popular records
The Nine Unique Sleeve Designs (1961 – 1966) in Detail
Using Fred as a guide, I identified all the nine inner sleeve variations. The titles have approximate dates of release originating from Schwann catalogues. All inner sleeves are pictured as seen from the front with the opening to the fore and the Blue Note Address at the bottom (the reverse taller side has no address)
The first six inner sleeve designs are simply headed BLUE NOTE, The Finest In Jazz Since 1939. (with no mention of cumulative years since 1939) but with a unique title in their 6×6 grid.
Sleeve 1: BLP 4050 – 4078 (releases mainly in 1961)
Unique Identifier –
BLP 4046 Duke Jordan Flight to Jordan
Column 1 Row 2
Sleeve 2: BLP 4079 -4088 (releases in 1962)
As sleeve 1, simple BLUE NOTE header, no mention of number of years.
BLP 4058 Hank Mobley Roll Call
Column 4, row 5
Sleeve 3: BLP 4089 – 4114 ( late 1962 early 1963)
BLP 4084 Baby Face Willette Stop and Listen
in column 4 Row 5
(Sleeve picture courtesy of DottorJazz)
Sleeve 4: BLP 4117 – 4131 (mostly 1963 releases)
BLP 4107 Don Wilkerson Preach Brother Preach
Column 1, Row 5
Sleeve 5: BLP 4134 – 4158 (late 1963 – through 1964)
Unique identifier –
BLP 4136 Solomon Ilori African High Life
Column 1, Row 5
Sleeve 6: 25 Years – BLP 4159 – 4177 (late 1964 – mid 1965)
First mention of cumulative number of years, since 1939.
BLP 4144 Johnny Coles Little Johnny C
Column 1, Row 5
Sleeve 7: 26 Years – BLP 4178 – 4201 (releases mainly 1965)
BLP 4159 Andrew Hill Judgement
Column 1, Row 4
Sleeve 8: 27 Years 1st variation BLP 4202 – 4226 (releases mainly last quarter 1965)
BLP 4187 Larry Young Into Somethin’
Column 6, row 4
Sleeve 9: 27 Years 2nd variation – BLP 4227 and higher ( early 1966 )
BLP 4204 Dexter Gordon Gettin’ Around
Column 6, row 4
This is the last and final Blue Note inner sleeve.
Liberty Records Inner Sleeve
Liberty inherited a large stock of the final 1966 Blue Note “27 Years of” inner sleeve. After this stock was used up, Liberty produced their own corporate inner sleeve, Liberty: The First Family Of Recorded Entertainment.
This inner sleeve had just the one design, and was not updated seasonally with new releases.
A further inner sleeve design The Definitive Catalogue, appeared, probably around 1969. It lists all of the new titles issued by Liberty as well as back catalogue reissues, the full catalogue of around 400 titles :
United Artists Inner Sleeve
United Artists tenure from 1970 produced the stylish Blue Note Wallpaper sleeve with inbuilt polythene lining, introduced in 1973. Collector advice: polythene lined sleeves have a notorious record for causing vinyl to “sweat” causing irreparable damage, and should be archived inside the jacket, and the record placed in modern inner sleeve, preferably nagaoka-style archival inert mylar sleeve with an acid-free paper outer.
Capitol/EMI Inner Sleeve
The wallpaper inner sleeve was used up to the 1980 take over by EMI, who replaced it with the “Blue Note Story” inner sleeve. The EMI sleeve gives an illuminating history of Blue Note written by Michael Cuscuna.
Sadly, EMI Capitol Manhatten pressings in the mid-80’s which accompany this inner sleeve – label: “The Finest In Jazz Since 1939” – are often Direct Metal Mastering (DMM) and are generally best avoided, though as always there are exceptions.