Blue Note vinyl: Van Gelder’s stamps

Last Updated: March 3, 2021

(added small RVG stamp found on Impulse around 1962)

The hallmark of a Rudy Van Gelder master is the presence of his name or initials in the vinyl land between the grooves and the record label, variously described as the deadwax, runout or trail-off.

1) 1956-7 and earlier –  hand written initials RVG

(click each to view full screen)

Blue-Note-RVG-hand-initials-LJC2) 1958-62 Machine stamp RVG initials

Blue-Note-RVG-stamp-LJCNoted around 1962 a small version of the RVG stamp apears, on Impulse, possibly other labels, about half the size of the regular RVG stamp.

Martin-RVG-small

Photo-credit: Martin

Stereo masters had their own stamp to differentiate them from mono masters:

RVG-STEREO-stamp.jpg

3) 1961/2 onwards, machine stamp VAN GELDER, roughly though not exactly coinciding with the introduction of the NY label. Some early NY label titles still bear the second  RVG machine stamp.

VAN-GELDER-stamp-LJC

 A similar stamp was sometimes added to distringuish the tereo master from the mono:

STEREO---VAN-GELDER-STAMP.jpg

The Van Gelder etching or stamp was applied on the master acetate, and replicates during the various stages of metalwork through to the final stamper. It indicates the mastering was carried out by Van Gelder. It does not confirm him as recording engineer, which is a different enterprise, and a number of early Blue Notes are RVG-mastered but recorded some years previously in radio station studios, but re-mastered by Van Gelder.   Its absence means the master has been created by other, usually lesser talents..

Since all Blue Notes (with some rare exceptions) were pressed by Plastylite, the Plastylite ear and the signature Van Gelder metalwork go together during the life of the original company, up to April 1966. Beyond that date, subsequent owners of the Blue Note label – Liberty and United Artists –   moved pressing to a wide range of plants, however Van Gelder metal remained in use for some titles.

Van Gelder-mastered stampers continued to be used during the Liberty and United Artists, in some cases beyond their useful life. Also, Van Gelder was not the only great sound engineer, and the quality of his tape mixes was often so high it was difficult for another engineer to make a poor transfer, though some did.

Similar hallmarkings are found on Van Gelder’s work for other labels, notably Prestige and Impulse and as Rudolf reminds me, also Debut and Savoy.

Van Gelder mastering stamp in the ’70s and ’80s adopted the following new form: Master By Van Gelder –

Master by van gelder sTAMP

This stamp is found on some titles for Mosaic, Uptown, and a few other labels. Though his association with Blue Note was long gone, his Englewood Cliffs recording studio continued to be a sought after, and guaranteed work for Van Gelder. However, by the early  80s the lead Van Gelder  had enjoyed over most other engineers in previous decades had narrowed. What had been cutting edge use of microphones and recording equipment in the ’50s and ’60s suffered in industry convergence to the mean – every studio had similar multi-track facilities, solid state equipment had replaced valves, and shortly the Evil Silver Disc would replace vinyl as a medium of music distribution.  The magic is often no longer present with “MASTER BY – VAN GELDER”.

In closing, Van Gelder would return to Blue Note in the ’90s by remastering his recordings for CD.

update-1.gif November 2019

Not everything is as it appears. The Blue Note title below was manufactured in Taiwan, and appears to have an “RVG STEREO” stamp, and “original” etched matrix number.

donald-byrd-fuego-korean-rvg-stereo-master-stamp-1920-ljc

Photo courtesy of Tony S

 Red Vinyl, Blue Not.  Another example , apparently a VAN GELDER stamp (and Plastylite ear), this Blue Note title from King Record Co from Seoul, Korea. Note, the Plastylite ear was applied only in the Plastylite pressing plant.

Korean-VAN-GELDER-and-Ear-Blue-Note.jpg

Photo courtesy of Evan B

These South and East East Asia “Blue Notes” are reckoned to be from the late ’60s possibly 70’s, and are almost certainly ingenious counterfeits. The apparent presence of “original” run-out etchings and stamps are not linked as it might appear, with original Van Gelder metalware. More likely they would be an incidental  by-product of  using an original Blue Note record as a mould, not unlike an “acetate”/master,  to press a reverse image “mother” and subsequent  stampers  to press passable counterfeit copies.

Audio quality would suffer in the process, as owners have confirmed, questionable, though an audio sample sent me by the owner of this “Simmy Smith” album actually sounded  quite perky. I think the giveaway is the presence of the Plastylite ear. This record has never been within a thousand miles of the Plastylite plant, the only place it was applied. It’s a counterfeit, Blue Not.

If you see other examples, send to me.

LJC

55 thoughts on “Blue Note vinyl: Van Gelder’s stamps

  1. My copy of Art Blakey’s “Like Someone In Love” BNST-84245 is a bit mysterious, at least it is to me. It appears to be a late 60s West Coast Liberty pressing, having all signs of a Bert-Co printed label and the Liberty inner sleeve, but it has “VAN GELDER” and “BLUENOTE” stamped in the deadwax. I’ve never heard or seen of a “BLUENOTE” stamp before, I just found out about that here on this page where that stamp was applied on some italian pressings.
    What do I have here? Is it genuine? Anyone else with a “BLUENOTE” stamp on a US pressing?

        • Hello Hannes, I am glad that you also found an example of the Blue Note stamp in the deadwax! I have not found any more examples but also found it on a couple of 45’s! Best regards, Tim

    • My copy of BNST 84245 has Keystone labels (East Coast pressing, probably All-Disc) has just VAN GELDER on both sides, no “BLUENOTE”. Your BertCo label means West Coast pressing but possibly a third party, not the usual Research Craft. I have seen a BLUENOTE stamp once or twice but have no recollection where. If anyone can shoot one I’ll happily update this page with it.

  2. I’m on the hunt for Jack Wilson’s Easterly Winds (BST 84270). I found an early copy, which has the VAN GELDER stamp only on side 1, but not side 2. What about that?

  3. “Van Gelder-mastered stampers continued to be used during the Liberty and United Artists [eras], in some cases beyond their useful life.” Indeed. I own a 1966 Liberty mono copy of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, RVG mastered, which produces rich, dynamic sound throughout. Unfortunately it has a repeating skip of unknown origin on A2 (a flaw in the pressing, maybe). In search of a clean copy, I bought a 1973 stereo black-“b” UA pressing for half the price, also with VAN GELDER stamps on both sides. It plays cleanly all the way through — the vinyl is almost mint — but it lacks the dynamic punch of the 1966 copy. Stampers on their last legs, perhaps? I note that many 1973 reissues on the market lack the RVG stamps, suggesting that they were finally being discontinued around then.

    • We have a little more knowledge now than when I first wrote this. I figure the first pressing run of a popular Blue Note title in the early 60s was around 4,000 copies.The useful life of a stamper is thought to be – yes, around 4,000 pressings, before the ridge tip became blunt. More copies were pressed periodically to top up distributors stocks, putting further pressure on stamper life. We have to assume additional copy stampers were brought into service at some point.

      I guess all metalware was held by Plastylite, and I guess the chain of custody passed over to Liberty (held on the East Coast), and finally United Artists in LA, with some falling by the wayside, lost or damaged or worn out. The original tapes probably followed the same route.

      It is an open question whether the cardboard jacket which sleeved stampers was annotated with a record of their use, like a lending library, no-one knows. If it wasn’t, then no-one would know that a particular stamper had been “over-used.” This is “grunt” territory, what actually happened day to day in the plant, and no-one knows.

      EMI adopted the practice of remastering, and RVG original metal never appeared again, so I assume they were destroyed, as none to my knowledge have surfaced as collector’s items, neither stampers nor anything else beyond the odd test pressing.

      Just speculation

      • It would strike me as more than a little amazing if there weren’t a few RVG metal stampers still floating around out there somewhere. In the basement of someone who worked at the pressing plant, maybe. Would you pay good money for one of those? No doubt there are those who would.

        • A couple of years back I had conversation with the Thames and Hudson people who were commissioned by Don Was to publish the Blue Note 75th anniversary “Uncompromising Expressions” book. They went over to interview everyone. They found Blue Note had retained almost nothing from the vinyl legacy years. Management of the day considered CD/digital the future, which rendered all that old stuff obsolete. It is probably only thanks to Music Matters Jazz we have original analog tape sources, not just digital copies, and the Francis Wolff archive.

          I own a couple of stampers, though not Blue Note: they look pretty on a wall.

          • You’re probably right. Sigh. Oh well, a boy can dream. Next time I’m in the North Plainfield, NJ area I’ll be sure to drop in at some garage and estate sales. One never knows.

  4. Hello
    Thanks for your amazing blog and your odyssée beyond jazz.
    Is an RVG hand etched is necessary limited to 1956 and 57 press ? Because i just acquire an Monk genius of modern music vol 1, with New York usa label on both side, 61street on back cover, but RVG hand etched, with 9m.
    So, is it possible that is an 1957 press with 1960 label and cover ?
    Maybe i miss something…
    Thanks !

    • It is natural to be perhaps a little confused with Blue Note production until you understand the mixing of old and new elements in manufacture.

      Van Gelder mastering and metalwork remain a constant through many changes of label address, cover address and company ownership. The label and cover changed as fresh batches were printed and manufactured, but the vinyl was always pressed from original metal and bear the hallmarks created the first time around (RVG/ 9M etc) .

      The oddity is that stocks of labels were held in inventory, and old labels were applied to new records to use up old stocks, before new print-runs were ordered. The vinyl was constant, the label may be old stock, not current date, or latest iteration of company address, current new stock.

      Whilst the majors just printed and manufactured contemporaneously, small companies like Blue Note had to watch costs, guess quantities of consumables, juggle everything.

  5. I recently picked up a bunch of jazz 45s, among them were several blue notes and impulses. i was surprised to see all were mastered by van gelder. Some have hand written RVG, some stamped RVG, and others van gelder stamped just like the LP’S 🙂

  6. So is there a list of later 2nd or 3rd Pressing with Rudy’s stamp. I enjoy buying later pressing for cost but I just want it to have that RVG or that Van Gelder stamp so I get the real deal Master to listen to. I own Blue Note Pressing well into the 70s with the RVG stamp. It seems like the plates were still ok so they used them to press more?

    Tony

    • A list of every Van Geldered title would be a good idea but has never been done. Van Gelder metalware survived through the Liberty years to the United Artists years but its use was not consistent. Liberty, as you will have gathered from the latest post (January 2018) released new titles and reissues simultaneously with and without Van Gelder, for geographical manufacturing reasons.

      After the Blue Note assets were I assume relocated to the West Coast, United Artists had access to Van Gelder metal and used it sometimes, not others

      A fair proportion of blue label/ black note reissues have Van Gelder stamps – reissues mainly from United Artists Records Inc (1973-5) and some white note after United Artists Music and Records group reorganisation (1975-79). I initially thought they would be over-used stampers, but I don’t think we can be sure whether intermediary metal like mothers were put into service. They sound pretty good on the whole.

      After 1980 it’s a lost cause. EMI didn’t use Van Gelder metal, didn’t recognise it’s value, or lost the assets. Then with the rise of digital, everyone thought they could do better. My turntable says different.

  7. I picked up a copy of Lou Donaldson’s Alligator Bogaloo today (BST 84263). While at the record shop I noted that “BLUE NOTE” was stamped in the dead wax. I did not recall reading about this previously on the LJC website but today I was pleased to find a brief reference to this in the reader feedback section of the LJC post – “Blue Note Vinyl: Van Gelder’s stamp”.

    This Liberty Records release also included the “27 Years Blue Note” inner sleeve (type 9). I e-mailed a photo of the “BLUE NOTE” stamp today which I hope will be useful for illustration on your excellent website! The front of the jacket indicates copyright Liberty Records, Inc. but the advertisement on the reverse indicates “For Complete Catalog Write to BLUE NOTE RECORDS, INC., 43 West 61st St., New York 23” as it also appears on the inner sleeve.

  8. I have a question for you guys. I’m cataloging my collection on Discogs and there are multiple “releases” of Coltrane’s records on Impulse. Of the original pressings, especially in stereo, were the Van Gelder stamps on the original first pressings? At least one of these has been listed as a re-release and I’m guessing that the Van Gelder stamped records were the original relatively short run first pressings.

  9. I have a 10″ Tal Farlow Quartet, Lex w/ ear and the 9M, but no RVG, in spite of the fact that Rudy is credited with engineering duties on the back cover. Could it be that his earliest recordings were not stamped?

    • In physical manufacturing processes, anything is possible, including mistakes and forgetfulness. On that occasion he may have forgotten to initial the acetate after mastering. However it was not unknown for duties to be split – he may have been the recording engineer but not responsible for the mastering, which I think is the more likely an explanation. RVG was very precious about signing his own work, more so than any other engineer at the time. Roy du Nann never sign his masters, nor anyone else of note. Absence of etching suggests absence of the master’s touch on the lathe.

        • There is an original first pressing of this record for sale currently, and it too lacks the RVG in the runout. I wonder now about the other titles in the 5000 series, and at what time the RVG imprint first made its appearance.

          • My # 5042 too is without rvg in the dead wax. I checked a title of which I am sure RvG did the recording (his dog is on the front cover), # 5044. It has rvg hand-etched both sides.
            For 5042, I think it is just an omission.

            • checked mine: 5002, 5003, 5020, 5021, 5028, 5030, 5032, 5033, 5037, 5038, 5039: NO RVG
              5043, 5045: RVG
              I don’t think it’s been an omission Rudolf: up to 5042 Van Gelder didn’t sign.
              Fred confirms: RVG from 5043 on.

              • my (autographed) # 5043 has RvG hand-etched. So that confirms what you (and Fred) are saying. But, of course, this does not imply that pre-5043 are not recorded by van Gelder. And that is what it is all about.

  10. Has there been discussion of “BLUE NOTE” stamped in the runoff on certain releases? I just picked up a demo copy of Jack Wilson’s Somethin’ Personal 4251 with the Blue Note stamp to accompany the Van Gelder one. A quick internet search surfaced a copy of Grant Green’s Street of Dreams with the same stamp.

    • Hi Chris, not aware of any such stamp during the Blue Note period <1966. Both titles you mention were I believe pressed for Liberty. I've a fair number of Liberty Blue Notes and I don't recall seeing such a stamp. Picture possible?

      • This week I picked up a copy of BST-8255, Jimmy Smith’s “I’m Movin’ On”, and it also has this BLUE NOTE stamp. I was meaning to send over a picture but it slipped through the cracks, I’ll try to get one over soon!

        • Nice. I checked my copies of Boss Horn, Blackjack, and Sweet Honey Bee as well, but didn’t see find the stamp. Not sure what the chronology was in terms of release dates however. I’m wondering if there were limited pressing plants that were using the stamp, or whether all copies have them.

          • I’ve got one original Liberty only, 84287, Ornette Coleman New York is now!
            matrix numbers, etched in dead wax, NO Blue Note.
            question to Liberty collectors: please email me label pics of any record WITH Blue Note stamped in dead wax.
            I think it’s the first time the interest is spotlighted to this feature I was unaware of.
            good catch Chris!

            • I know this is an old topic but I just picked up a copy of art blakey 84245 and it has ‘BLUE NOTE” stamped in the runout. This is a blue label black ‘b’ reissue with van gelder stamp.

    • Chris: I have this same Jack Wilson “Something Personal” Division of Liberty label pressing that has both the “Van Gelder” and “Blue Note” stamps in the runout of both sides.

    • When I recently revisited Mingus Black Saint and Sinner Lady (the stereo version), I noticed that it doesn’t have the ‘VAN GELDER’ stamp one expects from a release of that date. Instead it is stamped ‘RVG’. However this stamp is considerably smaller than the usual ‘RVG’ stamp from the early 1960s. It is more the size of the ‘VAN GELDER’. Like on the ‘VAN GELDER’ stamped pressings ‘RVG’ is separate from the ‘STEREO’ stamp (i.e two stamps ‘RVG’ and ‘STEREO’, not one ‘RVG STEREO’ stamp). I don’t have any New Jazz or Prestige from 1962-63, but I have checked all my Blue Notes and Impulses from the time and this is the only instance of this tiny ‘RVG’ stamp. It doesn’t change anything of course, but it’s odd. What happened?

      • I’ve not seen a small RVG stamp. A curiosity indeed. Any chance of a picture? (include the label edge to the grooves, to judge the scale) If you can, email it to me. I’ll add it to the “RVG stamp collection”

        • LJC: I’ve emailed you an illustration of Rudy Van Gelder’s mastering dies. It appears that the two different sizes if RVG appear in the center photos. The photos are from Frederick Cohen’s Blue Note Records guide book.

          • Page 19. yes, there are two RVG stamps, never noticed but one is slightly larger than the other. The photos have lost the comparative sense of scale, as they look very similar. I’d like to see the stamp in situ, recover the sense of scale.

            UPDATE: Thanks to Martin, pictured the small RVG on Impulse. Comparison is roughly to scale, the small RVG is about half the size of the regular RVG. Prompts the thought it might have been cast for use when the the vinyl land is restricted if grooves run to just short of the label. . Then it found some other purpose.

            Well done, Martin
            LJC

            • Oh, I don’t have the Cohen book. LJC is my main man.

              I’ve mailed a couple of close-ups of stamp and rim. I couldn’t get the kind of representation I wanted though. Maybe someone else is better equiped? There must be a number of AS-35 owners reading this.

      • This small RVG stamp frequently appeared on Vox classical LPs mastered by Van Gelder. Black Saint is the only jazz LP I’ve seen it on.

  11. What about a stamped matrix number? I just acquired a copy of Midnight Blue, and the BNLP-4123-A is stamped, not etched in the matrix! The record has Van Gelder stamped on both sides, is DG on one side with NY USA on both, so likely an early reissue. But it also has the ear on both sides… which for me eliminated the idea that its some sort of counterfeit. I’ve never seen a stamped matrix number before.

    • I’ll add that the inner sleeve is a 26 Years Blue Note sleeve, so dating from mid 1965 when it should be the one in use from 1963. So that plus the single side DG, we’ve determined its not a first pressing. But when did they stamp the BNLP #??

  12. Does anyone know (or have any idea) why Van Gelder did not put his stamp on his Argo records? There are not many and they aren’t important records, but some were recorded at the same time as other records on which the VAN GELDER stamp always appears.

  13. and not to forget the Debut label with RVG hand-etched, but in tiny format. Savoy also needs to be mentioned.

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s