78 rpm Record Labels - Columbia
Labels compiled from the collection of Glenn Longwell. Page last updated on November 16, 2010
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Columbia is an important player in the history of recorded music, having been in the business of making phonographs and records since 1887. Because of patents held by both Columbia and Victor during the first few decades of the 20th century, they held a virtual duopoly over recorded music.
My goal here isn't to give you the full history of Columbia. I defer you to other published works. Nor is this website a complete listing of labels produced by Columbia. These are only the labels in my own collection.
To start, the first label is the Climax label. These discs were manufactured for Columbia by Globe Record Co. and date to late 1901. They are single sided and this is a 7" example. Note the brass grommet protecting the spindle hole. The next is a "Pre-Conditions" label ca. 1903-1904. The next 2 labels are the "Conditions" label as it states the conditions of sale on it and these examples date to 1904-1905. The next two are "Grand Prize" labels. The first shows the last award as St. Louis 1904 and the second one adds the Milan 1906 award. These date between 1906-08 and are single sided. Next are three examples from their foreign series, two Fleur-de-Lis and one Statue label, 1905-1908.
The next major label style for Columbia's popular music was the "Magic Notes" label. This label ran from 1908-17. Variations in color denote types of music. Black was standard fare while blue was premium. The brown and green show E prefixed ones denote "ethnic" recordings and the examples below are Italian (brown) and Lithuanian (green). For Columbia this was a milestone as the new, more elaborate label helped bolster its image and for the industry it was a milestone as these introduced the "Double-Disk" record, having music on both sides. While this is not new it was not common until now. While this label style has variations in color there are also variations in patent dates listed and company name change (dropping "Gen'l" from the name).
To compete on the high end with Victor, Columbia introduced the Symphony Series in 1906 and continued into 1923. These labels looked very different from their popular record couterparts, were more expensive and some remained single sided long after the popular music discs went double sided. There are numerous variations with different patent dates added and subtracted (as they expired) and changing the information on the banner. They also had artists listed as an "Exclusive Artist."
The next label change was the "gold band" label in 1917 and would last until 1923. Black and blue labels were used similarly to the Magic Notes label but black would disappear quickly and they went exclusively to blue for their domestic releases. The first logo of this style had the notes and Columbia in a circle at top with the words "Note the Notes." For a brief period at the beginning, however, they didn't have the gold band, just the word Columbia in gold lettering. Again, the E prefix was for ethnic releases. For the example below I have German (brown and orange) and Lithuanian (green). Fairly quickly they changed the Note the Notes statement to "Grafonola" in the logo. A couple slight variations in patent information is the difference in the first two. The next four are two variations with the "Exclusive Artist" label, both color and style. The next two examples are the green ethnic label, one is a Welsh Folk record and the other Italian (black lettering). The one with black lettering also has changes to the company name line at the bottom (adds "New York") as well as patent dates. Last is a "Novelty Record" which, in this case, is gypsy music.
Columbia also produced advertising or sample records from time to time. The first example is from 1910 a couple years after they introduced their new Double Disc record on the Magic Notes label. The second example I have is from 1913. This is the front and back of the record. The front is a song by Henry Burr. The back is an announcer extolling the qualities of the Columbia record. Below is a sample record demonstrating the quality of the New Process record that was put out in 1923 along with the front and back of the sleeve it came in. Both sample records sold for 25 cents while the first demonstration disc was a giveaway.
The next major label change was from 1923-25 when Columbia introduced the flag label. Left are examples of three color types, copper, gold and green
Next up in the line of Columbia labels was the Viva-Tonal styled label which ran from 1925-1939. These are usually easily determined by the fact that they say Viva-Tonal on the label. However, when they first came out they didn't use this term on the label. These range from 1925-26. There are five examples below. Besides the color there were minor differences in labels based on patent dates on the bottom, patent information on the top and the order of the patent information.
Next up they put "Viva-Tonal" and "Electrical Process" on the label. Again, variations besides color are the patent dates and what's written below the logo on top. An additional variation here is the designation of "Odeon Recording" pulling from the Odeon catalog. These labels range from 1927-1932. During this time Columbia enticed some artists to sign exclusive contracts with them by putting their images on the labels. Below are two examples, Paul Whiteman with the "potato head" label and Ted Lewis.
This "gold band" label example is orange and one of their ethnic releases ca. 1919. This is a Hebrew-Jewish tenor solo of Cantor Josef Rosenblatt, a 2 sided 12" record.