THE GOLDEN AGE OF CLASSICAL LP RECORDINGS : 1954 - 1967
Why is it that used vintage classical LP's are still so much in demand, even when it is possible to acquire exactly the same work on CD?
The fact remains that many people prefer the sound of LPs to that of CD's (ie the preference of analogue over digital). This is why that in addition to the hardcore of existing classical LP collectors, more and more new people are now buying used LP's. Sonics aside, many collectors enjoy viewing the wonderfully colourful LP jacket designs, so unique to the 50's and 60's.
Recordings during this period were produced using valve (tube) amplifiers and the lacquers were cut using valve driven lathes. As a result these early records have a rich glowing sound quality not present on most later pressings made with transistor technology. The use of simple microphone set-ups, usually just one or two (ie Analogue Recording) may in part account for the more natural and satisfying sound of these early recordings.
The combination of some of the most celebrated conductors, singers and instrumentalists of the 20th Century, produced on LP by superb recording engineers, and using top quality vinyl, makes owning the original issues very appealing to collectors.
MONO LP's : 1953 - 1965
As this is only a brief guide to the vast array of mono labels that came out post 78's, we will only mention here the principal British mono labels - ie HMV (ALP series), Columbia (33CX series) and Decca (LXT series). Without question, the more valuable items tend to be the works featuring instrumentalists and in particular certain violinists (Eg. Neveu and De Vito on ALP, Martzy and Kogan on 33CX , Mischa Elman and Ossy Renardy on LXT) and cellists (Janos Starker, Emanuel Feuermann etc)
THE COLLECTABLE EARLY STEREO LP LABELS : 1957 - 1967
Described below are the most important collectable labels produced or commonly found in the UK.
In order to establish if the LP which you have is an earliest pressing, one
needs to look at the label itself which appears in the middle of the LP and
usually first labels often had striking colour design. Whilst some labels
have a date on them, this relates to the time the original pressing was
issued, but does not mean that the LP in your hand is the original - it may
be a re-issue released 10 years later.
If you look, you will note that many original EMI and DGG records don't have
a date on the label. As far as the mainstream British labels are concerned,
there are three Decca SXL labels, three SAX labels, six ASD labels. What can
be even more confusing is the fact that on all of these labels, new records
were not always issued in the same numerical order as they appear in the
catalogue.Taking Columbia SAX as an example, the highest known R.blue-silver'
is SAX 2538, which was issued in April 1964, but SAX 2532 and SAX 2534 were
issued 3 months later and SAX 2537 was issued 4 months later. This explains
why no blue-silverlabel of these three has ever been found - the label
changed to red before they were issued.
DECCA SXL SERIES
The original Decca SXL label, favoured by many audiophile collectors, is known as "Wide Band Groove', (ED1) and because of its renowned extraordinary dynamic range and string tone, it generally remains the most sought after. This label has silver writing on a black background. It has the celebrated 'ffss' logo in a circle at the 12 o'clock position and a wide silver band just above the spindle hole. There is also the Decca groove in the label about two thirds out from the centre and around the rim are the words "Original Recording By..."
The second label is identical to the first with the exception that the words "Original Recording By..." are replaced with "Made in England By...". (ED2) Most experts with whom we have spoken feel that the sound quality is practically identical to the first label.
The third label (ED3) is identical to the second, with the notable exception that there is no groove in the label. The highest grooved SXL we have seen is SXL 6368, although please note that many lower numbered SXL's only exist in non-grooved form, e.g. SXL 6355. This is because SXL 6355 and the others were issued after SXL 6368.
After SXL 6448 we have the fourth Decca label, known as "Narrow Band" (ED4). It is also black and silver but has a smaller Decca logo in a rectangle and there is no 'ffss' circle at 12 O'CLOCK. In 1979 the Decca pressing plant was transferred to Holland. The Dutch pressings are thin and floppy (like most 801s LPs) whilst the sound remains good, these are considered inferior to the English pressings. The highest English SXL I have is SXL 6921, but there may be higher ones.
A NOTE ON RE-ISSUES
While collectors prefer to have the original, some re-issues are also of interest and can still be of high value. This is especially true where the re-issue has been pressed from the same stamper as the original, or from a stamper produced from the same valve-generated mother as the original. The Decca Ace of Diamonds early ffrr label is a prime example; these are mostly re-issues of early SXL's made from the same stampers. They offer the same early valve sound quality at a fraction of the price of the original SXL.
HMV / EMI ASD SERIES
This series is well renowned for having has a stunning tone quality
The original HMV label (EW1) is distinctive, being an off-white/cream colour with a gold rim and red or gold lettering, and is known as the 'white-gold label.' The lowest record code number here is ASD 250, the highest white-gold being ASD 575.
The second label (ER1) is the red/black semi-circle. The label is red and the HMV dog (Nipper) appears in a black half-moon; HIS MASTER'S VOICE appears in white capital letters around the top of the half-moon. Like the white-gold, this is a valve label, and while not as expensive as the white-golds, some collectors prefer the sound quality of this label to the earlier label. ASD 2478 is the highest record code number that we know of for the red / black semi-circle.
The 3rd, 4th and 5th labels are known as 'Postage Stamp' labels, where the Nipper appears inside the postage stamp at the top of the label. The earliest Postage Stamp (ER2) is coloured with no white border around the rim. This label extends to around ASD 2810). Next, the 4th ASD label (ER3) is distinguished by the fact that the Postage Stamp is black and white, with a white rim around the diameter of the label. We believe the highest LP code number for this label to be around ASD 3850. The 5th label (ER4) shows the Postage Stamp coloured once again, but differently from the 3rd label, and there is a white line around the rim of the label.
COLUMBIA SAX SERIES
This is another great label produced by EMI. The earliest valve label (known as 'Blue / Silver') is in fact turquoise in colour with a silver rim and silver criss-cross pattern with black lettering. (ES1) As far as we are aware, the highest is SAX 2538, although there are lower numbers where no blue-silver exists.
The colour of the second label is red and very similar to the 2nd ASD label (ER1). Instead of Nipper the Columbia magic notes logo appears in a black semi-circle and above this the word COLUMBIA in white capital letters. Apart from where blue-silvers exist, this label was the original up to the end of the series with SAX 5294.
The 3rd label is also red but the magic notes logo appears in a postage stamp instead of a semi-circle. (ER2) This is known as the late-red label.
It is generally regarded by collectors that the sound quality on DGG does not match up to its UK rivals, Decca, HMV and Columbia. However, the German company employed many fine musicians (eg. Morini / Schneiderhan / Streich, Seefried) who are now collectable, and produced many LP's with fine performances and beautiful jacket designs.
The 3 important stereo pressings are known
as SLPM (SLPEM) 136, 138 and 139 because that's what the catalogue
numbers start with. With this label German pressings are preferred
by collectors and the label must have the blue tulips design going
all around the rim (GY5 or GY7). Later pressings of the 70's had a
white border instead of the tulips and are thin and floppy compared
to the early ones. The non-tulip labels are generally worthless
except where the original is rare and expensive.
As with DGG, the Philips label is more collectable for its musicians than for sound quality, although the early SABL series with the ;"hi-fi stereo" logo label is considered to have fine sound and consequently is quite sought by collectors. Here English pressings are generally preferred by collectors to Dutch ones. The earliest 50's and 60's labels are dark maroon in colour and are known as plum labels. Later labels are red. Unlike Deustche Grammophon, many Philips records from the 70's are also collectable where they feature collectable musicians. (Eg Grumiaux, Haebler, Szeryng)