On the Record:
RCA Victor through the 30's
In 1929 the Victor Talking Machine Company merged with Radio Corporation of America to
become RCA Victor, and the Canadian subsidiary became RCA Victor of Canada. The boom year of 1929 gave
way, however, to the depression economy of the 1930s and this, combined with the increased interest in radio,
seriously affected the record industry. One source gives the total record sales for 1931 as 6 million discs - a
95% reduction from the peak years of the 1920s. Some U.S. record firms like Brunswick and Columbia were
acquired by the American Record Corporation, an amalgamation of the Cameo, Pathé, Plaza and Emerson firms
which gradually became Victor's only competitor until the late-1934 start of Decca. Others, like Grey Gull,
Paramount, and Gennett, as well as the short-lived Hit-of-the-Week and U.S. Crown firms, simply disappeared.
In fact, the remains of Paramount were acquired by Gennett, which sold its commercial record interests to
In Canada, with the disappearance of Columbia as a separate firm, only the Compo Company remained to
compete with RCA Victor in the record business, with the Compo firm issuing mostly U.S. material. With
record sales all but vanishing, while radio sales held comparatively steady, the merged firm had given serious
thought to abandoning the record business entirely. They apparently elected instead to meet the competition.
Both ARC and Compo offered several labels, some selling for as low as 25 cents, while Victor offered only the
expensive first-line records. In the spring of 1933, Victor introduced the Bluebird label (accompanied in the
U.S., at first, by Electradisk, Sunrise and Timely Tunes, some of which may have been store labels). Numbering
started at B5000 for the U.S.-originated records, while RCA in Canada had their own B4900 series. Like the
earlier Victors, many items in the first few hundred Canadian issues of the 5000 series used different pairings
than their U.S. counterparts. The first items in the Canadian 4900 series were Victor sides, apparently deleted
from the Victor catalogue; however, Montreal-cut sides began appearing, both Québécois and English, but
almost entirely by folk and country artists, with at least one exception - a then unknown Crosby imitator by the
name of Dick Todd. Two other well known artists who made their debut on this series are Hank Snow (in
Canada, as "Hank, the Singing Ranger") and Wilf Carter (in the U.S. as "Montana Slim").
The initial assignment of numbers in the Canadian Bluebird series, with close to 250 records being
issued in all series, started French language records at B-4900 and English language records at B-4950. These numbers were used in
the U.S. for Irish records in the U.S. Bluebird ethnic series. It is unknown why the conflict was allowed to exist for so long! In
1934, a B-4700 "Irish", later "Fiddling", series was introduced, but quickly dropped after a few records were issued. When the B-4900
French series reached B-4949, it was followed by B-4800, while the English language B-4999 was followed by B-4600, which in turn extended
into B-4700 after apparently "leapfrogging" the handful of 4700 numbers already used. The French-language records, apparently, upon reaching
B-4899, started into a B-1000 series (although it is not yet verified exactly what the starting point was). The last records issued in these
series were B-4742 and B-1298, both issued in December 1942. At this point the hyphenated numbers were started, with English records in a
55-3200 series and French records in a 55-5200 series. There may have been a 55- 0000 series intended but none ever appeared.
Although the Bluebird label was dropped in the U.S. in 1945 (with a short-lived revival in 1949) it was continued
in Canada, being used for Country and some French material. After 1946, the records appeared on the RCA Victor label, but carried blue labels
and "Bluebird Series" designations. The series were as above, with a third 58-0000 series used for issues of U.S. country music which appeared
on RCA Victor in the U.S. This series was in use until 1955 at least. For unknown reasons, a very few RCA Victor C&W records were issued in
Canada as black-label Victors, with at least one label numbered in the 21-0000 series used for C&W in the U.S. from 1949 to 1951.
Canadian issues on the Victor label virtually ceased, however, with only 40 records issued from 1929 to 1938.
Of these, almost one third are square dance sides by George Wade and his Cornhuskers; only seven dance records appeared, four of them by Fred
Culley and his Royal York Hotel Orchestra, one by Billy Bissett who later went to England, and two by Harold Leonard, an American playing in
Montreal, while three further records featured Canadian pianist Willie Eckstein. Issues in the 120000 series from English masters continued,
also, and while many of these are of no particular collector interest, they do include a number of Gracie Fields and Noel Coward items not
otherwise issued in North America. A couple of other oddities: Victor records in the black-label series in Canada appeared as 024000 through
about 024020 rather than 24000 as the 24000 numbers were used for a short-lived Canadian 10" Red Seal series (29000 for 12"); and Canadian
Bluebirds of the 1938-1940 period are popular with U.S. collectors inasmuch as the Canadian subsidiary used the buff-and-blue label, which is
one of the most attractive record labels, for about 18 months beyond its last appearance in the U.S., through numbers in the B10400 range. The
so-called "staff" label appeared for a very short time in Canada, and only after it was dropped in the U.S. The Canadian His Master's Voice-Victor
label remained the same from its 1924 introduction until 1947, and the ornamental "scroll" label, used to introduce the "Orthophonic" records in the
U.S., never appeared in Canada.
On Victor, the 263000 series was apparently dropped in 1942 as none appears in a group of supplements from July 1942 onward. 216610 was
issued in August 1942 and 216611 was apparently the last number used. The 120000 series was replaced in 1943, although two more couplings of
European (not British) sides appeared before the last number of 120984 appeared in 1944. The hyphenated series were 56-3200 for U.K. material
and 56-5200 for French material recorded in Montreal. In 1943, the 150000 series, originally used for issues of French (or nominally French)
material from non-Canadian sources was revived and used for French (i.e. From France itself) material; it was the only all-number series retained,
and had reached 150230 in mid-1949. In April 1945, a popular Montreal-recorded series was started at 56-0000 oddly enough, appearing in the
supplements as 56-001! with four Mart Kenney sides. This was apparently dropped in the early 1950s as Canadian material later appears on the
56-3200 series, whose last British-recorded issue was 56-3233 in September 1948.
By the late 1930s, as the economy improved, and the jukebox became a common sight in public places, record
sales once again improved. In 1938, band leader Mart Kenney started his recording career on Victor and made
several Victor sides before being transferred to the Bluebird label. In 1939, Canada entered the war and a
number of patriotic records appeared, ranging from martial music to four sides cut by an "unretired" "Red"
Newman of the WWI Dumbells. However, a number of related und unrelated events were to affect the record
industry, starting in 1942.