On the Record:
The Rise, Decline and Fall of Victor 78's
by Steven C. Barr
In 1942 Victor faced an interesting problem: they were running out of record numbers! Since the introduction of
double-sided discs in 1908 and, in fact, since the introduction of 12" records in a 31000 series in 1903, all U.S.
and Canadian Victor records carried a 5-digit number in various series, the only exception being the ethnic V-
prefixed series originated in 1928. By this time, the black-label popular series, now in the high 27000s, was fast
approaching numbers already used, and the Red Seal series had in fact duplicated much of the early acoustic
popular numbering and was approaching numbers on records still catalogued. Therefore, a new numbering
system was introduced in late 1942.
In this system, each record bore a 2-digit prefix and a 4-digit serial number. In prefixes, 10 to 19 indicated Red
Seal records, 20 to 29 black-label popular, country, race or ethnic records, 30 to 39 Bluebird records, 40 to 49
various special issues and later, 45s, and 50 (or at least 55) to 59 Canadian records. Higher prefixes are known,
but the details of the material on the records is not currently identified. The Canadian numbers were divided into
series and sub-series (designated by the first one or two numbers of the serial group) as follows:
55: Bluebird or Bluebird-series Victor (replaces B-4000)
3200: all known are country
5000: possibly 5400, one known and it is a Leo Le Sieur item, one side French. May be French series.
NOTE: an 0000 sub-series may have been intended for popular material, but never used
56: Black label
0000: Canadian-recorded popular material (replaces 216000)
3200: British-recorded material (replaces 120000) but at least one Canadian Country & Western
(C&W) record was issued late in this series
NOTE: A French series may have been intended or issued to replace the 263000 series, but none has
been seen, and the only post-1942 French-Canadian record I have seen had a 25- U.S. ethnic
Used for Canadian/British-recorded material on 45s. It is not known if there was a lower sub-series using this prefix on 78.
Used for U.S. material on a Canadian "Bluebird Series". All are C&W and this apparently replaced the U.S. 21- C&W series,
of which only one issue has been seen on Canadian Victor.
Apparently not used. Possibly intended for Canadian Red Seal records?
Very few of these series were prolific at all, and most contained only 60 to 70 records, with the one exception of
the 58-series Bluebird series Country records which amounted to about 400 records, all U.S. material. Of the
Canadian material, most is not of significant collector interest. U.S. collectors are interested in the early Hank
(Snow), "the Singing Ranger" and Wilf Carter sides not issued there, and jazz collectors in the several records
made by Oscar Peterson before he recorded in the U.S. In addition, collectors of Canadiana are particularly
interested in the Bert Niosi records, and the Mart Kenney records with the latter being fairly common and the
former rather rare, as well as the records by the Happy Gang. Most of the remainder are either standard material
or square dance records - (square dance and fiddling records apparently remained popular in Canada much
longer than the U.S.) - and thus of interest either to specialists or collectors of esoteric Canadiana (like the
Oddly enough, the difference between the U.S. and Canadian record market produced one other category of
records of very significant collector interest. Canadians remained loyal to the 78 somewhat longer than did
record buyers in the U.S.; thus, when U.S. companies such as Victor began phasing out the 78 record in 1957,
some items were available here on 78 that were only on 45 in the U.S. and when the major companies dropped
78s entirely in 1958, their Canadian branches continued pressing 78s for another year until at least August
1959, although apparently somewhat selectively, concentrating on country material toward the end of that
period. This means that there are Canadian 78s, even of artists like Elvis Presley, that are not available in that
form in the U.S., and such items are very much in demand.
Finally we will discuss the labels used on Victor in Canada from 1942 onward. The familiar His Master's
Voice-Victor label, although altered slightly in ink colour and minor detail, was used until 1947. By this time,
U.S. Victors had acquired the designation of RCA Victor (in 1946) and the label introduced in 1947 was
essentially a duplicate of the current U.S. RCA label, with a legend at the top reading "Victor Black Label" (God
knows why!) on the first few issues. In 1949 the 45 rpm issue number was also added below the catalogue
number; this was replaced in the U.S. in 1951 and later in Canada by the master number, hitherto almost
unknown on Victor records. In 1953, U.S. Victors received an altered label, with no outside ring and Nipper's
portrait in full colour. Canadian Victors had only a change to silver lettering on a dull black, later charcoal-grey
background, and they remained such until late 1958 or early 1959, when the more attractive U.S. label was
The Bluebird label essentially duplicated its U.S. counterpart until Bluebird was dropped in 1945. Thereafter,
the 55- and 58- series, as well as a few B- series items which remained available in Canada, used the RCA
Victor label, with "Bluebird Series" added across the top and on a blue (first dark, then dull dark, and finally dull
bright blue) background. This was used until probably about 1954, when the last traces of the famous Bluebird
78s were finally sent off to join wind-up gramophones, Model T's and Atwater Kent's in 1959, and it
is at this point that I depart the history of Victor and leave developments to the rock 'n' roll collectors.