On the Record:
Columbia ** The Reds Take Over!
by Steven C. Barr
As previously mentioned, the operations of Columbia in Canada came to a complete halt in 1934, after the
record division of the bankrupt Grigsby-Grunow firm in the U.S. was acquired by the American Record
Corporation, whose material was being issued in Canada by the Compo Company. Compo, in fact, is said to
have been interested in themselves acquiring the defunct Columbia operation - an event which would certainly
have changed the Canadian recording industry - but did not have the money, even though the entire operation
finally sold for $70,000, including not only the catalogue, masters and trade names of Columbia but one of the
best available recording and pressing facilities.
From the July 1934 takeover onward, U.S. Columbia issues in the popular series dwindled. From this point until
mid 1935, about 100 records were issued on Columbia. Sometime in mid 1935, the unique blue laminated
pressings were replaced by standard black, and during the following twelve months about 75 items were pressed
on Columbia. The last period brought another 25 records, and new issues ceased appearing in the fall of 1937
with 6 sides by Fred Astaire which also appeared (as did other Astaire Columbias) on Brunswicks. The last 9
items were special issues: four sides by Benny Goodman on a special "All-Star" label, one Ted Lewis pairing of
reissued material and a commemorative album of twelve Bessie Smith songs which ended the D-suffix series in
late 1937. ARC was using Columbia primarily as a classical label, with much English and European material
issued on the Masterworks series to compete with Victor's Red Seal records; this meant that classical issues on
the Brunswick label were virtually discontinued - a listing for 1935 shows a total of five records, four of which
were standard songs by James Melton.
None of these Columbias were pressed in Canada, as Columbia or ARC had no Canadian operations. It is
reasonable to assume, however, from the fact that the Masterworks records and albums of this era are regularly
found in Canada, that the records were imported, although through what arrangement is not currently known.
Whether this arrangement included the popular series is also unknown, as the post-1934 Columbia records are
scarce even in the U.S.
In 1938, the Columbia Broadcasting System acquired the American Record Corporation. For obvious reasons
they chose to revive Columbia as the "flagship" label of the operation, and in September 1939 an all-new
Columbia record was introduced, including not only the Brunswick artists but several name bands, the most
important of which was Benny Goodman. Vocalion was at first carried over as the 35 cent companion label, but
it was replaced in 1940 by Okeh, which had been a Columbia subsidiary for a number of years after 1925. The
Columbia numbers started at 35200, for some unknown reason, while the Okeh, on a violet label, continued the
Vocalion numbers. The Brunswick label was carried on until mid-1940 as a specialty label, then dropped and
finally sold, with rights to pre-1932 masters, to Decca in 1943.
In early 1940, Columbia made arrangements with the firm Sparton of Canada, in London, Ontario, to press a
series of Canadian Columbia records, using the familiar red labels. At first, this consisted primarily of sides
released on Vocalion/Okeh in the U.S. - Columbia records were presumably imported - but within a short time
the more popular Columbia records also appeared in this series. The records were numbered differently than
their U.S. counterparts, with numbers starting at C-1 for the red-label series, and the Sparton firm credited
below the trade mark. These sold for 50 cents, as did their American counterparts. A very few records, such as
some by Canadian George Formby, had no U.S. equivalent.
There were several other series. Records in albums carried a green label, a number in a C-6000 series and a 75
cent price (!); this series also included a handful of issues, ranging from jazz reissues with no U.S. equivalent to
British material. There was a second green label series, with C-8000 numbers, which appears to include material
by certain artists, most prominent among which was Dinah Shore. This may also have carried a premium price.
12" red label issues, of which there were very few, were numbered in the C-25000 series. Masterworks records
had blue labels, appearing at first in C-10000 (10") and C-15000 (12") series, to which a C-12000 and C-2000
series, both in 12", were added. The reason for the various series is not clear, unless they related to U.S.
Masterworks series, as all the 10" Masterworks sold for $1.00 and the 12" for $1.25. Albums also carried
different numbers, with popular albums in an A- series and Masterworks as D- and J-. Not all U.S. albums or
records had a Canadian counterpart, however.
At or near the end of 1954**, Columbia set up a Canadian subsidiary and ended the pressing arrangement with
Sparton. By this time, the popular series had reached the 2500's, the album series the 6600's and the main
Masterworks series through 15000 and well into 16000. At this time the C- numbers were dropped and
Canadian Columbias began appearing under the U.S. numbers. This label, although essentially similar to the
familiar red Columbia labels, is slightly different, both in colour and typography, from the Sparton and U.S.
labels. One significant difference is the display of the date of issue on the label. Sparton, meanwhile, launched
its own label, drawing mainly from independent U.S. labels for masters.
In 1958, Columbia introduced a new "modern" label in both U.S. and Canada. The Canadian version is silver on
wine-red. The label was in use for a very short time in the U.S., as 78s were dropped there in July 1958;
however, Columbia continued issuing 78s until at least August 1959, although it is likely that not all items
appeared on 78, with Country records apparently being the last thus issued. This concludes the segment on
** On May 15, 1954 a Billboard article reported that Columbia Records had set up Columbia Records of Canada, Ltd effective
June 30, 1954.