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On the Record:
The History of the Compo Company - Part 1

     The Canadian phonograph record industry was, like many Canadian industries, primarily a subsidiary operation to U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, British) firms. From 1924, when the gradual takeover of the Berliner operation by the Victor Talking Machine Company became final, until the post-war appearance of firms both independent and Canadian, there was only one Canadian firm in the record business: this was Herbert Berliner's Compo Company. (The significance, if any, of the name has yet to be discovered.) The firm was founded by Herbert Berliner, son of the inventor of the disc gramophone and previously vice-president of the Berliner operations in Montreal.

     In late 1918 and early 1919, several of the U.S. independent firms began pressing lateral-cut records, an action later vindicated by the courts, who established that the essential patents on the lateral records had expired. At this time, Herbert Berliner, noting that the Phonola firm was in a position to issue U.S. Okeh records under their own label, and no doubt foreseeing that other independent firms in the U.S. would be seeking similar arrangements and surely noting, as well, that the expanding Victor firm would be unwilling to allow too much independence to its "Canadian" connection, began making preparations to enter the record manufacturing field.

     In early 1919 the Compo Company began operations, at first pressing Okeh masters for the Phonola label, and shortly thereafter pressing Gennett records for the Starr Piano Company's Canadian subsidiary; both phonograph firms had previously imported records. Herbert Berliner left his father's firm to serve as president of the Compo firm. Originally, all Phonola records were identical to their Okeh equivalent, under the same numbers, while the Canadian Gennetts were identical to their American counterparts. Berliner had further plans, however. In May, 1921, the new Sun label was announced, accompanied in September by the more familiar Apex label. The two labels drew from both Okeh and Gennett, as well as Compo's own studios, inaugurated in July, 1921. Okeh material bore its U.S. number in a 4000 series; the Gennett sides appeared on a 9000 series which had originally paralleled its U.S. equivalent but later served as a Canadian series for material issued in the U.S. on the Gennett series starting at about 4500. (This has been extensively documented by Alex Robertson whose listings were printed in "Record Research" magazine.) Compo's own material appeared on a series starting at about 500, while a number of odd Gennett and Okeh series appeared under their U.S. numbers.

     In 1922, another source of material was arranged; this was the Plaza Music Company of New York who issued Banner and Regal records, first using material from the New York Recording Laboratories and later their own masters. These were issued on an 8000 series. The original plan appears to have been to issue all series on the various labels, but this occurred for only a short time. The Sun label was dropped entirely (to be revived in 1931), and the Starr-Gennett label, replacing the Canadian Gennett label, issued only Gennett and Compo masters, on the 9000 and 500 series respectively. On Apex, the Gennett sides were used, but issued on an Apex- only series which started at 499 and ran downwards!

     A number of short-lived client labels were pressed, usually for phonograph firms, such as Hectrola, Hydrola, Operaphone and the like, using various numbers from all series. Shortly after the introduction of Apex records, the Phonola firm left the record business entirely.