The Canadian Columbia Group of Labels 1921-1931:
how to distinguish Canadian from American
This article concerns the Columbia group of
labels — Columbia, Clarion, Diva, Harmony,
and Velvet Tone — that were issued during the
period 1921 to 1932. Columbia, Harmony, and Velvet
Tone were issued in Canada during part
of this period.
It was the late Brian Boyd who first informed the
collecting fraternity that records of the Columbia group
were pressed in Canada during the twenties and early
"The Columbia Graphophone Company of Canada was
established in Canada around the turn of the century...
Columbia disc records were probably pressed in Canada
almost from the introduction of the disc record ... (the
company) tried to play a unique role in Canada during
the first World War. There were various patriotic records
(having a "P" prefix) with the Union Jack label ... There
was also an "R" series ... a Canadian-only product not
marketed or sold in the U.S.A..." (1)
Brian also referred to the Canadian Columbia
records that were pressed by Spartan in London,
Ontario, beginning in 1940. He went on to describe the
Columbia, Harmony, and Velvet Tone records that were
issued in this country. He hoped that his article would
stimulate other collectors to engage in research and publish their findings. The present article was inspired by
the pioneering work of Brian, a member of CAPS for
many years, and the authors respectfully dedicate it to
Figure I shows the periods during which the
Columbia group of records were pressed in Canada and
the U.S. The dates are approximate.
were pressed in Canada up to 1931 when the Canadian
branch became bankrupt. Clarion and Diva were not
pressed in Canada; they were sold only in the U.S. by
chain stores. In the U.S., Columbia ceased production
of the Clarion,
Harmony, and Velvet Tone labels in
1932. But production of Diva was ended in October
1930, probably the decision not of Columbia, but of the
W.T. Grant Company, the chain store for which Diva
was exclusively made. Harmony was pressed in Canada
from the beginning
of the label in 1925 until 1926.
Velvet Tone was pressed in Canada from 1929 to 1931.
There are two significant differences that distinguish
the Canadian Columbia records from the American
(Fig. II). The American Columbia records show an
indented ring on the label. We have been told by Joe
Showler, a fellow record collector and record producer,
that this ring is called "the centre plate", and it is the
mark of the head
of the bolt that holds the stamper to the
die in the press. The top bar of Fig. II shows that, up to
1925, the American Columbia records have an 80 mm
ring. From 1932, they have a 70 mm ring. Between 1925
and 1932, they have a 32 mm ring. Canadian Columbia
records show a 32 mm ring from 1928 to the end in 1931.
But before 1928 a Canadian Columbia has no ring.
By way of illustration, Fig. III shows an American
Columbia with an 80 mm ring. It picks up the light just
inside the gold-coloured circle near the outside of the
label. Figure IV shows an American Columbia with a 32
mm ring. It is easier to see because it is in the centre of
the label. Figure V shows an American Columbia with a
70 mm ring. It is right at the gold-coloured circle near
the outside of the label. It is difficult to see — quite
deliberately. Columbia wanted to make the label look
more attractive, compared to the label with the quite
unattractive 32 mm ring right in the centre.
By way of contrast, Fig. VI shows the Canadian
version of the American record shown in Fig. IV. The
Canadian record has no ring. Note that the label quite
blatantly states "Made in U.S.A." The labels were made in
the U.S.A. They were printed there and shipped to
Canada, but the records themselves were pressed in
During the period 1921-1927 the significant difference between an American and a Canadian Columbia is
that the former records have a ring, and the latter no
Figure II illustrates the second difference
— the absence of a stamper number. Beginning in 1924, all
records of the Columbia group show a series of characters in the 12 o'clock position just outside the label.
Figure VII shows a typical example for an American
pressing. The first character, the number "2", is the take
number. The second character,the letter "B", designates
the "mother" that was used to process the stamper. The
third character, the number "4", is the number of the
stamper that was used to press this copy. (2)
Figure VIII shows an actual record. It is Columbia
476-D from 1925. It has a ring, and therefore is
American. The characters are 1-B-6, of which the "6" is
the stamper number. Figure IX shows another copy of
the same record. It has no ring, and therefore is
Canadian. The characters are 1-C—; it has no stamper
number. This is true for virtually all of the records we
have examined. We believe that, as the Canadian market
was so small, the American company would ship only
one stamper which was used to press all Canadian copies.
There was no need to give that one stamper a number.
During the period 1926-1931 the significant difference between an American and a Canadian Columbiais
that the American records have a stamper number and
the Canadian records have no stamper number.
The differences outlined above also apply to
Harmony and Velvet Tone records. Specifically, a
Canadian Harmony has no indented ring and a
Canadian Velvet Tone has no stamper number, because
of the years that they were produced (Fig. I).
Beginning in 1930, the labels of all Velvet Tone
records, whether pressed in the U.S. or Canada, read
"Reg. in Canada" and "Made...in v.5.A.". These
notations cannot be used to determine the nationality of
the record. Figure X shows an example of a Canadian
The labels of most Canadian Harmony records
In common with
Columbia and Velvet Tone, these notations cannot be
used to determine the nationality of the record either.
However, Harmony has one unique feature that
does identify certain records as Canadian. Figure
demonstrates this. In the U.S., the earliest Harmony
labels, which we call label "A", show a price of "55c west
Later issues, label "c", show no price.
Figures XII and XIII illustrate such American Harmony
records; each has an indented ring.
Canadian Harmony records have the "A" label and
the "C" label. There is also a "B" label (Fig. XIV). The
labels show a price of "55c west of Great Lakes" and
specify "Mfgd. in Canada". These records have no
indented ring and no stamper number. This uniquely
Canadian label was used for only a few months from
late 1925 to early 1926.
We suspect that some West Coast Columbia pressings do not have an indented ring. However these can
be identified by their distinctive type face so this does
not present a problem for recognition. The authors have
seen very few West Coast Columbia records and feel
that this needs further research.
In summary, the following rule seems to apply to
virtually all records pressed by Columbia during 1921 to
- From 1921 to 1927 records of the Canadian Columbia
group have no indented ring.
- From 1926 to 1931 records
of the Canadian Columbia
group have no stamper number.
Boyd, Brian. "The Columbia Phonograph Company
of Canada." Canadian Antique Phonograph Society
Mahony, Dan. The Columbia 13/14000-D Series
— A Numerical Listing. (Highland Park, NJ: Walter C.
Additional Reference Material
Barr, Steven C. The (almost) Complete 78 Record
Dating Guide. (Toronto: by the author, 1979).
Barr, Steven C., The Almost Complete 78 rpm Record
Dating Guide (II). (Huntington Beach, CA: Yesterday
Once Again, 1992).
Rust, Brian. The American Record Label Book. (New
Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1978).
The authors wish to thank Gene Miller for making his
record collection available to us.