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The Canadian Columbia Group of Labels 1921-1931:
how to distinguish Canadian from American
Fig. I
Fig. II

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 thirties:

"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 his memory.

Figure I shows the periods during which the Columbia group of records were pressed in Canada and the U.S. The dates are approximate. Columbia records 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.

Fig. III
Fig. IV
Fig. V
Fig. VI

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.

Fig. VII

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 Toronto.

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 ring.

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)

Fig. VIII
Fig. IX
Fig. X

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.

Fig. XI

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 Velvet Tone.

The labels of most Canadian Harmony records read "Manufactured...U.S.A.". 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 II demonstrates this. In the U.S., the earliest Harmony labels, which we call label "A", show a price of "55c west of Rockies". 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.

Fig. XII
Fig. XIII
Fig. XIV

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 1931:

  • 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.

References

  1. Boyd, Brian. "The Columbia Phonograph Company of Canada." Canadian Antique Phonograph Society Newsletter. 1991; November-December: 7-9.
  2. Mahony, Dan. The Columbia 13/14000-D Series A Numerical Listing. (Highland Park, NJ: Walter C. Allen, 1973).

Additional Reference Material

  1. Barr, Steven C. The (almost) Complete 78 Record Dating Guide. (Toronto: by the author, 1979).
  2. Barr, Steven C., The Almost Complete 78 rpm Record Dating Guide (II). (Huntington Beach, CA: Yesterday Once Again, 1992).
  3. 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.