Odeon in America
If ever a label suffered from
an identity crisis, it was American Odeon. During the decade
that it was produced domestically, Odeon served in turn as a
sister label to Okeh, a reissue vehicle for aging European operatic
recordings, an ethnic and foreign- language series, and a premium-quality
classical label, only to end its life in the United States as
it had begun: as an offshoot of Okeh's pop series. Despite high
technical and musical quality, favorable reviews, and good press
coverage, Odeon 78s never achieved the popularity in the United
States that it enjoyed in Europe.
Odeon's Beginnings in
Odeon was the creation
of the International Talking Machine Company (24 Lehderstrasse,
Berlin). The company was founded by Max Strauss and Heinrich
Zunz with financial backing from Frederick M. Prescott, who had
recently resigned as head of the European branch of Zon-O-Phone.
Carl Lindström, who would eventually develop the new company
into a major force in the international recording industry, entered
the picture after International purchased his small manufacturing
plant. Lindström's genius lay in invention and production,
not music. Max Stauss once described Lindström as "unmusical
and hard of hearing," not unlike his American counterpart,
The International Talking Machine Company introduced the Odeon
label in Germany in 1903, and the company lost no time in applying
for a U.S. trademark. Its application, filed at the Patent Office
on November 5, 1903, claimed use of the Odeon brand on 78 records
since October 1 of that year. The company soon attracted attention
for its double-sided pressings (marketed initially in South America) at a time when single-sided records
were the industry norm.
In July 1911, Carl Lindström acquired controlling interest
in the International Talking Machine Company and began to expand
the company aggressively, acquiring many smaller European labels
in the process. The average American, however, remained unaware
of Lindström's flagship label. Although German-made Odeon
records were occasionally exported to the United States on special
order, there does not seem to have been any serious attempt to
market the label here before the early 1920s.
The First U.S. Odeons
The first Odeon discs
produced in the United States were intended solely for export
to Europe. In 1904 the International Talking Machine Company
established a foothold of sorts in the United States through
Frederick M. Prescott's brother John
O. Prescott, who (in partnership with Ellsworth
Hawthorne and Horace Sheble) was acting as sales agent for the newly formed American Record
Company. American produced high-quality 7-inch and 10¾-inch
78 discs (most likely recorded at or around 80-rpm), pressed in a blue shellac compound the company termed
"Empedite." They were laterally cut, in violation of
the basic Berliner and Jones patents.
In 1905 or 1906, American began to produce American Odeon Records
for export. The 10¾-inch blue-shellac discs bore labels
nearly identical to those of their domestic counterparts, complete
with pipe-smoking Indian and the slogan "Music Hath Charms,"
but with the addition of Odeon's pictorial trademark and the
legend, "Patents in All Important Countries." An April
1906 Odeon catalog, apparently issued in London, listed several
dozen "Blue Odeon' Duplex Records, Taken and Manufactured
by our American Co." As the name suggests, all issues were
double-sided. In the United States, the American Record Company
issued double-sided pressings sporadically, and then only on
The American Odeon Record was not destined to survive long. In
1907, the American Record Company was forced to suspended operations
after a patent infringement suit brought by Columbia (American
Graphophone Co. [Columbia] v. American Record Co., Court
of Appeals, 2nd District) was won on appeal by Columbia. American
Record Company masters were later shipped to England, where they
were pressed under such minor labels as Britannic, Defiant, Pelican,
and The Leader.
The Heineman Connection
In 1916, Carl Lindström
attempted to enter the U.S. market through Otto Heineman, a Lindström
executive. A German citizen, Heineman had been stranded in the
states at the outbreak of German hostilities in 1914. With little
hope of returning home soon, he established the Otto Heineman
Phonograph Supply Company in New York in December 1915.
Heineman initially showed no interest in producing records, preferring
instead to concentrate on high-quality phonograph motors, parts,
and needles. In 1916, however, he signed a contract with Carl
Lindström under which he agreed to press European Odeon
masters for distribution within the United States, Hawaii, Puerto
Rico, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. The contract further stipulated
that Lindström would be allowed to press and distribute
Heineman's American masters in Europe.
The arrangement was premature. Heineman had yet to produce records
in 1916, and the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in 1917 forced
Heineman to temporarily suspend his dealings with Lindström.
When Heineman finally issued his first records in May 1918, neither
Odeon's brand nor content were in evidence. Heineman instead
named his new label Okeh and produced
his own domestically recorded masters. Even had the war not interfered,
Heineman's vertically cut masters would have been useless to
Lindström in Germany, which had used the lateral cut from
The American Odeon Corporation
collaboration finally bore fruit in late 1920 or early 1921 when
a joint venture, the American Odeon Corporation of New York,
made its debut as an importer and distributor of foreign-language
Odeon and Fonotipia records. Under terms of the 1916 contract,
Heineman would be limited to issuing "religious prayers,
declamation or songs in languages other than in English and rendered
vocally, as well as records of special national instruments,
or special national bands characteristic of the following Eastern
countries: Old Empire of Russia, China, India (including Dutch
East Indies) Balkan States, and which at the time of signing
of this agreement are not used in the United States and which
records, as aforesaid, are sold in the regular cheap class repertoires."
Heineman must soon have found the original terms of the Lindström
contract too restrictive, for in March 1921 the American Odeon
Corporation launched its own domestically produced Odeon label.
At first featuring standard and popular fare recorded in the
Okeh studios and pressed at the General Phonograph Corporation's
plant, Odeon began advertising in the trade publications in April
1921, although its listings were conspicuously absent from the
Talking Machine World Advance Record Bulletins until midsummer.
American Odeon initially offered
two distinct series, prefixed Od- and Am-. Its Od- prefixed series
was devoted primarily to popular fare and featured much the same
artist roster as Okeh, including Joseph Samuels' Music Masters,
Green Brothers Novelty Band, Lanin's Roseland Orchestra, Julius
Lenzberg's Harmonists, and the usual free-lance vocalists and
instrumental soloists. Although the masters were recorded in
the Okeh studio, they were numbered in a separate O-8000 series
that seems to have been reserved for Odeon's exclusive use. However, there are documented instances of master exchanges between the two labels.
The Am- prefixed series, produced in 12- and 10¾-inch
formats, featured classical and operatic material, including
decade-old material from the International Talking Machine Company
as well as newer masters from the rapidly growing Lindström
organization. Probably to the chagrin of Victor and Columbia,
Odeon legally reissued vintage material by John McCormack, Jan
Kubelik, Riccardo Stracciari, and other celebrities who had since
gone on to sign exclusive contracts with those companies.
The End of the American
The American Odeon Corporation
undoubtedly was a redundancy within the Lindström organization,
which found itself suddenly financing two companiesGeneral
Phonograph and American Odeonin a market that was glutted
with new record companies and brands.
Not surprisingly, the American Odeon Corporation would prove
to be short-lived. The Talking Machine World for January
15, 1922, noted that the company had been liquidated and its
vice president, Miguel Voglhut, had retired. Subsequent production
of Odeon in the United States was to be handled by Heineman's
General Phonograph Corporation.
(Left) A 1921 Am- series pressing using old
John McCormack material from the International Talking Machine
Company. (Right) The rare ONY- pop series of 1929-1930
made extensive use of artist pseudonyms.
This issue, credited to
"Eddie Gordon's Band," is actually by Miff Mole's Little
By March 1922, General Phonograph
was offering a new Fo- prefixed series of Odeon discs, pressed
under license from Lindström's Societa Italiana di Fonotipia
and International Talking Machine Company subsidiaries. General
Phonograph took full-page ads to announce its "new"
Odeon releases, which included material by John McCormack, Riccardo
Stracciari, Maria Ivogun, Frieda Hempel, Herman Jadlowker, Clare
Dux, Emmy Destinn, Barbara Kemp, Pasquale Amato, Alessandro Bonci,
and Adamo Didur. As before, this was somewhat dated material,
and judging from the rarity of many issues, it offered little
competition to the major American companies that had since signed
exclusive contracts with these artists.
Odeon and the Ethnic
March 1922 also brought
the announcement that Odeon had been revamped as "The Imported
Record of Quality" under the auspices of Heineman's General
Phonograph Corporation. It would compete in the ethnic and foreign-language
market with General Phonograph's new orange-label Okeh series.
Under the new corporate structure, Odeon would operate as a division
of General Phonograph under the management of A. Thallmayer,
a former Columbia executive who had developed that company's
thriving foreign-language record division before joining Heineman
For the next several years, American Odeon would focus primarily
on ethnic and foreign-language material, as Lindström had
first planned in 1916. Odeon's parent company had a long and
distinguished history in ethnic recording. As early as 1905,
the International Talking Machine Company claimed to have more
than 7,000 titles in Arabic, Greek, and Turkish in its catalogue,
and in 1906 this claim rose to 11,000 and was expanded to include
material recorded on extended tours of India and the Orient.
Much of the early American Odeon catalog drew on European masters
from the Lindström chain of labelsBeka, Da Capo, Favorite,
Lyrophon, Odeon, and Parlophone. Pressings often indicate master
sources with a Bk- (Beka) or Od- (Odeon) prefix.
In April 1922 the Talking Machine World announced that
Odeon records were being issued in Bohemian, German, Hebrew-Jewish,
Hungarian, Mexican, Polish, Russian, Scandinavian, and Slovak.
French, Greek, and Turkish records, TMW noted, "will
be added to the library in a few weeks, bearing both [Odeon and
Okeh] labels." Thallmayer reported a particular demand for
Jewish and Italian material and noted, "In the Italian library,
three labels are used as, in addition to the Okeh and Odeon labels,
the Fonotipia library is included in this language."
Odeon, Columbia, and
the Classical Market
Although still primarily
an ethnic label, Odeon in 1923 introduced album sets of complete
symphonic works pressed from imported masters. In October 1925
the company announced the addition of Lauritz Melchior to its
roster, and the same month saw the introduction of the Odeon
Library of Orchestral Works of the Great Masters, an ambitious
series of previously unrecorded symphonic and operatic scores,
packaged in expensive album sets. Odeon rounded out its catalog
with renditions of light classics and concert standards by the
Marek Weber and Dajos Bela orchestras, which seem to have been
among its best sellers. Electrical recordings were introduced
In October 1926, General Phonograph sold its Odeon and Okeh record
divisions to the Columbia Phonograph Company. Odeon was retained
as a classical and foreign-language sideline and was credited
to the Okeh Phonograph Corporation, of which Heineman retained
the presidency. With its links to the Columbia-Lindström
empire, Odeon in the late 1920s gained access to some of the
choicest items from the European catalogs, and by 1927 it could
boast of a roster that included Melchior, Emmy Bettendorf, Michael
Bohnen, and Richard Tauber. Recorded in Europe and manufactured
by Columbia as superb laminated pressings, the Odeons of the
late 1920s rank among the finest products of their time. Much
of this material would later be reissued on the Brunswick-Polydor
and Decca Odeon-Parlophone Series labels.
Back to Basics: The
Odeon ONY Series
In 1929, Okeh once more
reinvented its version of Odeon, this time returning to its pop-music
roots. The new Odeon series, with ONY-prefixed catalog numbers,
featured current hits pressed from domestic masters and reportedly
was intended for West Coast distribution. A sister label, the
Parlophone PNY series, appeared at the same time.
The new Odeons drew on Okeh masters but often used alternate
takes, including vocal-free versions of dance numbers that had
been issued on Okeh with vocal refrains. Some material, however,
was released exclusively on Odeon and its Parlophone counterpart.
Many releases used artist pseudonyms -
"Harlem Music Masters" for Duke Ellington's Orchestra,
"Eddie Gordon's Band" for Miff Mole's Little Molers,
"Cyril Merrivale" for Arthur Schutt, "Ted Shawne"
for Louis Armstrong - although pseudonym use was more common
on Parlophone than on Odeon.
Despite its outstanding recording and pressing quality, the Odeon
ONY series doesn't seem to have sold well, and the label is relatively
rare today. The series was discontinued in 1931, by which time
Columbia had largely assumed control of its faltering Okeh subsidiary.
Its end also marked the end of Odeon as an American label. In
1931 the European Odeon, Columbia, Electrola, HMV, Parlophone,
and Pathé labels were consolidated under the umbrella
of the Electric & Musical Industries (EMI), the beginning
of a vast conglomerate that would eventually come to dominate
the European recording industry.
The Odeon name would appear one more time on domestically pressed
78s in 19391940, on the Decca Odeon-Parlophone Series label.
Decca reissued old Odeon classical material (some of it dating
to the late 1920s) in some quantity, but its cheap pressings
were a far cry from the glossy, laminated Odeons of a decade
earlier. With the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, Decca's
connections with Odeon were severed.
Advance Records Bulletin.
Talking Machine World (monthly, various issues, 6/15/192112/15/1927)
American Odeon Corp. "Odeon and Fonotipia Records"
(advertisement). Talking Machine World (11/15/1920)
Andrews, Frank: personal communication (3/23/1995)
"Columbia Co. Buys Okeh-Odeon Record Division of General
Phonograph Corp." Talking Machine World (10/15/1926)
General Phonograph Corp. "Okeh Enters the Foreign Language
Record Field" (advertisement). Talking Machine World
Heineman, Otto. "Announcement" (letter to the trade
announcing acquisition of Okeh and Odeon by Columbia). New York
International Talking Machine Co. (Berlin): "Odeon."
U.S. Patent Office: Trademark application #41,875 (filed 11/5/1903)
"Odeon." U.S. Patent Office: Trademark
application #136,417 (filed 8/24/1920)
"New Selling Plans Stimulate Odeon Business." Talking
Machine World (12/15/1923)
Odeon Disc Talking Machine Co.: "Blue Odeon' Duplex
Records Taken and Manufactured by our American Co." (catalog,
"Retirement of Miguel Voglhut." Talking Machine
Vernon, Paul. "Odeon RecordsTheir Ethnic Output."
Musical Traditions (8/15/1997)
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