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The Victor Record Pages


The Victor Blue and Purple Label Series  (1909–1926)

By John R. Bolig

Text excerpted from The Victor Discography: Green, Blue and Purple Label Series


 

Introduction

The term “Red Seal” was a registered trademark that was vigorously defended in legal actions taken against other companies who dared to use that color on their labels. However, no such protections applied to the records described in this article. Manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1910 and 1929, they unpretentiously bear purple or blue labels. The records were moderately priced, and there appears to have been no constant rule governing how recordings came to be assigned to these labels.

The Victor Talking Machine Company prior to its sale to the Radio Corporation of America manufactured the records discussed in this article. RCA-Victor did publish several series of records with blue, green, or purple labels after 1930, and these have no relationship to those discussed here.


Purple Labels (1910–1920)

With a few exceptions, such as plaid labels used for some Scottish records, Victor records were originally offered with gold print on a black label. The black label series records were popular or ethnic in nature, and they were the lowest-priced records in the Victor catalog. The legendary Red Seal label, featuring classically trained artists, was printed in gold on a red background.

In February 1910, Victor created a series of records with purple labels that they sold at mid-range prices. The first artist to be featured on these labels was Harry Lauder, whose talent did not quite fit into either a popular or a classical category. Lauder’s earliest Victor records had been pressed from European stampers and bore black labels. When he agreed to record for Victor, the new purple label was used for the first time for his American recordings. The series was well suited for people with special skills, such as stars of Broadway theaters, vaudevillians, poets, and famous explorers.
   

Headliner Blanche Ring's first records, originally issued in Victor's standard
black label series, were later "promoted" to the more expensive purple
label series. She had two of the relatively few purple label hits with
reissues of her 1909 black-label records of "Yip! I Adee! I Aye!"
and "I've Got Rings on My Fingers." (John R. Bolig)

Several Victor house musicians were featured on records of a semi-classical nature. Among the semi-classical releases were recordings of the orchestra led by Victor Herbert, who also had a number of his recordings as a cellist listed in the Red Seal catalog. Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth were among the famous Broadway performers to have made purple label records, but the most famous personality might have been the great and extraordinarily successful George M. Cohan. Cohan, the writer of dozens of patriotic songs such as “You’re a grand old flag,” “TheYankee Doodle boy,” and “Over there,” was also the producer of countless Broadway plays. He made what may be the most disappointing phonograph records ever published by Victor.
   

George M. Cohan's legendary stage presence somehow failed to translate to his
Victor purple-label recordings. Despite Victor's aggressive marketing campaign,
the records sold poorly, and none was carried over into the blue-label series.
(John R. Bolig)
   

The purple label records came in both ten and twelve-inch sizes, and all were single-sided. Only 145 recordings were assigned to the ten-inch series, and 126 to the twelve-inch series, and both series were discontinued within ten years. Several of the assigned numbers were never offered for sale, and others were withdrawn shortly after their release, making quite a few of the records in the purple label series quite scarce. It is also noteworthy that alternate takes were substituted for several of the catalog numbers, and locating specific takes can be time-consuming and costly for collectors.


Blue Labels (1910–1926)

The blue label records were double-sided ten-inch records in the 45000 series, and the twelve-inch records in the 55000 series. The first records listed in the 55000 series were published for a short time with purple labels, but the color was changed immediately to establish a distinctly different class of records.

Victor sold all of its records in a single-sided format until 1908, when it introduced its first double-sided records in the black label class of records. Most of the earliest double-sided black label records had originally been sold in the single-sided format, and many of them continued to be available in both formats for several years. The classical Red Seal recordings were sold exclusively as single-sided records until September 1923.

When this series was introduced, it was probably intended to be used exclusively for classical records made in Europe by artists who were relatively unknown in America. The recordings from great operas were considerably cheaper than those offered in the Red Seal catalog, and some of them were actually superior to those made by artists featured on Red Seal records. It is noteworthy that royalties were not owed to the artists who were listed on the earliest blue label records. It also appears that most, if not all, of the blue label records were exported to Latin American markets between 1910 and 1913.
        


The husband-and-wife team of Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth (the latter
remembered today primarily as composer of "Take Me Out to the Ball
Game") had several good sellers on purple label. After they divorced,
Bayes carried on as a soloist on blue label before signing with
Columbia in 1918. (John R. Bolig)
    

In 1913, Victor began to use the blue label series in North America for domestically produced low-priced classical records, and it also used it as an opportunity to lower the price of records that were not quite up to Red Seal standards. For example, most of Elda Cavalieri’s Red Seal records, and many of the imported Spanish language recordings, were withdrawn from that catalog and reissued as double-sided blue label records. In the 1920s, as the purple label single-sided series was phased out, some of the artists, and types of recordings, featured on those records were moved to the blue label classification.
   

Montgomery & Stone made only three issued purple-label recordings,
but their popularity was so great that two were reissued on blue
label and remained available until the end of the acoustic era.
(John R. Bolig)

Over time, the blue label was affixed to recordings by Arabian and Japanese artists, performers featured in the Gramophone Company catalogs in Europe, famous explorers, comedians such as Fanny Brice and Will Rogers, and any number of excellent recordings that defied classification as either “popular” or “classical” catalog entries. A few series of recordings of an instructive nature were also listed among the blue label records.
   

Victor’s blue label catalog ran the gamut from Broadway hits to ethnic and classical material.
The scroll-label issue shown here, pressed in Victor's Oakland, California plant, was one of
the last to be deleted from the catalog, having survived into the early RCA period.
(Allan Sutton)
   

Several of the artists featured on the blue label series were later “promoted” to the Red Seal catalog. Among them was Harry Lauder, who was elevated in status after he was knighted, and his credits on Red Seal records list him as Sir Harry Lauder. Reinald Werrenrath started as a black label artist, became a blue label artist, and finally was elevated to Red Seal status. Richard Crooks became a very important Red Seal artist, especially after the company became RCA-Victor. In addition, many of the blue label artists were also used on a number of Red Seal recordings as uncredited backup artists, accompanying major artists as singers in quartets and choruses. Several of them used pseudonyms on the black label series, but their own names on the blue label record.

Among the most successful blue label educational recordings were a series of health and physical exercises introduced, and presumably designed, by Gene Tunney. Tunney was the heavyweight-boxing champion of the world who had gained fame by defeating the great Jack Dempsey. He was one of the most popular and colorful athletes of his era, and he allegedly entertained sportswriters by reciting various works by Shakespeare during his press conferences. His records were sold in a boxed set featuring Tunney’s image in an impressive pugilistic pose on the cover. The entire set was also available in Spanish, in a translation by Juan Pulido.

The blue label series was discontinued in 1926, and most of the titles were removed from Victor catalogs by 1930. Red Seal ten-inch records in the 4000 series, and the twelve-inch records in the 9000 series, replaced the blue label series. The new series were low in price and featured many of the artists and types of music formerly found in the blue label series. New recordings of many of Sir Harry Lauder’s purple and blue label titles were assigned to this group of Red Seal recordings.


Imports, Exports, and Electrical Recordings

Because the Victor Talking Machine Company was affiliated with the Gramophone Company in Europe, they shared stampers of recordings made by artists throughout the world. Each company also agreed to sell their products in specific parts of the world. Victor was given exclusive rights to sell their products in North and South America and various locations in the Far East. There is very little documentation about why some Victor records were made for export to Latin America or Asia, but it is a fact that many of the titles were never sold in North America or listed in English-language catalogs. Victor imported large numbers of recording stampers from the Gramophone Company’s Spanish catalog, assigned them to the blue label class of records, and exported them to Latin American markets. Their appeal to buyers in Spanish-speaking countries is easy to understand, but large numbers of Red Seal and blue label records in Italian were also sold exclusively in South America.

The recordings in Arabic are somewhat puzzling. Not only are they rarely found in collections, but also one has to wonder where they were sold. Victor did press recordings in many languages that they sold in specific markets in the United States where large numbers of immigrants were known to have settled. Most of the ethnic records were included in the lowest-priced black label category, but most of the Arabic records were featured in the mid-priced blue label class or the higher-priced Red Seal category. No documents have been located that would have described to whom, or where, they were sold in the United States, nor to which countries they might have been exported.

All of the purple and almost all of the blue label records were acoustically recorded. The first electrically made records continued to use the acoustic-style “batwing” label, but they have the symbol “V.E.” embossed between the grooved area and the edge of the label. The “scroll” label was introduced in 1926, after Victor finally acknowledged to the public that it was using the new electrical process. Electrical recording equipment was used in the Camden studio as early as February 1925, but a small number of artists continued to make acoustical recordings in the New York studio until about August 1925.


(Editor's note: The Victor blue label was later revived for export and other special issues. Those records willl be the subject of a later study.)
   



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