Physical Description and Photographs

Berliner Gramophone Records: American Issues, 1892-1900, compiled by Paul Charosh

[Editor's Note: The images associated with this section in the print version may or may not be available, but illustrative images will be forthcoming.]

The focus of this book is discographic, but some discussion of the physical attributes of the discs is in order, and photographs appear at the end of this section.

The discs of 1894 are 6 7/8 inches in diameter and pressed in celluloid or a similar flexible material. Those of 1895 and later are 7 inches in diameter. Berliner literature of that year tells us that “discs are now being duplicated in hard rubber.” Later pressing material resembles the shellac of twentieth century discs. Discs are generally black or dark gray.1 Issued recordings are single-faced.2 None have paper labels. The face of each disc contains much information, incised or stamped directly into the master. Information is handwritten (sometimes by Berliner himself), printed, or typeset in a variety of faces. Specimens vary considerably in layout and manner of representation. When inspecting these discs, the reader is encouraged to observe the following:

Berliner logo and patent information

“E. Berliner’s Gramophone” appears on almost all discs, above the center hole, followed by patent dates. Most discs contain five, appearing as Nov. 8, 1887; May 15, 1888; May 6, 1890: Feb’y. 19, 1895; and Oct. 29, 1895 [see figs. 1,2,5,7,8,9]. The earliest recordings known show only those of 1887 and 1888. Later discs usually show all five, although some recorded as late as 1898 display February 19, 1895 as the last date [see figs. 3 and 6]. Some appear to carry no such data, but on close inspection may show information inscribed lightly by hand [see fig. 4].

Titles and composer credits

These appear directly below the center hole. When composer credits are given they usually appear in parentheses [see figs. 1 and 4].

Catalogue numbers and take symbols

In the block series, these appear at six or near nine o’clock [see figs. 1 – 9]. Take letters, when they exist, either follow the catalogue number or appear directly beneath it. In the “0” series catalogue numbers appear at six o’clock and take symbols or digits (not letters), described in the Users’ Guide, are shown at six or nine o’clock [see fig. 9].

Recording location–block series only

When shown, this often appears near six o’clock, handwritten in abbreviated form [see fig. 1]. Sometimes it is typeset and spelled in its entirety, at three, six, or nine o’clock [see figs. 3, 5, 6]. It never appears on the “0” series.

Recording dates

Not all discs show recording dates, but many specimens in the block series include them, as do almost all specimens in the “0” series.

On the block series, when indicated, they may be found at three, six, or nine o’clock [see figs. 1 – 7]. Some numbers, arguably ambiguous in meaning, are taken to be dates—for example, “8 98” for August 1898, appearing at six o’clock. “N 9 97” and similar notations appearing faintly at two or three o’clock are interpreted as dates, in this case November 9, 1897.

Dates on the “0” series appear as numerals following the month / day / year format, usually appearing near three o’clock or above the center hole to the right of the Berliner logo and patent information [see figs. 8 and 9].

Recording artists’ names

These usually appear below the title. Signatures inscribed near the center hole on band records are those of the conductor. Performers sometimes signed the masters, generally after 1897 [see figs. 6 and 7].

Perfomance type code letters–“0” series only

These appear only on the “0” series, usually beneath the catalogue number at six o’clock [see figs. 8 – 10] and are explained fully in the Users’ Guide. On lower numbers in this series these letters may appear at three o’clock.

Fractions and mathematical expressions

There are none on these discs, but markings to the right of the center hole resemble them [see figs- 5 and 9]. The compiler believes they are manufacturing or related codes of some sort, useful to the recording technician. Their precise significance is unknown and they have been ignored in this volume.


Discs are generally free of such embellishments, although possible concern with the appearance of the discs is occasionally evident. For example, some specimens have asterisks at three and nine o’clock that seem to serve no other purpose. A small number show varying typefaces on the same disc, and identifying information is framed by stars and other decorative marks.

Discs with obliterated information

Some specimens, usually in the “0” series, are found missing the Berliner logo, patent information, and recording date that conventionally appears above the center hole. They have a scrubbed or scoured appearance [see fig. 10]. These are discs pirated by Zonophone interests from Berliner masters, and specimens pressed by Berliner may also be found bearing the usual logo.

Other series

Berliner manufactured several series, both in this country and elsewhere, that are not within the scope of this book. These are cited only in this section.

Berliner’s name appeared on discs released in Canada and continental Europe. Examples of such discs should not be mistaken for variants of the series described in this volume. Those issued in Canada carried his name into the twentieth century. The most common specimens are pressed in a reddish-brown material and have paper labels. Berliner discs pressed in England and on the European continent carry the “recording angel” trademark in use today. “Reproduced in Hanover” is stamped on the reverse of these discs.

Five inch discs were pressed in Germany during the early 1890s. A six-inch specimen numbered “A 201” (“The Palms,” W. Paris Chambers, crnt, Ph, 6 May 96) exists at the Library of Congress. A letter of 16 December 1897 from Sinkler Darby to the National Gramophone Company lists twelve 5 ½  inch matrices sent to the Duranoid Manufacturing Company on that day, presumably to be pressed. The letter lists numbers only: B163, 4164, B1001, B1001Z, B1002, B1501, B2001, B2501, B2502, B2503, B2504, B2505.

Discs were also recorded for special purposes. During 1898 the National Gramophone Company extended Christmas greetings on an unnumbered disc. Music publisher Isidore Witmark describes three discs recorded by his brother Julius during 1898, asserting that they “do not appear to have been made with commercial exploitation in mind.”4 A recording of Berliner’s son Oliver, made in 1893 at age six, exists as a zinc master on deposit with the Library of Congress, as do recordings by other family members. Twelve zinc plates of Native American music, none bearing Catalogue numbers, are also on deposit.5


The photographs concluding this section are offered to enhance our description of these discs, and do not illustrate all varieties. The compiler has included specimens from both the block and “0” series.

Figure 4
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9



1. Several unusual brown, somewhat flexible discs dated 1896 and 1897 have been reported.

2. An exceptional, double-faced specimen of 365 and 902 exists. Both sides were recorded in 1894 and it is probably a test. There is no known evidence that such discs were sold.

3. In the “0” series, the letter appearing beneath the catalogue number represents a performance-type code. These are discussed in the User’s Guide.

4. The titles are: “When You Ain’t Got No Money, Well, You Needn’t Come Around,” accompanied by “the boy pianist, Mr. John W. Bratton”; “Just One Gal” [sic], dated 11 November 1898; and “Mammy’s Little Pumpkin Colored Coon.” See Isidore Witmark and Isaac Goldberg, From Ragtime to Swingtime (1939; New York: Da Capo Press, 1976), 161.

5. These are sung by ethnographers Charles and James Mooney and dated 5 and 12 July 1894. Some titles were recorded again during 1896 and released bearing catalogue numbers in the 400 series.

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Berliner Gramophone Records in America: A Discography. Compiled by Paul Charosh.  Reprinted by permission.