Columbia History: Physical Characteristics

Columbia Master Book, Volume I, Tim Brooks, ed.

One distinguishing characteristic of early Climax discs is the presence of a metal grommet around the spindle hole, apparently to strengthen it. This unique feature was discontinued after a few months.

Seven inches was the usual size for discs when Columbia entered the market, although Eldridge R. Johnson had introduced longer-playing 10” Monarch records early in 1901. The fact that Columbia initially marketed machines with 7- and 10” turntables suggests that Climax records were available in both sizes from the start, or almost from the start.105

From 1901 to 1903 virtually every selection was produced in both 7” and 10” versions. These are distinct recordings, with the 7” playing for about two minutes, and the 10” for three. By 1903, however, sales of 7” discs had dropped precipitously. The 7” disc—the format introduced by Emile Berliner only a decade earlier—was phased out beginning in late 1903. Around matrix no. 1700 Columbia stopped routinely making 7” versions of every title, and thereafter 7” versions were only occasionally produced. The highest known 7” number is 3239. The format was dropped from the catalog in 1907, and in a trade letter dated December 26, 1907, General Manager George Lyle announced that dealers could dispose of remaining stock at any price they saw fit.106

Rival Victor introduced 12” and 14” discs in 1903.107 Columbia waited many months before following suit and then, oddly, announced 14” discs first, in December 1904. Reserved for dance records, and running as long as five minutes (at 60 rpm), these were numbered in the regular matrix series. Clumsy and fragile, they did not sell well and only a few were published.

More successful were 12” discs, which were finally introduced in July 1905. The first few were also numbered in the regular matrix series, but beginning in May 1906 a new matrix series, the 30,000s, was established for them and the few that had already been released were renumbered. Thereafter many 12” discs were released, principally concert and instrumental dance recordings.

It is a bit of a mystery why both Victor and Columbia discs were recorded on only one side until 1908, when technology had long existed to manufacture discs with music on both sides. Perhaps the companies were making so much money from the cheaper (for them) format that they saw no reason to switch; perhaps patents prevented them from doing so. (Believe it or not, the very idea of a double-faced record was patented—by Ademor Petit, in 1904. The patent was struck down by the Austrian courts in 1906, and in the U.S. in 1911.) Odeon marketed double-faced discs in Europe in 1904, and possibly as a result of its association with that company U.S. Columbia announced a small number of doubled­faced discs in August 1904, as novelties. They were carried in the catalog until 1907. Regular matrix numbers were used, with a different number on each side of the disc.

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The Columbia Master Book Discography, 4 Volumes, Complied by Brian Rust and Tim Brooks. Reprinted by permission.