Appendix B: Columbia Matrix Series (1901-1934)

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


Foreign Language Recordings | Notes on Individual Series | Columbia Acoustic Matrix Series

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Following is an overview of the matrix series used by Columbia during the acoustic era, with a few extensions into the 1930s.1 Even though not all of these series are listed in the present volumes, it will serve to provide context and indicate the breadth of Columbia’s recording program. Readers seeking more information on foreign language series are referred to Richard K. Spottswood’s landmark seven-volume discography, Ethnic Music on Records. Note however that Spottswood lists only recordings made in the U.S.

These charts and notes will also be useful for approximate dating of odd-series Columbias, and for determining their probable country of origin. Unlike Victor, Columbia printed both catalog and matrix numbers on its labels throughout most of its history, so matrix numbers can readily be used for identification purposes.

No Columbia document has ever been found that explains the purpose of each matrix series. There must have been such a document, to keep the different recording programs from running into each other. Maybe it was a thick ledger stuffed in a safe behind Victor Emerson’s desk. Unfortunately, we have no alternative but to reconstruct the allocation scheme from actual examples found in different numerical ranges. This is bound to lead to some errors or mistaken assumptions, and additional information from readers is welcome.

Columbia’s matrix numbering will be examined up to the number 100,000—for all intents, the acoustic era (1901–1925). A few continuations are shown beyond that point, but I have not ventured into the bewildering jungle of prefixed series, which replaced the old matrix series in the 1930s. Several old series numbered below 100,000 were, in fact, reused during the 1930s with prefixes added. There was even a transitional period during which some masters received prefixes and others did not (e.g., in the 17,000s). All of this is beyond the scope of this essay. Also not included are a few irregular series of the acoustic era, for example the X-prefix (“Old Comrades March” on Columbia A1608, matrix X95) and S-prefix series (Ramon Garcia).

The size, origin and content designations given in the chart are the dominant ones so far identified for each series; there were of course exceptions. Where a series appears to have been limited to one or two languages, they are given. Otherwise the designation is “foreign,” with specific languages listed in the notes.

An upper limit for each block is given only if there are enough examples, or sufficiently scattered ones, to indicate that the entire range shown was used. Thus for the 7,000s no upper limit is guessed at, since no examples are known above 7049.

Foreign Language Recordings

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Columbia was extremely active in recording foreign language material both for export and for sale to ethnic groups within the U.S., but it was not entirely consistent in assigning control numbers to these recordings. At the outset, in 1903, blocks were apparently allocated to specific foreign studios such as St. Petersburg (35,000s), Berlin (40,000s) and Paris (50,000s). Foreign language items recorded in the U.S. were assigned to the regular domestic series (1-4999). However this simple system soon broke down, and masters originating in the U.S. can be found in many foreign series along with those from abroad. For example, while some items in the Spanish 5,000s were recorded in Madrid or Mexico City, others were credited to “Señor Carlos A. Prince’s Banda Española”—obviously U.S. recordings by Charles A. Prince and the Columbia house band. Recordings by the U.S.-sounding “Columbia Orchestra” also turn up in foreign series, although this name might have been used as a cover for various nondescript foreign bands.

Matrix allocation of foreign material from around 1908 to the mid-teens is even more confusing (except for England, which always had clear cut matrix series of its own). All sorts of languages could be found lumped together in some blocks. For example, the 21,000s contain Spanish, Italian and Hawaiian material, the latter recorded in Hawaii! Foreign language recordings also continued to appear in the “domestic” series (19,100s, 38,100s) during this period.

By the mid-teens Columbia itself was evidently getting confused, so it lumped virtually all “foreign” masters into three series: London recordings, Spanish language recordings, and everything else. The general domestic series thereafter contained only domestic items, popular and classical.

It is possible that some blocks were divided into even smaller segments than are shown here. However the continual hop-scotching which that would imply makes little sense when continued for many years, and in many instances languages are known to have been thoroughly intermixed no matter how fine the blocks are cut.


Table 6a:

Columbia Acoustic Matrix Series

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Matrix Range Principal SizesU.S./Foreign OriginRecording Dates Purpose
1–1999 7/10 U.S. 1901–1904 General U.S. issues
2000–2999 10 Asia 1903 Allocated to Japan & China
3000–4999 7/10 U.S. 1904–1910 General U.S. issues
5000–5999 10/12 both 1903–1908 Spanish/Mexican
06000– 10   ca. 1907–1908 Spanish (Argentina?)
6000–6999 12 London 1907–1916 London masters
7000– 10 U.S. 1904–1910 Trials? Vertical cut tests
8000– 10 U.S. 1907–1910 Trials, foreign
9000– 12 U.S. 1907–1910 Trials
10000–11499 7/10/12 Milan? 1903–1914 Italian
11500–12499 10   ca. 1908 Portuguese/Brazil
12500–13499 10 both 1905–1908 Austro-Hungarian
13500–14499 10   1908–1913 Spanish/Mexican
14500–14999 10 U.S. 1908–1909 Trials, special, personal
15000–15999 10/12 U.S. 1907–1913 Trials, special, foreign
16000–16999 12 U.S. 1908–1915 Trials, special, personal
17000– 10 U.S. ca. 1911 Trials, personal?
18000– 10 Manila?   Allocated to Manila?
19100–19999 10 U.S. 1910–1912 General U.S. issues
20000– 10   ca. 1904 Armenian, Czech
21000–21999 10 both 1911–1915 Hawaiian, Spanish
22000– 10 Spain? 1906– Spanish?
23000–24999       (unknown)
25000–25999 10 London 1903–1906 London masters
26000–26999 10 London 1906–1910 London masters
27000–27999 10 London 1910–1912 London masters
28000–28999 10 London 1912–1914 London masters
29000–29999 10 London 1914–1915 London masters
30000–30999 12 U.S. 1906–1912 General U.S. issues
31000–33999 10 U.S. ca. 1913–1916 Trials, special, personal
34000– 10 U.S. 1913–1917 Language instruction
35000–35699 10 Russia/Poland 1903– Russian, Polish
35700–35999 10 London 1915–1916 London masters
36000–36349 10 Russia? ca. 1912 Foreign
36350–37498 12 U.S. 1912–1915 General U.S. issues
37500–38099 10/12 U.S. 1907–ca. 1913 Spanish/Cuban
38100–39999 10   1912–1915 General U.S. issues
40000–40999 7/10 Europe 1903–1906 German
41000–41999 10 Europe 1904–teens Various European
42000–   Milan? teens Italian?
43000–43999 10 U.S. 1915–1916 Foreign
44000–44999 10 U.S. 1916–1917 Foreign
45000–45499 10   teens French?
45500–47499 10 U.S. 1915–1917 General U.S. issues
47500– 10   ca. 1906 ?
48000–48499 10   ca. 1913–1917 Spanish/Cuban
48500–49999 12 U.S. 1915–1921 General U.S. Issues
50000–50999 7/10 Paris? 1903–1906 French
51000–51499 10 Paris? 1905– French
51500–51999 12 U.S. 1915–1934 Trials, personal
52000–52099 12 Europe 1930s European
52100– 10 U.S. 1930s Trials, personal
53000–54999       (unknown)
55000–55999 10 both ca. 1905–teens Foreign
56000– 10/12   ca. 1920–1923 Spanish
57000–57499 10   teens–1923 Spanish
57500– 10 Asia?   Allocated to Far East?
58000–58999 10 U.S. 1917–1918 Foreign
59000–59399 10   1914 ?
59400–59999 12 U.S. 1917–1924 Foreign
60000–60999 10 U.S. ca. 1915–1916 Trials, special, personal
61000–61999 10 U.S. 1917 Trials, special, personal
62000–62999 10 U.S. 1917–1920 Trials, special, personal
63000–63999 10 U.S. 1920–1921 Trials, special, personal
64000–64999 10 U.S. 1922–1924 Trials, special, personal
65000–65199 10 Poland Pre–1910 Polish
65200–65999 10 London 1916–1917 London masters
66000–66999 10 Europe 1911–1913 German, Hungarian
67000–67999 10 Europe 1911–1914 Foreign
68000–68999 10 Europe 1914–1915? Foreign
69000–69999 10 London 1917–1920 London masters
70000–70999 10 Europe ca. 1917–1920 Foreign
71000–71999 10 London 1920–1922 London masters
72000–   Europe 1920s Foreign
73000–73999 10 London 1922–1923 London masters
74000–76999 12 London 1916–1923 London masters, Italy
77000–81999 10 U.S. 1917–1924 General U.S. issues
82000–82999 10 U.S. 1917–1920 Spanish/Cuban
83000– 12 U.S. 1919–1931 Spanish
84000–84999 10 U.S. 1917–1919 Foreign
85000–85999 10 U.S. 1919–1920 Foreign
86000–86999 10 U.S. 1920–1921 Foreign
87000–87999 10 U.S. 1921–1922 Foreign
88000–88999 10 U.S. 1922–1923 Foreign
89000–89999 10 U.S. 1923–1924 Foreign
90000–90299 10 U.S. 1918–1925 Educational issues
90500–90635 12 U.S. 1918–1924 Educational issues
91000–91499 10 U.S. 1918–1924 Trials, personal
91500–91999 12 U.S. 1918–1931 Trials, personal
92000–       (unknown)
93000–93999 10 both? 1920–1925 Spanish
94000– 10     Spanish?
95000–95999 10 both 1925–1927 Spanish
96000–96999 10 both 1927–1929 Spanish
97000–97999 10 both 1929 Spanish
98000–98750 12 U.S. 1921–1931 General U.S. issues
99000–       (unknown)

 

Table 6b:

Columbia Acoustic Matrix Series: Selected Series Above 100,000

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Matrix Range Principal SizesU.S./Foreign OriginRecording Dates Purpose
105000–114014 10 U.S. 1924-1935 Foreign
140000–152772 10 U.S. 1924-1934 General U.S. issues
170000–170755 10 U.S. 1924-1934 Trials, special, personal
175000–176300 10 U.S. 1926–1932 Trials, special, personal

 

Appendix B: Notes on Individual Series

 


Notes

1. This is a revised version of an article by the author that appeared in Record Research magazine in 1975.

 


Back to Appendix A: Matrix and Catalog Number Dating Charts | Forward to Appendix C: “Phantom” Matrix Numbers

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