Appendix D: Columbia Catalogs and Other Consumer Publications
Columbia Master Book, Volume I, Tim Brooks, ed.
A listing of Columbia catalogs from the period 1889-1899 appeared in the ARSC Journal in 1979.1 This article discusses cylinder and disc literature published by the company between 1900 and 1934.
From the time it began producing cylinders in 1889, Columbia distributed catalogs and flyers promoting its recordings. Curiously, however, no U.S. catalog of Climax disc recordings has ever been found. In fact, few contemporary listings of any type are known. One is a single-page list containing about 250 issues, numbered up to the 400s, with artists given (unusual for Columbia at the time); another is a small British catalog with numbers up to 826. A photocopy of the former has circulated among researchers for years, but the original source is unknown. It may be a page from an as-yet unlocated 1902 general merchandise catalog issued by a retailer (page number 667 appears in the upper right-hand corner). Sears, Roebuck also listed a few Climax discs in early/mid-1902.
Other evidence suggests that there was a U.S. Climax catalog, however. Columbia assigned its publications form numbers at this time, and a mid-1902 Columbia disc catalog is marked Form 471-A. The “A” means that it was a revision of an earlier edition (Form 471) containing similar merchandise. Form 471 would have been published during the winter of 1901-1902, prior to Form 490, the first catalog of Moulded Cylinders (dated March 1, 1902). It is presumably the missing Climax disc catalog.
Form 471-A was the first catalog of Columbia discs. It is 32 pages in length, and contains record numbers up to 846.2 All releases were said to be available in either 7” or 10” size. “The larger record,” it added, “has greater volume and is characterized by a delightful roundness and fullness.” This rare catalog presumably dates from mid-1902, as Sears was still advertising Climax discs in the Spring while “Supplement #2” to this Columbia listing is dated September 20, 1902. The catalog boasted that Columbia had its own complete disc manufacturing plant, and that “no other company is in this advantageous position... they are therefore compelled to look to us for a large part of the work, or to outside inexperienced firms having many other interests and with whom this is only a side line.” This was a dig at Victor, which under its old contract still had some pressings made by Columbia’s Burt subsidiary. The arrangement ended in October 1902.
Subsequent Columbia disc catalogs grew rapidly in size, to 48 pages in 1903, 64 in 1904, 81 in 1905, 84 in 1906, and 119 in 1907.
Most Columbia catalogs of the pre-1908 period were in the small 3 x 6-inch format popular at the time, and listed records by category rather than in a single alphabetical arrangement. Until 1906 the covers were rather plain, single-color and usually without illustration. In 1906 and 1907 they exploded into full color, with a picture of a lady in flowing white robes, clutching an American flag in one hand and gesturing with the other toward a Columbia cylinder or disc machine (as appropriate) which sat on a white pedestal. An American eagle perched at her feet. Such bombast was hardly a match for the graphic simplicity of Victor’s famous dog-and-horn trademark. Beginning in 1908 Columbia’s disc catalog covers were devoted primarily to promoting double-faced discs (“Music on both sides!”), which Columbia, unlike Victor, embraced enthusiastically. The 1908-1911 cylinder catalogs were illustrated with pictures of cylinders. During the period in which Columbia marketed Indestructible cylinders the emphasis seemed to be on cartoons showing children futilely trying to smash them.
With the advent of the double-disc in 1908 Columbia reorganized its catalog into a single, all-alphabetic format—the first major label to do so. Victor and Edison, loathe to imitate anything Columbia did, did not follow suit until 1912-1913. After 1911 artist photos and descriptive material began to be included, along with a special tinted classical section. Beginning in 1913, in fact, Columbia catalogs began to look very much like their Victor counterparts, both in size (5”x7”) and layout. Complete catalogs were generally issued by Columbia twice a year until 1916, and once a year thereafter. They contained all currently available domestic popular and classical releases, and in time became quite thick, exceeding 500 pages.
With the onset of the Depression years began to be skipped. Only three catalogs were issued during the 1930s (1934, 1937 classical, 1939), plus some supplementary lists.
Return to Appendices
Throughout this period new releases were publicized via supplemental lists. Although Columbia had issued occasional flyers promoting important new releases during the 1890s, it did not initiate regular supplements to the latest catalog until the early 1900s. From 1901 to 1903 there seem to have been two or three irregularly spaced supplements after each full catalog; regular monthly supplements began ca. 1904.
All three major companies (Columbia, Victor, Edison) soon settled into a regular pattern of releasing their new issues on a specific day at the end of each month, accompanied by a “supplement” listing the new delights. The first supplements were small black and white pamphlets, and were generally issued separately for cylinders and discs (except in 1904). In late 1904 a splash of color was added, as well as a few illustrations—usually illustrative scenes or pictures of phonographs rather than artists. Columbia, unlike Victor, did not seem interested in promoting individual artists.
These monthly brochures became increasingly elaborate, with color covers, descriptive paragraphs, and by 1908, pictures of the artists. They were evidently printed in large quantities; although intended to be ephemeral, many survive today. Going to the record store at the end of each month to sample the new wares and pick up a supplement became a consumer ritual.
However dealers began to complain about the financial burden of stocking all these new releases, as well as the considerable back catalog that had built up. In January 1908 Columbia broke ranks with its competitors and announced that it would discontinue monthly releases, and instead offer quarterly supplements starting on March 1, 1908. Fast-breaking hits would be released immediately. In addition, the general catalog would be pared down to about 500 active numbers, to end what Columbia called “record indigestion.”3 Victor and Edison refused to go along, and Columbia dealers were no doubt put at a disadvantage without the monthly promotion enjoyed by their competitors. However the economy was in a slump and sales were slow anyway, and Columbia may have had another purpose in mind. The strategy served to quietly reduce stocks in preparation for the sudden conversion of the entire catalog to double-discs in the Fall. Once double-discs were announced, Columbia promptly went back to monthly supplements, starting in November 1908.
Columbia supplements continued to be issued in the small 3½” x 6” format, with from 16 to 30 pages each, until November 1915. In that month Columbia adopted the larger 5” x 7” format familiar to Victor customers. While Victor featured many artist “snapshots” in its supplements of this period (and, beginning in 1917, on its covers as well), Columbia generally preferred drawings of pretty scenes, or of people enjoying their Graphophone. Nevertheless there were some exceptions, and as the 1920s dawned, Columbia seemed to realize that promotion of artists was the way to sell records. Full-page photos of such top sellers as Cal “Uncle Josh” Stewart (sittin’ on his porch) and Al Jolson began to appear.
Monthly supplements continued to be issued throughout the difficult 1920s, as Columbia went through bankruptcy and new ownership. In 1924 the brochures were downsized to about 3” x 6”, but in September 1926 the old larger size was back, heralding the “New Process” records—“The only records without scratch.” By 1930 unhappy days were here again, and plain fold-outs with limited illustrations (and little commentary) replaced the multi-page booklets of the I 920s. In mid-1931 these shrunk to four-page handouts, and by early 1933 to extremely plain, small flyers with no illustrations at all. Later in 1933 slick fold-outs were revived, with some artist pictures, and these alternated with four-page illustrated flyers until at least 1936. The dominant color scheme on most 1930s supplements was blue, presumably to promote Columbia’s “Royal Blue” records.
In addition to monthly supplements, catalog updates covering longer periods were issued during certain years. During 1904-1907 each cylinder and disc catalog seems to have been followed by two or three updates spanning several months each. Bound sets of supplements covering various combinations of months were distributed during 1910. In 1911 Columbia began summarizing issues since the last catalog in the back of the regular monthly supplement.
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Columbia of course issued much other printed matter during the half century of the 78 rpm era. The company had a very large trade in “ethnic records”—releases intended for ethnic minorities in the U.S.—and many catalogs were targeted toward specific nationalities. For example in the ‘teens Columbia’s Spanish-language catalog promoted “Discos Dobles” while the Italian catalog trumpeted “Dischi Doppi” (i.e., double-discs). The company was also active in the educational market, and for a time in the 1920s issued a newsletter for educators called Record Review. There were also occasional Educational Catalogs listing releases appropriate for schoolroom use.
Dealers were serviced with numerical catalogs for their convenience in ordering. The earliest I have seen is a March 1905 list of disc records, but there were probably earlier examples for both discs and cylinders. Prior to the introduction of all-alphabetical consumer catalogs in 1908 dealers also received special alphabetical catalogs, to allow them, at least, to find a title easily. (Some of Columbia’s early consumer catalogs included numerical or alphabetical indexes, making it possible to locate a particular selection even when the main arrangement was by category.) Columbia dealer numerical listings continued to be published for the rest of the company’s history, on a somewhat irregular schedule. Like their Victor counterparts, they are rare today.
In 1902 or 1903 a Denver dealer began a publication called the Columbia Record. It was taken over by the national office in January 1904, and became a six to eight page monthly filled with company news. It continued to be published at least until the late 1910s, offering sales advice, information on new products, and a continual stream of pep talks, some a little hard to swallow (e.g., “Trade Welcomes Higher Prices”—1913). Some artist information was also mixed in.
In addition to giving us much detail on the operation of the company, the Columbia Record contained the first regular monthly release lists known to have been issued by Columbia. A second publication, The Columbia Salesman, issued around 1907-1908, focused exclusively on sales tips and pep talks.
Columbia continued to issue general catalogs and supplements until the 1950s, even as radio and juke boxes began to replace printed sales literature as the principal means of publicizing new recordings. Although these were given out free to consumers, their circulation declined. Examples from the 1950s are less frequently found than those from the 1920s. Dealers too began to rely on other sources, including Recordaid, Phono-Log and Schwann. By the dawn of the rock era company-produced sales literature—which had documented recordings since grandfather’s time—was a thing of the past.
Original printed material can be invaluable to the researcher, and it is unfortunate that no complete collection exists either at Columbia or a major public archive.
Return to Appendices
Following is a listing of all known general consumer catalogs (cylinder and disc) issued from 1900 to 1934. No doubt I have missed a few, and reader input would be welcome. Minor variations will be found in individual copies, apparently indicating different press runs. The following information is given.
COVER DATE—If there is none, an estimated date based on internal evidence is shown in parentheses.
TITLE—as it appears on the cover. Cylinder catalogs are indicated “[cyl],” if this is not evident from the title.
PAGES—Highest numbered page. Significant unnumbered sections are indicated.
FORM NUMBER—Many Columbia publications can be uniquely identified by this printer’s code, which may appear on the front or back cover, or flyleaf.
HN—Highest Number in main numerical series. As an aid to collectors I have indicated the approximate highest catalog number in the principal popular series contained in each catalog. This is often the only means of dating or even identifying early, undated catalogs, or those missing covers.
The following information was drawn from several sources, including the author’s collection and several private and public collections, including those of the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.
Columbia Record Catalogs (U. S.)—1900-1934
|1900||Columbia Large and Small Records [cyl]||40 pp . 3.25 x 6”. HN: 1642 (p. 7), 5356 (p. 25), 7488 (p. 19). Block numbering system still in use. Examples shown above.|
|1901||Columbia Records 1901 Record Catalogue [cyl]||64 pp. 3.25 x 6”. HN: 31502 (p. 31). First to use a consecutive numbering system (31300-up).|
|Mar. 1, 1902||Columbia Records 1902 Record Catalogue [cyl]||64 pp. 3.25 x 6”. HN: 31705 (p. 31). Announces new moulded method of making cylinders, in use for “over a year.”|
|Mar. 1, 1902||Columbia High Speed Extra Loud Moulded Records [cyl]||20 pp. 3.25 x 5.5”. Form 490. HN: 31752 (p. 13) only. Lists the new moulded (“XP”) cylinders.|
|(mid-1902)||Columbia Disc Records||32 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 471-A. HN: 846 (p. 21).|
|Jan. 1, 1903||Columbia High Speed Extra Loud Moulded Records [cyl]||31 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 490. HN: 31912 (p. 5).|
|(mid-1903)||Columbia Cylinder Records||40 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 490-A. HN: 32132 (p. 29).|
|(late 1903)||Columbia Disc Records||48 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 471-8. HN: 1406 (p. 33).|
|1904||1904 Catalog of Columbia XP & Disc Records||64 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 595. HN: 32325 (cyl., p. 38), 1614 (disc, p. 38). The only combined catalog listing both cylinders and discs. Releases through December 1903.|
|(Dec. 1904)||Columbia Gold Moulded Records [cyl]||x+54 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 710. HN: 32607 (p. 7).|
|(Dec. 1904)||Columbia Disc Records||xiv+81 pp. 3.25 x 6”. Form 711. HN: 1910 (p. 9).|
|1906 (Mar)||Columbia Gold Moulded Records -Cylinders 1906||x+47 pp. 3.25 x 6”. HN: 32901 (p. 42).|
|1906 (Mar)||Columbia Disc Records—1906||xii+84 pp. 3.25 x 6”. HN: 3341 (p. 5).|
|1907 (Feb)||Columbia Gold Moulded Records—Cylinders 1907||xii+67 pp. 3.5 x 6”. HN: 33083 (p. 48).|
|1907 (Dec.)||Columbia Gold Moulded Records—Cylinders 1907||vi+67 pp. 3.5 x 6”. HN: 33207 (p. 55).|
|Despite identical covers, the preceding two catalogs have slightly different contents. The February catalog also contains an index by record number, while the December version does not.|
|(Dec. 1907)||Columbia Disc Records||viii+ 119 pp. 3.5 x 6”. HN: 3738 (p. 89), 30103 (p. 111).|
|(Aug. 1908)||Columbia Gold Moulded Cylinder Records—25¢||xl+70 pp. 3.5 x 6”. HN: 33294 (p. 26).|
|(Sep. 1908)||Columbia Double Disc Records||xxxii+63+A-T pp. 3.5 x 6”. HN: A589, A5069. Grand Opera and numerical list at back (pp. A-T).|
|(Jun. 1909)||Columbia Double Disc Records—65¢||xxxii+95 pp. 3.5 x 6”. Form M173. HN: A678, A5100.|
|(Dec. 1909)||Columbia Indestructible Records [cyl]||39 pp. 3.5 x 6”. HN: 1237 (2 min.). This catalog also announces, but does not list, Indestructible’s first four-minute cylinders.|
|(Jan. 1910)||Columbia Double Disc Records—65¢||xxxiv+114 pp. 3.5 x 6”. Form M221. HN: A776, A5156.|
|(Jun. 1910)||Complete Catalog Columbia Indestructible Cylinder Records—2 minute, 4 minute.||47 pp. 3.5 x 6.5”. HN: 1356 (2 min.), 3084 (4 min.).|
|(Jun. 1911)||Columbia Double Disc Records||182 pp. 4 x 8.5”. Form M-290-6-11. HN: A1016, A5289.|
|(Oct. 1911)||Columbia Indestructible Cylinder Records||63 pp. 3.5 x 6”. Form 342-10-11. HN: 1502 (2 min.), 3241 (4 min.).|
|(Jan. 1912)||Columbia Double Disc Records||200pp. 4 x 8.5”. Form 348-10-11. HN: A1091, A5341.|
|(Jul. 1912)||Columbia Double Disc Records||272 pp. 4 x 8.5”. Form M-504-7-12. HN: A1168, A5391.|
|Jan. 1913||Columbia Double Disc Records||292 pp. 4 x 8.5”. Form M-637-12-12. HN: A1240, A5433.|
|Nov. 1913||Columbia Double Disc Records||400 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form M851-12-13. HN: A1409, A5501. New format, date on spine.|
|May-14||Columbia Double Disc Records||464 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form M960-5-14. HN: A1515, A5548.|
|Nov. 1914||Columbia Double Disc Records||428 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form Adv 103-11-14. HN: A1602, A5600.|
|Jun. 1915||Columbia Double Disc Records||448 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form Adv 301-5-15. HN: A1761, A5675.|
|(Dec. 1915)||Columbia Records||ca. 425 pp. 5 x 7”. Form Adv 511-11-15. HN: A1861, A5734.|
|(Jun. 1916)||Columbia Records||336 pp. 5 x 7”. Form Adv 651-5-16. HN: A1985, A5804.|
|(Dec. 1916)||Columbia Records||424 pp. 5 x 7”. Form Adv 808-11-16. HN: A2114, A5889.|
|(Sep. 1917)||Columbia Records||486 pp. 5 x 7”. Form Adv 939-9-17. HN: A2307, A5978.|
|(Sep. 1918)||Columbia Records||560 pp. 5 x 7”. Form Adv 1098-7-18. HN: A2585, A6058.|
|1919 (Sep.)||Columbia Records||488 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: A2759, A6112.|
|1921||Columbia Records||488 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: A2955, A6158. “All selections up to and including September, 1920.”|
|1922||Columbia Records||368 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: A3488, A6201. All listings to December 31, 1921.|
|1923||Columbia Records||416 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: A3716, A6222. All listings to December 31, 1922.|
|1924||Columbia Records||447 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: A4000, A6233. All listings to December 31, 1923.|
|1925||Columbia Records||512 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: 219-D, 50010-D. All listings to December 1924.|
|(Sep. 1925)||Columbia Celebrity Records||96 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: 102M, 67151-D. Classical selections, “issued to September 1925.”|
|1926||Columbia Records||192 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: 478-D, 50017-D All listings to December 1925.|
|1927||Columbia Records||232 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: 767-D, 50027-D Listings to December 1926. Chart on p. 2 indicates which recordings are electrical and which are acoustic. Also, first catalog to indicate that Columbia records should be played at 78 rather than 80 rpm.|
|(Jun. 1927)||Columbia New Process Records||112 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: 957-D, 50040-D. Special “Catalog 100” listing Viva-tonal (electric) records. Copy examined published by Landay stores of New York.|
|1928||Columbia Records||284 pp. 5 x 7”. HN: 1065-D, 50045-D Listings to September 1927.|
|1929||Columbia Records||399 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form Adv 430-9-Z8. HN: 1471-D, 50078-D. Listings to September 1928.|
|1930||Columbia Records Supplementary Catalogue 1930||160 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form Adv 556-9-29. HN: 1917-D, 50164-D. Listings from October 1928 to September 1929.|
|1931||Columbia Records Supplementary Catalogue 1931||176 pp. 5 x 7.2S”. Form Adv 648-12-30. HN: 2324-D, 50259-D. Listings from October 1929 to December 1930.|
|(Jan. 1933)||Columbia Masterworks Series||11 pp. 6 x 9”. Form Adv 738-1-33. HN: 68084-D. Primarily classical album sets. Unpaginated.|
|(Nov. 1934)||Columbia Records General Catalogue||160 pp. 5 x 7.25”. Form Adv 778-11-34. HN: 2958-D, 50375-D. Columbia Royal Blue Records through November 1934.
Like other companies, Columbia has issued a wide variety of special catalogs over the years. From 1903 to 1908 Grand Opera records were listed in their own catalog, rather than in the general catalog, and special Grand Opera booklets continued to be issued even after a Grand Opera section was begun in the main catalog. Following are the known Grand Opera catalogs from this period.
|(ca. Apr. 1903)||Grand Opera Records||39 pp. 5.75 x 8.5”. HN: 1382. The first, lavish catalog included pictures and biographies of the seven original Grand Opera artists, and testimonial letters from them. Variants exist, including a 39 page version at the New York Public Library and a 37 page version at the Library of Congress. A reproduction of the former, which has apparently been electronically altered (to 48 pp.), is included with the Sony Classical CD set MH2K 62334 (1996).|
|(1908)||Columbia Grand Opera Records, Fonotipia Series, Symphony Series||75 pp. 5 x 9.5”. HN: A5078 (p.60).|
|(1909)||Columbia Grand Opera Double Disc Records -Fonotipia Series, Symphony Series, Regular Series||22 pp. 3.5 x 6”. Form M175. HN: A5087, F1007.|
|(1910)||Columbia Grand Opera Records New Celebrities Series||24 pp. 5.5 x 7”. HN: A5217 (p. 15)|
|1911||Columbia Records Grand Opera and Concert Selections||48 pp. Form M282-4-11|
|1912||Columbia Grand Opera Double-Disc Records, Fonotipia Series||16 pp. 5 x 8.5”. Form M306-1-12|
1. Tim Brooks, “A Directory to Columbia Recording Artists of the 1890s,” 130-138. Return
2. The only known copy of this catalog is located at the Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, New Jersey. Return
3. Talking Machine World, January 15, 1908, 36 and 38. Return
The Columbia Master Book Discography, 4 Volumes, Complied by Brian Rust and Tim Brooks. Reprinted by permission.