Berliner User's Guide [excerpts]
Berliner Gramophone Records: American Issues, 1892-1900, compiled by Paul Charosh.
This discography cites more than three thousand takes of twenty-three hundred different catalogue numbers appearing on seven-inch discs in the United States. The compiler believes that this represents approximately seventy percent of those assigned. We do not know how files on recording activities were kept, for none appear to have survived. The discography contains information available in known catalogues and on records themselves, presented in the format described below.
Berliner employed two numbering systems. The first was a “block series” drawing on masters recorded from 1892 to March 1899. The second, here called “the ’0’ series” replaced the block series in March 1899 and was used until Berliner ceased operations in the spring of 1900.
The Block Series: numbers 1 – 8021
The organizing concepts are title and performance type, perhaps suggested to Berliner by the organization of music publishers’ catalogues. All similar performances of the same title shared a catalogue number, regardless of who the artist was. Thus number 464 was assigned to “Narcissus,” recorded as banjo solos on different occasions by both Joseph Cullen and Vess L. Ossman.
Band records are grouped together in numerical sequence, as are performances by various instruments, male vocals, female vocals, vocal quartets and so on. The lowest number in each block is almost always apparent but the highest number used is sometimes unknown because of gaps between known numbers in the upper range of one block and the lower range of the next sequence. For example, piano solos begin at 250 and are not known above 272. The next known disc is 300, the first in a series of clarionet solos. We do not know whether numbers 273 – 299 were assigned.
A list of the blocks follows:
150 male vocal solos
200 cornet solos and duets
250 piano solos
300 clarionet solos and duets
350 soprano solos
400 miscellaneous: animal imitations, whistling, laughing, Native American music, “Hebrew
melody,” boy soprano, etcetera.
450 banjo solos and duets
500 male vocal solos
550 contralto solos
700 drum and fife corps
725 minstrel dialect specialties – sung and spoken
750 children’s selections
800 brass quartets and quintets
850 male vocal quartets
900 male vocal solos
1000 foreign language – Greek and Turkish
1100 foreign language – Italian
1200 foreign language – Spanish
1300 foreign language – French and Turkish
1400 foreign language – Turkish
1500 foreign language – German
1600 male vocal solos
2000 Salvation Army solos
2551 tenor solo; a single number recorded two weeks before the block series was abandoned,
and perhaps not part of a sequence in fact used for other recordings.
2975 foreign language – Swedish
3000 vocal duets
3179 concerted vocal
3208 special cornet recording; because it stands alone the compiler cannot place it in context
3250 xylophone solos
3300 trombone solos
3400 bugle, cornet solos, cornet and trombone duets
3635 cornet duets
3650 female vocal solos
3900 saxophone solos
4150 euphonium solos
4250 male vocal quartets
4800 violin solos
5900 banjo solos
5950 banjo duets
6000 spoken and minstrel specialties
7747 clarionet duets
The careful reader will find occasional anomalies. For example, 259 is a cornet solo, although it falls in a block apparently otherwise assigned to piano recordings. Such aberrations appear to reflect occasional carelessness at the Berliner laboratory, and the compiler attributes no particular significance to their occurrence.
Another peculiarity does require explanation. Sometimes, two different titles are assigned to the same catalogue number. The compiler suggests that when Berliner (or whoever managed the record-keeping system) decided not to re-record a title in a given performance, he sometimes re-assigned the number to a different title. Thus, we find 139 assigned to a band recording of “After the Ball” on a list of plates recorded before 1895. The number is absent from an 1897 catalogue, but was assigned again in 1898 to the Sousa Band version of “A Hot Time in the Old Town.” Generally, this practice involves re-using numbers initially assigned before 1896.
. . . Based upon inspection of many hundreds of discs, the compiler concluded that usually the first take of a catalogue number was not assigned a letter suffix. The second take was distinguished by the letter “Z” following the catalogue number; the third by “Y”, and so on, working backwards. One also observes “ZZ” and “YY” on the discs. The reason for their use is not obvious, and speculation is not offered.
The compiler has attempted to list the multiple takes of each number in the chronological sequence in which they were recorded. For each catalogue number, takes recorded before June 1896 and those not bearing letter suffices (i.e., “ns” takes) are listed before those with letter suffices. The Z, Y, X, and other single letter takes follow in descending order. ZZ, YY, and XX suffices appear next. This sequence often reflects the chronological sequence of recording, although there are exceptions. Catalogues do not report letter suffices, and entries taken from such sources appear last, if they were recorded after 1896. Infrequently, letter suffices were used more than once, as on numbers 175, 196, and 705. The compiler cannot account for this practice. . . .
The “O” Series: numbers 01 – 01304
In March 1899 Berliner began numbering his discs consecutively. In this series, each title recorded by a specific artist is assigned its own number. Therefore we no longer find performances by different artists assigned to the same catalogue number. A remnant of the block concept survives in the form of a letter, usually beneath the catalogue number, reflecting performance type. All similar performances are assigned the same letter. For example, all band recordings are associated with the letter “A.” These letters are not included in the body of the discography. . . .
Source of information if a specimen has not been located
List of Plates in Stock, United States Gramophone Co., 1 November 1894
List of Plates, United States Gramophone Co., January 1895
Advance List of New Plates, United States Gramophone Co., 20 April 1895
Advance List of New Records, United States Gramophone Co., 10 May 1895
Supplementary List of Records, United States Gramophone Co., 10 June 1895
List in Emile Berliner’s hand, 29 July 1895
Supplement List of New Gramophone Records, Berliner Gramophone Company, June 1896
Record Catalogue, National Gramophone Co., undated, c. September 1897
List of New Records, National Gramophone Co., 10 September 1897
Supplementary List of New Records for October , National Gramophone Company
Supplement List, National Gramophone Company, 1 April 1898
Descriptive Catalogue, Wonder Bell Talking Machine Co., undated, c. 1898
Record Catalogue, National Gram-o-phone Company, October 1898
Stock List – Record Catalogue [published in England], 16 November 1898
Addenda to October  Catalogue, National Gramophone Company, 1 December 1898
American Stock List – Record Catalogue [published in England], 22 February 1899
Record Catalogue, National Gram-o-phone Company, April 1899
Record Catalogue, National Gram-o-phone Company, June 1899
The Gram-o-phone Record, vol. 1, no. 1, New York, 10 May 1899
The Gram-o-phone Record, vol. 1, no. 6, New York, 10 October 1899
Gram-o-phone Record Catalogue, National Gram-o-phone Company, December 1899
Raymond R. Wile, “Reconstructed Recording Listings for the Berliner Gramophone Company, April-May 1900,” The New Amberola Graphic, no. 68 (April 1989), 7-11.
A complete catalogue of Gram-o-phone Records for the Berliner Gram-o-phone, undated, c. June 1900
Bargain List, Seven Inch Berliner and Zonophone Records, Sherman Clay & Co., 15 August 1902
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Berliner Gramophone Records in America: A Discography. Compiled by Paul Charosh. Reprinted by permission.