Columbia Corporate History: The Climax Label

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

Since the Jones patent had not actually been granted yet, Columbia had to be cautious. It opened conversations with the Burt Company of Millburn, New Jersey, a manufacturer of billiard balls and poker chips, which had previously done pressing work for Berliner.9 Burt hired recording engineer John English from Zon-O-Phone in March 1901, and in August established the Globe Record Company as a subsidiary (presumably to protect Burt itself from lawsuits). Shortly thereafter Globe began producing its first 7” Climax discs, with an embossed label containing minimal information, and no patents. A typical label read as follows:


Globe Record Co.

New York


The Girl I Loved In Sunny Tennessee

Dudley & McDonald


It is unclear whether Globe ever attempted to sell these records itself, or if they were sold by Columbia from the start. The latter seems likely. Embossed Climaxes are exceptionally rare, and numbered only up to about no. 300. Almost immediately Globe switched to paper labels which read, “Climax Record—G.R. Co., Mf’d solely for Columbia Phonograph Co., New York, London.” At first these gold-on-black paper labels were pasted over the original embossed “Globe” identification, with the raised lettering clearly visible underneath. A few semi-flexible examples have also been reported.

The connection between Climax and Zon-O-Phone is tantalizing, and has never been fully explained. Consider the similarities. The same recording engineer (English) was in charge of both. Artists were largely the same, including studio bandleader Fred Hager, while Columbia’s musical director (for cylinders) was Charles A. Prince. Zon-O-Phone and Climax discs even look similar, with a small indentation on the blank side, meant to engage a small pin on Zon-O-Phone turntables. A few Climax discs even bear Zon-O-Phone warning labels on the reverse. Besides the normal Climax/Columbia matrix number, beginning at no. 1 (“In a Clock Store”), about 70 of the first 800 Climaxes have been found to bear in the wax another, “phantom” number, possibly denoting a different recording laboratory (for further discussion see “Numbering, Physical Characteristics and Miscellaneous,” later in this chapter). While no Zon-O-Phone masters have so far been found on Climax, it is possible that initially the two labels recorded in the same studio, and/or were pressed at the same plant.

Simultaneously with the introduction of Climax records Columbia introduced its first regular disc graphophones, the $20 “AJ” with a 7” turntable and the $30 “AH” with a 10” turntable.10

Columbia usually launched its new products with a splash, but it was uncharacteristically quiet about this venture. Although no introductory advertisements or catalogs have been found, both machines and discs appear to have been introduced during early October 1901. A story about their debut appeared in the October 12, 1901, Music Trade Review, and shipments of machines to dealers have been documented as early as October 3rd.11 A brief mention of the discs appeared in a Columbia trade advertisement in the November 16, 1901, Music Trade Review. Finally, on December 10, 1901, the Jones patent was issued and the company could breathe a little easier. This patent date appeared prominently on Columbia disc products for many years to come.

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