Understanding labels and pressings

Very experienced collectors know a lot about different labels & pressings of collectable LPs, and they know which ones they want to buy. But if you are less experienced, it can be difficult to be sure which label or pressing to buy, particularly as not all sellers are consistent. So I want to give you the information you need to make the right choice for you.

Table of contents

Decca SXL

Wide band

So first let’s look at a “wide band” Decca label.

Decca Wide Band

It has “ffss” in a silver circle at the top of the label. The “wide band” is the the silver band just above the spindle hole, that says “Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound”.

About 20 years ago, collectors divided Decca SXL wide band labels into 3 categories.

ED1

ED1 is the first wide band label. They have “Original Recording" between 9 & 12 o'clock, round the edge of the label. And they have a groove in the vinyl, under the label, about 1cm from the outer edge of the label. This groove is what makes it a “groove pressing”.

Decca ED1

All the SXL 2000 series have an ED1 label, as their first label, A lot of SXL 6000s series have ED1 as their first label too. We’ll talk more about that later.

ED2

ED2 is the second wide band label. They have "Made in England" between 9 & 12 o'clock, round the edge of the label. And they have a groove in the vinyl, under the label, about 1cm from the outer edge of the label.

Decca ED2

For early SXLs, SXL 2000 series and many SXL 6000 series, ED2 is not the original label, as the original label is ED1. But there are many in the SXL 6000 series where ED2 is the original label, and no ED1 label exists. All SXL wide bands from SXL 6364 onward have ED2 or ED3 as the original label. But so do many earlier SXL 6000 series. Again we’ll talk more about that later

ED3

ED3 is the third and last wide band label. They have "Made in England" between 9 & 12 o'clock, round the edge of the label, but they don’t have a groove in the pressing.

Decca ED3

Again, ED3 is the original label for many SXLs. But where ED2 is the original label, then ED3 is the second label. And where ED1 is the original label, ED3 is the third label. So, for example, if you have an SXL 2000 series with an ED3 label, then it is the third label.

Narrow band

The last ED3 is SXL 6448. All SXLs from SXL 6449 onwards have a narrow band label as their original label. Some call this ED4. English pressed narrow band labels have a silver rectangle that says DECCA, and “Made in England” in small print above the rectangle. As you can see the silver band saying “Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound” (below the rectangle), is narrower than the wide band on ED1, ED2, ED3.

Decca Narrow Band

Dutch pressings

In 1979 Decca moved their pressing plant to Holland. SXLs pressed in Holland say “Made in Holland” at the bottom of the label. I call these “Dutch pressings”. All Decca records issued from 1980 onwards are Dutch pressings. A few SXLs issued in 1979 are English pressings, but most are Dutch pressings.

Decca Dutch Pressing

So that’s rather complicated, isn’t it! But I’m afraid it gets a lot more complicated when we look at which SXLs have ED1, or ED2, or ED3 as their original label. The highest number ED1 in the SXL 6000 series that I have ever seen is SXL 6363. That was issued in 1968. But a lot of lower numbered SXL 6000s don’t have an ED1 label, their original label is ED2. The lowest number original ED3 is SXL 6355 and the last ED3 is SXL 6448

Blue back sleeves

A few of the earliest SXL 2000 series have a “blue back sleeve”. Sometimes described as a “blue riband”

Blue Band Sleeve

These are quite rare, and only the first few SXLs issued had these sleeves on the earliest pressing. The last blue back sleeve I know of is SXL 2115, but there are probably earlier numbers where no blue back sleeve exists

Which Decca SXL label should you buy?

Some collectors want original labels. These are often the most expensive. They are certainly the most “collectable”. Many collectors believe that original labels have the best sound, but I don’t agree that this is always the case. Vinyl from the late 1950s and early 1960s has a slightly noisier surface than vinyl pressed in the mid 1960s onwards. You get a quieter surface on ED2 pressings and on ED3 pressings. They are all “audiophile” pressings with superb sound quality. As indeed are very many narrow bands. Second and third labels are a good deal less expensive than “original” labels, and I recommend them, as it is sound quality that interests me most. So you don’t need to spend a fortune to start to build up a superb-sounding collection of SXLs.

Note: Some less experienced sellers have recently been using the term ED1 incorrectly. They think ED1 means “first edition”. They call an any SXL that it is the first pressing of that recording “ED1”. I have seen original ED3 labels described as ED1. The unwary buyer thinks they have found a very rare item with an ED1 label. You can be sure if you buy from Spiral Classics that when I say that the label is ED1, it is the ED1 label that I have shown you above.

Columbia SAX labels

Columbia SAXs are another superb-sounding series, pressed by EMI. SAX numbers run from SAX 2252 to SAX 2589, and from SAX 5251 to SAX 5294.

Silver/blue

The first label is the original silver/blue label, pale blue with silver curved lines.

Columbia Silver Blue

The highest number SAX silver/blue label is SAX 2538. But there are many earlier SAX numbers where there is no silver/blue label.

Red semi-circle

The second label is the red semi-circle label.

Columbia Semi-circle

This is the original label for SAX 2526 & SAX 2527. The next original semi-circles are SAX 2532, SAX 2534, SAX 2536, SAX 2537. From SAX 2539 onwards no silver/blue label exists, so the semi-circle label is the original. So all the SAX 5000 series have semi-circle as their original label. The highest SAX is SAX 5294

Magic notes

The third label is the red label with musical notes and the word “Columbia” in a black rectangle.

ColumbiaRectangle

There’s various ways of describing this one. “Magic notes label”, “magic notes in stamp” label, “rectangle label”, “stamp label”. This is the second label for all SAXs that have the semi-circle label as the original, and the third label for the early SAX’s that have a silver/blue label as the first label.

Which Columbia SAX label should you buy?

I do hear some differences between blue/silver labels and semi-circle labels where the semi-circle is the second label. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the that the blue/silver labels are the “best”. You usually get a quieter surface on semi-circle label records than blue/silver label ones, and their sound quality is also superb. And of course when the semi-circle is the second label, it’s much more reasonably priced than the original silver/blue. I have sometimes been disappointed by the stamp label particularly when it’s the third label for that issue. When it’s the second label I’m less likely to be disappointed by the sound. They are very good value, particularly when the original is extremely expensive.

HMV ASD series

The earliest ASDs have 3 digits after ASD. The first one is ASD 251 Scheherazade, conducted Beecham, and was issued in 1958, and the last one was ASD 655, Jacqueline Du Pre and Janet Baker, conducted Barbirolli, issued in 1965.

White/gold

From ASD 251 to ASD 575, the first label is called “white/gold”

White/gold

Semi-circle

From ASD 576 up to ASD 655 the original label is “semi-circle”. The label shows the painting of “Nipper”, the HMV dog, hearing His Masters Voice the horn of an early gramophone. The picture is in a semi-circle with HIS MASTER’S VOICE in white above it.

Semi-circle

This is also the original label for the some of the ASD four digit record codes. These start with ASD 2251. The last semi-circle label ASD is ASD 2478. There is no semi-circle label for ASD 2476

HMV/Melodiya

Just to confuse us, there’s a lot of ASDs below ASD 2478 where there is no semi-circle label. These are LPs that were recorded by Melodiya in the USSR and pressed by HMV in the UK. These are HMV/Melodiya. The first of these that I know of is ASD 2407, Oistrakh. This is their original label:

HMV/Melodiya

Just like the UK recorded ASDs, the HMV/Melodiyas have superb sound.

Original coloured dog/stamp

From ASD 2485 onwards the original label for the UK recordings is “original coloured dog/stamp”. (Sometimes I abbreviate this to “orig col dog/stamp”)

Original coloured dog/stamp

The coloured “dog/stamp” is easy to identify. The dog Nipper is in rectangle that’s a bit like a postage stamp. But this “early” dog in stamp label mustn’t be confused with the “late” dog in stamp from the early 1980s. This “early” or “original” dog in stamp is on a solid red background. (The “late coloured dog/stamp” has a white circle round the edge of the label).

The last original coloured dog/stamp I have seen is ASD 2809. But there are many ASD numbers before this where the original label is the next label: “black & white dog/stamp”. One example of this is ASD 2719.

Black & white dog/stamp

So what does the “black & white dog/stamp” label look like? As you can no doubt guess the picture of Nipper in the rectangle is in black & white rather than colour. And it has a white line round the circumference.

Black & white dog/stamp

The last black/white dog/stamp I have seen is ASD 3807

Late coloured dog/stamp

Then comes the late coloured dog/stamp which has a white line round the circumference.

Late coloured dog/stamp

Large dog

The last HMV label is the “large dog” label. These are often German pressings.

Large dog

Which HMV ASD label should you buy?

Nearly all the HMV pressings have superb sound, when they are the original label for that record code. Just like I’ve said for SAXs, I find that the second label for the early ASDs also have superb sound, and slightly quieter vinyl. I find both the early white/gold label, and the semi-circle label, whether original or second label, are wonderful.

Black/white dog stamps are also splendid, when they are the original label for that issue. I have occasionally been disappointed when they are not the original label, but that disappointment is rare. The HMV/Melodiyas show how good the Russian recordings are. When combined with the UK pressings they are outstanding.

Further plans

Over the next few months I'll be telling you about RCA SB, Lyrita SRCS and lots lots more about the Golden Age of English Classical LPs. I'll also be looking at the great mono labels as well as the stereos. So please come back to this page in a month or two's time