- The Victor Red Seal Discography, Volume 1: Single-Sided Series (1903–1925)
The Victor Talking Machine Company, and its descendent RCA Victor, was the most important American recording company during the 78 rpm era. Ted Fagan and the late William R. Moran began a comprehensive discography of Victor recordings in the early 1980s, a project which ended after publication of the second volume (Ted Fagan and William. R. Moran, The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings: Pre-Matrix Series—12 January 1900 to 23 April 1903 [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983], and The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings: Matrix Series —1 Through 4999, 23 April 1903 to 7 January 1908 [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986]). Fagan and Moran set out to document all recordings made by Victor in all genres, including the ubiquitous black [End Page 407] label popular recordings, Red Seal classical discs, along with the purple- and blue label records that straddled the fence between the classical and popular fields (the single-faced purple and double-faced blue labels began as a vaudeville-oriented series, soon expanding to include classical performers who had not attained "Red Seal" status).
Fagan and Moran organized their work chronologically by matrix number, sometimes called the serial number, beginning when Victor founder Eldridge Johnson began his recording log on 28 June 1900. During the time period covered by their first installment Victor, and its predecessor The Consolidated Talking Machine Company, made no distinction between matrix numbers and catalog (issue) numbers. Beginning on 23 April 1903, the point of division between the two volumes, Victor began differentiating between the two. This change coincided with Victor's introduction of the three-step mass duplication process, which would continue to be used throughout the era of the flat-disc record. Matrix numbers were assigned to every wax master made by Victor, regardless of whether the record would ultimately be approved for publication. The advantage of Fagan and Moran's approach is the listing of every recording made by Victor, both published and unpublished. The authors also included considerable background on the early history of Eldridge Johnson's companies and the evolution of his numbering system. Particularly valuable is the reprint, in their first installment, of the article "The Victor Talking Machine Company" by Benjamin R. Aldridge, originally published in 1964 by the RCA Sales Corporation, and intended only for "in-house" use. In addition to the main listing by matrix number, the authors also offered a chronological listing by recording session, along with indexes by title and artist.
John R. Bolig is best known for his discographies of the recordings of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (John R. Bolig, Caruso Records [Highlands Ranch, CO: Mainspring Press, 2002], reviewed in Notes 60, no. 3 [March 2004]: 700–03). Like his predecessors Fagan and Moran, Bolig has based his latest work on extensive research in the archives of BMG, which, fortunately, preserves most of the recording logs of the Victor company. In his new Victor discography, Bolig has narrowed the focus to include only Victor Red Seal recordings. "Red Seal" was Victor's "celebrity" label, devoted to the finest classical recording artists on the Victor roster, and although Victor first issued double-faced discs in 1908, the Red Seal catalog remained exclusively single-faced until 1923. Between 1923 and the demise of acoustical recording in 1925 (Bolig's cut-off point for the first volume), Victor issued most Red Seal recordings in both single- and double-faced format, though some very late acoustics were issued only as double-faced records.
Bolig's introductory pages offer a wealth of information that will be extremely helpful to users of his discography, including a brief discussion of acoustical recording, the origins of the red label on "celebrity" recordings, and an overview of the archives and log books researched during the preparation of The Victor Red Seal Discography. Bolig also discusses Victor's cataloguing system and the rationale for the various series numbers assigned to...