Some further information, for LP collectors. The key to knowing Mercury pressings is the deadwax,
not necessarily the label color.
1. in the MONO era, 1951-57, the first edition MG series will almost always have a "MF" and number.
This indicates Miller cutterhead, Fine Sound Studios. On many of them, maybe all of them, there is
an "I" indicating pressed at RCA Indianapolis. The number after MF indicates the specific
2. in the EARLY STEREO era, 1958 to about 1962, there will be a "FR" for Fine Recording, usually a
"P" followed by two numbers, indicating a George Piros cut and the lathe number and cutterhead
number. Anything pressed by RCA will have an "I" and the stamper numbers such as "A1."
3. in the PHILIPS era, from about 1963 onward (might be earlier), there will be "RFR", which
indicates Fine Recording cut, Richmond pressing. The "P" numbers will be there, but no RCA markings.
Some of these are better than others. The Richmond plant, even when the Mercury Living Presence
staff was riding herd on quality control, was incapable of consistently high quality output in the
league of RCA.
4. most MONO cuts from the STEREO era, circa 1958-1965, will carry the "JJ" mark, meaning they were
mastered by John Johnson. Keep in mind that mono LPs outsold stereo until retailers stopped
carrying double inventory (see John Eargle's article in the JAES about stereo-mono compatibility,
which includes RIAA sales figures from the start of the stereo era through the mid-60's).
In today's collector market, the most coveted Mercury Living Presence LPs are the original early
stereo records, those pressed at RCA. The first editions usually have a glossy laminate on a true
lithographed cover, and include a strip of color graphics on the back. Later versions, manufactured
at Richmond, don't have the glossy laminate, sometimes don't have color on the back, and are made of
lighter cardboard. I always tell LP nuts, avoid any later pressings, definitely avoid any Wing
reissues of any MLP content, and consider carefully if you want any vinyl version of something
released on CD. My mother always said, and I very much agree, that the digital releases are closer
in sound to the master tapes than the original LPs. This is due to the fact that LP cutting
inherently imposes limits on frequency response and dynamics, the LP release medium has a very
audible noise floor, which reduces net s/n quite a bit, and early stereo cutting was an imperfect
craft. I do agree with some of the LP diehards that the artifact of the early LPs is much more
beautiful presentation than the CDs, despite the carefully prepared and edited booklet notes in the
original 1990s CD issues. So I tell people, if you can get your favorite material in original LP
format at a bargain price, frame the cover.
But listen to the CD if you want to hear all the splendor of the performance and recording. There
are a few exceptions to this statement, cases where the source tape for the original LP was superior
(because the first-generation tape was lost or known destroyed by the time the CDs were made). And,
to my ears, Bernie Grundman's LP cuts, directly from my mother's original playback gear and
first-generation 3-track sources, released by Classic Records in the mid-90's, are the best Mercury
LPs. Cutting technology had advanced quite a bit in 35 years, and Bernie is a real ace. He turned
off all the dynamics-limiting automation and cut it old-school, with my mother reading ahead in the
scores and signalling dynamics changes just like she had done with George Piros for the original
LPs. Combine Bernie's great cuts with RTI's superior pressing and really great LPs resulted.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Tom Fine" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, February 20, 2016 8:00 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] A couple of Mercury questions for Tom Fine
> Hi Eric:
> I don't have answers to all your questions, but some info. See below.
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Eric Nagamine" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Saturday, February 20, 2016 3:21 AM
> Subject: [ARSCLIST] A couple of Mercury questions for Tom Fine
>> Hopefully Tom can answer a couple of questions..
>> 1. I've been sorting through a deceased friend's collection and I
>> noticed there were many different colored labels in addition to the normal
>> Dark Plum or later Red labels. There's the common white label promo, but
>> I've also found Pink, Green, Yellow and Gold labels in place of the normal
>> plum or red labels on stereo SR series discs. Some say promo and some don't.
>> Any significance in this? I know some of the early mono Mercuries have the
>> Gold Label and I think so does the Civil War sets, but these are not those.
> First of all see this, from the late Ron Pendorf
> Ron got his information directly from Harold Lawrence, so I assume it's correct. Ron doesn't
> address the green, pink and yellow labels I have seen from time to time. I assume they have to do
> with promotional or other uses. Ping me off-list with some deadwax info on those records and maybe
> we can figure out some things. One thing I can tell you is that the non-glossy sleeves of early
> issues, even if they have color printing on the back, indicate an inferior pressing from Mercury's
> own Richmond IN plant. The best pressings, 1951 through about 1962, were done at RCA Indianapolis
> and have an "I" somewhere in the deadwax. What has surprised me is how bad the Richmond "for
> broadcast only" white-label pressings are! Those were supposed to be the best vinyl, for
> broadcast. The examples I have did not shine a nice light on the quality of Mercury's plant.
>> 2. Do you know if the Dorati/Minneapolis Copland 3rd in the most
>> recent Mercury box has the uncut version of the finale? From what I
>> understand, every recording from the late 50's on use Leonard Bernstein's
>> cuts from the late 40's, even the 2 Copland led recordings.
> I am not familiar enough with the work to know the answer. Here is a video said to be of that
> BY THE WAY -- I can tell you that all the wow and flutter and distortion you hear in this lousy
> transfer DON't EXIST in the new CD reissue, thanks to Plangent Process. The work is available in
> Box Set 3 and as a 96/24 download from HDTracks. We also got a much more full sonic spectrum,
> thanks to Andy Walter at Abbey Road Studios. If there were enough potential sales, and thus
> interest from the corporate parent, I'd remaster all the mono recordings the way we did Copland
>> Thanks for any light you can shed on this.
> You're welcome!
>> Eric Nagamine