Hi Eric:

I can't comment on the Columbia Record Club issues because I've never seen any. Real-deal Mercury 
issues will almost always have one or more of the following scribed or stamped in the deadwax:

1. MONO ERA - "MF" and then a number. This signified the Miller cutterhead and Fine Sound Inc. The 
number is which Miller cutterhead was used (according to what the late Bob Eberenz told me, it was 
nearly impossible to get two Miller cutterheads to sound exactly the same; they were zero-feedback, 
mechanically-damped and the damping was adjusted with pieces of rubber, by hand; the technician 
"tuned" the system for desired frequency response and EQ curve adherence). I have test cuts of one 
side of a Dorati mid-50's record, made with various MF #'s. They all sound different from each 
other, not massively but noticeably, especially with headphones. The Miller's use of no electronic 
feedback was preferred by my father and George Piros, because they felt that it was able to cut loud 
and fast dynamics. The Fine-Fairchild Margin Control was a way to vary groove width and depth 
depending on dynamics and thus fit more time on a side and still keep it trackable. Almost all or 
all mono-era genuine Mercury issues also have an "I" somewhere in the deadwax. This signifies that 
the record was pressed by RCA in Indianapolis. This was the case from at least 1952 onward, was not 
the case pre MG50000 series.

2. STEREO ERA I - The early stereo cuts often have the SR number stamped, along with FR and 
sometimes a number. These were cut by George Piros at Fine Recording. It's not clear to me when 
Piros started scribing "P" and then a number (the first number is the lathe, the second number is 
the Westrex cutterhead -- note the preference for cutter #7 for Mercury). At some point, Geroge 
started scribing the SR number. There are a few scribed by others, probably cut on days when George 
was not there for one reason or another. I think John Johnson cut a couple of stereo sides (as well 
as most of the mono versions of stereo-era releases) and John Quinn may have cut a side here and 
there. The stereo cutting sessions were really "sessions" in that the laquers were cut from a "live" 
3-2 mix made by the producer (my mother). There was no preview head on the tape machine (it was a 
standard Ampex 300-3), so a system was worked out where my mother read ahead in the score and gave 
George hand signals as to up-coming dynamics. He would then control the groove margin and depth 
accordingly, by hand. That's how you cut sides of 20+ minutes and 40+dB dynamic range back in the 
early stereo LP era. Until Philips took control of Mercury, Living Presence LPs were pressed by RCA 
Indianapolis and carry an "I" stamp.

3. STEREO ERA II - Once Philips took over Mercury's pocketbook, they insisted on using in-house 
pressing, which meant Richmond IN. Anything inscribed RFR means it was cut at Fine Recording to be 
pressed at Richmond. There may be an oddball side that was in transition and ended up in fact being 
pressed by RCA, but definitely not by the SR90300's. There are many legitimate complaints about the 
Richmond pressings, especially from the mid-60's onward. Philips' initial release of its own records 
via the Mercury system involved new cuts at Fine Recording (mostly by George Piros, and denoted by 
"RFR" and a "P" number) and pressing at Richmond IN. Note that Philips apparently never got Richmond 
working to their own satisfaction because they took the classical pressing back to Holland in the 
early 70's, reissuing in the US market some of those early 60's records with the Dutch covers and 
Dutch pressing. I have a few titles with both cuts and the Dutch vinyl is much quieter but per 
European MO the Dutch cut at a substantially lower level, so you don't gain that much dynamic range. 
Net-net, I'd say the noise floor is lower on most of the Dutch cuts because the Richmond vinyl could 
be so noisy.

4. MONO DURING STEREO ERA -- Remember that mono LPs outsold stereo up to the mid-60s (see previous 
posts by me and others on this topic). So it was important to have Mercury issues in good-quality 
mono, and this was handled as a seperate process up into at least 1964. At the sessions, the mono 
tapes were still fed from the single (center) mic. Those tapes were edited seperately, using the 
notes made during the stereo editing. John Johnson (JJ) cut most of the mono sides from about 1959 
onward. John had a Scully lathe and Westrex mono cutterhead. I have some photos of Fine Recording 
mid-60's and there still was one Miller cutter in use. It was connected to my dad's old Presto lathe 
and was used by a guy named Steve Robb to cut super-loud 45RPM singles and the few 78RPM sides still 
being cut (kiddie records, almost exclusively). Anyway, mono versions of stereo-era recordings were 
pressed at the same places as the stereo records. Packaging was similar from about 1959 onward. One 
question I got when I did technical history of Mercury Living Presence at AES was, why the separate 
mono master, why not just cut from the center track of the stereo master? The reason is that there 
was noticeable and audible crosstalk, and a higher noise floor, plus the truck had started out mono 
so all the facilities were there to make separate masters so why not do it? There may have been mono 
cuts from the 35mm era made from the film's center track, which had no crosstalk and as good s/n as 
a full-track quarter-inch track. Another good reason was logistics -- the mono team could cut their 
master from the same session notes as the stereo team, at the same time, and cut their laquers at 
the same time in a separate room. I'm not sure how often this actually happened, but the system 
worked well throughout the dual-format era.

5. MONO RE-CUTs - In the 1958-59 timeframe, George Piros re-cut many of the MG sides from 1951-56. 
For the early sides (up to some time in 1954), this brought them into RIAA EQ curve compliance 
(Mercury used the AES curve previous to the RIAA/New Orthophonic curve). It also brought the catalog 
numbers up to date -- the MG40000 (Rochester) series was merged into the MG50000 series, as was the 
MG80000 (chamber music) series. Those late 50's mono cuts were made with a Westrex mono head, not 
the Miller. These were what was in stores in the late 50's and into the 60's. Many of the early-era 
titles were then taken out of print in the 1963 timeframe and replaced with the awful, cheapo Wing 
reissues. These POS disasters (lobbied heavily against by the classical department) did not sell 
well and ended up in dollar cutout bins well into the 70s, sullying and cheapening the brand all 
along (can you tell I _HATE_ those Wing issues?). As far as I know, the Wing sides were cut by 
Mercury's own staff at their cutting facility known as "Mercury Sound Studios" (which was never an 
actual recording studio, despite some discography errors out there -- whole other thread possible on 
that). Speaking of the Wing series, there are one or two titles that came out on CD that turned out 
to have been issued only on Wing records in the LP era. The early 60s recession plus 
Philips-initiated cost-cutting constrained release schedules and Mercury maintained a busy recording 
schedule up into the mid-60's. Another example of a very late after-the-fact release is Dorati's 
Beethoven 7th. That was recorded in London in the early 60's but not released on LP until the very 
late 60's, and then only briefly. It was out on CD longer than it was in print on LP.

OK, there's some fodder for the LP collectors out there. I gave a similar summary to Mike Fremer, 
it's included in the bonus data material for one of his DVD's.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Eric Nagamine" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2012 2:04 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony

> Tom can correct me, but from experience, the Columbia record club pressed
> Mercury's have the block type print in the leadout grooves like the Columbia
> 360 Sound LPs.  I recall usually the code started with the capital M.  The
> retail Mercuries either had the RCA type block print (smaller than the
> Columbias) starting with the FR prefix or later the hand written RFR prefix.
> Over the years the most common club pressings I've seen were things like the
> Dorati stereo Nutcracker. I don't think the more unusual stuff was issued by
> the record club.
> -----------
> Aloha and Mahalo,
> Eric Nagamine
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Steve Smolian
> Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2012 5:05 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
> Is there a particular matrix code that identifies these club issues?
> Steve Smolian
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Tom Fine
> Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:22 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
> Hi Dennis:
> First of all, this is great historical perspective, thanks so much for
> sharing.
> Your mention of the Columbia Record Club jogged my memory. Part of the low
> opinion of Columbia's LP output in Mercury's offices was the bad sound on
> Mercury records sold thru the Club. Columbia insisted on getting 2-track
> tapes and doing their own mastering, at least for part of the "golden era."
> The mastering was deemed timid and weak, and of course that's what Columbia
> was aiming for -- optimal tracking and decent sound on every two-bit console
> player out there.
> None of these deep and
> wide Piros cuts that would jump the grooves on those POS players or make the
> cheap speakers rattle, by golly. But, despite the grumblings, I don't think
> a royalty check from the Club was ever returned!
> By the way, somewhat relevant to this thread -- I just noticed in an old
> Radio & TV New magazine from 1961 a surplus sale on 2-track stereo tapes
> from Mercury, Columbia, RCA and the smaller fry like Livingston and
> StereoTapes. Sold on Radio Row for $2 a tape. By then, all the consumer
> machines were 1/4-track and stereo LPs had taken over the still niche market
> for 2-speaker sound. Fred Plaut was actually correct in a way. According to
> an article John Eargle wrote in the AES Journal in the late 60's urging
> continued mono-stereo compatibility in mixing and mastering, the mono LPs
> outsold stereo until they were taken out of print because retailers refused
> to carry both formats of the same albums, in the mid-60's. As late as the
> 70's, EMI/Capitol/Angel engineer Carson Taylor was using classical recording
> techniques compatible with mono because he knew that European classical
> radio was still mono.
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Dennis Rooney" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2012 5:02 PM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
>>I never read Mike Gray's account in TAS, but here are some thoughts about
>> Columbia based on what I encountered doing CD reissues for Sony Classical.
>> Let me preface them by noting that my experience focused almost
>> exclusively
>> on Masterworks division source.
>> By the mid fifties, Columbia manufactured an excellent Lp physically and
>> their mono disc mastering was unexceptionable.  However, their focus was
>> on
>> mass sales, especially their Columbia Record Club which enabled them to
>> dominate the U.S. market. They emphasized a quality product and had
>> introduced the "360" phonograph in response to the burgeoning interest in
>> "hi-fi". Nevertheless, engineering was not at the forefront of their
>> image.
>> An unwritten rule governed Columbia's disc mastering: "Make it loud, make
>> it present", and the product reflected it, as it had done since CBS bought
>> the label in 1938.
>>>From that time, when mastering began to be done on 16-1/2" lacquers, the
>> assumption was always that the master would INVARIABLY be subjected to
>> post-production, and it continued throughout the Lp era. Whereas Mercury
>> pursued a very different ideal, one as close to the master as possible,
>> Columbia never intended the master to be anything but raw material. EQ,
>> reverb, gain riding and compression all contributed to the released
>> Columbia product from 78rpm to stereo. When I began doing CD reissues of
>> Masterworks material, I was encouraged to always use master generation
>> source. Much of it had been stored for years and often resisted discovery.
>> But Columbia had been careful to preserve session tapes, which meant that
>> enough material existed to fix problems due to wear in the edited
>> originals. In the case of pre-tape material, I was successful in locating
>> original lacquer source, a surprisingly large amount of which had survived
>> in storage for four decades and more in excellent condition.
>> Working with master material, I was pleased to discover a level of audio
>> quality that was far more sophisticated than what the commercial releases
>> suggested. Analogue tape was out of the picture by that time and careful
>> a/d transfers could be further improved by digital noise-reduction
>> software
>> and editing. Use of CEDAR to aid in correct stylus selection before
>> transfer yielded a s/n quotient where the lacquers were very often quieter
>> than the original chain. Most tapes survived in very good condition.
>> Blocking was almost never encountered and the mostly 3M type 111 and
>> Audiotape that had been used had survived extremely well. Binder
>> hydrolysis
>> wasn't a factor until Ampex tapes began to be used in the eighties.
>> Goddard Lieberson was immensely influential in the story of Columbia
>> Masterworks but he was a producer who had faith in his engineers and they
>> achieved the results you hear. Producers and engineers were not named on
>> Columbia records for many years. The brand was the focus. Howard Scott was
>> a principal producer of Masterworks recordings throughout the fifties. He
>> recorded in New York with Fred Plaut (they did Glenn Gould, Isaac Stern,
>> the NY Phil., etc.), and in Philadelphia and Cleveland, with a road crew
>> that usually comprised Harold Chapman ("Chappy") and later Buddy Graham as
>> balance engineers. and Ajutor {"Pappy"} Theroux as tape operator. Chappy
>> was probably the only engineer Columbia had who truly understood
>> stereophony. His setups have a cohensiveness that suggests a superior
>> ability to place microphones. Pappy was a veteran who had been around a
>> long time but not, I think, in the acoustic era. He arrived in advance of
>> the sessions to set up and test the lathes and then the tape recorders.
>> If they were not on the cutting edge of stereophony, those men all were
>> careful craftsman and the studio practices they pursued made Columbia a
>> very well run shop. It was easy for me to fix a bad splice in SONIC but
>> knowing how they often had achieved success with limited means gave new
>> respect to their "old-fashioned" ways.
>> The reason Szell went to Epic was only partially to not dilute Ormandy's
>> sales. Epic had been created to release the Philips recordings that were
>> available when Columbia ended its exchange agreement with EMI in 1952.
>> Philips, a relative newcomer, wanted a U.S. presence. But Willem van
>> Otterloo, Eugen Jochum and Eduard van Beinum had little or no U.S.
>> identity. It was decided that the label needed a major orchestra and
>> conductor at the top of the roster and Szell was chosen. When Bernstein
>> began to make headway against Ormandy on Columbia, the wisdom of that
>> decision was plain.
>> As I believe I wrote earlier, Columbia was resistant to stereo. Plaut
>> particularly doubted that stereo discs would be an important part of the
>> label's sales. 1/4-in two track stereo recordings began in the Masterworks
>> Division with Berstein's MESSIAH in Dec. 1956. Columbia finally got a
>> three-channel 1/2-in. Ampex machine, just one at first, in summer 1957.
>> Afterwards, sessions were often recorded in mono (a&b sets), 2-channel
>> stereo (or binaural, c&d sets) and one 3-channel with a different mix than
>> the binaurual. As soon as more three-track machines arrived, the 1/4-in
>> sets were discontinued.
>> This post is longer than I originally intended. Mea culpa.
>> DDR
>> On Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM, Tom Fine
>> <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>>> What I was always told about Columbia -- and keep in mind this is from
>>> the
>>> perspective of competitors, although my father did have contact here and
>>> there with Columbia over the years, including in the early LP days since
>>> Reeves developed their own microgroove system with Fairchild --  was that
>>> Columbia was very hidebound and conservative in all matters technical.
>>> Their recordings were considered technically "boring" and "dull,"
>>> although
>>> I now thing that was more the fault of their mastering techniques.
>>> Columbia
>>> never embraced 2- or 3- mic stereo, opting for more mics than Mercury or
>>> RCA from the get-go. They also seem to have had some strange procedures
>>> and
>>> techniques, based on what veterans have said and written. And there
>>> seemed
>>> to be technical factions, meaning the product was uniform-sounding or
>>> consistent.
>>> Mike Gray wrote a really good technical history of Columbia that was
>>> published in The Absolute Sound right after they went to the larger
>>> format.
>>> It was the usual Mike article -- well-researched and vault-verified with
>>> cooperation from the company (Sony by then).
>>> Columbia's engineers were capable of excellent classical recordings.
>>> Listen to the CD reissues Dennis Rooney did in the 90's, especially the
>>> Szell albums. To think that Szell was consigned to Epic so as not to
>>> ruffle
>>> Ormandy's sales. No disrespect to Ormandy's many fine albums, but Szell
>>> was
>>> a top-league conductor and he had Cleveland in top-league playing
>>> condition
>>> throughout his Epic career.
>>> One thing both RCA and Columbia had to deal with in the 1950's is that
>>> their technical staffs were led by guys (all men) who came up cutting
>>> 78RPM
>>> disks, sometimes going back to the acoustical-recording era. This was the
>>> same thing as in later years getting guys who came up in the early 60's
>>> to
>>> get into the age of DAWs and digital editing. There's a friction of the
>>> old
>>> against the new. Stereophony was just too new for some of the old hands.
>>> Notice that the smaller companies who jumped into stereophony early and
>>> with both feet tended to have younger technical people involved in the
>>> recording and production, and stereotypically (pun intended), younger
>>> people tend to be more open to new ideas and techniques. This is ironic,
>>> because 2-channel stereophony was proven and tested in the 1930's when
>>> some
>>> of the old guard were still kids.
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "David Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:31 AM
>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
>>>  In his liner notes to "The Birth of the Third Stream" (Columbia CK
>>> 64829)
>>>> George Avakian touches on, but does not elaborate,
>>>> that some experimental stereo recording was made during the June 1957
>>>> sessions for the Adventures in Sound LP "Modern
>>>> Jazz Concert" but does not elaborate. Back when the CD was released I
>>>> sent
>>>> a query through the Sony grapevine, and what
>>>> came back was that the stereo equipment had just arrived at Columbia but
>>>> no
>>>> one really knew how to operate it, and that some
>>>> testing was done for the "Modern Jazz Concert" album in stereo, but none
>>>> was usable, and none was saved.
>>>> I guess they had figured it out at least by the time of Stravinsky's
>>>> "Agon"
>>>> in 1958. If, as Tom said, Mercury was "late in the game"
>>>> in 1955 in dealing with the stereo phenomenon, then Columbia was almost
>>>> not
>>>> in the game at all. Personal opinion: Once they did
>>>> get it going, stereo did provide for a big boost in their overall
>>>> sound quality, though that opinion may be influenced by shoddy
>>>> mastering/pressing and the tattered condition of some mono Columbia
>>>> tapes
>>>> that have come down to us.
>>>> Uncle Dave Lewis
>>>> Lebanon, OH
>>>> On Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 11:54 AM, Dennis Rooney
>>>> <[log in to unmask]>
>>>> **wrote:
>>>>  I found no reference to the MAR items in my archival research on
>>>> Szell's
>>>>> Columbia/Epic recordings. It's entirely possible that RCA recorded
>>>>> them.
>>>>> There was great resistance to stereo from Fred Plaut and others. and I
>>>>> never found any evidence of experimental binaural setups that preceded
>>>>> the*Messiah
>>>>> * of Dec. 1956. However, when inspecting the tapes at IMAR, I came
>>>>> across
>>>>> an Ormandy/PO recording (I no longer remember the repertoire) recorded
>>>>> c1955 in 3-track, 1/4-inch format. The contents were never released.
>>>>> DDR
>> -- 
>> Dennis D. Rooney
>> 303 W. 66th Street, 9HE
>> New York, NY 10023
>> 212.874.9626