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Brunswick and Vocalion
History of Recorded Sound in Canada


by Steven C. Barr

     Two record manufacturers later became one, Brunswick and Vocalion. Both were the product of established firms which entered the phonograph and record business: Brunswick of Brunswick-Balke-Collender, manufacturers of billiard tables, and Vocalion of the Aeolian Company, manufacturers of pianos and later player pianos.

     The Brunswick label was introduced, oddly enough, in Canada, in late 1916 or early 1917. Brunswick offered one of the few phonographs which would play both lateral and vertical cut records, including Pathé records (a third option for Edison Diamond Discs was later added). Apparently this enabled them to reach an agreement with Pathé to manufacture Pathé-style sapphire-ball records in Canada under the Brunswick name. These issues, avidly sought by U.S. collectors, appeared in a 5000 series, with the first issues bearing a gold-on-green label in rustic design. In 1918 or 1919, the more familiar black, white and gold label was introduced, with the records bearing the legend "Jewel Point Record" under the Brunswick name. "Premium" records had a red, rather than a black, label, and had a "1" added in front of their sequential 5000 numbers.

     In late 1919, after the patent question had been settled, Brunswick launched a line of lateral-cut records in a 2000 series. These were issued simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada with master numbers apparently continuing from the vertical series (which was phased out shortly thereafter). Brunswick did not designate takes until 1928, assigning a separate number to each take instead. The 2000 popular series was augmented by a 5000 premium series, duplicating earlier Canadian numbers, on a violet label, a 13000 blue-label series, a 10000 classical series (single-sided), and in 12" a 20000 popular series, 25000 premium series and 30000 and 35000 single-sided popular records. In 1923, after Victor converted their Red Seal series to double-sided, Brunswick introduced their "Hall of Fame" series, 15000 for 10" and 50000 for 12", with a gold label, and dropped the single-sided classical series. The 5000 violet label series was also dropped, with material renumbered as 2000s.

     In 1924, Brunswick replaced the attractive multi-coloured label with a gold-on-black (reversed on classical series) shield label. The older style was retained in Canada for a few months. Also, master numbers disappeared from the records. In late 1925, Brunswick introduced electric recording, with many 2900s and all records thereafter being electric. In 1926, these were designated as "Light Ray Electric Recordings", a designation which shortly thereafter disappeared from the labels. Brunswick, while not the first firm to offer electric recordings, was the first firm to offer electric reproduction, with their Panatrope electric phonograph introduced simultaneously with electric recordings. In 1928 Brunswick dropped the A and B designations on the sides of records, instead underlining the preferred side. From this point until 1930 Canadian issues can be recognized by the catalogue number appearing in parentheses - reason unknown. Also, from 1927 until 1930, the last two or three digits of the master number appear in tiny print in the run-out area sporadically, more often on Canadian issues. Judging from U.K. issues, the full information may have been in the label area, which was unfortunately removed during processing of the stampers.

     In 1930, the parent firm, discovering that the record business was no longer profitable, sold their record operation to Warner Brothers, the movie firm, who intended to tie it in with their film business. Even the appearance of film stars on record failed to sell Brunswicks, however, and in 1932 the label was acquired by the American Record Corporation, with the Canadian operations dropped, as ARC was tied in with the Compo Company in Canada. During the Warner era, Brunswick records were credited to "The Brunswick Radio Corporation", sometimes with a sub-credit to Warner Brothers. In this period, in 1931, Brunswick introduced the Melotone label in the U.S. and Canada to compete with other cheaper lines of records.

     Subsequent to 1932, Brunswick records only appeared in Canada for a short period in 1932-33 pressed by Compo. In 1933 Compo dropped the Brunswick label and all connection with ARC in 1936 when the Decca label became a Compo-pressed label. It has now been established that Brunswick, Columbia, Vocalion and Perfect records were imported, presumably, and distributed by a firm named "Canada Record Company" operating from 124 Dundas St. W. in Toronto. Compo also pressed Melotone records after 1932 until 1942. The Melotone label was still in use by Compo and the remaining ARC labels were all pressed for various stores in the U.S. Although there is still considerable research to be done, it is worth noting that there is a definite similarity, including identical typefaces, between the supplements issued for these labels and a 1940 Compo-Decca catalogue in my ownership. It remains to be discovered whether this firm started in 1936 to distribute ARC pressings or earlier to distribute Columbia and post-1934 Brunswick records. In the U.S., ARC continued Brunswick until they themselves were acquired by CBS in 1938. CBS reactivated the dormant Columbia label and gradually phased out Brunswick in 1940, selling the name and master rights to Decca in 1943 who launched an 80000 series of collectors' reissues (pressed in Canada by Compo) and then reactivated the label in the mid- 1950s as a pop label numbered in a 55000 series.

     The "Aeolian-Vocalion" label appeared in the U.S. in late 1917, first as a 1200, then 12000 series of vertical-cut records. Unlike the records then available, they were a reddish-brown colour, and the company's promotional material stressed the "red records". After it became legal, the company launched a line of lateral records in a 14000 series in 1919. The "Aeolian" was dropped from the unwieldy name in 1920 and the label became "Vocalion". Until 1921, although the records were sold in Canada, they were apparently imported. In 1921, Vocalion records began appearing in the more usual black with the words "Made in Canada" in the run-out. The first pressings used U.S. labels; however, within a year a Canadian label was issued with credits in an entirely different typeface. In 1925 Brunswick acquired the record operations of the company, and issued Vocalion as a subsidiary label. Numbers by this time reached 15000. Brunswick pressed the Vocalions in black, rather than red. Due to the scarcity of post-1925 Vocalions, it is not clear whether they were pressed in Canada in the Brunswick era. From 1929, the label was all but phased out, with but a handful issued, except on the 1000 race and the 5000 country series. The label was acquired by ARC in 1932 with Brunswick and thereafter never appeared in Canada.

     In 1933, ARC started a new series at 25000 (quickly becoming 2500's) and several label designs were used until a blue-and-gold design in 1937. The blue-label Vocalions appear frequently in Canada and may have been imported. In 1938 ARC dropped all of the budget labels but Vocalion; the label was continued after the Columbia takeover until 1940 when it became Okeh, using the same numbers. These were not pressed in Canada, but much of the material from 1940 on appeared on the Canadian Columbia C-series. When Decca acquired the rights to Brunswick in 1943, Vocalion was included, and the label was revived in 1949 for a short time, then used from the late 1950s on as a designation for a line of budget LPs.