History of Canadian record companies

Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada

Background & Berliner in the United States

When Emile Berliner first established the United States Gramophone Company in 1893, the recording industry was already eight years old; it had been a tumultuous beginning for the business, marked by a race to register patents, industrial espionage, and personal rivalries. The next six years would bring more conflict, and in the end would lead to Berliner's decision to give up control of his patents in the United States to his associate, Eldridge Johnson, and establish an independent company in Canada.

Shortly after inventing the phonograph in 1877, Thomas Edison established the first business devoted to recorded sound, the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company. It had five stockholders including Gardiner G. Hubbard, Alexander Graham Bell's father-in-law. The company bought the tin-foil phonograph patent for $10,000 and a guarantee of 20% of future profits. After initial demonstrations of the new invention, like the one at Rideau Hall, however, the company went dormant and Edison turned his attention elsewhere.

In 1886, the Bells and Tainter formed the American Graphophone Co. to manufacture and sell the graphophone. This prompted Edison to take up his interest in the phonograph in an attempt to reassert control over sound recording technology, and to reorganize his original corporation into the Edison Phonograph Co. in 1887.

It was at this time that Edison adopted modifications of some of the Bell-Tainter innovations and created the Improved Phonograph which utilized solid wax cylinders and a sapphire-point stylus.

Lord Stanley, September 11, 1888

One of the earliest surviving audio recordings made in Canada was made by Lord Stanley, Governor General of Canada, to the people and president of the United States.

The whereabouts of the original cylinder, made on September 11, 1888, are unknown, but a re-recording was made in 1935.

Lord Stanley message [MP3 799 KB]

Transcript of message:

"Mr. President and gentlemen,
The best use that I can make of this wonder of the age, the phonograph, is to bid you, on behalf of the citizens of the Dominion of Canada, the most hearty welcome and to assure you that we are at all times most happy to meet our friends from the United States in the pursuit of song, of art and all that may embellish the human life. We bid you a very hearty welcome."

Though there had already been considerable competition between the two rivals, the Edison Phonograph Company and the American Graphophone Company both agreed to allow a wealthy businessman, Jesse Lippincott, to form the North American Phonograph Co. in 1888; this company would oversee a sales network of local companies licensed to lease phonographs and graphophones as dictation machines. Lippincott agreed to invest $200,000 in the American Graphophone company and to purchase 5,000 machines a year. He bought control of Edison's patents for $500,000, and Edison set up Edison Phonograph Works to manufacture and develop the phonograph. Lippincott's enterprise soon failed, however, and in 1890, the North American Phonograph Company went bankrupt. Edison, as its major creditor, took over operation of the business. When it became apparent that he could not assert control over the local licensees, he reorganized the company and founded the National Phonograph Co. in 1896.

Meanwhile, one of those regional companies, founded independently of the North American Phonograph Co. and thus immune from Edison's take-over, had become a leader in recording cylinders for coin-operated phonographs. This was the Columbia Phonograph Co., and when the North American Phonograph Co. failed, Columbia became the sole licensed seller of graphophones in North America.

While Edison was struggling with the bankrupt North American Phonograph Co. and Columbia was establishing itself as a major player, Berliner quietly stepped onto the field and complicated the quarrel. In 1893, he set up the United States Gramophone Co. to attract investors for the gramophone. He hired brothers Fred and Will Gaisberg, former employees of Columbia who had prior recording experience, and together they found a Philadelphia-based syndicate which agreed to contribute $25,000 to fund Berliner's enterprise. The Berliner Gram-o-phone Co. was established in Philadelphia to manufacture sound recording equipment and discs under licence from the United States Gramophone Co., which retained the gramophone patents. Berliner and the Gaisbergs then engaged the services of Frank Seaman to undertake advertising, distribution, and sales of the gramophone. To this end, Seaman formed a third company, the National Gramophone Co. Ultimately, the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company would be involved in a legal battle with Seaman and the Universal Talking Machine Co. (a company affiliated with the National Gramophone Co.), which would drive Emile Berliner out of the gramophone business in the United States.

Berliner in Canada

By 1898, the gramophone business was booming and officials at Columbia were becoming worried. Unwilling, or perhaps unable, to compete in the marketplace without an extra advantage, Columbia set its sights on Berliner's patents. A complex legal battle ensued, involving not only the American Graphophone Co./Columbia Phonograph Co. party and the Berliner Gram-o-phone Co., but also Edison Phonograph Works, F.M. Prescott (an exporter), and Frank Seaman. When hostilities were brought to a close, a court injunction remained preventing Berliner from using the word "gramophone" on any of his products in the United States. This prompted him to establish E. Berliner, Montreal in 1899 which would hold exclusive rights to gramophones and discs in Canada (based on a Canadian patent of 1897), and to sell the rights to his American patents to his associate Eldridge Johnson, who had first been contracted by Berliner and Gaisberg to develop an effective motor for the gramophone. In 1901, Johnson set up the Victor Talking Machine Co., taking over the Berliner interests in the United States. For the time being, relations between Victor and the international Berliner affiliates, including E. Berliner of Canada, remained cordial.

According to Canadian law at the time, a patent was protected only if the manufacturer established production in Canada, and Berliner was happy to comply. He imported equipment from the American affiliate, set up shop in space rented from the Bell Telephone Co., and opened a retail outlet at 2315-2316 Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal. The company began an intense promotion of the gramophone, highlighting the volume, endurance, and space-saving size of discs as opposed to cylinders. The advertisements also served to warn Berliner's competitors against infringement of the company's patents, and to caution consumers against purchasing imitation equipment and recordings. It was not long before E. Berliner, with Emmanuel Blout as general manager, was prospering.

It was decided to incorporate the business and, in 1904, the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada was given a charter with Emmanuel Blout, Joseph Sanders, Charles Gartshore, Robert Shaw and Herbert Samuel Berliner, Emile's son, as stockholders. Blout, Sanders and Herbert Berliner were named as directors of the new corporation. A recording studio was set up, and in 1906 a new factory was built at the corner of St. Antoine and Lenoir streets, one of the first reinforced concrete buildings in Montreal. In 1909, the company underwent a reorganization and was renamed the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company, with Emile Berliner assuming the presidency of the business, Herbert appointed vice-president and general manager, and Emile's younger son, Edgar, named secretary-treasurer. Blout returned to the United States.

Though both Columbia and Edison had entered the Canadian market by this time, and the industry would soon open up to independent companies as the original patents ran out, Berliner was clearly the front runner in the Canadian recording business. Apart from questions of convenience or quality, the Berliner company's status might be attributed to its almost ruthless conduct towards its dealers. For many years Berliner required its retailers to sell only Berliner products and to sell them at company-set prices. Though there was considerable resistance to this policy on the part of the record dealers, and in an editorial in the Canadian Music Trades Journal (November, 1914), for which the company filed a lawsuit and won, Berliner refused to relax its policy.

Concurrent with a surge of record sales during and just after World War I, Herbert Berliner decided to reduce the number of recordings Berliner imported from the States, in order to decrease its expenditure on royalties to Victor. In 1916, Herbert, through a subsidiary company, His Master's Voice, introduced the 216000 series, devoted to Canadian recordings. Later, an exclusively French-Canadian series was initiated in the HMV 263000 series. By 1920, the majority of the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company's records was recorded and pressed in Canada. Victor was vexed by this situation and asserted what must have been considerable pressure to displace Herbert Berliner from his position of control. How it was achieved will remain a mystery but, in 1921, Herbert Berliner resigned from the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company and departed for the Compo Company in Lachine, Quebec, which he had established independently in 1918 to manufacture records for other recording labels. His younger brother Edgar undertook the presidency and management of Berliner; the HMV series was phased out and replaced with Victor recordings. In 1924, Victor acquired controlling interest in the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company, changing its name to the Victor Talking Machine Company of Canada. Edgar remained president but the other directors were also active directors of the American company.

Even the formidable Victor Co. could not stand against the increasing predominance of radio in the sound recording business and, in 1929, RCA (Radio Corporation of America) merged with Victor, including the Victor Talking Machine of Canada, to create RCA Victor. Emile Berliner died the same year, at the age of 78, and the following year Edgar Berliner resigned from the presidency of Victor of Canada, severing the family's last tie to the company, and effectively ending the first era of recorded sound in Canada.

Nipper and His Master's Voice

Sometime during the 1890s, English artist Francis Barraud painted a picture of his brother's dog, Nipper, inquisitively listening to a phonograph. Barraud hoped to sell the painting to a phonograph company, but could not find an interested buyer. After receiving a suggestion to change the trumpet of the machine from black to brass, Barraud went to the Gramophone Company's office to borrow a machine to use as a model. In explaining his request, Barraud showed a photograph of his painting. The manager, Barry Owen, liked the painting and asked if it was for sale. When Barraud replied that it was for sale, Owen agreed to buy the painting if the phonograph could be replaced with a gramophone.

When Emile Berliner visited England in May 1900 and saw the picture, he promptly registered it as a trademark -- in the United States on May 26th and in Canada on July 16th. The Victor Talking Machine Company began to use the painting as a trademark in 1902, and the Gramophone Company in 1909.

The original painting hangs in the offices of EMI, the successor of the Gramophone Company. It is one of the most widely recognized and valuable trademarks in the world.

"If Nipper only knew that, he would wag his little stumpy tail so proudly. He did not know he was going to be handed down to posterity. No more did I. Nipper bids fair to go on listening into the ages."

Francis Barraud, The Strand, 1916

The 78-rpm 7-inch Berliner Series

Establishing a precise chronology for the evolution of early Berliner discs is difficult, if not impossible. Though we know the recording dates for most of the performances, they are rarely indicators of pressing or release dates. Years could pass between a recording session, the date a record was released, and the date the release was advertised in a newspaper. Complicating the situation further, issue numbers were reused for similar performances (e.g. the same song recorded by different artists or by the same performer at different times), and for entirely disparate ones (e.g. an English and a French recording of different songs), various labels and record materials were used concurrently, and some records seem to have been re-released without altering original issue numbers. Documentation from company records that would elucidate matters was lost when RCA Victor of Canada moved to Toronto from Montréal in 1972; unfortunately, the archival documents were disposed of at that time. Notwithstanding, there are a few general trends that can be discerned.

The First Berliner Discs

The first discs made commercially available by Berliner were for a gramophone marketed in Germany as a toy in 1889. These discs were black, made of hard rubber, and were only 5 inches in diameter. Many of these recordings targeted the children's market, with imitations of farm animals (E. Berliner's Grammophon 45) and nursery rhymes such as "Jack and Jill" (E. Berliner's Grammophon 29). Emile Berliner's own voice was featured on some of the selections. Library and Archives Canada holds some of these discs in its collection.

Black Discs

E. Berliner began pressing records in Montréal on January 2, 1900. The earliest 7-inch discs in the Canadian Berliner 78-rpm series were black or dark grey, were recorded on only one side, and had no paper labels. The reverse side remained blank, without ornamentation. "E. Berliner's Gramophone" was typeset above the centre hole along with American or European patent information, while the title, performer, recording date and other information was inscribed by hand below. Records stamped from British masters have the English angel trademark, placed on most discs in the label area to the left of the centre hole, on others etched into the grooves. Canadian patent information was stamped on the label area (usually to the right of the centre hole), which often obscured other information. Discs pressed from masters from the United States were much the same, only with American issue numbers stamped at the bottom of the label area, but crossed out. A few of these had the His Master's Voice (HMV) symbol (Nipper the dog with his ear to a gramophone) etched in the grooves.

In the transition period between black discs without labels and brown discs with labels, there appeared some black discs with labels. These labels were black with gold scroll lettering. Above the centre hole was printed "Improved Berliner Gram-O-phone Record" in a fluid manner with foliate lines separating words. On the left side of the centre hole were the words "Made by E. Berliner" and on the right side "Montreal Canada". Directly beneath the hole was the Canadian patent date and below that the title and performer. At the bottom of the label was the Canadian issue number. Some of these records had a label with printed lyrics glued to the reverse side, while a few others had a design of concentric circles on the reverse. Aside from one noted exception, black discs ceased to be pressed around 1903.

Brown Discs

Most of the discs in the 7-inch series were pressed in brown (red-brown) or maroon (dark brown) shellac. Both colours, as well as black discs, were manufactured until about 1903, when maroon and black discs ceased to be made. Early on, a large HMV symbol was stamped on the reverse, with "Berliner" running across the top of the disc in an arc and "Gram-o-phone" across the bottom in large outlined letters. The two words were separated by asterisks on either side.

Labels with scroll lettering appeared on brown and maroon discs until about the middle of 1902. However, the most common type of label, which became almost the standard until 1904, was a sunken black or brown label with gold block lettering and edged with a gold circle. "Improved Berliner Gram-o-phone" was printed along the top of the label, in an arc from approximately 8 o'clock to 4 o'clock, and "Record" in the same script positioned just below. Directly above the hole in small letters were the words "Manufactured by" with "E. Berliner" and "Montreal Canada" on either side of the hole and the Canadian patent date immediately below. The hole itself was protected from wear by a brass spindle grommet. On the bottom portion of the label were printed the title, performer and Canadian issue number.

One notable variant of this label was the tartan label used for recordings of the Kilties Band of Belleville, Ontario. Printed in the same style as the more familiar gold lettering on a brown field, these labels had black lettering on a tartan field comprised of red, lime green, pale blue, and black. Library and Archives Canada also possesses a test record printed in the same style with black lettering on a tan coloured field. On this record, the performer's name (Miss Kellert) is handwritten and there is no title or issue number.

Later 78-rpm 7-inch disc

When the company was reorganized in 1904, the style of the label changed (though the transition from old to new labels seems to have been gradual). The new labels were brown with gold print and gold edging. They had "Gram-o-phone Record" printed from 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock in an arc across the top and the HMV trademark dominating the upper half of the label. Below the centre was the new company name: "The Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada, Ltd." Beneath this, in smaller script was printed the title, performer and Canadian issue number.

In about 1904, a few 7-inch records were released with Concert labels that were usually reserved for 10-inch discs. The labels were brown with gold edging and gold print. On the upper half of the label was the HMV symbol, above which was a note indicating that the record was pressed from a Victor recording for sale and use in Canada only. On the right of the centre hole was the word "Concert" and "Record" to the left. Under the title, performer, and Canadian issue number was printed the company name. Around 1907 several 8-inch discs were pressed and given labels nearly identical in style, with "Victor" replacing the word "Concert", and "Grand Prize" printed around the spindle hole.

Library and Archives Canada has in its collection a black 7-inch disc with an anomalous label that must have been produced between 1904 and 1909. The label is black with gold print and gold edging. In an arc across the top is an intricate design of entwined maple leaves, underneath which is the company name ("The Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada Ltd."). To the left of the centre hole is the word "Imperial", and "Record" to the right. On the bottom half of the label is the title, performer and issue number (prefaced by a "0").

The 78-rpm 10-inch Berliner Series

Berliner Concert Grand (circa 1901-3), Montreal

Starting in 1901, E. Berliner began to produce 10-inch discs that, in addition to having a longer playing time, were also of better quality than the smaller 7-inch discs. The earliest group of 10-inch discs in the Canadian Berliner series, manufactured by E. Berliner between 1901 and 1903, are labelled "Berliner Concert Grand". These discs are sometimes black, but more often brown or maroon, having a black label with a gold edge and gold lettering. Arcing across the top in block lettering are the words "Berliner Concert Grand". Below the semicircle formed by the label name are the words "Improved Gram-O-phone Record". Just above the spindle hole, which is protected by a brass grommet, are the words "Manufactured by", while to the left side of the hole is "E. Berliner" and on the right side "Montreal, Canada". Directly beneath the hole is the Canadian patent date ("Feb. 24, 1897") and below that the title and performer. At the bottom of the label is the Canadian issue number. (note: It should be noted that issue numbers were not necessarily assigned in a chronological sequence, and indeed, many recordings pre-date others having lower issue numbers.

These elements were standard for the Berliner Concert Grand record label, and yet, looking through a random group of these discs, one gets the impression of considerable variety. This is due to the diversity of typefaces used to print the titles and performers for the Concert Grand series. Like a number of the early 7-inch discs, some of the titles on Concert Grand labels are printed with scroll lettering, so called because the finial elements of round letters like c and s spiral into the aperture(s). Others have a "Western/Spanish"-looking condensed font with sharply angled serifs. Another common typeface is an Art-Nouveau-style typeface with wave-shaped serifs and dots in the centres of round letters like o. Many of the typefaces are plain and unadorned, while others are variations of more commonly found fonts described above. Among the unique typefaces is that of issue number 5140, The Sidewalks of New York, which is printed in a Gothic font. Also included in the Concert Grand series are two Kilties labels printed with plain black lettering on a tartan background

Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada 1904-1908

In 1904, when E. Berliner reorganised as the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada, the style and typefaces of Berliner's record labels became standardized, and any significant label change was uniformly adopted for all discs. (Note: A single anomaly is found in Library and Archives Canada's collection. Like the 7-inch series, the 10-inch Berliner series includes a disc with an Imperial Record label. This label is printed in gold on a black field, with a garland of entwined maple leaves across the top and issue number prefaced by a "0" (05905).) Only slight variations were accepted; for example, the omission or inclusion of performer information (e.g. "tenor" or "duet"), or the name of the selection's composer, seem to have been optional. During this period (1904-1908), there were three distinct label types, following one another in a series. They can be divided into two phases, the first being the Concert Record, the second being the Grand Prize label.

Concert Record without exposition (1904-1905)

The earliest type of Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada label is the first style Concert Record, which is generally brown with gold edging and lettering, but sometimes black with gold lettering. "Concert Record" in block letters with small angular serifs, appears arcing across the top of the label, from about 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock. Contained within the semicircle formed by the label name is a small His Master's Voice symbol (Nipper the dog with his ear to a gramophone) with the words "Trade" and "Mark" written in small caps on either side at the bottom of the semicircle. Below the centre hole (usually protected by a brass spindle grommet), the new company name, "Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada" was printed on two lines in block letters. "Patented Feb. 24, 1897" appears in much smaller type below. On the bottom portion of the disc, the title, performer and Canadian issue number are printed. Occasionally the composer is written in parentheses to the right of the title, and often performer or selection information appears above and to the right of the title. One distinctive first type Concert label in Library and Archives Canada's collection has title and performer information written in Chinese characters.

Concert Record with Buffalo and St. Louis (1905)

Coinciding with the introduction of the Victor Talking Machine Company's Grand Prize label in 1905, Berliner of Canada changed the Concert Record label to promote the grand prize wins at the Buffalo and St. Louis Expositions of 1901 and 1904, respectively. The style of the new label was quite different from the first type of Concert Record, which was clearly modelled after that of the Berliner Concert Grand. The Concert Record label mentioning the expositions is brown with gold lettering and a gold circle around the edge. Written in two lines arcing across the top of the label is the licence of sale:

"This record is pressed from Victor Talking Machine Company's matrices. Licensed for sale and use in Canada only."

Beneath this, dominating the upper half of the label, is a large HMV symbol with the caption "His Master's Voice" below. "Trade Mark" and "Patented Feb. 24, 1897" are printed above the spindle hole, centred in relation to the HMV logo. In a typeface that is an unadorned variation of the Art-Nouveau-style font found on some of the Berliner Concert Grand titles, the words "Concert" and "Record" appear on either side of the centre hole (now without a spindle grommet). On the lower half of the label, the title and performer information, the Canadian issue number (occasionally the same as the corresponding Victor recording), and the company name and location ("Berliner Gram-o-phone Co. of Canada, Ltd. Montreal") are printed in succession. Just below the word "Concert" on the left side an alternate issue number might appear in parentheses and a price code number (generally "2") is usually found to the left of the title and performer area. (Note: A number of Concert Records were reissues of earlier recordings and the primary label's issue number (often in the 5000 block) is the one printed in parentheses. The new issue number would usually be the same as the corresponding American issue number. The same practice was followed for subsequent Berliner labels and can be seen on later Grand Prize labels.) Arcing across the bottom of the label is the promotional declaration: "Awarded first prize, Buffalo and St. Louis Expositions". This type of Concert Record label would provide the basic model for all subsequent Berliner 10-inch labels until the appearance of the batwing label in 1914.

Grand Prize with Buffalo, St. Louis and Portland (1905-1908)

The Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada's Grand Prize label was a revision of the Concert Record label prompted by a Victor win at the exposition at Portland in 1905. The basic style and layout of the label design were the same but with the following modifications: the word "Concert" was, appropriately enough, replaced by the word "Victor"; the typeface for the new label name was different, copying that of the corresponding American label; the words "Grand Prize" now encircled the central hole; the promotional fanfare was expanded upon by the addition of Portland in the list of cities.

Patent stickers on the reverse

Affixed to the reverse of some Portland Grand Prize records were stickers containing patent and licensing information. There were two types of stickers: short and long, both dated May 1, 1908. Much of the content of these notices would soon appear on the label proper.

Victor Grand Prize, Licensing information (short) (1908)

In late 1908, a new type of Grand Prize label appeared, brown with gold lettering and edging and dominated by a three-line license agreement at the top of the label:

"This record is licensed by us for sale and use only, when sold at not less than the price marked on the record and solely for the purpose of producing sound direct from the record. All parties violating or otherwise infringing upon our rights will be subject to suit and damages."

The words "Trade Mark" are now placed between Nipper and the gramophone in the HMV symbol, and the patent information, printed directly above the words "Victor" and "Record", includes the date 1908 as well as 1897. In a curved line across the bottom of the label, Berliner states that "This record is pressed from Victor Talking Machine Co. matrices. Licensed for sale and use in Canada only."

Berliner Gram-o-phone, 1909-1923

Victor Grand Prize, Licensing information (short) (1909)

The Grand Prize label with licensing information continued to be produced after Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada reorganised as Berliner Gram-o-phone in 1909. The manufacturer is listed as Berliner Gram-o-phone Co. Ltd. Montreal, but otherwise there is little difference in comparison to the labels issued the year before. The only other variance found is that a few of the later labels are black with gold lettering, as black discs began to replace the formerly prevalent brown. (Note: Occasionally, a black disc recorded by the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company would be released with a brown Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada label made for an earlier recording of the selection. Thus, dating a record's release by its label is not always reliable. )

Victor Record Grand Prize, Licensing information (long) (circa 1910)

Sometime after July 1, 1910, the Grand Prize label altered again. The label name (Victor Record) is printed in a new, modern-looking, sans serif typeface. The licence for sale and use in Canada is moved to the top of the label, "Reg'd in Ag. Dept." is printed below "Trade Mark" on the HMV symbol, and the following is written in four curved lines at the bottom of the label: "

This patented record is covered and made under our Canadian patents, among others No. 57078, dated Feb. 24, 1897, issued to Emile Berliner, and is licensed by us for sale and use only when sold at retail at a price not less than the price marked upon this record and only for the purpose of producing sound directly from the record, and for no other purpose. This license is good only so long as this label remains on this record, unaltered and undefaced. A purchase is an acceptance of these terms. Berliner Gram-o-phone Co. Limited, July 1, 1910."

One of these discs in Library and Archives Canada's collection has a sticker on the reverse, giving a detailed description of the selection and its context in the larger work from which it derives.

Victor His Master's Voice Grand Prize (circa 1911)

The latest issue of a Grand Prize label in this series held by Library and Archives Canada is a black label with a wide gold rim and gold lettering. Arcing across the top is a variation of the Victor licence:

"This record is licensed by the Victor Talking Machine Co. for sale and use in Canada only.

Below this is the sub-label "His Master's Voice" in quotation marks and in only a slightly smaller type than the transcribed label "Victor Record" which appears in its customary position, level with the centre hole. The words "Trade Mark" and "Reg'd in Ag. Dept." are placed on either side of the HMV symbol. The four-line legal warning, otherwise identical to that of July 1910, is dated "Oct. 1, 1911

Batwing Label (1914)

In January 1914, the Victor Talking Machine Company revised its label style, and the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company followed suit. The new label's most distinctive feature was an arch above the HMV symbol at the top of the label, formed by two flanking triangular extensions of the rim circle, which give the impression of a bat's wing. The words "Trade Mark" have disappeared from the HMV symbol, to be replaced by the word "Copyright," positioned above the picture. "Reg'd in Ag. Dept." is printed between Nipper and the gramophone. There are two batwing labels included in this series: the His Master's Voice batwing label and the His Master's Voice Victor batwing label.

His Master's Voice Batwing Label

This label has "His Master's Voice" written in large letters across the upper half of the label. In a single line curving along the bottom of the label, from the "H" at 10 o'clock to the "e" at 2 o'clock, is printed: "Patented 1903, 1908. Pressed from Victor Talking Machine matrices for sale & use in Canada only. Licensed for sale only at price marked hereon." The title, performer, issue number and price appear as they did on the more recent Grand Prize labels.

His Master's Voice Victor Batwing Label

This label has the word "Victor" placed above the centre hole in the same typeface as "His Master's Voice", but in a considerably smaller size. On this label, the line of print at the bottom reads:

"This record is pressed from Victor Talking Machine matrices for sale & use in Canada only. Sold under conditions printed on envelope."

Compo Company Limited

A company specialized in the pressing, production and distribution of records and associated products (radio transcriptions, dictaphone cylinders).

Background on its Formation

In 1897, Emile Berliner (1851-1929) was given the Canadian patent for lateral-cutting. The exclusive use period of 20 years was to end in 1917 and it was obvious that several American companies were planning to put lateral-cut records on the Canadian market. Since the beginning of the century the Berliner family had owned, in Montréal, the biggest record-pressing factory in Canada. Its guiding spirit, Herbert Samuel Berliner (1882-1966), eldest son of Emile Berliner, thought that the family business could adequately serve the new clientele that lateral-cutting would bring. But, until then, Berliner Gram-o-phone had only had a single client, the Victor Talking Machine of Camden (New Jersey), the largest record company in the world. In 1901, Emile Berliner and his friend Eldridge Reeves Johnson (1867-1934) had taken part in creating the company and Berliner Gram-o-phone of Montréal had become the exclusive presser and distributor of Victor products in Canada.

In the United States, Victor and Columbia shared the patent for lateral-cutting, a patent whose exclusive use period in that country was to end in 1922…theoretically. Already, many small companies (Emerson, Gennett, Brunswick, Okeh) were beginning to openly dispute the validity of this joint patent. On the strength of their quasi-monopoly, Victor and Columbia had kept the price of records high. The arrival of these new competitors risked provoking a price war (which, in fact, happened at the beginning of the 1920s). There was, therefore, no question of Victor or one of its partners helping these new rivals in any way.

But Herbert Berliner was not one to let a business opportunity pass him by. In the fall of 1918, he installed some surplus BGC presses in a workshop at 131-18th Avenue in Lachine (now an area of Montréal). He signed a five-year lease and created Compo Company Limited (the significance of this name has never been discovered). At the beginning of 1919, he advertised Compo as "the first independent Canadian factory for pressing discs". Obviously targeting American clients, he assured companies that they could substantially reduce their customs costs on imported products by having their records pressed in Canada. They could simply provide the master and Compo would take care of the rest.

Compo's first two clients were already active in Canada. Since 1914, the Pollock Manufacturing Company of Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario, distributed lateral-cut records for the European companies Odeon, Fonotipia and Jumbo. In the spring of 1918, Arthur B. Pollock signed an agreement with the Otto Heineman Phonograph Supply of New York and, in May, created the Phonola Company of Canada. At the beginning of 1919, Compo landed the pressing contract for new Phonola lateral-cut records. A few months later, Compo signed its first major contract with the Starr Company of Canada, a subsidiary of the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, for pressing lateral-cut records brand-named Gennett, using American masters. Starr's Canadian chairman, Wilfred D. Stevenson, had delegated general manager Roméo Beaudry (1882-1932) with developing the Francophone market.

In the meantime, Herbert launched two His Master's Voice series, one Anglophone (216000) and the other Francophone (263000), which grew so much that the Berliner factory in Montréal practically stopped pressing any Victor records. The American company put pressure on the Berliner company, which caused internal conflict in the Berliner family. In March 1921, Herbert quit as vice-president, taking with him to Compo Thomas Nash, general manager of His Master's Voice; Reginald Chilvers, sales manager; Daniel St. Eve, director of the pressing factory; Elmer Avery, sound engineer and Henri Miro, musical director. (Canadian Music Trades Journal, April 1921, p. 92) That all of the high-level management staff would leave the largest record company in Canada simultaneously to plunge into the Compo venture, eloquently demonstrated the degree of loyalty that Berliner elicited among his associates.

La Sun/Compo

Wasting no time, the eldest Berliner created the new Sun label, with its head office at 210 Adelaide Street West in Toronto. Thomas Nash, who established the formidable HMV network in Canada, became Sun's director and set up Canada Sales Limited, a company that ensured the distribution of Compo products. He signed an agreement with the American company Okeh to release its recordings in Canada under the Sun label. John McWilliams managed the Compo factory at Lachine, while Reginald Chilvers took care of marketing.

During the summer, Herbert set up a recording studio in Montréal at 117 Metcalfe Street and in July, launched the Apex label. In April 1922, Compo got a new charter that allowed it to operate in "all the Dominion". The new officers of the company were: Herbert S. Berliner, President; Thomas Nash, Vice-president; J. Olmstead, Secretary; John McWilliams, Treasurer; Fred Friedberg, Elmer Avery and Daniel St. Ive, directors.

Anglophone Production

The majority of Compo's Anglophone production occurred in the 1920s. The company created four labels: Sun, Apex, Ajax and Radia-Tone. During its few months as a record label, Sun produced only foreign recordings. The Canadian presence on Apex was much larger. The 500 series (approximately 300 releases between 1921 and 1925) featured recordings by Ben Hokea, Harry Thomas, Willie Eckstein, Henri Miro, Ernest-Gill Plamondon, Al Edward, Placide Morency, Joseph Beaulieu, Ruthven McDonald, Vera Guilaroff and the Adanac Quartet. The Apex Electrophonic 26000 series (approximately 155 releases between 1925 and 1930) included recordings by Willie Eckstein and Léo Lesieur. Wishing to capitalize on the ethnic market, Compo launched, in September 1923, the Ajax label for the American "coloured" market. Renting a studio at 240-55th Street West in New York, the company recorded jazz musicians such as Mamie Smith, the Fletcher Henderson orchestra and Ontario pianist Lou Hooper. Ajax also recorded, in Montréal, the Chicago Novelty Orchestra and its pianist and leader, Millard Thomas. The business was not as successful as had been hoped however and less than a year later, Ajax changed to recordings of white artists in a final effort to save the label. The label finally disappeared in the summer of 1925, after 135 productions.

Herbert Berliner was interested in radio and beginning in December 1920, he organized broadcasts of recorded music (by HMV, of course) on the radio station CFCF in Montréal. ("Montreal Men Hear Phonograph Programme by Wireless Telephone", Canadian Music Trades Journal, December 1920, p. 88) Believing that there could be a market for recordings of radio broadcasts, he created the Radia-Tone 2500 series. In the fall of 1925, he released excerpts of a religious service held at the American Presbyterian Church in Montréal and a speech by Mackenzie King, then Prime Minister of Canada.

It seems almost certain that Apex Record of Boston, which distributed Compo records in New England (1922-1926), belonged to Herbert, who was born in a Boston suburb. Columbia Phonograph of New York helped this distribution with its 34000F series, from 1926 to 1932. The Sun offices in Toronto closed in 1930 and original anglophone production stopped at Compo.

Original Compo productions are often found among the numerous foreign labels pressed by Compo over the years. Unfortunately, this is only rarely indicated and artists' names were frequently replaced by pseudonyms. A more detailed study would perhaps identify the Canadian performers.

Francophone Production

For more than 50 years, Compo was the most active company in the Francophone sector in Canada. As of 1920, Roméo Beaudry established the subsidiary Starr Phonograph Company of Quebec and launched the Starr 11000 series, which, in the beginning, had only Québécois artists (Pellerin, Germain, Lapierre…). (When the company was founded in 1920, its offices were at 1600 Saint Laurent Blvd. in Montréal and it later moved to 1200 Amherst Street in Montréal.) However, after a trip to France in the summer of 1920, Beaudry included French artists in the series. It is almost certain that Beaudry used the Berliner Gram-o-phone studios to record Francophone artists at Starr. When Berliner opened the new Compo studios at 117 Metcalfe Street, Beaudry brought his artists there and then created the 12000 series, which became 15000 with the first electric recordings. If one adds to these series the classical recordings of the 18000 series, the children's records of the Mignon series and the "Double Longueur" reissues, Compo produced more than 2500 Francophone discs between 1920 and 1959! Among the artists featured are the biggest names in folk ( Mary Bolduc, Ovila Légaré, Eugène Daigneault, Charles Marchand, Isidore Soucy, Alfred Montmarquette, Tommy Duchesne…), lyric art (Rodolphe Plamondon, Lionel Daunais, Placide Morency, Hercule Lavoie…), popular song ( Hector Pellerin, Hervey Germain, Albert Marier, Roméo Mousseau, Fernand Perron, Ludovic Huot, Lionel Parent, Jacques Aubert) and country (Marcel Martel, the soldier Lebrun).

When Starr Phonograph of Canada left the record industry in 1925, the Starr label was bought out by Compo, probably in partnership with Roméo Beaudry. After Beaudry died in May 1932, Compo seems to have become sole owner. In spite of great difficulties brought on by the 1929 crash, Compo never ceased to produce new material. But production, which was greater than two records a week in 1930, fell to just one record per month in 1933 and 1934! Along with RCA Victor of Canada, Compo was the only Canadian record company to survive the 1929 economic crash. To do this however, the company used its recording facilities to transcribe radio broadcasts and dictaphone cylinders. (Canadian Music Trades Journal, April 1932, p. 19.) After some modification, the Lachine factory even pressed floor tiles! In 1934, Columbia was going bankrupt and Herbert Berliner could have bought its catalogue for only $75,000 but, in financial difficulty himself, he could not raise the necessary funds.

In 1935, Herbert signed a major pressing contract with Decca (United States), which put his company in Lachine back on the road to profitability. It was probably at the beginning of the 1940s that Compo moved to much larger quarters at 2377 Remembrance Street (close to 24th Avenue in Lachine). Decca was just about Compo's only client until the end of the 1940s, when many small companies appeared in Canada and the United States. Compo then pressed labels such as Varsity, Tempo and Gavotte, although it is not known if the company in Lachine also took care of distribution. Compo also pressed records for other companies, although this fact was not always indicated on the records. In the 1950s, Compo pressed more and more records for American companies -- more than 25 in the 1960s, including Warner Brothers, Cadence, Roulette and United Artists.

In 1951, believing he had cancer, Herbert sold his company to Decca, which replaced the Starr label with the French Apex label, but without changing the sequence of the current series. In 1956, the Apex 13000 series was created which, in the beginning, served to produce in Canada Francophone productions of Decca subsidiaries in Europe. Producer Yvan Dufresne took charge of the "Variétés" sector in 1956 and expanded it impressively. Over the years, he signed Michel Louvain, Pierre Lalonde, Ginette Reno, Donald Lautrec, Jenny Rock, the Hou-Lops and several of the greatest Francophone stars of the time. By 1960, Compo released, under the Carnaval label, more than 120 microgroove records, including recordings from the Starr and Apex catalogues.

In 1963, Compo changed hands to the Music Corporation of America (MCA) when MCA bought Decca assets. The new owners opened another pressing factory at 3400 Montreal Road in Cornwall, Ontario. Between 1966 and 1970, under the Lero label, MCA released close to 80 albums from the French Apex catalogue of the 1960s and recordings produced in Europe. MCA put an end to the Francophone Apex production in 1970 and closed the Lachine factory. New recording reissues from the Starr catalogue appeared on the MCA/Coral label on vinyl records in the 1970s, on four-track cassettes in the 1980s and on digital audio recordings in the 1990s. MCA closed the Cornwall pressing factory in 1976. On January 1, 1991, MCA was sold to the Japanese electronic giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Company Limited. In 1995, Edgar Bronfman acquired 80 per cent of the MCA shares and integrated it into Universal Studios the following year. In 2001, Universal merged with the French entertainment giant Vivandi to create Vivandi-Universal.

Pressing and Distribution

Although its Canadian recording production was constant from 1919 to 1970, Compo drew its greatest revenues from pressing and distribution. The following is a list of Compo's main clients between 1919 and 1950:

  • Phonola (1919-1921)
  • Gennett, Starr-Gennett (1919-1925)
  • Domino (1925 to 1930, budget)
  • Lucky Strike (1925-1929, budget)
  • Microphone (1925, budget)
  • Brunswick (1932-1934,1943-1960)
  • Melotone (1931-1942)
  • Crown (1930-1936, budget)
  • Decca (1936-1970)
  • Minerva (1935-1942, for Eaton's department stores)
  • Royal (1930-1936, budget)

Compo also pressed records for occasional clients such as Hectrola, Hydrola, Operaphone, Canadian Music Lovers Library, Famous Artists (around 1932), Tempo and Gavotte (for publisher Gordon V. Thompson), as well as private records for individuals and religious, commercial, political and other groups. From the beginning of the 1930s until 1960, Compo also produced records for radio. There were advertisements, religious, political or other messages, sound effects, station identifications and everything that needed to be broadcast frequently. Between 1924 and 1927, the Lachine company even pressed records on various labels, including Palings, Leonora and Beeda, for companies in New Zealand and Australia!

On its Apex label, Compo marketed its 8000 (1923-1929) and 41000 (1929-1932) series, which reproduced recordings from the American companies Plaza, Olympic, Emerson, Paramount and the American Record Company group, with some selections produced by Compo. These records almost never mentioned the source and it frequently happened that artists' original names were changed.

Herbert S. Berliner, Father of the Record Industry in Canada

The history of Compo is, above all, that of Herbert Samuel Berliner. Recognized from an early age as a specialist in audio recording, Berliner made the first recordings with local artists in Canada at his family's company in 1903, established the incredible His Master's Voice distribution network across Canada and created the HMV 216000 and HMV 263000 series, which promoted Canadian artists. He had been interested in electric recording since the beginning of the 1920s and was first in Canada to launch records recorded with this system, even before Columbia and Victor. In 1929, he produced experimental recordings at 33 1/3 RPM. In 1944, Compo pressed discs in vinylite, a substance that Columbia would use four years later for its new microgroove records.

Throughout his life, Berliner was an innovator and a visionary. R.S. Chislett, general manager of Compo for 35 years, said of him: "He was a very, very dedicated man. And, by that, I don't mean the business of making money -- I mean the act of producing records themselves". (Todoruk, Ihor, A Hundred Years of Recorded Sound, 1877-1977, Toronto, 1977, p. 4.) Herbert Berliner was almost 70 years old when he sold his company to Decca but, when he discovered that, in fact, he did not have cancer, he bitterly regretted the sale. While he remained with Compo until his death in 1966, he became bitter and solitary -- a sad end for one who was truly the father of the Canadian record industry.

A number of Compo masters, as well as records of recording sessions (including dates), are kept at the Library and Archives Canada.

Source: Unpublished research notes by Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal

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