Mercury Labelography
(1949-1970s)

 

 

1. This is the 10" MG 15000 and the 12" MG 10000 LONG PLAYING MICROGROOVE Series. This label was used from 1949 through 1960. The label's background color is black and all printing on early pressings is yellowish-white. All printing on later pressings is silver. Early disqs of this series resemble 12" or 10" 78 RPM records in thickness, weight and inflexibility. Records pressed after 1954 have raised lead-in groove and label. Labels used between 1949 and 1951 have Reeves-Fairchild Margin Control printed to the right of the spindle hole. In 1951 and 1952, this changes to Reeves-Fairchild Thermodynamic Margin Control. From about 1952 to 1954, the printing reads Fine Fairchild Margin Control. From 1955 on, it is simply Margin Control.

 

 

The first releases in the series are:

MG 10,000 Khachaturian, Aram. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major (1940). David Oistrakh, violin. USSR State Philharmonic Orchestra. Alexander Gauk, conductor. 12" released October 1949. List price $4.85.

MG 15,000 Strauss, Richard. Don Juan, Op. 20 1888. Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich. 1812 Overture. Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. Willem Mengelberg, conductor. 10" released October 1949. List price $3.85.

 

 

 

 

 

2. This is the MG 50000 OLYMPIAN SERIES HIGH FIDELITY or MICROGROOVE label. This label was used from 1951 through 1957. The earliest label's background color is black, and all printing is silver. Its design is slightly different than the much more common deep maroon-red label in that MICROGROOVE is printed in place of HIGH FIDELITY and Living Presence is not printed to the left of the spindle hole. After about 1952, the label's background color is deep maroon-red, and all printing is silver. Early disqs of this series resemble 12" 78 RPM records in thickness, weight and inflexibility. Records pressed after 1954 have a raised lead-in groove and label. Labels used in 1951 and 1952 have Reeves-Fairchild Thermodynamic Margin Control printed to the right of the spindle hole. Between about 1952 and 1954, this printing reads Fine-Fairchild Margin Control and from 1955 on, it is simply Margin Control. Before 1951 some of the issues were part of the MG 10000 series. In about 1952 this label became popularly known as the Mercury Living Presence label.

 

 

The first release in the series is:

MG 50,000 Mussorgsky, Modest. Pictures at an Exhibition. Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Rafael Kubelik, conductor. Recorded April 23­24, 1951; released November 1951. List price $5.95.

 

 

 

 

 

3. This is the MG 40000 GOLDEN LYRE SERIES. This label was used from 1952 through 1957. The label's background color is gold, and all printing is in red. Early disqs of the series resemble 78 RPM records in thickness, weight and inflexibility. Records pressed after 1954 have a raised lead-in groove and label. Labels used from about 1952 to 1954 have Fine-Fairchild Margin Control printed to the right of the spindle hole. From 1955 on, it is simply Margin Control. In 1957 the issues remaining in print became part of the MG 50000 series. Some few were first released with MG 40000 numbers on the MG 50000 OLYMPIAN SERIES-like label with deep maroon-red and silver printing.

 

 

The first release in the MG 40000 GOLDEN LYRE SERIES is:

MG 40,000 Hanson, Howard. Songs from Drum Taps Op. 32 (1935). Thompson, Randall. Testament of Freedom (1943). Eastman Symphony Orchestra. Howard Hanson, conductor. Released November 1952, it became MG 50073 in February 1957. List price $4.98.

 

 

 

 

 

4. This is the MG 90000 TONO SERIES. This label was used between 1955 and 1960. The label's background color is light-blue, and all printing is black. Before 1955 some of the issues were part of the MG 10000 series.

 

 

 

 

 

5. This is the MG 80000 CUSTOM FIDELITY SERIES. This label was used between 1955 and 1957. The label's background color is bright red, and all the printing is black. This series is devoted to chamber music. In 1957 the series became part of the MG 50,000 OLYMPIAN LIVING PRESENCE series.

 

 

The first release in the series is:

MG 80,000 Bartok, Bela. Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (1922). Ravel, Maurice. Sonata for Violin and Piano (1923­27). Rafael Druian, violin. John Simms, piano. Released February 1955; in January 1957 it became MG 50089.

 

 

 

 

 

6. This is the MG 50000 OLYMPIAN SERIES LIVING PRESENCE. This is a later variation of the MG 50000 OLYMPIAN SERIES HIGH FIDELITY label with the words LIVING PRESENCE replacing LONG PLAYING in the design. This label was used from 1957 until the complete deletion of monaural records in 1969. The early label's background color is deep maroon-red, and all the printing is silver. The background color of later labels is pale brownish-red. The later pressings with the pale brownish red background often have more surface noise than the earlier dark maroon-red ones. The later pressings are also thinner and more flexible. Sometimes the sound is less 'hi-fi.' They are generally not as 'good.'

 

 

 

 

 

7. This is the SR 90000 STEREO LIVING PRESENCE Series. This label was used from 1958 until 1969. The early label's background color is deep maroon-red, and all printing is silver. Later issues have a pale brownish-red background color and some even have a black background. These later issues were released in the mid-1960s. The later pressings with the pale, brownish-red label background often have more surface noise than the earlier, dark maroon-red label ones. The later pressings are also thinner and more flexible. Sometimes the sound is less 'hi-fi.' They are generally not as 'good.'

 

The first releases in the series are:

SR3 9,000 Cherubini, Luigi. Medea. Maria Callas, Mirto Picchi, Renata Scotto, Giuseppe Modesti, Mirium Pirazzini, Lidia Marimpietri, Elvira Galassi, Alfredo Giacommotti, soloists. Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala. Norberto Mola, director. Tullio Serafin, conductor. Released November 1958.

SR 90,001 Bizet, Georges. Carmen Suite. L'Arlesienne Suite (1872). Detroit Symphony. Paul Paray, conductor. Released November 1958. List price $5.95.

 

 

 

 

 

8. This is the SR 90000 STEREO LIVING PRESENCE VENDOR MERCURY RECORD CORPORATION Series. The label was used intermittently from the early 1960s through the late 1960s. The earliest label background color is deep maroon-red, and all the printing is in silver. In later pressings, the label's background color is pale brownish-red. The later issues were released after the mid-1960s and often have more surface noise than the earlier, dark, maroon-red label ones. The later pressings are also thinner and more flexible. Sometimes their sound is less 'hi- fi,' and they are generally not as 'good.' Remastering was common in this period and was not confined to only the VENDOR MERCURY RECORD CORPORATION series. For instance, SR 90343 was released in December 1963 and contains both Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 and his Scythian Suite and is a remastering of earlier material. This performance of the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 was originally released in May 1960 as SR 90258 and was the only work on the disq. The remastered copy does not have the 'realism' of the original.

 

 

 

 

 

9. This is the SR 90000 STEREO LIVING PRESENCE BROADCAST Series. The label was used from 1958 to the late 1960s. With the print VENDOR MERCURY RECORD CORPORATION the label was used from the early 1960s through the mid-1960s. The earlier label's background color is gold, with all printing in black. The later labels' background colors' are deep blue-green with all printing in silver, or white or yellow with all printing in black. In all colors, FOR BROADCAST ONLY NOT FOR SALE is printed below the record number and above Mercury's head. Generally these copies are premium pressings.

 

 

9b. Another promotional label of this vintage omits the Mercury head, LIVING PRESENCE HIGH FIDELITY and BROADCAST ONLY NOT FOR SALE below the record number and above Mercury's head. But BROADCAST ONLY NOT FOR SALE MERCURY RECORD CORP. CHICAGO, IL USA is printed along the label edge from 8:30 to 3:30. Also STEREO is omitted above 33 1/3 R.P.M. Although LIVING PRESENCE is omitted, the record can be a Living Presence production. All else is as Label 9.

 

 

 

 

10. This is the SR 90000 STEREO LIVING PRESENCE MERCURY RECORD CORPORATION Series. The label was used intermittently from the early 1960s through the late 1960s. The earliest label background color is deep maroon-red, and all the printing is in silver. In later pressings, the label's background color is pale brownish-red. The later issues were released after the mid-1960s and often have more surface noise than the earlier, dark, maroon-red label ones. The later pressings are also thinner and more flexible. Sometimes their sound is less 'hi- fi,' and they are generally not as 'good.'

 

 

 

 

 

11. This is the LIVING PRESENCE BROADCAST OVAL LOGO Series. Generally records with this label are stereo. The label was used from the early 1960s through the late 1960s. The label background color is gold, or white, or pastel yellow, or pastel blue, or pink, or pastel green. The printing is black. FOR BROADCAST ONLY · NOT FOR SALE · MERCURY RECORD CORP. · CHICAGO, ILL. · U.S.A. or FOR BROADCAST ONLY · NOT FOR SALE · VENDOR MERCURY RECORD CORPORATION or FOR BROADCAST ONLY · NOT FOR SALE flanked on the left by MERCURY RECORD CORPORATION and on the right by Product of Mercury Record Productions Inc. is printed along the label's bottom edge. The oval Mercury Logo with enclosed OLYMPIAN SERIES or RECORDS is printed at the center of the label top and is flanked on the left and right by a stylized black banner. PROMOTIONAL is printed in the label background color, on the left part of the banner, and RECORD is printed in the label background color, on the right side. Monaural labels-the MG 50000 series-do not have STEREO printed beneath the logo and banner but are otherwise the same.

 

 

 

 

 

12. This is the SR 90000 STEREO LIVING PRESENCE OVAL LOGO Series. The label was used from 1969 to the early 1970s. The background color is pale brownish-red. All the printing is silver. This label was also printed in black on a white background as a promotional label. Many pressings of the series have less 'hi-fi' sound. Often they are not very 'good.'

 

 

 

 

 

13. This is the SR 90000 STEREO LIVING PRESENCE CUT-OUT label. The label was used in the mid-1970s. The background color is orange red. The printing is black, except for another oval logo at the label's top which is white. This label appears on 'cut-outs' whose covers are usually cut or punched. Issues of this label have appeared with earlier label designs. It is a label of reissues. The quality of the pressings is similar to that of label No. 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

Mercury Stereo Living Presence classical records are fine representations of 1950s and 60s concert realism. These records, the SR 90,000 series, were available from the introduction of stereo in 1958 through the 1970s. Unfortunately, except for the years from 1958 to 1960, Mercury's platter quality varied greatly. Records often had steady and excessive surface noise, many ticks and pops and not a few pits and bumps. They could also be made of inferior vinyl and pressed with dirty or worn stampers. The best pressings, the quietest and cleanest, those of 1958­60, will be found with labels six and seven of my "Mercury Labelography." Labels six and seven have dark maroon backgrounds with silver printing, Mercury centered at the top and the Mercury head logo printed at the bottom. Unfortunately, disqs with these labels can also be of poor quality as these labels were used until 1969.

The desirable 1958 to 1960 high quality pressings are made of a heavy and fairly rigid platter. The matrix information, which is placed between the last groove and the label, is stamped into the plastic, not inscribed. The stamping sequence prefix of these pressings is FR and not RFR or CTFR. The stamping sequence number is low. The record cover is made of heavy cardboard, and its front is glossy, the result of a thin sheet plastic coating. The back cover has a colored, not black and white, panel vertically covering about 20% of the jacket's width. It is on the right side. Finally, by 1960 the releases were in the SR 90200 range.

From the 1958 introduction of stereo into 1960, RCA Victor manufactured Mercury Living Presence records. These RCA manufactured disqs can be identified by the stamped FR prefix and mastering number, the stamped record number and mother indicator, such as A1 or B1, and the stamped pressing plant indicator I. These are platters of the highest quality; the vinyl is good, and the pressings are clean and sharp. Fortunately, there are few defects.
One problem, however, held in common with RCA's own records, is the occasional 'bubble bump,' probably caused by stamper temperatures which are too high. Still, these are exquisite disqs. Oddly, they had, and sometimes still have, a wonderful and characteristic vinyl smell.

By the mid-1960s Columbia, the other major American record company, began manufacturing some of Mercury's records. These disqs have an inscribed CBFR, CTFR or CCFR prefix and mastering number and an inscribed record number. The other coded information is inscribed and is the same as, or similar to, that found on Columbia Masterworks' pressings. These pressings, though craftsmen-like, have excessive surface noise: a result of porous, rough vinyl. This defect can be seen as a grey mottling on the record's surface. It is not, however, a problem of Columbia Masterworks pressings of the same period. Though Columbia has a reputation for mediocre recordings, it has been my experience that in the Masterworks Division, they always produced a comparatively good platter.

Columbia also pressed some of the very last Mercury records. These have the Mercury record number stamped in the same font and size as Columbia's own codes. This record number is followed by a letter M, a dash, and a number. These are usually very dull sounding records.
The manufacturing codes on Mercury records with Vendor Labels can be identical to the codes on Mercury records with plain labels. This indicates that disqs with plain labels and those with Vendor Labels are manufactured from the same master, mother, and stamper. That is, they may be identical. VENDOR MERCURY RECORD CORP. was used intermittently on labels after the purchase of the Mercury Record Co. in 1962, by the Philips Corp. This designates Mercury as the wholesale outlet of the new corporation.

Many of Mercury's Janos Starker recordings are appealing not so much because they present a realistic concert or recital setting, but because they give a personal portrait of the artist. The producers and engineers knew the cellist, and through them we hear Starker the man as much as we hear Starker the musician. His bold, powerful sound, brought out by these recordings, reveals something about him as much as it identifies his playing.
Mercury records that were recorded at Walthamstow and Watford Town Halls often were recorded with the orchestra playing, seated in chairs on the concert hall floor. For these recording sessions the audience seats were removed, and the orchestra members were placed in the area that is occupied by the audience during concerts. The spacious performance setting of these recordings is a result of this arrangement.

Mercury Living Presence records were recorded with simplicity by great craftsmen. The label, fortunately, also had many fine artists. Also, and importantly, for years Mercury classical recordings were made by essentially the same people-producers and engineers, of essentially the same artists, at the same locations and with the same equipment and techniques. Much the way the personnel of the Ellington Band remained constant through the years, so did the elements of Mercury's classical record production. Mercury was able to refine, change and fine tune these elements; Ellington, of course, was able to do the same with his band. In both cases this contributed to their greatness.
At its best, Mercury's music illusion is hypnotic.

I'd like to thank Richard S. Foster for his over-the-years contributions to the Mercury Labelography and Jonathan Towle for his discovery of Label 9b.

 


 

Much of this material originally appeared in "RECOLLECTIONS Journal of Recorded Music." Back issues of the journal are available for US$15.00 at RECOLLECTIONS-by email at ronpenndorf@earthlink.net

My publications can also be found and browsed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive of the New York Public Library, the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound and the Music Department of the Chicago Public Library.

 

 

 

 

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