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The first Imperial records were manufactured in the USA, by Leeds & Caitlin of New York, but were imported into Britain by Gilbert Kimpton & Co. from April 1906 to 1909. These were single-faced records and are very rare these days. They were initially priced at 2/6. later reduced to 2/-. Leeds & Caitlin stopped manufacturing them by 1909 and in 1911, the trade mark was acquired by the Sound Recording Company in England. Thanks to Norman Field for the label scan.
A 1913 issue of Talking Machine News announced the new Imperial Label (see second image, right). However, it seems that no-one has ever seen one of these records. In addition, the image, even allowing for early magazine reproduction, looks to me like a "mock-up" produced by the advertiser, and not a photograph of a real record. Also, the fact it is No. 62 is odd; a number this high would hardly be in the first release of a label. Of course, it is possible they were "for export only", but even in that case, I would have expected one or two to have turned up somewhere! Two other "new" labels are mentionesd in the same advert: "Popular" and "Stavophone". "Popular" definitely made it to market, but no Stavophone records have ever been reported. Thanks to Joe Moore for providing the image.
In Autumn 1922, the Sound Recording Company, who had
been responsible for records issued on the Grammavox and Popular labels,
launched it's new Imperial label to replace the existing "Popular" label (by
then, rather strangely titled "Ye Popular").
The records cost 2/- each, and the catalogue numbers started
(rather oddly) at 1047 using
the first blue label style seen on the left here, which you can see owes the
basic design to the original American label. Unusually, the numbering went
forward for new recordings, but backward (eventually to about 820) for old
recordings taken from the Grammavox, Popular & Bulldog vaults. They reached
2953 by 1934 when the label was dropped in favour of the new Rex label. The
English matrix numbers followed on from those used on "Popular" and reached
about 6550 by the label's demise in 1934.
records were manufactured by The Crystalate Manufacturing Company Ltd, of
The records were manufactured by The Crystalate Manufacturing Company Ltd, of Tonbridge.
In Autumn 1923, an arrangement with America's Banner record company (aka Regal Record Co, New York) meant their masters started appearing on Imperial in England. They were given control numbers on the labels, starting in the low 100's, though often the original matrix number was visible in the run-out area near the label.
In September 1925, the Crystalate Manufacturing Company
bought the Sound recording company. Crystalate, based in
Tonbridge, England, had been involved with the manufacture of Disc records
from very early on, when they assisted Nicole Freres in production of their
Nicole Records back in 1903.
When the Crown Record Company (in the USA) started in 1931 Imperial started using their masters and Banner masters appeared less often. Later Imperials use masters from ARC/Brunswick (which included Banner). When Jack Payne signed to the label in 1932, Imperial made the unprecedented step (in England) of including Jack's likeness on the label and almost all the last issues in 1933 & 1934 are by Payne. Recording quality gradually improved and was quite favourable comparable with more expensive makes by 1933.
The majority of Imperials are 10". They cost 2/- from their launch in October 1922 until October 1927 when the price was reduced to 1/6. In March 1931 it was reduced still further to 1/3. Some free publicity discs were issued, from 1922 to 1932, which were 3½" diameter. For more information about these, click here. 12" records, usually of a light classical nature were originally issued on the Crystalate label, but later the familiar red Imperial label was used, and a Z-serial catalogue number and costing 2/-. Imperial records were aimed at the popular market, but some 10" light classical sides were issued, and these had a dark red background rather then the purple or black. The odd issue of popular or Dance Band music accidentally appeared on this style of label, and an example can be seen, right.
Dance Bands on Imperial
Most of the early dance band recordings
on Imperial are American, but there are a few British recordings by
Derrick's Band. Jack Derrick was the saxophonist-leader of this small band
which is thought to be part of Jack Hylton's organisation. In 1924, Stan
Greening was appointed at Musical Director and most subsequent British sides
are by a studio band under his direction, using the usual musicians
associated with him.
In late summer 1930, Jay Wilbur joined the company as musical director, from the failed Dominion Record Company. Wilbur was also key in improving the recording quality, with the help of new engineers Arthur Haddy & Kenneth Wilkinson. When Decca bought the company in 1937, the two engineers continued on to fame with their work on sound expansion becoming Decca's "ffrr" and "ffss" systems. Jay Wilbur directed many sides until 1933 when he launched Rex records, leaving Jack Payne in sole "charge" of Imperial for a further year. At the time Wilbur joined, the label colour changed to black with the red title area.
Following Crystalate's takeover of Vocalion in 1932, they formed a hybrid label called Imperial Broadcast (see picture). This seems to have been short-lived and the repertoire was usually classical, though the occasional popular item turns up as you can see. See my Broadcast page for a full listing of this label.
For American material, Imperial generally relied on Banner (aka Regal Record Co, New York, with whom Crystalate merged in about 1929) to provide the majority of their dance records, with bands such as Sam Lanin, Adrian Schubert, Fred Rich, Nathan Glantz, Vincent Lopez and Harry Reser. A few sides by Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, with young cornettist Louis Armstrong, were issued too. The American electrical recording were rather boxy to start with but soon improved, though they can be rather inconsistent, varying between a rather thin, slightly distorted sound to the recordings from Cameo records with their rather boomy bass response. (Banner, Cameo and Perfect in America seemed to swap recordings at random!).
Some of the American masters were issued under pseudonyms, though this was generally to hide Adrian Schubert's studio recordings; The usual name was "Imperial Dance Orchestra" (I bet it took a bit of hard thinking to come up with that one!), "Hollywood Dance Orchestra", and "Majestic Dance Orchestra". The main problem, though, seems to be mis-labellings, i.e. sides by one band issued as by another.
Surfaces on Imperial records were generally quite smooth, often better than most more expensive makes, or at least, they have remained smooth, whereas some, particularly Gramophone Company records (HMV & Zonophone) have deteriorated in the intervening years.
In the mid-1920s, Crystalate manufactured a 7" record, Imperial Junior, for export to Australia. All masters were UK-recorded and all were acoustic. These will be found on their own page.
A number of 3½" Imperials were made for advertising purposes. Again, these will be found on their own page.
A full listing and history of Imperial records by Frank Andrews and Bill Dean-Myatt is available from the CLPGS in their Reference Series booklets.