Centres: paper v plastic

gallery … Magic Fly … click to enlarge

We like to think of EMI, Decca, Polygram and Pye as groups with distinct identities vying with each other to persuade us to buy their music.

Look at these two copies of Magic Fly, a runaway number two hit for the French group, Space in 1977.  Both are 1977 copies bearing the Pye International label. The first copy is a Pye pressing, with push-out centre, coloured paper label. The second has the solid black centre of Phonogram and the rather nasty shiny effect and simple printing, black on a colour, which is the trademark of Phonogram pressings. 

What happens is that when a record is successful very quickly indeed, the label may not have pressing capacity to capitalize on the hit. They then order copies from their rivals. Smaller labels never pressed records themselves in the first place. 

Larry Parnes tried to start his own record label in 1959, Elempi, and found none of the majors would press records for him. When Ember Records found the same issue, they converted button pressing machinery. The reason CBS bought up Oriole Records is that Oriole owned two pressing plants.

Pressing at various competing plants has always happened. A record dealer explained this with a sheaf of copies of Beatles singles. There are tiny detail differences in the shape of the edge that show whether it was pressed at EMI, Decca, Philips or Embassy / Oriole. The keenest Beatles collectors want them all, and believe that one pressing is superior to another … Oriole are on thicker vinyl.  So, most copies of I Want To Hold Your Hand were pressed by EMI. Copies pressed by Oriole are common. There are also Decca pressed copies, which are rarer.

It’s (reasonably) easy to tell. For detailed information see WHEN NUMBERS GET SERIOUS on this site.

Someone who worked at Island / Trojan circa 1970 said he spent most of his time travelling between the EMI, Pye and Philips pressing plants to collect stock. This is why you can find so many labels with and without the rather nasty Phonogram printing. Some are Phonogram anyway, some are custom pressing jobs.

Phonogram used a cheaper and more recyclable system where the label was part of a plastic injection moulded whole with an ink screen plasticized centre. For labels where both exist, the conventional paper-applied to plastic centre is always considered more desirable. It’s not a matter of sound quality but aesthetics. Paper labels were printed in bulk as “background labels” and the information specific to each release was overprinted. This meant that companies used up old stock when they changed designs. Companies like Trojan (with its myriad sub-labels) switched labels on the same song to use up old stocks of background labels.

Pressing at various competing plants has always happened. A record dealer explained this with a sheaf of copies of Beatles singles. There are tiny detail differences in the shape of the edge that show whether it was pressed at EMI, Decca or Philips. The keenest Beatles collectors want them all, and believe that one pressing is superior to another … apparently Philips are on thicker vinyl.  

Small labels have also found to their cost that if they have a sudden hit, meaning instant demand for large numbers of copies, the only way to access the manufacturing capacity is to sign over a share of rights as well as paying for the pressing.

Phonogram plastic centre pressings

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky … they all look just the same … and this is only a small selection.