London sleeves and centres
There was a lad at school who had a profitable playground business. You’d show him an old penny, the heads side up, and he’d tell you the date, which was hidden away on the tails side. If he was right, he took the penny. If he was wrong he gave you a penny. After a couple of months, his accuracy level had got so high that he had to make deliberate errors to keep the business rolling. Then he escalated the offer to giving you two pennies if he was wrong, then to three. In those days, all kids examined pennies seeking the legendary 1933 penny worth twenty-thousand pounds. In 1933 only a few pennies were made, for placing under foundation stones of buildings. Allegedly, just three got into circulation. This kid had started out looking for the 1933 rarity, and had found so many details of edges and dots and other bits that he could date any penny by looking at the undated side. As a hobby it makes trainspotting look exciting and creative, and just as the end of steam trains took the edge off trainspotting, decimalisation killed the art of penny-detecting.
And so to London-American. While London-American has traditionally been the most collectable label of all, few record dealers have mastered the dots on the penny, or the subtle differences between the five striped sleeves. Even dealers who are the most careful about sleeves give up in the face of five similar designs, with slight colour and paper variation. The solidity about London is the unchanging design. The London American Recordings Complete Singles Catalogue 1949-1982 (Record Information Services) is detailed about the changes in centre label design, but ignores the sleeves.
Sleeves are switcheable … centres are hard fact. In general, the same discs appear with both round and triangular centres. (See the Ricky Nelson example below, Just A Little Too Much). The triangular centre discs are worth about a third more than round ones with the same title. They may well be earlier examples, but no one has proved it. Certainly over a full two years both round and triangular centres turn up. You get 1958 releases with round centres and 1959 ones with triangular ones. The triangular design was Decca’s own pressing plant, while most British labels used the four prong round push out centre. Decca moved entirely to that in July 1959. The presence of both styles before that may be due to having round centre pressings done at other plants. All the majors used each others’ facilities when need be, and kept label and sleeve blanks for rivals too. The other reason may be that a copy of a record which was first released in 1957 with a tri centre, may be a later pressing once Decca had switched to round centres.
On the earlier discs, collectors value gold lettering above silver. In fact, both the Decca group and EMI group started to switch from gold to silver lettering at the same time, because the gold rapidly became illegible. The gold had come with the first London 45s in October 1954 and ran to February 1957. In February they started to switch. By the end of April 1957, all discs are silver. Between February and April 1957, there are discs which come in both designs. The price difference can be ludicrous with London. Gold will only have a tri-centre. Silver might be a tri-centre or round.
Take Rhythm & Blues with Chuck Berry from 1956. Rare Record Guide 2024 lists it as £150 mint with a tri-gold centre / maroon label, but at just £40 with a silver round centre.
I have tri-silver, as does 45.CAT website, but it’s not listed. These are conservative. A quick net check in January 2017 showed gold-tri copies selling from £160 to £240. Discogs in 2023 shows highest for gold is £150, and that is unlikely to be mint.
There’s also a closed centre design, where the silver top runs across the middle area. Warning! we’re about to go into catalogue numbers, as simple visual matching doesn’t work. This is London, the label where numbers get serious.
First, original London 78s had three figure catalogue numbers running from 500 in 1949, to 1232 in January 1954. Until January 1955, London only issued 78s.
The second numbering system runs from #8001, The Mission of St Augustine by The Orioles in February 1954. From #8111 (The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane by Archie Bleyer, his chorus and orchestra) all discs were issued on 45. However, a number of 1954 discs which had retained popularity (i.e. sales) were then repressed on 45.
Big Boppa Records, who produced replica sleeves, gave a detailed guideline on catalogue numbers for London sleeves, stressing that it’s a guideline only. We have combined this with dates from the London Complete Singles Catalogue. They don’t agree on dates. Partly this stems from 78 rpm and 45 rpm discs with the same catalogue number. The 45 rpm discs were issued several months later than the 78 discs during 1954 to 1955. The following may be more detail than you want to know. But at least, at last, someone has combined the two sources.
The conclusion, from picking up many lovingly annotated sleeves, is that sleeve matching was never hard and fast. With London sleeves, we have focused on ones numbered by the original retailer which match the record inside. As with the round and triangular centres, there was some co-existence. There wasn’t an exact changeover day for any of them.
More to the point, in the Decca group, catalogue numbers were not necessarily assigned at the same time as release dates. So, to confuse everything, XY 1238 may have been released before XY 1234. None of this is gospel. You will find exceptions which disprove any lists.
The export sleeve
This early sleeve has an export catalogue number. “Record and container made in England” and “Made in England” on the centre label, but was for sale in the USA.
The sea green sleeve
Sea green sleeve # 8001 to 8221
Main run October 1954 to December 1955, but still in use in mid 1956
The first two sleeves had a smaller centre hole. You can get replica sleeves with the smaller hole (Decca and Brunswick also had smaller than average holes), but unless you see the two side by side, it’s very hard indeed to see the difference. And the smaller hole obscures part of the text on the label. Records stayed in print for several months, or a couple of years with popular artists, so a “later” sleeve might well be what a record was issued in. Here they are side by side:
Only You: The Hilltoppers 1955 #45-HL-8221 . The last single with this sleeve with small hole.
Serenade: Slim Whitman HL-U8287, June 1956, gold, large hole, but still sea green sleeve, June 1956
Blue with faded area
In use catalogue numbers 8222 to 8506. January 1956 to November 1957
But see Serenade above.
The small / large difference runs into the next sleeve design too. The only possible conclusion is that they were using two (or more) different printers. There are two slightly different small holes and large holes differ by millimetres also. You Send Me is apparently the last, #8506
The Green Door: Jim Lowe 1956, #8317, small hole shift of blue shade, silver centre. Gold centre is worth double
You Send Me: Sam Cooke 1957 #8506
Last single with small hole sleeve. November 1957
larger centre hole, # 8507-8939 +Nov 1957 to Aug 1959
Rebel Rouser: Duane Eddy 1958 #45-HL-8669 August 1958, bolder typeface on label
C’mon Everybody: Eddie Cochran January 1959 # 45-HL U 8792
white catalogue number boxes
At some point during the run of “blue fade out large hole sleeves” white boxes were introduced where retailers could write in the catalogue numbers.
Lollipop was earlier than the two above, but could be a later pressing. It was popular for ages and still popular in 2023. It’s also not a numbered sleeve, but from a carefully-curated collection.
When this sleeve was replaced by the “brown paper” striped sleeve they reverted to having no boxes. You always find ones outside the number sequence.
Silver top centres
These first appeared with this sleeve colour, sometimes with, sometimes without write in boxes.
Here’s Just A Little Too Much:
Just A Little Too Much: Ricky Nelson #8927 August 1959. Silver top label and triangular centre
Just A Little Too Much: Ricky Nelson See previous. This has round centre and the sleeve has had white numbering boxes added
The tri-centre is in the earlier sleeve, the round centre in the later sleeve. It entered the chart the second week of September 1959, and was in the charts for eight weeks, reaching #11. So it would have been re-pressed more than once.
The buff sleeve
Several sources say that the buff sleeve was on #8930 to #9104. Well, we found reliable copies of #9117 and #9149 in that sleeve.
It was introduced during June and July 1959 due to a printers strike and ran until stock was used up. Buff paper was also used on Decca and Brunswick releases. However, #8875 marks the start of June 1959, and That’s My Little Suzie by Ritchie Valens (8886) and some copies of Here Comes Summer by Jerry Keller (8890)are certainly in numbered buff sleeves, as above. They might be later pressings post-dating the introduction of the sleeve. Here Comes Summer was one of my early total ear worms. I loved that record and still do.
The copy of Forty Miles of Bad Road, released in August 1959, has a round silver press-out centre, as do several discs from that summer. Love Potion No. 9 by The Clovers a couple of weeks later, came with both round and tri- centres in black.
Love Potion No 9: The Clovers 1959 #8949 September 1959. triangle centre. thick coarser paper
Love Potion No 9: The Clovers 1959, round centre, thin smoother, brighter paper
At a guess, the coarser buff paper used because of the strike had become ‘the design’ so when normal thinner paper was available, they printed it to look the same.
London then reverted briefly to the blue with white stripes that preceded the buff sleeve. We have a carefully annotated White Silver Sands by Bill Black’s Combo, #9090, issued April 1960 in that previous blue sleeve. At a guess the blue sleeve was concurrent with the buff one up to 9104. Those who compiled charts and tables of catalogue numbers matching sleeves and centres can be dogmatic. They will go as far as to protest that the original retauiler mixed up the sleeves. I knew a girl whose dad owned a record shop. Her part time job was numbering the sleeves. No one would have taken the discs out and switched them. My opinion is that Decca, like other labels, used other pressing plants when they were busy, and those rival plants were already equipped with stocks of Decca and London sleeves, some of which had been superseded at Decca’s main plant.
The two next discs were bought new by a reliable source.
Let The Little Girl Dance: Billy Bland April 1960 #9096, numbered from new. So crossover on sleeves. Using up stock?
Ooh Poo Pah Doo: Jessie Hill May 1960 #9117 also in buff.
Move on to Only The Lonely by Roy Orbison. #-HLU 9149. June 1960. A British #1 hit so there are a lot about. It charted on 28 July, and remained in the chart for twenty-four weeks. Half a year. Three copies are illustrated, all in numbered sleeves, all found in Bournemouth and Poole (in case there is a regional difference). Two are the blue which “went up to 9104.” The thin paper buff one has ONLY THE LONELY written on the reverse. This is getting obsessive. So out came the magnifying glass to check what’s etched on the centre. All three are the same: 45-MSCL-4439-1C.
White with blue stripes
Then, by the middle of 1960, the white with blue stripes was in place.
Those lists suggest the sleeve ran from #9105 to #10133. As above, clearly wrong. Or do they mean the first disc found in this sleeve was #9105? That was Mel Gadson’s Coming Down With Love.
This copy of Three Steps to Heaven isn’t numbered, but the source is reliable. I also have a numbered one in a blue sleeve, but this is the earliest white sleeve in my own collection. Like Only The Lonely, it was a #1 hit. It entered the chart on 12 May 1960, went to #1 and was in the Top Thirty for fifteen weeks. Cochran died on 17 April, and it was rush-released. Three Steps To Heaven had been designed as the lighter B-side to Cut Across Shorty, but Larry Parnes, promoting the tour, instantly saw the title significance and switched the sides in the announcement on the steps of the hospital. Cut Across Shorty is a vastly superior track.
Like Strangers: The Everly Brothers #9250 December 1960, one write-in box only & last Everly’s Cadence release
Wheels: The String-A-Longs February 1961 #9278
Chains: The Cookies Nov 1962 #9634
An anomaly is a copy of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire, bought new (by a reliable witness) in a dealer numbered plain brown “Coral” sleeve. Whether the dealer mixed it up, or whether Decca briefly ran out of all London sleeves is anyone’s guess.
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling: The Righteous Brothers 1964 #9943
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag: James Brown 1965 #9990
The design soldiered on unchanged for a full seven years. It’s the most common London design on secondhand records.
The red spiral design dates from 1967, at the same time as Decca and Deram spiral sleeves. Matching is easy. The silver rectangular boxed logo goes in a red sleeve. Period. It runs from #10134. Except … we found a matched, numbered blue & white sleeve on Michelle by Jack Jones #10156. This is the first few weeks of the rectangular logo, and was probably using up stock.
Let’s Stay Together: Al Green 1971 #10348, ‘Hi’ logo lifts the London logo
Brown Eyed Girl: Van Morrison 1974 HLM 10453, London logo sits on centre
Do not be deceived by ‘1967’ on Brown Eyed Girl. A large proportion of later London were either reissues, or opportune releases of older material – so in 1973/74 they realized that Bang had Neil Diamond and Van Morrison material from six years earlier and issued it.
Unchained Melody: The Righteous Brothers 1969 #10241 London Demand Performances reissue
Dynamic Pressure: The Music Specialists 1970. #10309 London Reggae Series
The Demand Performances reissue series came with double A-sides in 1969. In a nod to their past, the “London demo disc orange” was used for centre labels. Then they put them in red sleeves to create an unpleasant combination.
Like their rivals, London had a bash at reggae in 1970 with the Reggae series with yellow centre labels. This was stuff made in Jamaica, licensed to Steady, a US label, and licensed on again to London. Major labels didn’t work with reggae and it was a short-lived effort. The red sleeve and yellow centre was eye catching. As my mum always said, ‘Don’t give me any of those garish colours. Just give me good old red and yellow.’ There had been a yellow label London Calypso label back in 1954 too.
The Locomotion: Little Eva London 1980 re-issue with original August 1962 catalogue number HL9581. Plastic pressed silver centre means it was pressed by Polydor when they took over.
Let’s Twist Again: Chubby Checker HLU 10512 , licensed from ABKCO. Original 1961 release was never on London. November 1975 release in time for Xmas parties.
The Rolling Stones catalogue from Decca was on London in the USA, with rights controlled by ABKCO. London UK was picking up any old hits ABKCO had bought the rights to.
This was right at the end:
The sub labels
The sub labels Even by 1960, American labels were grumbling about their loss of identity on London. Gradually London relented, introducing the London Atlantic logo in May 1960, London Dot in August 1962 and London Monument in 1963
You Can’t Lie To a Liar: Ketty Lester HL-N 9608 standard silver-top London centre 1962
Save the Last Dance For Me: The Drifters HL-K 9201 London-Atlantic 1960,
The London-Atlantic centre dates from May 1960 (HLK 9119).
Wipe Out: The Surfaris London Dot 1963 HLD 9751
In Dreams: Roy Orbison London Monument 1963 HLU 9676
London-Dot first appears in August 1962 (HLD 9588) and London-Monument dates from February 1963 (HLU 9676).
To show how often these records were re-pressed, you can find Pat Boone’s Tutti-Frutti from 1956, bearing its original HL.D 8253 catalogue number with a London-Dot centre label, which means it must have been pressed after August 1962, when the recording was six years old.
Catalogue numbers did not change with hyphenated reissues of records originally labelled London-American.
No other American label got the hyphen prominence. Warwick (Johnny & The Hurricanes) got close on LP sleeves with a large red logo equal in size to the London one, and so did Jamie on Duane Eddy LPs. It took me a while to realize why. They took the original American sleeve just as it was, and added a white outside border with MONO, catalogue number, title and London logo. The prominent Jamie was where it was on the American version. On LPs, several got large logos.
Some overseas sleeves
This should be a separate page, and London USA would be as long as this article, but out of casual curiosity … I’m not counting picture sleeves.
I Wanna Be Loved By You: Marilyn Monroe 1959, London Italy
Only the Lonely: Roy Orbison, London Australia: 1960 plastic, complete with London stripes
Only The Lonely: Roy Orbison, Netrherlands 1960
The centres …
The centre changes the value of London records dramatically. Look back at sleeves to see some matches. Basically, triangular centres are worth more than round centres. Gold printed labels are worth more than silver ones. Black tops are more desirable than silver tops.
While We’re Young: The Unitones 1955, 45-1521. Export catalogue number, so blue
Haunted Hungry Heart: Slim Whitman June 1955. HL8141. Gold lettering, triangle centre. US label reference at bottom
Song of The Wild: Slim Whitman HL-U8196, October 1955, US label (Imperial) larger
Serenade: Slim Whitman HL-U8287, June 1956, Imperial moves to left side
Ready Teddy: Little Richard (B-side Rip It Up). November 1956. HLD-8336 US label Speciality reference at side.
The Lady Is A Tramp: Mel Torme HL-N8305. August 1956, but silver, so a later pressing than HL-D8336
Jingle Bells (Campanella): Julius La Rosa HLA-8353, Cadence. December 1956. Very unusual closed centre gold pressing, contracted out pressing.
Tutti Frutti: Little Richard 1956 HLD 8366
Wang Dang Taffy Apple Tango: Pat Boone. Black top, silver, triangle centre HL-D 8855 UK release May 1959
Bird Dog: The Everly Brothers. Black top, silver, round centre August 1958 release, r
Silver top came early enough to have shellac 78s with the design:
Both are shellac 10″ 78s
The silver top doesn’t work with the three prong tri-centre. The changeover centres around July 1959 when London cancelled several releases. At the time they claimed it was because of a printers strike meaning that they weren’t able to publicize the more speculative releases. In The London American Legend, David McKee suggests that it may have been problems switching from old tri-centre presses to new presses at Decca’s main plant.
Some Kinda Earthquake: Duane Eddy Silver top, round centre December 1959 HLW 9007
On Top of Spaghetti: Tom Glazier 1963, KAPP gets logo as well as name HLR 9742
The export pressing caught my attention, because it’s the closed centre design which appears often in the Ace London-American CD series booklets.
It’s apparent that fonts and illustrations were beginning to accompany the original US label names.
Michelle: Jack Jones 1967, Kapp HLR 10516
Elenore: The Turtles September 1968, HLU 10223 White Whale gets prominent logo. from 1966
Run Baby Run: The Newbeats HLE 10341, Hickory name in its font
Where did our love go? Donnie Elbert 1971. HLE 10352 All Platinum
Grandma’s Washboard Band: Gary U.S. Bonds 1975. HLA 10485 ‘American’ has disappeared from the top rim
I Can See Clearly Now: Ray Charles 1977 HLU 10554 Crossover logo
In 1970, there was a flurry of colour with the Reggae and C&W series.
C & W series
Releases very brielfy had green centres:
1979 ‘Demand Performance’ double A sides
Baby I Love You: The Ronettes HLU 10240 reissue
Bread & Butter: The Newbeats HLU 10270 reissue
Late London designs – individual to each release
Holocaust on Sunset Boulevard: Rodney & The Brunettes 1978 B-side London Bomp
Love Attack: Amber & The deep South Band 1979 (this is a demo, but design is same)
Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Letter: The Scratch Band 1979 p/s
Retro reissue designs
La Bamba: Ritchie Valens HLR 10571, 1979 gold tri-centre replica reissue. There was also a Charlie Gracie gold tri-centre reissue.
The Loco-motion: Little Eva 1989, 3 track Polygram reissue. The “replica” design pre-dates the 1962 original by 3 years.
Non UK-designs u
Elenore: The Turtles September 1968, Australian. pressed by rivals EMI with old black top design
I’m Still In Love With You: Al Green, 1972 Made in Eire, retaining early 60s silver top label
Early Decca demos might put a London track on one side, and an RCA or Brunswick track on the other.
I’ve Got Bells On My Heart: Don Rondo HLU 8610, April 1958, one sided demo
Man of The West: Julie London December 1958 HLU 8769
The catalogue number is an over stamp.
Bluebird of Happiness: Boots Randolph June 1962 HL-9567
Slop Time: The Sherrys March 1963, the big A appears HL-9686
On both these the eventual catalogue number has been assigned. London never went ‘silver top’ with demos.
(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up: The Ronettes July 1964 HLU 9905 old top
Don’t Touch Me: Jeannie Seely June 1966 HLU10052 London Monument top
All Strung Out: Nino Tempo & April Stevens HLU10084 October 1966 White Whale logo, silver top design – which didn’t last long.
The Look of Love: Shani Wallis April 1967 demo KAPP records is overstamped 10125
I’ll Never Need More Than This: Ike & Tina Turner Sept 1967 demo #10155
They stopped using the brown sleeves, and later demos are either in spiral sleeves or plain white. The A is too one side. At first they just used the same black label as normal releases with an added A.
They decided DJs needed colour coding, so switched back to using a bright colour in 1972. The later two from the Hi label didn’t add a release date.
Woman (Sensuous Woman): Don Gibson July 1972 demo, HLE 10384 with release date
Beware: Anne Peebles 1975 HLU 10484 no release date
Let It Shine: Al Green 1976 HLU 10527 no release date
Slim Whitman and His Singing Guitar (EP) REP1006 November 1954, as the ffrr logo doesn’t appear on later EPs, I guess that’s the older one. Its sleeve is dated 3/55 (date of pressing).
The EP Volume 2 is taken from the same original 10″ album, REU 1064. A credit to Imperial Records has now been added.
The Hilos Under Glass is REU 1077, and more and more information has been added.
It is impossible to state which centres were used for which records. Records stayed on catalogue, and later pressings would use the then current design. The styles of centres seemed to switch around, so that two sequential records might have different styles. The triangle centre and round centre co-existed for at least two years, usually on the same releases. See below … the Everly Brothers round centre is earlier than the Pat Boone triangle centre. The Coasters records (under sleeves above) has a triangle centre on a silver top record.
Historically Speaking-The Duke Part 1: Duke Ellington 1956. Jazz EPs had red centres. This has “London American Jazz” logo EZ-N 19023
Jo Moutet & His “Accordion-Musette” EP 1956 London Ducretet-Thomson DEP 95009
Gold and silver …
Little Richard & His Band (EP) 1957. Gold lettering and tri-centre doubles its value REO. 1071
Little Richard & His Band Volume 2 (EP): 1957. Silver lettering halves value. REO 1074.
At this point the ‘gripping centre’ has been added to 45s and EPs. That’s the ridged circle around the label, designed for autochanger record players, so that the one that’s just descended grips the one below instead of slipping.
Tri centre to round 4 prong centre, silver top.
Rhythm & Blues With Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry & His Combo 1956 RE-U 1053. Two pressings.
Because They’re Young (EP): Duane Eddy 1961 RE-W 1252 Dark maroon centre EP
R&B with Booker T (EP): Booker T & The MGs 1963
Note how much more lettering there is.
What’d I Say (EP): Ray Charles 1961 London-Atlantic Lighter maroon centre for EPs
62’s Big Hits (EP): Billy Vaughan, 1963 with London Dot centre
In Dreams (EP): Roy Orbison 1963 London-Monument EP
This was a 12″ single label running from 1976 to 1980. It was by no means all ‘disco’ in the true sense, rather a name for any 12″ single and was designed for other markets. So Keep It Up by The Olympic Runners was a 7″ 45 rpm release on RCA in the UK.
Disco 12″ were imported into the UK.
Stranger In The City: John Miles, 12″ single 1976 Disco 3002
Can’t ShakeThe Feeling: The Beck Family, 12″ single 1979 LHLE 10569 , demo version
As with EPs, there’s not the issue of matching sleeves with records. But as we’re doing centre designs, they are added. This is not comprehensive.
London Origins of Jazz / London American Jazz
Jazz Piano Rarities: January 1957 10″ LP
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonius Monk. 1958 12″
Slim Whitman & His Singing Guitar: 10″ 1954
Live It Up! Bill Haley & His Comets, gold printing 1955
Jerry Lee Lewis first LP, silver printing 1958
Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5 – red for classical 1959
River Deep Mountain High: Ike & Tina Turner 1966
Big O: Roy Orbison 1970
Saved to last.
HL is ‘London Home.’ Some releases are just HL. Usually there’s another letter, but not always. I thought these indicated the original label, but not so. The main issue, with London operating in so many countries, is where a disc could be sold. This is from Paul Pelletiere’s London American. It doesn’t mention several codes HL-D, HL-O, HL-W, HL-T etc. Discogs has a list of codes for labels used on LPs, which is added in the last column. As some labels left London, their letters may have been re-assigned. (To be honest, I can’t make sense of it).
|A||All countries, but not USA, Canada, South America||or Cadence|
|B||All countries except USA|
|E||The Eastern Hemisphere, British West Indies, Mexico|
|K||The Eastern Hemisphere, British West Indies, Mexico EXCLUDING Italy, France, French Africa, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, South Africa||or|
|P||All countries except USA, Canada, Japan||or|
|U||All countries except USA, Canada||or|
|Then some codes began to refer to label of origin:|