The hole in the middle

Holes came in two sizes. The small hole was designed for a spindle on ‘three speed record players’ (33 / 45 / 78), the hole that LPs also use. 78s had had the same sized spindle and hole, so it made sense. In those days, decks had a flip over stylus. You flipped it through 180 degrees. One side was labelled LP and the other was 78. I’ve also seen 33/45 and 78. That’s because 78 needles are thicker.

The big hole was designed for playing on record players with a centre post, that is most American players, and “45 rpm only” players in the UK … which meant jukeboxes. The difference dates back to the late 1940s with Columbia inventing the LP record with a small hole, and RCA inventing the 45 rpm single with a large hole or ‘doughnut disc.’  Why? As RCA was a hardware manufacturer in the USA, they wanted a unique system for playing the new 45s, so the doughnut disc differentiated them. There was a reason. They had decided on “albums” being a stack of eight 45s on an auto-changer. An RCA Victor auto changer of course. These advertised a one second gap between needle lift on one disc to needle drop on the next disc, giving a potential 32 minutes playing time from eight discs. That is 50% more time than Columbia’s LP side. Also 45 rpm meant louder disc with a wider range than 33 1/3 rpm.

The bigger centre hole, they claimed, meant the record wobbled less on the way down. The outer edge of the record and the record label were a tad thicker than the rest of the record, so that the record grooves wouldn’t rub together when records were stacked on top of each other.  In fact jukeboxes were then designed for the new large hole format.

Columbia, whose other arms were broadcasting and TV, chose the obvious route. Re-use the spindles everyone knew. Was there any genuine advantage in the big hole? I guess a clumsy person could locate the disc more easily.

1953 Parlophone-Odeon classical disc, Nabucco (Act 3), EMI, manufactured with RCA style large hole. Later copies appeared with a small hole. BSP3001 

When 45 rpm discs came out in Britain, the very earliest examples followed the RCA standard large hole, but someone quickly realized the advantages of having only one size hole for both LPs and singles, and British singles followed the US Columbia LP small-hole standard. So British singles came as standard with a small hole, which could be pushed out to form a bigger hole for jukeboxes (nearly all of which were US imports, designed for large hole discs).  They also realised it was easy to build an autochanger into the existing spindle shape and size. A little further down the road they added a ring round the centre with a series of ridges which meant discs would not slip on an autochanger.

Then EMI came up with the dual purpose centre. It’s incredible that it did not catch on everywhere.

Blue Tango by Ray Martin, Columbia (UK) 1953. The first popular 45 rpm small-hole disc. SCM-5001. Large hole instructions in red at the top of the sleeve.

The instructions read:

This record has an optional centre, in its present form it can be played upon three speed record players or radiograms with a small centre spindle.

To play this 45 rpm record on record players and radiograms with a large centre post, remove the small centre disc of the record by pressing with the thumbs.

MGM catalogue from EMI: note “7” 45 rpm Optional Centre records”

Capitol had the clearest explanation on its sleeve. Discs were catalogued as OC 45s… Optional Centre. Small spindles and large spindles. Telefunken in Germany used exactly the same images.

Big Dave Special – The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance: Big Dave and His Orchestra 1954
OC45 … Optional Centre 45

Earlier singles from the Decca group had a triangular centre or tri-centre which was easier to push out than the four pin round ones. This was replaced by the standard round centre in 1958 and collectors pay more for triangular centres. These are earlier than round centres, so pre-1958 discs are tri centres, but it’s not consistent. For some reason, the Decca group manufactured both versions from 1958 to 1960.

Gallery: tri centre / round cetre … click to enlarge

In that period, we know discs were re-pressed over months or even years, explaining the appeal of the “tri” as the earlier version, but by 1958 new discs were appearing in both versions, which must have been from different pressing plants. Most “silver top” London records are round centres, but some have tri-centres.   The new silver top design looks better with a round centre to my eyes.

Decca group tri-centres … click on image to enlarge

titleartistlabel, yeartri-centre mintround centre mint
Are You Really MineCraig DouglasDecca, 19581010
Rock Around The ClockBill Haley & His CometsBrunswick, 1954gold tri £60
silver tri £20
Oh, Boy!The CricketsCoral, 195720£10 – £13
Roll Over BeethovenChuck BerryLondon, 1957£50£25 – £30
Whispering GrassDee ClarkLondon, 1958£20£10-£13
King CreoleElvis PresleyRCA, 1958£15£10
Price differential between tri and round centres. None of this is “big money” but it does run through Decca pressed 45s and EPs

The 1955 to 1960 era for Decca group pressings covers some classic Decca, London, RCA, Brunswick, Durium, Capitol (to 1956), Vogue and Coral singles. Felsted (which has few collectables) also had tri-centres. They custom-pressed for other labels, such as Esquire, Tempo, Melodisc and Starlite with tri-centres. The tri-centre / round centre price divide carries over to EPs.

Another aspect is that Decca, EMI and Pye liked gold lettering. Gold lettering is always earlier. The trouble is it faded and rubbed into the label, so they all eventually switched to silver.

A Hole In The Bucket: Harry Belafonte & Odetta, 1960, RCA Victor, South Africa
Pressed by Teal Records

Tri-centres lasted longer in other countries … South Africa’s Teal Records, pressing for many labels, continued until at least 1967, and they were easier to push out, too. South African discs show up frequently on the South Coast of the UK. I fondly imagined it was South African immigrants bringing their precious records with them. Not so. A Southampton record store owner explained that the crew and especially stewards on the Cape Town run in the 50s and 60s had a nice little sideline selling on South African pressings of hit records (no purchase tax) on return to Southampton. They’d buy a box or two of a major hit to bring back.

A Fool Such As I” Bill Haley & His Comets, Festival Australia pressing

Festival pressed most Australian records. They favoured a squared off optional centre, slightly more stable than a tri, slightly easier to push out than a round.

Closed centres were increasingly favoured for UK releases. They weren’t being exported. Why bother with optional centres?

Gallery: Closed Centres … click to enlarge

1 The Three Bells: The Dawns, Gala 1959. Gala was a budget label with cover versions a speciality, but the photo centres required a closed pressing. As most Gala covers were licensed from the USA, they wouldn’t be going back that way.
2 Pete & Five Strings (EP): Pete Seeger, Topic 1958. The UK’s oldest indie label went its own way.
3 Goodbye: Delroy-Wilson, Black Swan, 1964. An Island imprint.
4 Susan: The Buckinghams, CBS UK demo. CBS had decided on small holes for LPs back in the 1940s, so sod the others
5 Ain’t No Stopping Us Now: McFadden & Whitehead, Philadelphia International, pressed by CBS 1979
6 Crash Landing: The Alan Bown, Island 1970. This Island design looks way better on tyhe closed centres it was designed for

By the late 50s, some discs were being pressed with closed centres, i.e. no push-out section at all. You can find the same disc in push-out (round) centre and closed centre versions. British independents like Topic, Collector and Saga used closed centres as early as 1958, presumably having no hope of exporting to large hole countries, nor getting juke box play. Several budget labels also used closed centres. We assume they all used the same pressing plant. By the late 60s, closed centres were being used by major labels as well as minor ones.

American and European singles had a bigger hole in the middle, and if you wanted to play them on a British player with a spindle, you needed to insert an adaptor or “spider”. (see next section). This is a vocabulary item which few people know. I used to call them record adaptors, or just the plastic thing in the middle. Some call them ‘inserts.’ The black ones have 45 rpm adaptor printed on them. Others called them spindle adaptors. In the 2012 Beatles box set for Record Store Day, it’s called a record hub, and comes in fetching Apple Records green.

Ease of removal was an issue. German Brunswick pressings had a very lightly attached four-prong centre,and few discs survive with it intact – the majority of German record players must have gone for large hole. The “Jazz” series as on Al Hibbler’s Unchained Melody were imported into the UK, hence the centre.

Unchained Melody: Al Hibbler. German Brunswick, 1955, imported into the UK with small hole optional centre

German three-pronged centres are unusual in being aligned with precision (well, they are German) with the label design. British pressing plants rarely lined them up.

Denk’ an Mich: Horst Winter, 1953, Telefunken Germany

The three-pronged thin spiders were issued with Philips pressed discs around 1969-71 when they decided to press all discs large hole and insert a spider in British ones. The Philips / Polydor / Phonogram group in 1969 to 1972, produced large hole discs. Vertigo, early 70s Mercury, Janus, Track, Atlantic 2091 series, ATCO and some pink Island and early Chrysalis turn up consistently pressed without centres. Ones pressed with centres are rare, and worth at least 25% more. The three-pronged spider was issued with the singles, tearing bags and scratching adjacent records.

The “original” spider for a Philips disc of that era is three prongs. Many people find large hole Philips pressings and assume they’re ex-juke box records. And they might be, but usually that’s just the way they were made. Philips were odd in that they were very late into 45s (1958), but for a couple of years earlier had produced “juke box only 45s”. 

Then Philips operated like everyone else with small holes until 1968, when they decided to start pressing big hole discs again … though sometimes they commissioned pressings from other manufacturers (they all did this with sudden big sellers) and released small hole discs. With Island and Chrysalis pressings, some of which were Philips pressed, some not, collectors prefer small hole, because you see the whole logo, but also because it eradicates the possibility that these are ex-juke box singles which originally had a small hole, and which have been “dinked.”

Rare Record Guide quotes The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again on Track as £25 mint with a large hole centre, but £35 with a small hole centre.

Dinking is the process of pushing out the centre to fit the large spindle in a jukebox. Jukeboxes track heavy, and a popular disc might have been played to death. In some cases mechanical handling might have been kinder than teenage greasy fingers, or being laid sleeveless on a carpet. They were in a dirt free environment and didn’t get scratched or mishandled. They’re worn, but evenly worn. The B-sides are often more scuffed. It’s hard to work out why as they came down one at a time, so the B-side landed on the turntable not another disc (as on an autochanger).

It’s highly unlikely that the sleeve on an ex-juke box single has always lived with the disc inside. Juke box operators almost always ditched the sleeves. In terms of value, dinked discs drop dramatically down the scale. Sometimes rough discs are sold as “OK for a jukebox” meaning that the heavy tone arm on a juke box will cut-through crap. 

Jukebox operators sold off the singles cheaply after a few weeks. The going rate in some shops in the late 60s was two shillings (10p) compared to the new price of 6s 8d (33p).  Star Discs of Hull were 4/3d (21p) for ex-jukebox and deleted  and I assembled a sufficient soul collection from them to do a little Dj-ing from ex-juke box singles. They were usually Tamla-Motown or Atlantic, and they played fine then, and they’re still sounding good now. But maybe Hull wasn’t soul territory so they never got thrashed.

Homeward Bound: Simon & Garfunkel, CBS, 1966
This was an ex-juke box copy, so dinked

The copy of Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel is one I bought, and it’s definitely ex-jukebox. CBS was a strictly small-hole label, as were Decca, Pye and EMI. We’d have to guess that the jukebox which carried Homeward Bound in 1966 was in a quieter, folkier sort of coffee bar, where turtle neck sweaters were de rigeur. Or perhaps it was beloved of railway station cafés in Lancashire..

Gallery: Ex-juke box discs or not? … click on image to enlarge

So what did you think?

1 Overture, Barber of Seville: Toscannini, 1953. Early HMV. Not dinked. It was made like this.
2 Rock and Roll Music: Chuck Berry, London, 1957. This would be worth £50 mint, but it’s not only NOT mint or excellent, but it’s dinked. Ex-juke box.
3 Angela Jones: Michael Cox, Triumph, 1960. Definitely ex-juke box dinked copy.
4 Love Man: Otis Redding, ATCO, 1969. UK copy, but NOT dinked. It was pressed by Polydor so was made with a large hole.
5 Soul Sister, Brown Sugar: Sam & Dave Atlantic, 1968. It does not appear dinked, and was pressed by Polydor BUT that is not an original Polydor spider in the centre.
6 Hey Jude: Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 1968. It has the correct original Polydor spider. Not dinked, I think, but there is a small tear at 6 o’clock. Still these spiders often came out and had to be re-inserted.

So if a disc has a large hole it could be for one of several reasons. First of all, it’s American or European. In the late 80s / early 90s new American Golden Oldie discs with large centres were imported into Britain in quantity .

Second, if it’s Philips / Polydor 1969-72, or a label pressed by Polydor (Island, Chrysalis, ATCO, Atlantic …) it was probably made with a large hole.

Gallery: POLYGRAM – Polydor / Philips large hole pressings … click to enlarge

1 Space Oddity, David Bowie, Philips 1969. Classic Polygram 3 prong spider
2 Mexico Grandstand: Sid Lawrence Orchestra, Fontana 1970
3 Paranoid: Black Sabbath, Vertigo 1970. The large hole on early Vertigo 45s ruined the centre design
4 Maggie May: Rod Stewart, Mercury 1971.
5 Si tu dois partir: Fairport Convention, Island 1969. Not all Island discs were Polydor pressed, and it ruined another centre design
6 Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse: Jimmy Helms, Cube 1973. Interesting addition of a strengthening circular liner around the large hole.

Third it could be ex-jukebox, so a small hole disc that’s been dinked, in which case it could be rough. Or it could be designed for sale to juke boxes but never played on them. Philips pre-1958, or like this 1980 DJM “jukebox copy” of Falcon by The Rah Band.

Falcon: The Rah Band, DJM 1980. Juke Box version

Just to add to the chaos, some later juke box EP discs were produced in America with small holes. These had FOR COIN OPERATED PHONOGRAPHS ONLY on the sleeve, and the juke box label tag came with them in the shrink wrap. You didn’t even have to write or type it out. The crucial point is that it’s designed for a then new stereo jukebox, so the disc plays at 33 1/3 rpm (to get three tracks on each side for your money) and if you wanted to play it elsewhere, 33 1/3 rpm meant it had to be a small spindle disc.

The Best of Jonah Jones: Capitol stereo EP for “coin operated phonographs only.”

Some record owners had early large spindle players, or perhaps they imported players with large spindles. A local record shop bought in a large box full of classic late 50s / early 60s gems, all in the original sleeves with discreet labels. All the records were clean, and the couple I bought are crackle free. They were in superb condition for the year, and the box had all the early Elvis HMV singles, a complete set of Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Etta James. And every single one had the centre knocked out. That at least halves the value, and probably is even worse. At Last by Etta James is £40 in Rare Record Guide 2014 in mint condition. The copy of Trust In Me in the box was at least excellent in playing terms, so worth about £20 mint. Without  centre? A fiver at most.

Trust In Me: Etta James, Pye International1961. A dinked copy.

In the same box was the first Tamla EP released in Britain, Shop Around by The Miracles on London-American. It’s rated at £200 (and I’m grateful to Big Brother of Poole for letting me scan it). The centre’s missing. We checked online and the three previously sold ones on line all had missing centres too, and yet had reached £190 to £200.

Gallery: Shop Around, The Miracles, London, 1961 EP … click to enlarge images

There’s no record of London selling large centre EPs, and you can see the points where the centre joined, so it must be coincidence, but this very clean record doesn’t lose so much value (if any) because of the large hole. It comes down to appearance: no collector wants a 45 in a die-cut sleeve with a large centre hole. With EPs, the sleeve hides the offence, so it’s much less of an issue.

Taildragger: Howlin’ Wolf. Cadet Concept USA 1969

Taildragger by Howlin’ Wolf was issued as a US single in 1969. Look above the number on the right at the hole punched in the disc. It was a cut-out (a remaindered disc) and America always marked its cut outs. LPs had a notch cut in the sleeve and singles had a hole punched on the centre label. Many American 45s are cut outs, and rumour has it that Northern Soul DJs stamped holes in perfectly good discs to make them look like obscure cut-outs.

Modern reggae records from the mid-90s on, appear on hundreds of labels. Some are reissues, some are not. A common factor is the use of the large “American hole” even on new UK pressings.

Fassy Man Car: Lexxus, Greensleeves 1999

The example is a 1999 disc on the Greensleeves label. In common with many soul and reggae reissues, there’s a different artist on each side. The large hole is there because many of the discs played by a DJ were Jamaican pressings.

It is surprising that the large hole format has persisted for 45s until this day. Autochangers have long gone. I can’t see a modern day turntable enthusiast using a system where the cartridge had to ride higher with each subsequent disc so it started angled downward and finished angled upward. I watched happy collectors buying small hole, closed centre British punk and pub rock singles in a Brooklyn flea market. They had worked out they could play them then!