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Opera Disc Company


Auxetophone

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Auxetophone

As many know, the Opera Disc Company was a short-lived "pirated" record label which used illegitimately-obtained masters. I have always been fascinated by these. The labels are beautiful, and the weight and quality of the pressings is impressive. 

 

Recently, I obtained a 1922 Opera Disc Company catalog. I was shocked to see that most of the list prices were exactly the same as the Victor equivalents in their 1922 catalog! So, I wonder why someone would buy an Opera Disc over the genuine Red Seal?

 

Another thing that caught my attention was the use of a different spelling of disc on the inside cover. Was this a typo? A way to get around legal trouble? I always thought of "disk" as a more modern (computer-era) spelling of disc, I didn't realize it went that far back.

 

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A brief history: 

Quote

 

Opera Disc Company, Inc.” was founded in January 1921 in New York by Max Hesslein.

The company issued gramophone records with classical and operatic repertoire in direct competition with Victor's expensive Red Seals. The most curious part in this story is that records “Opera Disc” were printed from the same matrixes as Victor! Why it could happen? To find the answer we have to backtrack to the earliest days of World War I in Europe. At that time, “Deutschen Grammophon Aktien-Gesellschaft (DGA)” was the German affiliate of the Gramophone Company, which in turn was the British affiliate of the Victor Talking Machine Company. As a Gramophone Company affiliate, DGA was entitled to use the “Master's Voice” (HMV) trademark as well as material recorded by the Gramophone Company and Victor. Thus DGA legally acquired a large stock of Victor and HMV matrices.

With the outbreak of WWI all Victor and Gramophone Company matrices were seized as spoils of war and became DGA's possessions. In March 1917, DGG' licensed the Victor and Gramophone Company masters to the newly created “Polyphonwerke Aktien-Gesellschaft” company, which produced records for export. The war was over and Polyphone tried to enter the American record market, but it had little success. However, the company found a ready customer in Hesslein's Opera Disc Company. Polyphone agreed to supply Opera Disc matrixes with recordings many celebrities, who were then under exclusive Victor contracts in the United States. Among them were Enrico Caruso, Feodor Chaliapin, and many others.

The first Opera Discs were issued in spring of 1921, the last ones in spring of 1923, when the company activity was halted by decision of the U.S. District Court at Brooklyn, New York, where Victor brought suit against Opera Disc. Under terms of the ruling, Opera Disc was not only prohibited from importing, purchasing, selling, advertising, or dealing in any way in records or matrices by artists under exclusive contract to Victor, but also the injunction required the company to turn over all records, catalogs, and advertising material in its possession to Victor. 

 

Source: 78RPM Club

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Auxetophone

Neither had I, which is why I HAD to have it. I think I got it from one of Tom Hawthorn's auctions within the last couple of years. If @Shawn has any interest in reproducing it, I'd be happy to loan it to him!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Actually, these were produced by Deutsche Grammophon just after WWI, so while not particularly legal to issue these in the USA at the time (the masters were owned by Victor or HMV), they did not obtain them illegally, as they were the German branch of the Gramophone Co. before the war. I like these pressings as well!

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Neilvanstem

Why would you buy these instead of red seals? Well I would because they look nicer then red seals! Nice to see a catalog. Very nice and so many of the records. I have only one and really love the look and even feel of it. 

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Auxetophone

You have a point! Sometime product design is everything. I agree, the nice label and general "feel" of an opera disc gives you the sense of quality. 

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Percy_Dovetonsils

Well... they're basically German pressings, which have always had that rep. For example, early Jazz collectors pay a premium for German Brunswick pressings. Opera Discs are heavier and of higher quality. 

Edited by Percy_Dovetonsils
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