Posted by Kevin Boyd, 4 March 2013
This is a recent acquisition of mine: a 12″ vinyl white label promo copy of Carthy & Swarbrick’s 1969 classic “Prince Heathen“.
During the vinyl age major labels would press limited quantities of new and upcoming releases with plain white labels. These were either used to check the quality of the mastering and disc production (‘test pressings’) or distributed to journalists, distributors and DJs for promotional purposes once the quality had been established (‘promo copies’). Occasionally these would be shipped with full artwork but more often than not they would be housed in either a plain white or brown card sleeve, with or without a die-cut centre, or sometimes in just a paper or plastic inner sleeve.
The lack of label information on these discs means that the only identifying marks are often the matrix stamps that appear in the run-out groove (the section between the end of the grooved playing surface and the paper label). Matrix numbers were a necessary element of the disc manufacturing process and appeared on both promotional copies and commercially released albums but the details are notoriously difficult to decipher for the collector. The main number was used for filing purposes in the manufacturing plant and often appeared on the final printed label and the additional numbers or symbols were used to indicate the album side and cut number (determined by the number of times the aluminium disc stamper was replaced), amongst other things.
There is no other identifying information on my white label copy of “Prince Heathen” so the matrix numbers are all I have to determine when it was pressed. The numbers don’t appear to make much sense at first glance but cross-referencing them with those on the commercial release in my collection reveals that they are in fact identical. This means that the white label pressing derives from the same stamper as the commercial release. It’s still impossible to tell whether both of my copies are from the same actual pressing but it’s most likely that the white label was pressed no later than the commercial release, and possibly some time before.