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MMD > Archives > June 2006 > 2006.06.07 > 02Prev  Next

Suppliers of Sears "Supertone" Piano Rolls
By Frank Himpsl

In response to Robert Perry's question regarding the Supertone rolls,
here is a rundown on the history as I understand it.  The dates that
I reference here are from memory and there will some overlap, however
the chronological ordering is correct.

"Supertone" was the brand name that Sears, Roebuck & Co. imprinted
on recordings sold in their music department, both piano rolls and
phono records.  Most likely they simply awarded the supplier contract
to the lowest bidder.  Over the years they had several different roll
suppliers manufacture rolls under the "Supertone" label, one of which
was Bennett & White.  Each version of the Supertone label has its own
individual characteristics and can be identified as to manufacturer.

The U.S. Music Co. in Chicago was the first supplier of rolls with the
Supertone label.  These rolls were current from circa 1912 to circa
1917-18.  The rolls were boxed in alligator-skin type boxes just like
US used on their 88-note rolls, but the box wrapper color was gray
instead of green.  The labels were yellow and often carried serial
numbers in an 80,000 or 800,000 series, but there are many exceptions.

In all cases the Supertone serial numbers were derived from the US
issues, with an "8" added at the front, and several of the US serial
numbers were reversed relative to their parent issues in the 60,000
series.  It's confusing, to say the least, but usually US-Supertone
rolls can be linked to their US master issues by rearranging the
jumbled serial numbers.

As far as I can tell all the US-produced Supertone rolls were the same
length as the US issues and of equivalent quality.  In the later years
of their contract US also supplied their hand-played series of rolls
with the Supertone label, now in black boxes.  Artist credits are the
same as on US issues.  These were the first word-rolls issued under the
Supertone label.  The very latest of these rolls have the inscription
"Federal Music Company" at the bottom of the label.

The next supplier of Supertone rolls was the Standard Music Roll Co.
of Orange, New Jersey, on Central Avenue (a few blocks from the home
in which I lived my first three years!)  SMR-produced Supertone rolls
started appearing during the WW1 years, 1917-1919.  They used a 5000
series on the Supertone-labeled rolls, with no bearing on their own
serial numbering system.

All the SMR-Supertones I've seen were copies of the SMR "Perfection"
rolls.  These rolls were their cheapest product, retailing at 25 cents
and wholesaling at 5 cents each!  Standard Music Roll Co. issued rolls
under many labels and their business was deceptive because many of
their more costly labels (retail 75 cents) were just the little
Perfection rolls wound upon a cardboard spool of much larger diameter,
making it look like you were getting more music for the money.

As with the US-Supertone rolls, the SMR-Supertone hand-played rolls
always identified the artist on the label.   When the supply contract
passed from US to Standard, apparently a large amount of unsold stock
was handed over.   SMR used a hand stamp to obliterate the original
serial number and then stamp the new 5000 series on the label.  So it
is possible to find a gray box, yellow label Supertone roll made by US
but distributed by SMR with the new serial number hand-stamped in
black on the label.

The third supplier of rolls for Sears was the Bennett & White Co.
of Newark, New Jersey, which produced "Artempo" brand rolls.  This
association was short-lived, circa maybe 1920-1921.  Bennett & White
burned to the ground around 1921 and the business ended there.  At the
beginning of the Sears/B&W association, B&W prepared a rather crude
yellow brown Supertone label which they pasted over their own blue
label rolls currently in stock.  They maintained their own serial
number system for a short time only.

Bennett & White soon adopted a 5000 series numbering system, most
likely because by this time it had become Sears' own standard catalog
numbering for each title.  Most of the Artempo rolls were hand-played
but, unlike the other suppliers, they didn't credit the artist on the
Supertone issues.  These Artempo-Supertone labels are usually inscribed
"Hand Played" with "Bennett & White, Mfrs." at the very bottom.  As
far as I know the Artempo-Supertone issues are identical to the parent
Artempo rolls in every way.  In order to know the artist, you need to
know the inscription on the Artempo label equivalent (or have access
to an Artempo catalog).   Both instrumental and word rolls were issued.

After Bennett & White, circa 1920-1921, Sears' business went over to
the newly formed Columbia Music Roll Co. in Chicago.  Columbia took
over the nickelodeon roll business of US Music Roll Co., and in doing
so acquired perforators with 6/inch dies (for A-rolls) and 9/inch
(for O-rolls and 88-note rolls).  For about the first year, Columbia
produced only "arranged" Supertone rolls, with no artist credits on
the label.  Later on artist credits were included, and Columbia (later
named Capitol Roll & Record Co.) went on to produce Supertone rolls
with some of the finest blues, jazz and popular fox trot arrangements
ever issued, by any roll company.

Sears' association with Columbia/Capitol was the longest-running,
lasting until the company folded around 1932-33.  This contract was
interrupted for a brief period in 1927 when Sears' Supertone rolls were
made by the Connorized Music Co. of New York.  These Supertone rolls
were all Connorized hand-played masters, mostly played by Rudy Erlebach
under a number of pseudonyms.  The rolls are red framed printed on
yellow paper and readily identified.  The artist name "Jack Daly" is
frequently seen.

When the Capitol Roll Co. fizzled circa 1933 the Sears' contract went
to one of the three barely surviving players in the 88-note market,
the Imperial Industrial Co. (owned by QRS, founded by Max Kortlander).
For a very short period of time around 1932-33, Imperial issued
Supertone labeled rolls with the characteristic red frame line but
having the inscription "Manufactured by Imperial Industrial Co." at
the bottom.

And so ended the Supertone label saga.

All best,
Frank Himpsl - Valley Forge Music Roll Co.

 [ See representative roll labels of the firms indexed at
 [  -- Robbie

(Message sent Wed 7 Jun 2006, 21:24:51 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Piano, Rolls, Sears, Supertone, Suppliers

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