'DB' Series - Matrix Numbers

The information contained here deals with matrix numbers within the HMV, 'DB' series.

A matrix number is an alphanumeric code (and on occasion, other symbols) stamped or handwritten (or a combination of the two) into the run-out groove area of a gramophone record.

'In the days of 78 rpm records, before recording tape was commonly used, audio recordings were cut directly to disc. The recording studio would assign a number to the recording, which would become the main part of the matrix number, and often several takes would be made. Only one take would be selected for issue in most cases, but there are occasions where alternate takes were issued as well.' [1] This additional number is often refer to as take number.

'Stamped on the disc itself, is either an A, B, C, etc., or -1, -2, -3, etc., after the number. H.M.V. recordings used a Roman numeral just above the triangle or square symbols. The explanation of these is fairly obvious. At a recording session, several recordings were made of each title, and the best of each was later selected for issue to the public. With one or two minor exceptions, a different matrix number is not given each version of the same title, but a letter or number added to dis­tinguish each. Sometimes, particularly in America, records are pressed from two or more of the master records, and collectors are always keen to obtain two versions of the same title, from the same session.' [2]

Matrix numbers for this series generally feature the following elements or combination of elements:

  • Prefix - a combination of number or numbers and letters
  • Unique number - In this series, these numbers were, more-or-less followed in sequence and in some cases got to high numbers. For example, the 2EA. matrix number series finished in the high 15,000's
  • Recording method symbol - A unique 'shape' or 'symbol' used in the HMV, DB series to indicate the source recording method. As matrices were often sourced from different countries or affiliated companies, sometimes the recording method was different. A symbol helped to differentiate the various recording methods in use at the time.
  • Take number - A number indicating the sequence of the same item recorded either in a session or sessions, (often inscribed as Roman or Arabic numerals), either above or at the end of matrix number. [In the scan below, Roman numerals have been used and are featured above the matrix number. In Fig.2, Arabic numerals are used and placed after the matrix number]

[Fig.1] HMV, DB runout grooves - Detail, showing matrix number (with prefix), recording method/system as well as take number (Roman numerals)

[Fig.2] HMV, DB runout grooves - Detail, showing matrix number (with prefix) as well as take number.
Note missing recording method symbol
(Taken from DB 20156)

The technical side of recording will not be dealt with here, but mention that various recording companies during the 78rpm era had developed their own methods of recording, and that some of these companies incorporated a symbol representing the system used with the matrix number, should be explored briefly.

'Thus, the American Victor and English H.M.V. companies, originally using the same system, both added a triangle to their matrix numbers. In 1932, however, new methods were adopted, the Victor company thereafter used a diamond symbol, and H.M.V. for a short time, used a swastika [See Fig.4] and then onwards from that point, a square ' [See Fig.3] [3] [4] [5]

[Fig.3] Detail, showing matrix number (with prefix), take number and recording method - Square

[Fig.4] Detail, showing matrix number (with prefix), take number and recording method - swastika

Please Note: Matrix numbers listed in our database are sequenced according to ascending side number. For example, the following sequence of matrix numbers - 2EA.12288-2; 2EA.12289-2; 2EA.12290-5; 2EA.12291-1; 2EA.12292-2; 2EA.12293-3 - list the matrix numbers for sides 1 to 6 respectively of DB 6556-6558 and not of the auto coupling format (DB 9188-9190).


1 Edited text from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrix_number
2 Matrix Numbers - Their Meaning and History, Douglas C. Black, [Ed.] William H. Miller, Australian Jazz Quarterly
4 "The triangle indicates the now-familiar Western Electric Recording." [From: normanfield.com/markings.htm] and the swastika indicates "the Gramophone Company's moving-iron system." but was abandoned around 1932(?) for (as yet) unknown reasons. [From: http://cool.conservation-us.org/byform/mailing-lists/arsclist/2001/08/msg00069.html] The square symbol also indicated the Moving Coil recording system (adopted after HMV abandoned the swastika symbol) and the diamond indicated the Victor recording system.
5 The swastika symbol was actually the mirror-image of the swastika later used by the German Nazi party.