Columbia Records is the oldest brand name in recorded sound. Founded in January 1889 in Washington DC as the Columbia Phonograph Co. by Edward D. Easton, the company first sold phonograph cylinders and later disc records.

For 78s that have "Exclusive Artist (At Pressing)" on labels add "Exclusive Artist" in the release notes and/or Free Text field (see [g6.1.5).
For all unofficial/bootleg copies of this label please use Columbia.

It opened a British operation shortly afterwards. This was sold in 1922 to its own management, and then the independent Columbia Graphophone Company Ltd. itself purchased its almost bankrupt former parent in 1925. This was then merged with The Gramophone Co. Ltd., which had been set up in the UK in 1896. This company was incorporated as Electric & Musical Industries Ltd. (EMI) in 1931. US anti-trust laws forced the UK company to divest itself of its US operations that year.

The label was introduced in Japan in 1931 by the Nippon Phonograph Co. (also known as Nipponophone Co. Ltd.) which was a subsidiary of Electric & Musical Industries Ltd. In 1935 EMI sold its stake in Nipponophone, but Nipponophone kept ownership of the Columbia brand for Japan. After World War II, the label became part of Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd.

For the next few decades the Columbia imprint (trademark) was exclusively owned by Columbia Graphophone Co. Ltd., outside North America, Japan, and Spain, where the rights were owned by a company unrelated to Electric & Musical Industries Ltd., Discos Columbia, S.A. (it was eventually sold to BMG Spain through RCA). In the US and Canada, Columbia was owned by CBS Inc.

In 1961, Columbia set up a parent company for itself called CBS Records, which was a division of CBS. In 1965, Columbia Graphophone Company Ltd. was merged into The Gramophone Co. Ltd., with the rights to the Columbia trademark subsequently being reassigned to that company. In January 1973, The Gramophone Co. Ltd. began phasing out some of its domestic labels (Parlophone, Regal Zonophone, etc.) including Columbia, in favour of the newly established EMI label, and subsequently no longer using the label for releasing pop or rock acts in much of the world (although it remained in use in parts of Asia and for non-pop releases).

On November 2, 1989, CBS sold its recording music distribution and label group to the Japanese conglomerate Sony Corporation for $400 million. On October 15, 1990, EMI Records Ltd. (successor of The Gramophone Co. Ltd.) officially sold its international rights to the Columbia trademark to Sony which rebranded CBS to Columbia on 1 January 1991. On April 17, 1991, Sony's acquisition of Columbia Records and affiliated labels was completed; CBS Records was renamed to Sony Music Entertainment and the Japanese branch CBS/Sony, which was formed as a venture in 1968 between CBS Inc. and Sony, was rebranded as Sony Records (now Sony Music Japan). In Spain, Sony managed to acquire the rights from BMG, which it had merged with on August 5, 2004 as Sony BMG Music Entertainment. However, since the trademark was not owned by an EMI affiliate in Japan, Sony was not able to acquire it for that market. This is why Sony can't use the original Columbia brand nor name in Japan, where the label was operated by Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd. until October 1, 2002, when the name was changed to Columbia Music Entertainment, Inc. On October 1, 2010, the name was changed back to Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd..

Today, Columbia (walking eye) remains one of the four flagship music labels operated by Sony Music Entertainment worldwide except in Japan, where Columbia (magic notes) is the primary imprint of Nippon Columbia.

WARNING: Codes with the following prefixes should not be entered as catalogue number: XSS, ZSS, AL, BL. These codes are matrix numbers unique for each side of a vinyl release and should be entered in the Barcode and Other Identifiers section. The actual catalogue number is usually printed above the matrix number.

European releases in the 1980s until the late 1990s often had supplementary numbers printed on the release in the following format:
xx-xxxxxx-xx (e.g.: 01-497424-10) in addition to short catalogue number 497424. These are not distribution codes or catalogue numbers but were added by the Dutch CBS, Haarlem / Sony/CBS, Haarlem plants and are commonly known as Computer Numbers. Do not add them as catalogue numbers. You can add these codes as "Other" in the BaOI section with "Manufacturing code" as description.

Catalogue letters from 1989 to 2005 are listed as "CK 12345".
Label code: LC 00162.
Has the Spanish series Espectacular.

French Columbia shellac codes, sizes, label colours, price codes (1951):
BF - 25 cm (10") - brown label (price code Medium)
BFX - 30 cm (12") - brown label (price code Medium)
DF - 25 cm (10") - black label (price code Standard)
DFX - 30 cm (12") - black label (price code Standard)
GF - 25 cm (10") - green label (price code Artistique)
GFX - 30 cm (12") - green label (price code Artistique)
LF - 25 cm (12") - blue label (price code Artistique)
LFX - 30 cm (12") - blue label (price code Artistique)
RFX - 30 cm (12") - red label (price code Medium)
9000 to 11672 - 30 cm (12") - black label (price code Standard)

Please note some mid-1950s (USA) 45rpm releases have on the label a release # which ends with -c which indicates "country":
4-41008-c (year released 1957)
4-41012-c (year released 1957)
4-41020-c (year released 1957)

Note some releases from 1986 to 1991 have the ⎊ upside-down triangle (which looks like a Fallout Shelter) on the label which marks this era of pressing. Found on Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Carrollton, GA and also Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Pitman on LPs or 12" singles, it helps designate the A side. This symbol also appears on some CDs and cassette tapes.

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