Leeds & Catlin Records
ca. 1899-1909

The Leeds & Catlin Company was organized in 1899 from the remains of the earlier Walcutt & Leeds Company and the same, Ltd. The latter two were using the facilities of the North American Phonograph Company, which had gone bankrupt in 1894 and was legally sold to Cleveland Walcutt, Edward F. Leeds and Walter Miller (who soon left). Brother Loring Leeds then joined in 1896. Of questionable legally though was their subsequent use of the equipment to record, make and market their own brown wax cylinders given patent protections still presumably held by Edison and Columbia. Strangely though, it briefly supplied Edison during 1897-1898 while Edison's own studios were being set-up. Litigation came from Columbia as early as 1896 for infringement of the Bell-Tainter patent (covering basic sound recording and reproduction) which led to its reorganization into a Ltd. Company and then finally the new incarnation with L. Reade Catlin.

Brown wax cylinder production resumed and reached around a thousand titles before a switch was made to disc records in 1903. This then put Leeds & Catlin into further conflict with Columbia and Victor over other patents. In the meantime though, a very short-lived seven-inch line gave way to a standard-ten that numbered around two thousand titles by the end in 1909. Columbia soon challenged them in court over the right to its Jones Patent, which covered lateral recording on a wax master that was then electroplated. Leeds labels were first pressed in relief on the shellac and covered with gold or green-colored foil before yielding to the more traditional paper variety, probably because of cost. This then brought Victor to the litigation table since it claimed a patent on using paper labels. Victor also sued in defense of its Berliner patent, which covered a tone arm propelled by the groove instead of the phonograph motor. These cases went back-and-forth through the courts for the rest of the decade while Leeds continued to produce and even expand with a Middletown, Connecticut plant.

The company also created several sub-labels and supplied masters to client labels like Oxford, Busy Bee and Aretino. The Foil-Label "Leeds Records" was replaced by the "Imperial Record" while the "Concert Record" was also produced as a more budget-offering. Later on, Imperial was replaced by the "Sun Record" within the U.S. market and then the double-sided "Peerless Record" made a brief appearance before the company was shut down. However, masters were shared between all these labels despite price and prestige. Also, no company credits were listed on the labels after the Foil-Label. Perhaps this was an attempt to put some legal distance between product and company?

Some European talent was brought to record in the New York studio but the discs met with little profit. A few disc masters were also imported from the German "Favorite" label. A Grand Opera series also failed and a 1907 attempt to bring back the cylinder under the "Radium" name never took off. Standard fare by the freelance recording artists like Billy Murray, Collins and Harlan, Len Spencer and Henry Burr was popular though. Oddly, the Big Three continued to employ them as well without threat for also recording for "infringing companies".

Constant litigation took its toll on the company however. Attempts to address them were rejected by the courts like a sticker on the back of the discs warning buyers to only use a mechanically-propelled tone arm. The Company also claimed in arguments a right of repair-and-replacement to replace broken and worn Victor/Columbia discs with Leeds discs. The Supreme Court dealt the fatal decision in 1909 with the company being closed and properties auctioned off soon after. No studio session notes survive so all information either comes from contemporary trade publications or the records themselves. Leeds & Catlin Records: A History and Discography by William R. Bryant and edited by Allan Sutton (Mainspring Press, 2015) is the most comprehensive modern source of information.

Encoded Speed: 192 Kbps

Every Day Will be Sunday Bye and Bye (Blank)
Rambler Minstrel Company
(Byron G. Harlan, Arthur Collins (probably), Billy Murray and Steve Porter)
Concert (Leeds & Catlin) 7693
Matrix# 6695 (4693; 744693)
listed January 1906
New York, New York
Note: Played at 78 RPM.

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