The Acoustical Mikado and Pinafore in America

Reported by Bruce I. Miller

HMV's acoustical Mikado (recorded 1917) and Pinafore (recorded 1922-3) had an interesting issue history in America.

The Acoustical Mikado
The 1925 Victor catalogue lists The Mikado, record numbers 55181/91 (these are blue-label numbers, which was more prestigious than the black-labels but less prestigious than red-seal), but does not identify them as being by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. All the artists are listed as on the main web page, but the orchestra is listed as the "Light Opera Orch" with no conductors mentioned.

The March 1, 1925 Victor supplement contains the following announcement on page 13:

It is with great pleasure and no little pride that the Victor Company announces this month the latest addition to the Music Arts Library of Victor Records — an album containing one of, if not the most famous of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, The Mikado. The opera, as recorded by the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan company in the world, namely, the Rupert D'Oyly Carte Opera Company of England, is complete from overture to final chorus on the eleven twelve-inch, double-faced records encased in the handsome album. A libretto prepared expressly for use with these records accompanies each album, and a synopsis of the plot of the opera is also included. The libretto is marked to indicate the beginning and end of each record, and the words of each number in the whole opera follow in proper sequence.

The music is just what you would expect under the Victor imprint. As England is the home and great shrine of Gilbert & Sullivan Opera, it was to England that we went for an authoritative interpretation of this most enjoyable work. [A rather sly way of suggesting that Victor recorded this version, when actually its sister company, HMV, did. However, by this time Victor had bought a 50 per cent interest in the HMV company, so technically they could be said to be the controlling interest anyway. —BIM]

...A full orchestra supplies the accompaniments, and absolutely nothing has been left undone by the artists or the Victor Company [!] to make your enjoyment of this merry music perfect. The album and the libretto, with all they add to the pleasure of hearing these records, are included in the standard list price for the records alone....

Most curiously, this catalogue supplement does not list a catalogue number for this album or a list price. What they seem to have done was provide an album and libretto for the records already in their catalogue, and possibly this didn't have a number at all. The set seems to have had a short catalogue life, as two months later Victor issued its first electrically recorded discs (this 1917 Mikado was, of course, acoustic), and by the next edition of the catalogue (October 1926) there was no mention of the album or the separate discs.

Then, there was an April, 1927, catalogue entitled entitled: "SPECIAL CATALOGUE | VICTOR RECORDS | of HISTORICAL and | PERSONAL INTEREST". The introduction reads, in part:

...this catalogue extends the music-lover's range of choice in selecting Victor Records by relisting a number of records removed from time to time from the Victor Company's general catalogues, but now restored to the public by the public's own demand.

Practically all of these records were made by the now abandoned process of horn or acoustic recording, now permanently replaced by Orthophonic [Victor's brand name for Western Electric] methods. But their musical, historic or personal interest has proven so great that buyers, lovers and students of music will not permit us to discontinue them...

The 1917 Mikado is listed in this catalogue (as is the acoustical Pinafore), although the album for the records is not mentioned, just the individual records under the heading "Mikado" with the note that the entire work is recorded, as per the 1925 catalogue. [Bruce was able later to check catalogues through the end of 1924, so it seems that 1925 marked the first appearance in America of this set.]

So, technically the set was withdrawn as of October 1926 (or earlier; dealers received periodic cut-out lists which are hard to locate today) and reinstated in the special, supplemental April 1927 catalogue five months later. We can assume that once the set was re-listed in the April 1927 catalogue, it remained available until supplanted by the electrical version which occurred very soon thereafter.

Incidentally, this recording is listed in the Canadian Victor 1924 catalogue (copyright 1923, so this is as of January 1924). This is the Berliner Gram-o-phone Co. Limited of Montreal. They often issued items under the same catalogue nos. as the American Victor Co. but they also issued their own records and produced their own imports.

They list the 1917 Mikado as already having been issued (the acoustic Pinafore is not listed). Interestingly, they give the same blue-label catalogue record numbers as Victor was to use for its release in March, 1925.

The Acoustical Pinafore
Unlike the 1917 Mikado, the 1922 Pinafore set never was, apparently, available in the USA as single records (except by special order, which was the case with all of Victor's album sets through to the end of the 78 era).

The set is first announced in the August 1st 1925 "New Victor Records" supplement, on page 5, as follows:


The instantaneous success of the "Mikado" album we announced in March, has led us to follow it, in the Victor Music Arts Library, with a similar album of records from a similar source — the equally immortal "Pinafore" of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, [sic] sung for us by the Rupert D'Oyly Carte Opera Company of England.

We can repeat what we said in March — that the Gilbert and Sullivan operas are the great classics of modern English comic opera; they are to music what the novels of Charles Dickens are to literature, and their characters are almost equally well-known. Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, who began life by polishing up the big front door of a London law firm, Captain Corcoran, Ralph Rackstraw, Dick Deadeye, Bill Bobstay, delightful little Buttercup, [sic] charming Josephine and utility Hebe and the rest of them — all are here for you. Gilbert's fluent, scholarly, but always clever verse, Sullivan's vivid music — the operas have justly won their place in the esteem of the living world.

There are eight twelve-inch, double-faced records handsomely bound in the album. A libretto specially prepared for it, accompanies each album, with a synopsis of the opera plot. The libretto is marked to indicate the beginning and end of each record, and the words of each number of the opera follow in correct sequence. The album and libretto are included in the list price of the records, $12.00.

There is no mention of the catalogue numbers of the records here, nor the breakdown of each side. As with Victor's March 1925 issue of the 1917 Mikado, there is no album number given. [Bruce has checked catalogues through late 1924, and there is no mention of this album, so mid-1925 must have marked its first appearance.]

This set must have had a very short life in the general catalogue. In November 1925 Victor made the first public announcement of the new electrical process and reproducing machines, although beginning in May they had been issuing electrically recorded records without fanfare. This 1922 Pinafore was, of course, acoustically recorded and was rendered obsolete almost immediately after it was issued in the United States. By the October 1, 1926 general catalogue (the first after the 1925 catalogue), this Pinafore album had been withdrawn.

However, it was reinstated in the April, 1927 "Special Catalogue/VICTOR RECORDS of HISTORICAL AND PERSONAL INTEREST" (see the explanation of this catalogue above). Here, for the first time, every record in the set is given a full listing in the catalogue by blue-label number, by title of musical number and artists (although no conductor(s) are mentioned).

It is difficult to determine how well or not this set sold in the USA. Probably, although the timing of these issues was not necessarily good because they were acoustically recorded, they may have sold rather well if for no other reason than they were the only ones available, and the D'Oyly Carte name may have been potent to potential buyers.