Sound record catalogue numbers

As record label and catalogue number information are always closely associated with each other, the following information about the development of the use of catalogue numbers is given here.

The catalogue number is any number used by the record company to identify a specific recorded sound item for ordering or stock control and sales purposes. Catalogue numbers have been applied to published sound recordings from the earliest commercial releases of cylinders.

The earliest discs were all one-sided. The catalogue number was therefore often the same as the matrix number for these discs. However, some single-sided discs also had specific catalogue numbers.

When double-sided discs were introduced (ca. 1905) many were given a separate catalogue number for each side. This proved a cumbersome method for identifying the discs and a single catalogue number soon became common to both sides of the disc.

Some discs, especially from the pre-1930 period however, also had a separate number to identify each side of the disc. This was known as a face number, and often appeared in addition to the catalogue number and to the matrix number. E.g., many early HMV discs display face numbers.

From the 1930s onwards, record catalogue numbers became more standardised and are usually easy to identify. Often a simple number was all that was used, but commonly a prefix of one or more letters was added to identify various series on the same label or just to make the plain number specific to that particular label. Less commonly, there were alpha-numeric prefixes and/or a suffix.

With the introduction of different disc formats, such as 45 rpm and LP records, the dominant types of records marketed in the 1950s, there was often a need to distinguish between different formats of the same recording (which might exist on both a 78 rpm and a 45 rpm disc) or to indicate different sizes of long-playing records (such as 10 inch and 12 inch LPs). This led to more complex catalogue numbers which frequently included prefixes and/or suffixes.

In the 1980s some discs (mainly LPs) began to show a variety of different numbers, including order numbers and other stock-control numbers, sometimes making it difficult to distinguish which is the actual catalogue number. There was also a tendency to use computer-generated numbers, usually a long sequence of digits. Later, the development of international standard numbering systems resulted in the use of codes (to identify the format) being part of the catalogue number (e.g. "-1" at the end of a number to indicate a vinyl disc, "-2" to indicate a CD, and "-4" to indicate a cassette release - all of the same published release of the recording).