Decca and London; early classical sleeves

A random quartet of early classical album covers on the American London and Decca labels from the ST33 archives. While not all in the premier sleeve design league (of say Steinweiss) they do illustrate the way that record labels approached the still novel task of packaging 12″vinyl albums early on.

early album sleeve designs 1940s 1950s London records

And the Schubert cover above is indeed very early; dated 1949 on the back. Although the sleeve is printed in America (not only is this fact mentioned on the cover, but they’re using the paper slick style of cover which never happened in the UK), the album is marked Made in England. For a couple of years before the LP format was launched in the UK, albums were pressed here but for export only (something to do with the post-war export drive).
The whimsical cover has a certain charm, sketchy pen and ink work in just three solid colours. It’s actually a bit Edward Ardizzone in style, though I’ve no hard evidence for this.

early album sleeve designs 1940s 1950s London records

The Bach cover is of a similar date. The more stylised art is credited to Bainbridge, an artist I have not been able to track down, but who is credited on a number of early 1950s UK Decca sleeves. Again it is printed in three solid colours, sleeve in US, disc in England. The cover mentions (top right) that the recording won an award in 1951, which points to this edition being after that date.

early album sleeve designs 1940s 1950s London records

The same series for example produced the very different Rossini cover above, which has a higher catalogue number and is dated 1950 on the back. The illustration is not credited, but the overall look is very lively thanks to the bright magenta and green shop awning background.

early album sleeve designs 1940s 1950s Decca records

In sober contrast comes perhaps the best cover, a rather more sedate and mannered abstract image for a recording of The Schubert Quintet. This was issued by the American Decca company (on their gold label series), with both sleeve and disc manufactured in America, the recording itself coming from Deutsche Grammophon under a deal agreed between the two labels in 1950.
The Quintet is better know as The Trout, hence the swirling design, with a fish picked out in white. It was done by Erik Nitsche, a Swiss born designer who moved to America shortly before WW2. Although he worked mainly on corporate design and magazine layouts, he did do a number of excellent sleeves for Decca at this time.

There is an interesting page on Nitsche’s work on a mysterious website called

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