Columbia Records Prefixes and Price Codes

Price Codes and Identifiers in the consolidated CBS/Columbia 30000 Series

In the United States, CBS/Columbia introduced a new numbering system for their album releases in the summer of 1970, the "30000 Series," that was in place until the early 1990's. New releases from its two main imprints, Columbia and Epic, all direct subsidiaries, and especially also all CBS-distributed labels in the United States used the same consolidated system with consecutive numbering from 30000 upwards.

These catalog numbers had a prefix to identify the specific label, the suggested retail price (price code) and if applicable also the type of release (double album, box set, half-speed, quadraphonic). And most albums in the 30000 Series have been issued with several different prefixes, so it can be tough to identify an original first pressing, and this guide should help.

> CBS/ Columbia Consolidated Discography

The label identifiers are pretty straightforward: "C" stands for Columbia and all direct subsidiaries such as American Recording Company (ARC). The letter "E" stands for Epic Records and all of its sub-labels as Cleveland International and Ode Records. An exception is the British label Stiff Records, that was published in the United States alternatively as Stiff/Columbia and Stiff/Epic, so both label identifiers can be found. Harmony used the "H" in the early 1970's and Portrait the letter "R" from 1976 on. With very few exceptions (Fillmore) all other CBS-distributed labels, and there were many of those, used "Z" (CBS Associated Labels) as their label identifier.

Two more exceptions were Classical and Original Cast or Soundtrack releases which both got their own "label identifiers." Classical (and closely related) albums were released on Columbia Masterworks (later CBS Masterworks) and used the "M" identifier. And for movie soundtracks and Broadway cast albums the letter "S" was used, first with Columbia Masterworks labels, later on also in the regular Columbia series.

The label identifier was usually preceded by a price code letter, and this was consistent throughout the 30000 series. So you can find "PC" for Columbia, "PE" for Epic, "PR" for Portrait or "PZ" for any other CBS-distributed label such as Philadelphia International or Virgin. In the early years of the series, albums without a price code ("C 30007", "H 30019", or "E 30030") were releases with a regular list price of $4.98. The first price code was the letter "K", adopted from Columbia's late 1960's KCL/KCS series, and those albums were usually sold for an extra dollar ($5.98). Over the years many more such price codes followed, and the suggested retail price was also adjusted with time; you can find all the details about the price codes in the tables below.

It gets tricky with the "P" price code (PC, PE etc.): PC was used for regular Columbia releases in the mid-1970's, then replaced with the "JC" price code in late 1976. However, in 1980 CBS decided to revive the PC prefix and use it mostly for budget-priced reprints of older records, but those reissues should all have a barcode printed on the back sleeves when the original pressings from the 1970's don't have one! A good example would be Bruce Springsteen's 1975 album "Born To Run":

  1. PC 33795: original first pressing (no barcode)
  2. JC 33795: second pressing (no barcode)
  3. JC 33795: third pressing (with barcode on back sleeve)

There have been reprints of this album in the 1990's and 2000's using the "PC 33795" number, but those were 180g audiophile pressings and can be easily identified as such. We don't believe there was an American budget reissue in the 1980's in the PC-series for this particular album, but if it were, then it would have a barcode printed on the back sleeve just as the "JC 33795" third pressing.

To complicate matters even more, sometimes a third letter identifier was used additionally to the label and price codes. The letter "N" (as in NJZ, NFC, etc.) indicates "non-returnable product." Those records were sold to retailers at a lower wholesale price, but usually with the same suggested list price (which doesn't mean the street price was lower). The idea behind this was probably to promote new and unknown artists, because if such an album became popular it was usually re-released without the "N" (JZ, FC, etc.) and at a higher price. There might have been some exceptions, but generally an "N" album should be the original first pressing.

The story behind the identifier "B" (BFC) is pretty much the same. BFC albums were initially sold cheaper and with a lower to promote the album, and if there was enough demand the next batch of records was printed without the "B" (FC) and sold at a higher (regular) price. That makes BFC albums generally the original first pressing.

Follow this link for our full guide to Price Codes and Identifiers in the consolidated CBS/Columbia 30000 Series.


Rames El Desouki

The Traveller Publishing

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