Elvis Presley, Sun Records, and Push Marks

February 7th, 2011

In the course of writing about Elvis Presley memorabilia the other day, I found myself spending a lot of time looking at Elvis Presley records, particularly the 45s and 78s he cut at Sun Records for Sam Phillips.

One of the terms that kept popping up in the descriptions written about the King’s 45 rpm singles was “push marks.” I could see them beneath the label (look for the circular indentations to the left of the word “That’s” in the photo above-left, and to the right of the word “Kentucky” in the photo above-right), but it took a while to find an authoritative source to explain how they got there.

Music appraiser Stephen M.H. Braitman, who gave us a fascinating interview about the British Invasion last summer, pointed me to a site called WorldLingo and this description of record manufacturing: “Each stamper [the negative used in a hydraulic press to make the actual vinyl disc] was next centre punched; methods used included aligning the final locked groove over three pins or tapping the edge while rotating under the punch until the grooves could be seen (through a microscope) to move constantly towards the centre.”

“Sun Records,” says Braitman, “obviously used the method of aligning the stamper over three pins, which, on the final vinyl result, looks like ‘push mark’ impressions.” In other words, the impression was made while the disc was still warm, transferred from the stamper to the vinyl.

Confirming this view of events is John Boija, whose website chronicling the details of the 45s, 78s, and LPs recorded at Sun was recently added to our Hall of Fame.

“To the best of my understanding,” says Boija, “the push marks stem from the so-called stampers, the metal plates used when manufacturing the records. You can see them quite clearly on one of the preserved stampers for Elvis’s debut, Sun 209, which Joseph Pirzada in the U.K. owns.” See photo at left.

“Now, when one checks the early Sun 45 rpm releases one by one,” Boija continues, “it is easy to note that many—but not all—have push marks. Why is that? Well, the scarcity of the majority of the pre-Elvis Sun 45s makes it difficult to verify, but my theory, based on some of Sam Phillips’s correspondence with the companies that made the stampers, is that the releases that were anticipated to only have limited commercial success were done in small quantities—often in increments of 500—locally in Memphis. Those pressings always have the so-called push marks.

“But when a record became a hit, neither the Memphis pressing plant (Plastic Products on Chelsea Ave.) nor the local distributor (Music Sales, also on Chelsea) had the capacity to merchandise and distribute satisfactorily outside of the South. The first national hits like ‘Bear Cat’ by Rufus Thomas, Jr. (Sun 181, released March 1953) or ‘Just Walkin’ In The Rain’ by the Prisonaires (Sun 186, July 1953) were mainly pressed and distributed in Los Angeles. The former I have never seen with push marks, the latter both with and without, depending on which pressing plant was used.

“This is the explanation for why genuine Sun releases from the 1950s can be originals both with and without push marks, but in the case of Elvis, push marks have become synonymous with being the real deal—it takes both skill and experience to identify the genuine non-push marked originals.

“The very last number I’ve seen with push marks,” says Boija, “is Sun 236 by Jimmy Haggett, a single that sold so poorly most collectors have never seen it. Released in December 1955, it probably wasn’t run in more than 500 copies. I’ve seen two copies and both had push marks. Apart from that, Sun 231 by Charlie Feathers, another ultra-rare release from December 1955, also has push marks, as so do most earlier releases, unless they were large hits pressed out of town from the start, mainly for Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.”

As an aside, Boija has some advice for those who might ignore Sun’s 78s, which are easily identified by their small center hole, the rooster logo above it, and the horizontal bar that reads “RECORD COMPANY.” Sun 45s, he says, were made from “the poorest quality vinyl and were pressed with a groove width designed to handle the thicker 78 rpm stylus, as compared to the thinner ‘Microgroove’ needle that was introduced with the LP format.” So, when you play your Elvis 45s on modern equipment, Boija says, the result is what’s known as “the Sun hiss. Most collectors have never realized that if they play the records with the correct needle, they sound much better. In terms of dynamics, sound quality, and clarity, not even a mint 45 comes close to the 78s. A pristine 78 even beats the CD reissues.”

Thanks John!

17 comments so far

  1. Dave Ayers Says:

    I have a Sun, its Bill Strength Senorita, flip side, Guess I’d Better Go. Number 364. Can’t find any info on this. Thanks, Dave

  2. Ed. Lasko Says:

    0.7 thou for modern LPs and 45s
    1.1 thou for standard mono records – 1949 to 1980s
    1.5 thou for certain early indie labels: Sun, Duke, Starday etc.
    2.8 thou for standard 78s, 1939 to early 60s
    3.5 thou for standard 78s, circa 1925 to circa 1938

    source: Glenn Henning, Edgware, England; courtesy of Times Square Records, NY

    Using a 78 needle on Sun 45s will damage them!

  3. Mike Singleton Says:

    I just picked copy of Elvis’ “I Got A Woman” on RCA #6637 and on one side, Nipper has no color, just black and silver, the other side has him in color. What’s up with that?


  4. ron hoyer Says:

    i owned a record store 30 years ago,i had bought the sun repros in the 80’s,i also bought a few dj collections,i have a sun 220, it appears to have the correct numbers in the trail off,and compared to 80’s repros vinyl is thicker,no push marks though.this nm how do i verify.

  5. rose Says:

    have 45rpmrecordings of elvis promo not to be sold uncut onside blank still uncut tobe rounded.. do i need to supply rca number on label to acquire date time of publication

  6. michael jacobsen Says:

    bought a record on ebay- that’s all right sun 209 78 Presley. found out that there are fakes . I believe mine is a fake by the fact it feels lighter than my johnny cash sun 78 and it is more pliable than the cash record. What can you tell me about fakes and does this fill the format. Thanks Mike Jacobsen ps paid over 600 for it

  7. Carolyn Claussen Says:

    I enjoyed the article. I had every 45, EP and LP and lost all in a fire in Octber 1992! What a treasure I lost.

  8. Wendy hart Says:

    Hi, I have 2 Elvis Sun records that I am still confused as to Real or Fake. On checking they have all info on label and run off in dead wax but no push marks. Can anyone help me with this please
    Can post some pics

  9. The Maus Says:

    I have Sun Record #209 & mine says ELVIS PRESLEY & underneath that it says WITH & underneath that it says SCOTTY & BILL….the ones you show above do not have the word WITH……Which one is real????

  10. Louis R Rowberry Says:

    I’m about to buy 45 rpm 194 with out push marks and was told by dealer most if not all 194s didn’t come with press marks (He also said 194 also did not come w/ press marks)…need to know before I plunk down the big bucks. thank you.

  11. Dennis West Says:

    Most of the info in the article is accurate, but leaves a lot info not stated. Sun Records used at least three different pressing almost from the very start of the label. Memphis, West Coast, East Coast. The East Coast plant was Paramount Record Pressing Plant in Philadelphia, PA. Sam Hodge owned the plant. I purchased his inventory in the late 1970s…three 45 foot tractor trailer truckloads of 45s 78s and LPs. There were thousands of the Sun records there, plus unused labels and all the stampers (except the Elvis ones which RCA got when they got Elvis). Sun’s account number at Paramount was 72…so if you see a 72 in the deadwax it came from Paramount. The Paramount Elvis Sun’s had the push marks. The Marino Brothers booted the Sun records back in 1973 and placed 73 in the deadwax to show when they were pressed. Richard Minor booted the Sun Elvis 45s all thru the early and mid 1980s (he ended up in prison over his actions). A guy booted most of the Elvis records out of Baltimore, MD, and again went to prison over it…after he got out RCA hired him to work for them. There are real Elvis Sun’s without the push marks…if in doubt have a long term collector looked them over. The wax on records from the mid 1950s is different from the wax on later records, and most long term collectors can tell if it’s 50s wax.

  12. D. Simpkin Says:

    My father-in-law passed away in 2016. He spoke frequently of his 78 rpm Elvis on ‘Sun’ but his wife cannot find it. Which is the most scarce of the KoR 78’s and how many different issues?
    How hard must she search? :-)
    Thank you.

  13. Louis Alfieri Says:

    Hello Dennis, I was a former record producer from Philadelphia (setting up a podcast on classic soundtracks); my question on your purchase of Sam Hodge’s inventory, I had heard from record collectors that it was Discogs’ -Keven Lewandowski who bought out Hodge & Paramount Record Pressing Plant; can you confirm.
    Lou Alfieri

  14. roy trogstad Says:

    Have a vinyl 45 record by Elvis Prestly on Sun label,Blue moon of Kentucky and Thats all Right, Recorded with Scotty and Bill . Imprint 209 on bottom. Wondering what its worth and where to sell it.

  15. Matt Maley Says:

    Do you know if the 78 or the 45 was pressed first? I’m trying to determine what the true first pressing of “that’s all right” is .

  16. Roberta Says:

    I have a misprint Elicis Sun Record That’s Alright. I can not see a Matrix number on the Record on either side. It is not in very good condition. Could the number be worn off and not be able to be detected or what does it mean if it was never there?

  17. Roberta Says:

    I meant an Elvis vinyl “Thats Alright” on Sun Record label.

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