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Archival description
Alex Robertson fonds
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Alex Robertson fonds

  • P0023
  • Fonds
  • 1853-1988

Between 1940 and 1986, Alex Robertson collected records. Most of the recordings in the fonds are 78 rpm's pressed in Montreal by Berliner and Compo: Berliner was the first Canadian company to produce records, and Compo was the first to record Canadian Black musicians. The fonds contains a large number of sound recordings that have never had commercial or widespread distribution. The fonds includes about 3,000 pieces of sheet music of various genres, dating from ca 1885 to 1970; about 1,000 pieces have Canadian content. The fonds includes numerous catalogues and promotional pamphlets from record and sheet-music publishing companies, dealers, clubs, and radio stations. Also included are books annotated by Alex Robertson in the course of his disco-graphical research. Alex Robertson's research materials on record labels and series, as well as on Montreal musical activity between 1913 and 1970 are included in the fonds. His extensive correspondence and related newsletters are included. The fonds includes photographs of Alex Robertson with his family; there is also a photograph of Alex Robertson with jazz author George Martin, and several of a reception held in his honor in the Concordia University Archives reading room in 1988.

The fonds is organized into the following series:
P0023/A Correspondence
P0023/B Research on record labels and series
P0023/C Research on Montreal music activity
P0023/D Photographs

Robertson, Alex


Mr. Robertson corresponded with several people to exchange information about records, entertainers and numericals. Some of his correspondents really helped him in his research while he helped others in their own field. He also received several newsletters which he filed with his correspondence. These newsletters were used to establish contacts with other collectors or sent by correspondents.

Mr. Robertson established a file for each correspondent. The system remains the same; the files were classified in alphabetical order and the letters in chronological order.

Series A includes Don Cleary's collectors directory - 1977. Some of the addresses of Mr. Robertson's correspondents were taken from that directory.

Some miscellaneous notes and photocopies were grouped together but not organized by subject. These refer to a variety of subjects discussed in the correspondence but cannot be associated with any particular letter or correspondent. Since Mr. Robertson filed these material with his correspondence, it has been left in that series.

Some letters which had only the correspondent's first name or no name at all were found in the collection. These could not be placed with any other letters and have been grouped together in an "Anonymous" file.


This series includes photographs and negatives of Mr. Robertson with members of his family and George Martin.

It also includes photographs of the reception held in honor of Alex Robertson's memory at Concordia University Archives in 1988.

Research on Labels and Series

Mr. Robertson did extensive research on record labels pressed in Lachine by the Compo Company Limited. His objectives were to correct the inaccuracies often found in the record catalogues and to find out which musicians recorded under more than one name, either in Canada or another country. He achieved three lists of numericals: (1) The Apex 8000 Numerical, (2) Canadian Compo Numericals, and (3) Canadian Gennett and Starr-Gennett 9000 Numerical. Some of this work was done with the help of George Humble and many of his other correspondents. Mr. Robertson's work on numericals was partly published in The Record Research, a periodical, in 1983 and 1986. This series includes Mr. Robertson's documentation, research notes and lists.

Mr. Robertson used various materials to complete his research; record catalogues and pamphlets, periodicals and books. These have been filed in alphabetical order and are described in the following categories: (1) Record Catalogs and Brochures, (2) Periodicals, and (3) Annotated Books.

Mr. Robertson collected many record catalogs and brochures to work on his lists of numericals. In them he found a lot of inaccuracies and tried to correct them in his final lists. This category includes all the catalogues and brochures collected by Mr. Robertson. They have been organized into 7 sections: (1) Record Companies, (2) Independent Companies, (3) Independent Dealers, (4) Public Bodies, (5) Radio Stations, (6) Record Clubs, and (7) Sheetmusic Catalogues. Within each of these sections, the material is organized alphabetically by company and then, chronologically.

Mr. Robertson collected many music periodicals. Some of them are specifically about jazz. This category includes all the periodicals kept in the Archives. They are classified chronologically. A list of the discarded periodicals is also available.

Mr. Robertson collected many books to help him in his research. Those which he annotated have been kept in the Archives. This category includes a listing of these books.

The collection contains about 1000 78 rpm records, most of which were pressed in Montreal by Berliner and Compo. Berliner was the first canadian record production company and Compo was the first one to produce black musician's records. A database was established to list and provide access to the records. The data can be accessed by: Item number, Company, Label, Catalog number, Title, Type of music, Recording artist, and Composer.

The Alex Robertson collection contains about 3000 pieces of sheet music, which include various kinds of music, such as jazz, popular, country, contemporary and classical. About 1000 of them have a canadian content; i.e. the music was written by a canadian author, published in Canada, or the sheet music was sold by a canadian store or had an insert that would confirm it was originally performed by a canadian artist. The computer program was established to list and provide access to the sheet music. The data can be accessed by: Item number, Title, Composer, Lyricist, Names in comments, Publisher, Place of publication, Type of music, Copyright date, and Photo on cover.

Research on Montreal Music Activity

Mr. Robertson had many research subjects. Among them was one regarding musical activities in Montreal. He worked extensively on a list of all the performers, Canadian or not, who appeared in Montreal between 1913 and 1970. To achieve this task, he went through newspapers covering that period, including: La Presse, The Montreal Gazette, The Montreal Star, The Montreal Herald, The Montreal Standard, and La Patrie, The Montreal Daily. He compiled two lists, one alphabetical and the other chronological, both of which include the dates and places of performance. A database has been established to enter this data in the computer. It is accessible by: Entertainer's Name, Date of Performance, and Venue.

In addition to Montreal music activity, Mr. Robertson investigated other show business areas, such as: American vaudeville artists, Vaudeville artists, Rock n'roll bands, Montreal's musicians and bands, American comedy, Country music, Dance music, Dixieland jazz band, Quebec's burlesque theater, and Who's who in jazz.

This series also includes Mr. Robertson's research notes on all those subjects and the lists that he established.