Making Sense of “Pearl” Wrap Patterns and Names

Featured Articles – Making Sense of “Pearl” Wrap Patterns and Names

© Jammin Sam. All Rights Reserved.

If you have noticed, there is some confusion concerning “pearl” (mother of pearl) wrap names. In our experience in talking to thousands of people (even in the industry), many are “in the dark” when it comes to accurate terminology. We find different names are used interchangeably (in error), and some distinct patterns are not even mentioned, much less identified. The reason for this article is to expose the incorrect terminology that has been circulated, and to correctly name pearl colors and patterns.

Nature of the Confusion

Today, when we consider sparkle finishes, it’s pretty universally understood that a sparkle is a sparkle, and the same for glass glitters.

Note
Occasionally someone may get sparkles and glass glitters confused, but once the difference is pointed out, the mystery is over.

Solids are pretty straight forward, and when it comes to Satin Flames, there is little variation from the term “Satins” or “Satin Flames”, and most Satin colors are called by the name of the color. However, when it comes to the pearl finishes, there is little standardization of terms concerning patterns. What we have been left with is a hodgepodge of terms and catch words. And with this “free for all” naming practice, we have been left with much confusion concerning names and patterns of pearl finishes. Actually, I was confused for a long while, until I carefully examined vintage catalogs, factory product lists, and conversed with factory representatives, before I came away with some clarification. And I hope you will gain insight from this article that took years in the business and detailed research, before I finally understood it well enough to write about it for everyone else.

History of the Early Pearl Finishes & Terms

“How It All Began”

Pearl drum finishes first came on the scene in Ludwig’s 1928 drum catalog. In that catalog, they offered “Emerald Green”, “Marble”, “Lavender”, and “Turquoise Blue”. At the time, this was considered quite an array of choices (since none had been available prior), but the appearance of these finishes were poor (more of a marble look- not 3-D). Then Ludwig, in their 1932 and 1933 catalogs, dropped all but “Lavender”, and added “Avalon” and “Streaked Opal”. However, all these finishes were dropped by the 1937 catalog and were replaced with a “marine” pearl and a “black” pearl- both of these had a pleasing 3-D appearance (a result from using very flammable nitrate in the plastic). And these finishes were renamed in the 1957 catalog to “white marine” and “black diamond”). Slingerland, in their 1940 catalog, offered “black diamond” and “marine” pearl- selling the same products Ludwig sold. The lineup of these two pearl finishes became the standard, and solely reigned as the only two pearl finishes until 1960. But in the1960 catalogs of both Ludwig and Slingerland, more patterns became available, colors were in vogue (remember, this was the 60s), and most were 3-D looking. Because of these changes (in color and patterns), a great deal of excitement arose among drummers to acquire these new looks, and even the old looks: bright colors, different choices of patterns, and an actual 3-D looking appearance. In the 50s and early 60s there were several factories that made finishes for drum companies, but by 1966 one company emerged that reissued the finishes of the other companies and became the main company (in the US) for pearls, sparkles, and later for glass glitters. This factory (who wishes to remain anonymous) is still the main provider for vintage sparkles, glass glitters, and pearls today (for the drum industry). However, this factory did not give names to the combinations of colors and patterns (still their practice today), but only a string of numbers and letters. The endless combinations of materials, patterns, colors, etc., made name labeling inefficient- numbers (and letters) had to be used. Because there were no proper names given at the factory, the job of naming finishes was left to the drum companies.

Drum Companies’ Terms

Leaving the job of naming drum wraps, up to the drum companies, has been an interesting ride over the years, resulting in standardization for some finishes, and no standardization of others. Viewing some facts of the past will help us understand the problem and help us see where today’s terms came from. Below is the history on how the four most recognized drum companies of the past used terms to name (and re-name) their drum finishes:

  1. The Ludwig Drum Company in their 1933 catalog referred to sparkles as “Flakes”. In their 1939 (WFL) catalog, they referred to pearls as “Pearls”, and sparkles as “Sparkles” (departing from the “Flake” term) but also called all the plastic wraps “Pearls”. Then in 1969 changed the name of sparkle finishes to “Mists”, but later in the next catalog (1971) changed the name back to “Sparkles”. In their 1969 catalog, they called satin flames “Astros”, however, dropped all “Astros” by the 1971 catalog. And in that same catalog, dropped the term “pearls” from non-pearl finishes. Ludwig also, in their 1976 catalog, offered a new pearl pattern which they called “Strata” (sold in six colors), but was not the same finish Rogers called “Strata” which they (Rogers) introduced in their 1965 catalog. (Are you confused yet?)
  2. The Slingerland Drum Company, in their 1940 catalog, called both sparkle and pearl wraps “Pearls” (like Ludwig). In their 1967 catalog, which included Satin Flame finishes, they called those finishes “Pearls” as well. And the term was used by them to describe all their plastic finishes until their 1980 catalog, when they succumbed to the industry changes, and dropped the term from their non-pearl wraps. Slingerland also sold “Agate” finishes (1967-1976)- the same finishes that Rogers’ sold as “Onyx”. The Rogers’ term is still used today for that pattern, the Slingerland name is not.
  3. When it came to calling all plastic wrap “Pearls”, the Rogers Drum Company followed suite. This practice (from our records) lasted from their beginnings, until their 1973 catalog. In their 1973 catalog they dropped the term “Pearls” from all wraps that were non-pearl. Also, in their 1965 catalog offered “Stratas” that were actually the same as Ludwig’s “Oyster” finishes, which Ludwig sold between 1960-1968.
  4. The Gretsch Drum Company seemed to have the terminology down correctly in their 1966 catalog by calling satin flames, “Satin Flames”, sparkle finishes “Sparkles”, and mother of pearl finishes, “Pearls.” (Our hats are off to the Gretsch Drum Company- Thank you to the late Fred Gretsch Senior.)

You might ask the question, “Why do drum companies seem to use terms indiscriminately? My personal belief is it comes down to money. Drum companies seem to give finishes names that they believe will help the color and/or drum-set sell better. Also, if one company names a color, another company sometimes believes it is not best for them to follow suit- it appears like they are a follower instead of a leader, so they choose alternate naming. But sometimes the same name was used (a name comparison of the “Big Four” drum companies will be given later).

It is easy to understand from the above information, that the “hit and miss” approach of the past (naming and re-naming) left many people confused. When different companies call the same or similar finish something different, many are going to be confused- and that is what we see today.

 

The Terminology Problem
© JamminSam. All rights reserved.

If we could actually get the terminology down correctly, a good part of the confusion would be cleared (it would make our sales people’s lives easier.) We find three areas of terminology confusion:

Terminology Problem #1: Lets stop calling all wraps “pearls.”

We have found several individuals who still call all wraps “pearls.”  This is because 3 out of the 4 US drums companies for several years did the very same thing (up until about 1980- refer to prior history section connected to this article).  One might ask, “Why can’t the term ‘pearls’ be associated with all drum wraps?” The answers:

  1. All the drum companies left behind that labeling.
  2. It is an incorrect use of the term. Below are the definitions of the word “pearl” as they appear in any common dictionary:
pearl-
something resembling a pearl or mother-of-pearl
pearlescent-
having an appearance/luster of pearl or mother-of-pearl
pearlized-
resembling pearl or mother-of-pearl; iridescent

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything in the definition that relates to Sparkles, Satin Flames, Solids, or any other appearance that is different from a pearlized/pearlescent appearance. My personal belief is that years ago, somebody should have checked their dictionary. However, that is now “water under the bridge”. The main purpose of this article is to educate us on the correct terms for drum wrap (and the different types) so we can clearly understand what each party is referring to.  The first level of correction is to stop calling all drum finishes “pearls”.

 

Terminology Problem #2: Lets use the term “marine” correctly.

To resolve this problem, we need to be clear on two points:

  1. All pearl finishes are not referred to as “marines.”  The term “marine” mainly refers to color, so lets stop calling all pearl finishes “marine.”
  2. The correct use of the term “marine” refers to a color- very light blue  (almost resembling white), combined with a pearlized appearance.  There has been two different pearl patterns associated with this color, but the term in the past did not distinguish pattern.  So the term “marine” refers to a very light blue color combined with a pearl appearance- used correctly.

History of the Term “Marine” as it Relates to Color & Pattern

Since we are discussing what “marine” means here, some history and information about the term may be helpful:

Three of the “big four” drum companies (started by Ludwig and Slingerland) used the term “marine” to refer primarily to color, and secondarily to a mother of pearl appearance, but not a distinct pattern.  When considering most drum companies’ “black [diamond] pearl” drum finish, the pattern was usually the same pattern as the “marine” pattern. The same pearl was used for both – if one wanted black pearl, one had the finish made with a black back; if one wanted “marine” pearl, a white back (actually a very light blue tint).  The term “marine” or “diamond” never referred exclusively to the pattern but to a dark or light pearl appearance.   The point is that the pattern of each color was never address by the drum companies.  To understand where the term “marine” came from, we need to go to the dictionary. The closest definition that would have anything to do with the color or pattern, would be – seascape. We could say that “seascape” could refer to “color of the sea”, which could mean “light blue”, and the appearance of shallow water slightly moving does have a “pearlized” look to it.  And this is probably why the “drum companies” chose this term for the white pearl wrap – having a slight, light blue tint. Even though the term “marine” does not refer to a distinct pattern (and not even a clear description of color), it did evolve, over the years in the drum industry, to mean a white (actually very light blue), “mother of pearl” appearance.  Because the finish did look more white than blue, some added the word “white” to the name – “white marine”.

Note
Even in some vintage drum catalogs, you will find photographs of the marine sets that look pure white.

From the years we have been in business, we get calls all the time from customers that ask for “marine pearl”, believing they are referring to more pure “white pearl” (and vice-versa- asking for “white pearl” when they want the marine – w/ a light blue tint).

Not only is their a color issue here, but a pattern issue as well.  The Ludwig drum company, in their 1960 catalog, was the first to sell the now famous “Marine Pearl” (triangular directional chip pattern). They had another pearl pattern before this (a large random pattern – called by the same name). This finish had a slight light blue tint (as described above – same as the wrap before),  but with a triangular directional pattern that ran around the drum. The Gretsch Drum Company, on the other hand (around the same time), was the first to sell a true white pearl wrap (no light blue tint), combined with the early large random pattern, which they accurately called “White Pearl”. We sell both pearls which are accurate to color and pattern, both being very popular finishes of the 1960s and thereafter. To our knowledge, we are the only company that offer these wraps that are accurate in appearance to the earlier times. We refer to Ludwig’s finish as “Vintage Marine Pearl” (a slight light blue tint in color with a directional pattern), and Gretsch’s alternative wrap as “Vintage White Pearl” (a truly white appearance with a large random pattern). Because theses wraps were originally made with a nitrate base, if they were not white, they would often turn white over time.  Our “Vintage White Pearl” is  considered a period correct match to Roger’s and Slingerland’s “Marine Pearl” – and Ludwig’s “Marine Pearl” before they changed pattern in 1960.

Note
Because pearl wraps before 1980 were made with a nitrate base, they could easily turn yellow if exposed to the elements.  Some today have tried to mimic the yellow appearance, but the results to date have been less than favorable.  Actually, choosing a wrap of this type for resale value is less than wise, because the original looking finishes (wrap that resembles the drums when new) is more sought after and brings more money.

Terminology Problem #3: Lets understand the use of “catch” and “trigger” words – and use them correctly.

In the naming of colors by the drum companies, a series of “catch words” evolved. These catch words, over time, left a powerful impression on the drum public, that the drum companies early realized, that for some reason triggered spending habits. Today, the retro market is very popular, and obviously retailers want to cash in on the interest.  That is one reason the catch words are used (and have been used), even if used incorrectly. Here is a list of the primary catch words that developed early, and some over time:

pearlsixties
oysterseventies
diamondvintage
onyxretro
marine

There has also evolved “trigger color words” that not only describe a color, but combined with the impact words above, also promoted spending. The three most popular color words are:

white
black
blue

In the color words at right, notice that light blue, off white, red, green, etc. are not included.  The reason – they don’t trigger a sale like the three trigger color words above.  Also notice in the “catch words” above, that words like forties, fifties, eighties are not there.  The reason – again they do not promote spending like the catch words above – especially by those seeking a vintage/retro appearance.  And the more the catch words are combined with themselves and with the trigger color words, the more attention and sales. For example, if we combine the two words “white pearl”, that promotes interest in drummers – especially those that were present in the vintage era. But when we combine more catch words and impact color words, “vintage black diamond pearl”, drummers tend to get more excited – those who are interested in vintage pearl wraps. Lets face it, we in the industry are all out to pay our bills and make some money – there is nothing wrong with that, it’s the American way – it’s one reason why this country is so great financially. But occasionally what happens, someone departs from a standard category and “cross names” a finish. Calling a finish an “oyster” when it is not, or an “onyx” when it is not, a “pearl” when it is not, and even using the term “marine” to mean all pearls, or even all wraps.

The Drum Companies are of course free to cross name (or assign any name), but cross naming is often used for deceptive marketing purposes (or in pure ignorance) – that will eventually hurt their sales and hurt the creditably of the drum company.

 

Let’s Correctly Recognize & Name the Different Pearl Patterns

When people are confused about two color names (i.e., white and marine – see prior section), and add on top of that three different patterns (never addressed by the drum companies), confusion WILL result. When I started this business, I had little idea of the different patterns of pearl finishes. But over the years I have learned about them. Below is a chart of the “Big Four” showing the names, actual colors, and two early popular patterns that were never really referred specifically, as listed in the drum catalogs:

Color Names & Patterns (Two Popular Patterns)
Actual ColorActual Pattern
CompanyColor NameFrontBack
GretschBlack Pearlsilver/blackblackLarge Chip Random
White PearlwhitewhiteLarge Chip Random
Midnight Bluesilver/blueblackLarge Chip Directional (TD)
Emerald GreengreenblackLarge Chip Directional (TD)
Red Winewine redblackLarge Chip Directional (TD)
LudwigBlack Diamondsilver/blackblackLarge Chip Random
White Marinevery lt. bluelt. blueLarge Chip Directional (TD)
Sky Bluemed. blueblackLarge Chip Directional (TD)
RogersBlack Diamondsilver/blackblackLarge Chip Random
White Marine 57-64,
Marine – 65-67
(same finish)
very lt. bluelt. blueLarge Chip Random
SlingerlandBlack Diamondsilver/blackblackLarge Chip Random
Marinevery lt. bluelt. blueLarge Chip Random
Light Bluemed. blueblackLarge Chip Directional (TD)
Note
The “(TD)” refers to “Triangular Directional Pattern”- a category (pattern line) we have named, that has never been named (as a distinct pattern)- the name reflecting the appearance of the pattern. An example of this pattern is found in our Vintage Marine Pearl.

In reviewing the above, notice that when it came to “Black (Diamond) Pearl”, all four companies had the same name (or similar), and sold the same pattern. But past this, finishes, names, colors, patterns became varied. It is the names and patterns associated with terms: “white”, “marine”, “sky/light blue”, etc., with no real information on the pattern. And the story became even more confusing with the addition of the “Small Chip Random Pattern” that was introduced by the factory around 1980. The small chip pattern was created because resellers wanted the appearance of the mother-of-pearl in a smaller size.

The only way for you to distinguish different patterns is to view them. Below are the different categories of pearl patterns.

Note
I have never seen a collection of information [which you are now reading] in any article, and especially with the full color examples linked below.

The most popular pearl finishes can be broken down into seven distinct patterns:

  1. Small Chip Random Pattern
    Most Pearl finishes available today are made of the same pattern: a small random pattern, introduced around 1980. To change the color, the color of the backing is changed- black backing makes “Black Pearl”, a white backing results in “White Pearl”, etc. (or whatever one wants to call it). It is a very popular pattern. In this pattern we sell “Black Diamond Pearl” (the pattern is later, but the color is a match to the darker vintage color- which is hard to get today with higher quality, longer lasting, non-shrinking materials), “Black Pearl” (lighter in color than “Black Diamond Pearl”, more of a match [to an exact match] of post 1980 drums), “Red Pearl” and “Purple Pearl” (newer colors).
  2. Large Chip Random Pattern
    The large random pattern pearls are harder to find for sale, which are more vintage looking (50s-70s) than smaller patterns.  In this pattern we sell “Vintage White Pearl” and “Vintage Black Pearl (Large Chip)” – the same pattern is used for both colors – which was the case during the vintage era (see “Color & Pattern Chart” above).
  3. Triangular Directional Pattern
    We have coined this term for a pearl pattern that resembles   a series of triangles with a directional appearance- running around the drum. We sell three colors in this pattern called “Vintage Marine Pearl”, “Retro Sky Blue Pearl”, and “Vintage Sky Blue Pearl”.
  4. Multi Color Patterns (less Oysters)
    This pearl category represents multi color patterns that have a pearlized appearance, embodied in at least one of the colors. These finishes are less common, but available. We sell one of these patterns, called “Dark Abalone Pearl”.

    Note
    There are multi colored drum wraps that are incorrectly called “Pearls”. To be considered a pearl finish, there needs to be at least one color in the finish with a pearlized appearance. Those wraps that do not qualify, should be referred to as multi colored solids or the Psychedelics.
  5. Oyster Patterns
    There have been three different “Oyster” lines made over the years:

    • The “60s Oysters”
      The first/original was actually a line of three different combinations of colors: “Black Oyster”, “Blue Oyster”, and “Pink Oyster”. The Ludwig drum company called them “Oysters”, offering all three in their 1960 catalog.  But by the next year, only offered the black finish.  However, the black pattern was extremely popular (especially when first used by Ringo Star of the Beatles), and was sold by the company until about 1980.About five years after Ludwig started selling these finishes, the Rogers drum company decided to “get in” on the oyster action.  In their 1965 catalog, they started selling the same three patterns, but called their finishes “Stratas”.  All three colors were sold in their catalogs dating between 1965-1972.  But in their 1973 catalog dropped the blue and the pink colors, and only sold the black until about 1975.The Slingerland drum company only offered the pink finish in the 1967 catalog (and only in that catalog) and called in “Pink Oyster”- going with the Ludwig term.For years the Pearl drum company retained exclusive rights to the black pattern (in a non-shrinking material) until Ludwig re-issued it and now we offer it as our 60’s Black Oyster Pearl.
    • The “Bowling Ball Oysters”
      Around 1980 a more distinct pattern arose that was a “closer knit” pattern, with brighter colors, that was very popular with drummers at that time (and today). This line was made in two color combinations called “Black Oyster” and “Blue Oyster”. Today, this black oyster is used by more drummers, and is especially popular with “Beatle” tribute bands, than the original line (even though Ringo’s set was of the 60’s/original pattern). This pattern/line has been available for about 25 years, and far more sets have been wrapped with it than the earlier pattern. However, the blue pattern of this line, never gained any substantial popularity. Even today, as rare as one of these sets are, there is little interest in them- the bottom line, it’s appearance was never that appealing to drummers.
    • “Retro Black Oyster”
      To understand how this wrap came to be, we need to go back a few years. We sold the “Bowling Ball” style oyster pearl through the 1980s and 1990s, and on occasion heard customers (and those who bought from other companies) having problems with the wrap.  The core problem was the “shrink factor” of the wrap – shrinking after installation.  And this shrinking (over time) resulted in seams giving way, and shrinkage from the sound edge – a better wrap needed to be developed. A new wrap was developed by the factory for Jammin Sam, which we call “Retro Black Oyster Pearl”. This finish was the first ever non-shrinking “Oyster” developed. The appearance combined the wider vintage pattern of the 1960s, with the brighter colors of the later more popular “Bowling Ball” oysters. Also, in the pursuit of this endeavor, a serendipity happened: the first actual 3-D appearance in a “Oyster”. One of the first customers who bought our new retro “Black Oyster” years ago, summed it up saying, “This wrap is better than the original.” The problem with the original oysters was that the color was rather dull, and the problem with the later “Bowling Ball” oysters was that the color lines were too narrow – there was really no 3-D appearance. But with the “Retro Black Oyster”, the best of both worlds became available, and without shrinking problems.
  6. Onyx Pattern
    Three colors were sold by the Rogers Drum Company in the 1960s. They were Red Onyx Pearl, Blue Onyx Pearl, and Black Onyx Pearl, but Rogers only carried the Blue Onyx wrap over to their 1970s catalog. Not only do we sell those colors, we have added a new color called Blue/White Onyx Pearl.

    Note
    The Slingerland Drum Company sold these patterns (only in the blue and gray colors) between 1967-1976. They called them “Agates”, but their term did not stick.
  7. Ripple Pattern
    The Ripple pattern is the only pattern listed that we do not sell. The Camco Drum Company in the 1970s sold two Ripple finishes (blue and black) before going out of business. Also, from 1960 to 1967, the Rogers Drum Company sold three of these finishes, “Wine Red Ripple”, “Steel Gray Ripple”, and “Sky Blue Ripple”, but dropped the sky blue in 1964. The Slingerland Drum Company sold Blue Ripple and Red Ripple in 1967, and later dropped the red from their 1969 catalog. The pattern has never been very popular and we rarely get a call for the pattern. Because of that fact, we do not offer it.
Note
Other patterns have been available at some point, but we are only focusing on the most popular ones. Other patterns include Ludwig’s “Strata” (“Gold”, “Blue”, “Bronze”, “Ruby”, “Lemon”, “Avocado” [1969 catalog]- not to be confused with the finishes that Rogers called “Strata”).
Note
The finishes called “Citrus Mod”, “Mod Orange”, and “Psychedelic Red”  (offered by the Ludwig in the early 1970s) are sometimes called “pearls”, but are actually multi-colored solids.  We categorized these finishes as the “Psychedelics.”

We hope from reading this article, that you have gained some clarification of terms and have become an informed consumer. Our aim is for all of us to be more informed about this subject, and  to converse with each more correctly. Thank you for taking the time to read this article.  If you have any comments, please contact us.

Note
If you have any vintage drum catalogs, we may be interested in buying them to add to our resource library.

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