Establishing a precise chronology for the evolution of early Berliner discs is difficult, if not impossible. Though we know the recording dates for most of the performances, they are rarely indicators of pressing or release dates. Years could pass between a recording session, the date a record was released, and the date the release was advertised in a newspaper. Complicating the situation further, issue numbers were reused for similar performances (e.g. the same song recorded by different artists or by the same performer at different times), and for entirely disparate ones (e.g. an English and a French recording of different songs), various labels and record materials were used concurrently, and some records seem to have been re-released without altering original issue numbers. Documentation from company records that would elucidate matters was lost when RCA Victor of Canada moved to Toronto from Montréal in 1972; unfortunately, the archival documents were disposed of at that time. Notwithstanding, there are a few general trends that can be discerned.
The first discs made commercially available by Berliner were for a gramophone marketed in Germany as a toy in 1889. These discs were black, made of hard rubber, and were only 5 inches in diameter. Many of these recordings targeted the children's market, with imitations of farm animals (E. Berliner's Grammophon 45) and nursery rhymes such as "Jack and Jill" (E. Berliner's Grammophon 29). Emile Berliner's own voice was featured on some of the selections. Library and Archives Canada holds some of these discs in its collection.
E. Berliner began pressing records in Montréal on January 2, 1900. The earliest 7-inch discs in the Canadian Berliner 78-rpm series were black or dark grey, were recorded on only one side, and had no paper labels. The reverse side remained blank, without ornamentation. "E. Berliner's Gramophone" was typeset above the centre hole along with American or European patent information, while the title, performer, recording date and other information was inscribed by hand below. Records stamped from British masters have the English angel trademark, placed on most discs in the label area to the left of the centre hole, on others etched into the grooves. Canadian patent information was stamped on the label area (usually to the right of the centre hole), which often obscured other information. Discs pressed from masters from the United States were much the same, only with American issue numbers stamped at the bottom of the label area, but crossed out. A few of these had the His Master's Voice (HMV) symbol (Nipper the dog with his ear to a gramophone) etched in the grooves.
In the transition period between black discs without labels and brown discs with labels, there appeared some black discs with labels. These labels were black with gold scroll lettering. Above the centre hole was printed "Improved Berliner Gram-O-phone Record" in a fluid manner with foliate lines separating words. On the left side of the centre hole were the words "Made by E. Berliner" and on the right side "Montreal Canada". Directly beneath the hole was the Canadian patent date and below that the title and performer. At the bottom of the label was the Canadian issue number. Some of these records had a label with printed lyrics glued to the reverse side, while a few others had a design of concentric circles on the reverse. Aside from one noted exception, black discs ceased to be pressed around 1903.