A Brief History of North American Ks

The one minute overview is that after the closure of the K Zildjian factory in Turkey, production of K Zildjian cymbals moved to North America. These North American cymbals can be usefully divided into a few eras when you are trying to determine year of manufacture. They are These eras are based on changing styles in trademark stamp, ink, hammering, and lathing. If you've been here before and just need a reminder of the production years, you just got it. If you need to know more about what these eras mean, read on. But first a little history about K Zildjian came to be relocated to Canada and then the USA.

Robert Zildjian negotiated the sale of the K Zildjian trademarks to the Avedis Zildjian Company which was completed in 1968 according to Pinksterboer (p151) It took 5 more years after 1968 for the Avedis Zildjian Co. to collect up some remaining trademarks after a distribution deal with Bladwin (who owned Gretsch at the time). The timeline for K Zildjian Istanbul has production continuing until 1977, four years later. The factory in Istanbul was wound down and some workers travelled from there to North America to transfer the production know how to the new owners of the K Zildjian trademarks. I never knew why production went to Canada first, and later to the USA at the time of the Sabian/Zidjian split. But according to this interview with Robert's son Bill (the BI of saBIan) the Turkish worker (Mike, which I presume is Mikhail) ran afoul of the USA Immigration Service because Avedis rather spoiled his immigration interview by telling the Immigration Service what a wonderful hard worker he was -- when he wasn't supposed to be working as he didn't have a work visa. This is 40 years ago, but it sounds very current doesn't it? Visa troubles with foreign workers. Start in at time code 29:40.

Continuing with the story, the Turkish workers were going to be deported back to Turkey until the factory manager managed to negotiate with the Canadian authorities that Turkish workers could get work visas for Canada. And according to this story, that's why the first North American K Zildjians were made in Canada at the AZCO plant (later Sabian), not the USA. However it came to be, the AZCO plant in Canada was the first place North American Ks were made (later 70s), and manufacturing moved to the USA in the early 80s.

Canadian made K Zildjian Cymbals(1978-1981)

The Avedis Zildjian company took over the Turkish K Zildjian trademarks, and began producing K Ziljdian cymbals in Canada late in the 1970s. These were not produced exactly the same way the Turkish K Zildjians were, but they are still quite different in terms of hammering from the Avedis line. The Canadian Ks have a pressed in trademark die stamp which seems to progress naturally from the Turkish K Zildjian New Stamp. They kept much of the top portion as is, and added the Genuine Turkish Cymbals (in a curve) from the Avedis stamps. No country of origin is shown on this example, but other cymbals have a MADE IN CANADA on them. The presence/absence of the MADE IN CANADA isn't unique to Canadian Ks. It is also known from the Canadian Avedis line.

Image: Canadian K 18" 1590g Stamp

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Image: Canadian K 20" 1900g Top Hammering

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The hammering and lathing on some Canadian K cymbals will look familiar if you have seen K Zildjian Istanbul New Stamps. On some other Canadian K cymbals you might be reminded of Sabian HH cymbals. The same craftsmen who made the HH series started on the Canadian Ks having been taught by somebody who came from K Zildjian Istanbul factor. Technology transfer in action.

The visible hammering is somewhat sparse (gaps between hammer marks) and not too deep. The pattern is irregular (not concentric ring). It's not clear to me whether the Quincy Drop Hammer was using to do the preliminary shaping. The bottom certainly doesn't look like Large Stamps do. Perhaps they used hydraulic pressing into preliminary shape? Those technologies were available at AZCO, but we don't know what was used.

Image: Canadian K 20" 1900g Bottom Hammering

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The 20" Thin Crash shown above is unusual in that it has a K Zildjian ink stamp on the bottom (and the font is in the style of early Sabian ink stamps for model). These Canadian Ks usually have an ink K on the bottom (if it hasn't been removed). Some have both.

Image: Canadian K 18" 1590g Bottom Hammering

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This 18" Canadian K Crash Ride doesn't show much hammering compared to the 20" Crash. That could be the lighting, the dirt on the surface, and just that the hammering is very shallow and hard to see.

Image: Canadian K 18" 1590g Top Hammering

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The top side is similar with subtle hammering that is fairly hard to see. For comparison, here is an early Sabian HH 18" Thin Crash.

Image: Early Sabian HH 16" Thin Crash Top

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The model ink saying THIN CRASH is similar to the model ink (and that K Zildjian ink) showing some continuity of font style. The hammering on the top is difficult to see.

Image: Early Sabian HH 16" Thin Crash Bottom

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The hammering on the bottom shows a sparse irregular hammering style which is also similar to that seen in the IAK era. And to continue with showing the range of variation in hammering style of Canadian Ks here is another 18" cymbal which has much more obvious sparse irregular hammering on the top.

Image: Canadian K 18" 1869g Top

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Image: Canadian K 18" 1869g Bottom

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It has less obvious sparse irregular hammering on the bottom, but there is still some visible. I don't know what factors in cymbal shaping lead to more obvious hammering where the marks are closer together, versus very sparse and far apart. I don't know why some have more visible hammering on the top and some have more visible hammering on the bottom. I don't know why some have shallow hammering which is barely visible. I just know there is plenty of variation in visible hammering of Canadian Ks.

Canadian K Models seen (and weights):

This doesn't mean there aren't others. Just that I haven't recorded them. I also haven't yet had a look in the 80s Gretsch catalog (and elsewhere) where I believe I might find a complete list. Soon(ish).

EAK: Early American K (1982-1988)

When production moved to the USA the die stamp changed, the ink changed, and so did the lathing and some other production details. There isn't a single consensus year for the move to the USA, but it is most likely 1981±1 for development and mid 1982 for production and retail sales. The usual uncertainty applies because personal recollections, advertising material, catalogs, etc. don't all line up perfectly. We'll go through the different lines of evidence for a 1982 start year for the EAKs but let's meet one first.

With the EAK the trademark stamp changed to a CO stamp (like the early 80s Avedis CO stamp) so stylistically it fits in the the early 1980s. The middle Ottoman portion says "Avedis Zildjian Company" and the English under that says K. Zildjian & CO. The Star and Moon is retained, but the star is placed lower into the crescent moon rather than floating just above.

Image: Early American K 18" 1580g Stamp

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Image: Early American K 18" 1580g Top Hammering

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Image: Early American K 18" 1580g Bottom Hammering

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So what identifies an EAK and distinguishes it from an IAK? Distinguishing an EAK from a Canadian K is relatively easy if you have a look at the trademark stamp. There are lots of beliefs about the set of attributes which distinguish an EAK from an IAK, and the task is made more difficult because the term EAK isn't a Zildjian term. It comes from sellers of "collectable" cymbals who wanted to have a marketing term. What follows is my checklist of attributes which are supposed to identify an EAK plus some observations about which of these are well founded and consistent with the evidence.

Fine tonal groove lathing: EAKs have fine tonal groove lathing, IAKs which came after have a more coarse tonal groove lathing which is more like what is found on the Avedis cymbals of the day. Canadian Ks which came before have more coarse tonal groove lathing. This isn't to say that there isn't a bit of variation in the lathing from one EAK to another, and I've seen a few which have fine tonal groove lathing on top but a coarse tonal groove lathing on the bottom.

K on both sides: yes, but there are other Ks which have the K on both sides from a later period. The other thing about the K on both sides is that there are some models (hats and splashes) where there might not be a K on the underside at all. I've recorded some hats with the K on the bottom, but many have no bottom ink. And of course, the K on the bottom can go missing due to overzealous cleaning over the years.

Cymbals from a later period have other attributes which allow you to distinguish them from EAKs. One is the lathing style, the other is whether or not the K has a registered trademark symbol: ® The IAK period which followed the EAKs is associated with a K on the top and a solid ink Zildjian on the bottom. But later they changed back and forth between K and Zildjian. Here is an example of a later K which has just the K on the bottom, and what would pass as fine tonal groove lathing (it is a little different from EAK lathing and hammering, but that takes more experience to pick). If this was all you saw you might mistake this for an EAK. It is not.

Image: K on bottom but not an EAK

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The little ® gives it away. And of course from the top side, the ink style and the laser serial JD (2004) complete the id as a post IAK cymbal, AKA just a K. OK?

Image: K on bottom but laser K model ink on top

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Image: K on bottom but laser K JD year

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Upside Down writing: not diagnostic of an EAK. There are EAKs which meet the fine tonal groove lathing test and the inked K top and bottom test, but don't have the "upside down" model ink. Here's one of several "not upside down" ones I've got on file which was shown above:

Image: EAK 18" with model ink right side up

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Yes many do have upside down model ink like this example:

Image: EAK Orchestra with upside down model ink

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but clearly not all of them. There are unsubstantiated claims that "upside down" writing is related to early vs late EAKs. I'm still working through all that. There is also an upside down IAK (see the IAK section), which is certainly the death knell for "upside down" model designations being 100% reliable in identifying EAKs.

Hammering on bell: yes many have visible hammering on the bell, although I'm not yet sure if that is as reliable as a diagnostic attribute. In my photo archives I've got too many proper EAKs (diagnosed by ink and fine lathing) which don't show visible hammering on the bell. So for now, absence of visible hammering on the bell is not a reliable way to diagnose a cymbal as not an EAK. Use the lathing.

K going nearly from the bell to the edge: I think that may in part have more to do with there being just one size of K stencil used for 18"- 22" cymbals, and it fills up more of the space on an 18" cymbal than on a 20" or 22". Research is ongoing...I need to get some measurements of the heights of the Ks from some different eras and diameters. If you study the images of the 16" IAK I posted above the K must be a smaller stencil than that used on 18" and larger ones. It does seem to be the case that the positioning of the K on EAKs tends to be out towards the edge of the cymbal and you can see that difference by comparing the positions in the EAK jazz ride vs the "just a K" shown above.

Hammering on bow of cymbal:

The EAKs tend to have more dense irregular hammering on the top and bottom than either Canadian Ks or IAKs. There is a common perception that EAKs are "the last hand hammered Ks" but this might not be a complete or accurate description of production methods. At least two sources have described the process as having

First we've got Pinksterboer (1992:p118-119) who reports

The K Zildjian cymbals are mainly hammered with the help of a smaller type of mechanical hammer, which attacks the cymbal with a few hundred beats per minute. The man at the machine guides the cymbal without any pins or anvils, just by hand and apparently at random. The resulting pattern, however, can better be described as irregular. Hammering a cymbal completely "at random" would hardly result in a sellable cymbal. The cymbals are then finished with the ancient hand-held hammer. Zildjian also uses a bumper [Quincy Drop Hammer] in some cases. One company has also been using a press in the process of shaping such cymbals, guaranteeing an optimal consistency of the low profile.
Second, we've got this 2008 Q & A exchange (thanks to Brian) from "Ask Zildjian"
Q: I was under the impression that the USA K line introduced in 1982 was machine hammered via computer controlled random hammering. Everything I read from Zildjian leads me to conclude this. Others insist that the early K's made in the USA were hand hammered until around 1985. They believe those cymbals have a distinctly different hammering pattern than later versions. Were they in fact machine or hand hammered? Thanks for your help.

A: Early US K's were hammered via a mechanical reciprocating hammer while a cymbal was hand fed into the hammer area and this was done while the cymbal was still a flat blank. After hammering, THEN it was shaped by a pressing die. In centuries past, hand hammering was done to shape a cymbal but that is no longer necessary.

These descriptions are quite different from the impression given by saying they are "hand hammered". Cymbal maker Matt Bettis has examined EAKs and he claims to see some "hand hammering". Yet I suspect that main shaping of the bow is not done by hand, and that any "hand hammering" makes up a small proportion of the total hammering work. If it weren't for Matt vouching for "hand hammering" I'd wonder if we were just seeing machine powered hammering as described above where the artisan held the cymbal in his hand. It seems to me we might be mixing up the visible pattern of the hammering (irregular, and chosen by the eye of the artisan) and a claim of knowing how the force was generated to create the hammer blows (human muscle versus machine). See the hammering page for my efforts to codify the different aspects of hammering as it appears on cymbals.

Why do we care about this difference? If I'm playing a cymbal I care about how it sounds not how it was made. But if I'm trying to get accurate descriptions of the cymbal making process then it makes a difference. It seems strange to me that we find ourselves quoting sources from 10 years or more back in time, yet the evidence that EAKs were mostly machine hammered doesn't seem to have penetrated the consciousness of the cymbal loving public.

K Model Introductions: The early days

K Models introduced in 1982: Here is some info on the shape and bell differences of the early models thanks to Paul Francis
You will be able to tell by the bell size. The Jazz ride and the Crash ride have a large bell. The same bell was used in the K Custom Dry Complex Rides (Bill Stewart). The regular K Rides had a flatter/lower bell. Also the Jazz ride had a very high shape (akin to an umbrella), again similar to the K Custom Dry Complex. The crash ride would have had a curvature in between the ride and the Jazz ride which would give a good stick and crash sound. The ride will have the lowest curvature out of all.
K Models introduced in 1984 K Models introduced in 1985 K Models introduced in 1987 K Models introduced in 1988 K Models introduced in 1989 K Models introduced in 1990 K Models introduced in 1992 (late IAK period) Note that as new models were introduced in specific years, they offer us a way to look for when hammering and lathing changes took place to answer questions about when lathing changes occurred and the appropriate year for the end of the EAK period and the beginning of the IAK period. The introduction of the Pre-Aged Dry Light Ride (PADLR) is firmly in the IAK era.

EAK: Why years of 1982-1988?

Here is another Q & A 2007 from the "Ask Zildjian" forum (again thanks to Brian who preserved these after the Zildjian site was changed and this info was dropped):
Q: What is the difference between a K and an EAK (Early American K)

A: There has never been a K that has been considered an "Early American" K but there have been changes with the design of the K since they were first manufactured in the US in 1982. They started off with a rather smooth lathing process that continued until approximately 1989 when the lathing become more pronounced with more visible lines. That process continued until 2001 when the lathing reverted back to the smooth lathing style and has remained that way ever since. [as at 2007]

Another source for the first year of the EAK is this bag (thanks to Jim Hodgson of DFO)

Image: Elvin Jones commemorative Ks 1982

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which is pretty specific evidence of 1982 promotion. In addition, the model intro information document 1970-2017 which Zildjian has provided also names 1982 as the first year. There is some contrary information on other web sites, but I don't know where they got earlier years because they give no references or evidence. The evidence seems to be mounting for 1982 based on price lists (they don't appear in 1979, they do appear in 1983), magazine ads, Zildjian's own information, and stylistic similarities to the 1980s Avedis CO stamp and 1980s model ink style with diameter. Specifically, every EAK I've seen except this one

Image: EAK K 18" Dark Crash without diameter ink (1579g)

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has the diameter ink under the model ink. For the Avedis Zildjian series this is a 1982±1 change. I haven't been looking closely before, but I've examined around 46 EAKs so far and the above Dark Crash is the only EAK which lacks the diameter ink. I can't rule out this one example had the diameter ink and it has been removed by cleaning but the model ink has remained clear. It is also possible that this one example is a factory fluke and the ink pattern is unique. Please let me know if you have any EAKs and they don't show any diameter ink but do have strong model ink.

I have yet to see any evidence that American made K Zildjians appeared in the late 1970s. Pinksterboer (p147) says 1981 in his book. Yes maybe there were a few produced in the research and development phase, but I tend to prefer retail sales as the first year for the year by year timeline. As far as setting 1981 as the final year for EAKs (Rob Scott) that would mean no EAKs on present evidence. Under Rob Scott's end year EAKs would have finished before they started. Setting 1984 or 1985 ("No K on the bottom means post 1984": Bill Hartrick) as the end of the EAK era would rule out a number of models (Heavy Ride, Light Ride, Flat Top Ride, 13" Hi-Hats, Splashes, Dark Crash in 15", 17" and China Boy) from qualifying as EAK even though some individual cymbals have the EAK style hammering and lathing and K on the bottom. Yes these models lasted into the IAK period, but that doesn't rule the earlier examples out of being EAKs when they look like EAKs by my definition.

IAK: Intermediate American K (1988-1993)

You can see the EAK vs IAK contrasts by comparing these photos with the EAK photos above. The IAKs are marked by larger tonal groove lathing, a subtle change to the hammering style, and a solid ink Zildjian on the bottom instead of just a K. The change to the hammering and lathing make the IAKs look a little more like the Canadian Ks. The hammering is a bit more sparse than on EAKs, and the visible hammering comes from a smaller peen hammer. There are larger gaps between hammer blows.

Image: IAK K 15" Dark Crash Top View

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Image: IAK K 15" Dark Crash Bottom View

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There are a few different years for the beginning of the coarse groove lathing. Current suggested years are 1988 or 1989 depending on the source. I've got strong evidence that it was certainly coarse tonal groove lathing by 1991. I try and get two strong independent sources of evidence for every year I come up with, but that can take time. Hence the ? at the end of some years on my site.

Here is an 18" Dark Thin Crash (thanks to manomart2011) which is from 1993 based on the official Zildjian year of introduction for the model change from just DARK CRASH (as above) to DARK CRASH THIN vs MEDIUM THIN.

Image: IAK K 18" 1396g Dark Crash Thin Top View

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Image: IAK K 18" 1397g Dark Crash Thin Bottom View

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Image: IAK K 18" 1397g Dark Crash Thin Profile View

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Note that in profile it is noticeable how this crash has a large bell, which is more like the larger bells (bot diameter and height) used on A series Crashes and Crash/Rides.

Some Japanese timelines I've seen extend the years for the IAK into the laser stamp era. I don't think that's a good idea since the laser stamps are a distinct identifiable change and allow us to start giving specific years. So I've declared an end to the EAK period in 1993. Note that some people refer to this IAK period as "pre serial number" (which it is). However, EAKs and Canadian Ks are also "pre serial" so it seems better to keep the finer distinctions.

K: laser stamp K (1994-2000)

Laser trademark stamps allow us to know the year of production for cymbals. The stamp follows the same design as the earlier USA K Zildjian stamps, but it is now executed by laser and has another line underneath.

Image: Laser K 20" Jazz Ride stamp

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The first two letters of the line give the year and you can use this list to work out the year.

There will probably be more distinctions (ink, lathing, hammering) which would be useful after 1994 and later on in the 2000s based on other attributes. But I haven't really had a look at all the evidence yet. In the meantime, other than the change to the laser stamp, this 20" Jazz Ride from year IF = 1996 is quite similar to those from the IAK era.

Image: Laser K 20" Jazz Ride top

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Image: Laser K 20" Jazz Ride top

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At a weight of 2160g this Jazz Ride is in the same range of weights as the EAK Jazz Ride examples I've recorded. Note that the K on the top does not have the trademark symbol ®. When did the ® appear on the K on the top?

This 14" Dark Crash Thin has laser trademark in the 12 o'clock position so we know it is 1994-2002. After that the laser trademark moved to the 3 o'clock position. We also have the years of ink change from DARK CRASH to differentiate weights: THIN vs MEDIUM THIN as 1993.

Image: Laser K 14" Dark Crash Thin

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Considering the 20" Jazz Ride above is 1996, it looks like the ® near the K was after 1996 and before 2002. We'll probably be able to narrow that down as more evidence comes to hand.

Looking at the hammering on both the 20" Jazz Ride and the 14" Dark Crash Thin, it looks to me like the hammering style has changed from the well separated hammer marks on the EAKs, to more hammer marks and closer together post 1994. The hammering now looks like a blend between concentric ring and irregular hammering, although I need to examine a lot more examples to get a feel for the full range of variation. A computer may be guiding the precision radial hammering machine by this time, but each cymbal is still unique.

K: redesign of the K (2000-present)

Around 2000 there was a redesign of the K series with the goal of recapturing some of the earlier sonic aspects. I'm still working through the evidence. The K ink top and bottom (which characterizes the EAKs) came back into use for a time, and then went back to K on top and Zildjian on the bottom. The lathing went back to a more EAK style fine tonal grooves as well. The key thing to remember is that by this time the combination of a laser serial number and presence of the registered trademark symbol ® next to the K always allow us to tell the different eras apart.

There is also a change in the style of the model ink to this sort of Art Deco version somewhere along the line, but that year is yet to be determined. This 2004 18" Dark Thin Crash shows the Art Deco model ink style.

Image: K on bottom but laser K model ink on top

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I'll update this section when I have better details, but I wanted to get this page out there now because it covers the older years from Canadian, through EAK and IAK to the laser stamp years. Next on the research program is looking at the years of introduction of specific models for the K series to try and test theories about earliest vs later EAK differences, as well as better evidence for the EAK/IAK transition.

A preliminary look at prices

Here is a first look at prices using 20" ride models (but excluding crashes) to get an idea. I was interested in whether there are different price bands for the different eras. I began with 20" because that's the diameter I have the most sales for.

Canadian K 20" cymbals sell for a median price of $405 with half selling for between $375 and $550. Based on a small sample of 7 sales.

EAK 20" cymbals sell for a median price of $300 with half selling for between $250 and $350. Based on 30 sales.

IAK 20" cymbals sell for a median price of $185 with half selling for between $168 and $228. Based on a small sample of 9 sales.

Just plain K 20" cymbals sell for a median price of $250 with half selling for between $215 and $265. Based on a small sample of 11 sales.

So there seems to be a bit of a price premium to Canadian Ks, less to EAKs, then just plain Ks and IAKs. I had expected that IAKs might do the same (or better?) than just plain Ks but it doesn't look like that in this data. Perhaps I need to wait until I've got adequate sample sizes. I will cross check with other diameters to see if the pattern is repeated. It may also be that just plain Ks include a lot of very recent ones so they do better than IAKs because they aren't as old. You have to be "a certain age" to start getting a vintage premium price, and you also have to be recognizable. It may be that IAKs haven't made it yet on either count. Not enough recognition in the market as something special and different from just plain Ks?

Another potential factor in price is weight or specific model, and I haven't dealt with that yet. Small sample sizes limit how much further analysis I can do. So far it just seems there is a lot of variability in pricing.

This ends our coverage of the K series cymbals produced in North America. We haven't yet touched on the K Custom series which started off as a specific model K Custom Ride within the K series (1987). Nor have we delved into the K Constantinople series which debuted in 1998. These will be accessed off the main Year by Year annotated timeline.

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text last updated 11 Oct 2017 2:35 PM

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