Geffen Records was founded in 1980 by David Geffen, with funding from Warner Bros Records [1a]. The subsidiary company DGC Records (David Geffen Company) was created in 1990 as the rock division of Geffen [1a], and Nirvana signed to DGC the same year. Although Nirvana has been on Geffen/DGC ever since they signed in 1990, changes of ownership of the label and parent companies, and mergers have happened a few times. These events show up as changes on reissues and new releases, and knowing exactly why and when these changes started to appear one can rougly place the year of manufacture of a reissue.
When the contract with Warner expired, David Geffen sold the label to MCA Inc. to join the family of labels in MCA Music Entertainment Group in 1990 [1a,2], shortly after Nirvana had signed to DGC. (David Geffen worked as head of the label until 1995. [1a]) In late 1990 or early 1991 the entire MCA Inc. holding company was purchased by the Japanese company Matsushita Electric Industrial Co [2,3]. So, by the time Nirvana released their major label debut, they were on DGC, one of many MCA labels, utlimately owned by Matsushita.
In April of 1995, The Seagram Company Ltd., a Canadian distiller company, acquired 80% of MCA Inc. from Matsushita [2,4]. In 1996, they renamed MCA Inc. to Universal Studios, Inc. and its music division, MCA Music Entertainment Group, was renamed Universal Music Group . The Universal name came from a film production company MCA took over in 1962, Universal Pictures, when they bought their parent company, Decca Records . Even though Nirvana releases are sometimes referred to as "MCA issues" and "Universal issues" by collectors, it was still the same company, meaning the collection of all the old MCA labels (at least in 1996), only the holding company was owned by another company. One would believe that this is when Universal credits started to appear in the copyright text on releases, but it seems that it didn't happen before 1998.
Seagram acquired PolyGram in 1998, and included it in Universal Music Group resulting in a corporate reorganization of labels . Geffen Records, along with A&M Records, was subsequently merged into Interscope Records. Although Geffen continued to exist as its own imprint, it was now reduced in size and stature to fit into the greater expansion of Interscope. [1a] Geffen's DGC division was absorbed into Geffen/ Interscope [1a,1b], but the DGC logo still featured on reissues. (DGC was reactivated in 2007, then operating through Interscope [1a].) It's at this time the changes seem to first appear on releases, due to the new Interscope-style catalog numbers. Below are features found on releases, first from the MCA era, then the 1998/1999 Universal changes.
The most important change is the catalog number. A new code was added to reissues in addition to the old Geffen catalog number, which started with a 4, then the Geffen number without prefix, followed by a -2 for CDs and -1 for vinyl records. This follows the pattern of the Interscope releases at the time, 49X XXX-2, which comes from the UPC, so it is reasonable to place this change in 1998 because that is when Geffen came under Interscope. In Japan, catalog numbers changed from the MCA Victor numbers, MVCG-XXXXX, to Universal numbers, UICY-XXXX.
It seems Universal had to clone the artwork from the old releases when releasing reissues. "An MCA Company" and other MCA features may not always have been edited out, or maybe only on the back insert and not on the disc, and some releases contain a mix of MCA and Universal credits.
Vivendi SA took over the entertainment part of Seagram in December 2000, including their 80% ownership of Universal. Vivendi changed name to Vivendi Universal Entertainment. [1c] Vivendi Universal purchased the remaining 20% of Universal Music group from Matsushita in February 2006 , and the parent company dropped the Universal name to become only Vivendi again. Further changes can be found on post-2000 releases, but this has nothing to do with the Vivendi takeover, but the relationship between Geffen and Interscope.
By 2000, despite Geffen Records no longer being independently operated within UMG and taking a more submissive position behind Interscope, it continued to do steady business, so much so that in 2003, UMG folded the MCA Records label into Geffen, finally retiring the MCA name for good [1a]. However, the label was further absorbed into Interscope in 2007 [1a], and is now called Interscope Geffen A&M .
As my comparison above shows, Geffen kept their UPC repertoire of 72064, but only until 2000. That year the first five digits in the UPC on Geffen releases changed to 60694, an Interscope number. At this time, new releases on Geffen started having Interscope catalog numbers only, 49X XXX-2, omitting the GED/DGC or similar prefices. Notice that the second number is 9, so it is an actual Interscope catalog number, not just a 1998-2000 Geffen number written the Interscope way as with 42X XXX-2.
In 2002, catalog numbers on Geffen releases were a mix of the 49 numbers or 0694XXXXXX, which takes four of the five first digits of the UPC to start with. In 2004 the UPC changed to 60249, still an Interscope UPC, and catalog numbers were mostly just the same as the UPC or B000XXXX-XX. For examples, all the catalog numbers for Nirvana, With The Lights Out, and Sliver The Best Of The Box, except the Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, have Interscope catalog numbers even though they are on Geffen/DGC.