Pink Floyd Albums Are Interesting and Often Quite Rare

Pink Floyd Albums

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pink floyd People are often curious to know which records are the most valuable, and which artists are the most collectible. Beatles albums would have to top the list, as the British band is the biggest selling act of all time, but many people might be surprised to see the British band Pink Floyd listed among the most collectible artists of all time.

While several of Pink Floyd’s albums are among the best-selling albums of all time (The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall among them,) most of the band’s catalog sold relatively modestly when the albums were first released.

Collectors took notice once the band became a best-selling act in the mid-1970s, however, and many Pink Floyd albums now trade hands among collectors at prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

As with any band that has sold millions of records, most Pink Floyd albums are not especially collectible or valuable. There are, however, many rare and unusual releases by the band from various countries around the world, and a growing number of collectors of Pink Floyd albums despite the fact that the band has only released three albums of new material in the past thirty five years.

In this article, we will cover some of the more interesting Pink Floyd albums from around the world and show examples of some of the rarer Pink Floyd albums that collectors are trying to find. This article is by no means intended to be comprehensive, but is rather intended to give a general overview of the sorts of Pink Floyd rarities that are lurking out there.

Pink Floyd Albums – Browse by Category

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Pink Floyd Albums Discography
American Pink Floyd Albums
British Pink Floyd Albums
Monaural Pink Floyd Albums
Quadraphonic Pink Floyd Albums
Japanese Pink Floyd Albums
Other Foreign Releases of Note
Pink Floyd Colored Vinyl albums
Pink Floyd Picture Discs
Bootleg Pink Floyd Albums
Conclusion

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Pink Floyd Albums Discography

In listing the discography of Pink Floyd albums, we’re restricting the list to those albums that were released in a vinyl format, as record albums are what our site is about.

The Pink Floyd albums discography on vinyl consists of fifteen studio recordings, five compilation albums and two (and a half) live albums:

  • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
  • A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
  • More (1969)
  • Ummagumma (1969) (one live disc and one studio disc)
  • Atom Heart Mother (1970)
  • Relics (compilation) (1971)
  • Meddle (1971)
  • Obscured by Clouds (1972)
  • The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
  • A Nice Pair (compilation) (1973)
  • Wish You Were Here (1975)
  • Animals (1977)
  • The Wall (1979)
  • A Collection of Great Dance Songs (compilation) (1981)
  • The Final Cut (1982)
  • Works (compilation) (1983)
  • A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
  • Delicate Sound of Thunder (live) (1988)
  • The Division Bell (1994)
  • Pulse (live) (1995)
  • Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (compilation) (2001)
  • The Endless River (2014)

All of these albums were released in both the U.S. and the UK and in most other major countries when new. All are currently available in at least one format and most are currently available for purchase on vinyl.

That said, original pressings of some of these albums can be quite hard to find, especially those that were released prior to 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

American Pink Floyd Albums

Tower Records

pink floyd albums - more on tower
An original pressing of the 1969 LP More on the Tower Label.

Since the release of their first album in 1967, American Pink Floyd albums have been released on three different labels – Tower, Harvest, and Columbia.

The first three Pink Floyd albums – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, and More, were released by Tower Records. Tower was a subsidiary of Capitol records that focused on psychedelic and garage bands. Despite the major label distribution, few albums on Tower (by any artist) sold particularly well, and they’re all hard to find today.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released by Tower in both mono and stereo, and the mono version of the album was one of the last titles the label released in mono and is quite hard to find today.

The American version of the album is quite different from the version issued in the UK and in the rest of the world. For starters, the album had a shortened title, simply saying “Pink Floyd” on the front cover (the full title appears on the back cover.) The label simply says “The Pink Floyd.”

The UK version of the album had eleven songs, but the U.S. version has only nine, deleting “Flaming,” “Astronomy Domine,” and “Bike,” but adding the song “See Emily Play,” which had been released earlier as a single.

It’s worth noting that the studio version of “Astronomy Domine” has never been released on any vinyl Pink Floyd albums in the United States.

There were two different Tower labels used for Pink Floyd albums- the first one was a solid reddish-brown color. The second one (from mid-1969 on) had multiple colors and a series of stripes.

Copies of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets can be found with either label. More was issued only on the striped label.

Promotional copies of More were issued with custom promotional labels that said “Promotion Copy – Not for Sale.”

Capitol Records shut down their Tower subsidiary sometime in 1970, and all three Pink Floyd albums issued on that label went out of print. More was reissued in 1973 on the Harvest label, but The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets have never been reissued in the United States as individual albums.

All Pink Floyd albums on Tower are quite hard to find today, and the mono version of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is particularly rare.

Harvest Records

Ipink floyd harvest labeln 1970, Pink Floyd moved to Harvest Records in both the United States and the UK. Harvest was a new label, distributed by Capitol in the U.S. and EMI in the UK that specialized in progressive rock.

Pink Floyd albums from Ummagumma through The Dark Side of the Moon appeared on the Harvest label.

The U.S. version of the 1971 compilation album Relics has a cover that is different from the version issued in the UK.

The U.S. version of the 1971 album Meddle has a slightly altered cover photo that obscures the ear that is plainly visible on the UK version.

The U.S. version of the 1973 compilation album A Nice Pair was different from versions released outside the United States. Foreign versions of the two record set contained copies of the band’s first two albums – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets.

The U.S. version of the album replaced the studio version of “Astronomy Domine” with the liver version from Ummagumma.

In 1975, in an effort to sell older Pink Floyd albums after the band had moved to Columbia, Capitol Records released an album titled Pink Floyd Tour ’75. This LP was released only as a promotional item, and came in a plain white cover with the title printed on it using a rubber stamp, to give the impression that the album was a bootleg.

In fact, the album contained all studio recordings, though it is quite hard to find today.

Columbia Records (CBS in the UK)

In 1975, Pink Floyd albums moved to Columbia Records in the United States and CBS Records in the UK. The band has remained with this label ever since, and all albums from Wish You Were Here on were issued on this label.

Wish You Were Here was originally released with the cover sealed in dark blue shrink wrap. Sealed copies with the blue shrink wrap are quite collectible today.

Special editions of Wish You Were Here and Animals were issued for promotional use with the tracks banded for airplay. The promotional version of Animals came in a plain white cover and contained a version of “Pigs: Three Different Ones” that had an obscenity edited out.

British Pink Floyd Albums

British Pink Floyd albums have appeared on the Columbia, Harvest, and CBS record labels. It should be noted that in Britain, the Columbia label was distributed by EMI, where in the United States, Columbia was owned by CBS.

Columbia Records

dark side of the moon
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

The first three Pink Floyd albums appeared on Columbia in the UK.

British record buyers were slower to buy stereo equipment than buyers in America, so the first two Pink Floyd albums were released in both stereo and mono in Britain, while More was issued in stereo only.

The Columbia label used in Britain from 1967-1969 was a black label with a blue Columbia logo. In 1969, the label changed to a black label with a silver logo and that label remained in use for many years.

Collectors of British Pink Floyd albums are often interested in obtaining the earliest possible pressing. Given that these Pink Floyd albums remained in print for years without obvious changes to the cover or label, how can one know if they’re looking at an early pressing or a later one?

It’s possible to determine whether a particular copy of Pink Floyd albums on Columbia are early pressings or a later pressing by examining the numbers that are stamped in the area around the record’s label known as the “dead wax” area. These numbers usually indicate the catalog number of the album itself, so that record company employees would know which stampers to use to press a particular record when grabbing them from storage.

Those dead wax numbers also indicate, however, roughly how many records of that title had been pressed before it.

Stampers on the Columbia (and Harvest) LPs are marked using a stamped letter or series of letters that is generally visible at the 3 o’clock position in the dead wax. A stamper code usually consisted of one, two or three letters, using the table below:

G=1
R=2
A=3
M=4
O=5
P=6
H=7
L=8
T=9
D=0

pink floyd piper mono
An original UK mono pressing on the Columbia label

These letters are derived from the phrase “Gramophone Ltd.” and the letters may appear individually or in combination with others. Each stamper was usually used to press some 300-500 discs, at which time it was discarded and replaced with a new one. The first 300-500 copies of a given title, for instance, would have the letter “G” stamped in the vinyl at the 3 o’clock position. The next 300-500 copies would use a stamper with the letter “R.” Later pressings might have multiple letters, such as RM, or GRO, which would represent the 24th and 125th stampers, respectively.

As a general rule, Pink Floyd albums with earlier stamper numbers tend to sell for more money among collectors than those with higher stamper numbers, with the emphasis on owning a copy of the album that was pressed as close to the original date of release as possible.

Harvest Records

As in the United States, Pink Floyd albums in Britain from Ummagumma through The Dark Side of the Moon were issued on the progressive Harvest Records label. The earliest pressings of Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother can be identified by their lack of an “EMI” logo on the label, which was added to later pressings.

The first pressings of The Dark Side of the Moon from Britain are noteworthy, as they have a distinctly different label from that used on later pressings. The prism on the label was originally a light blue color, but that made it quite difficult to read the song titles, as the silver print on the blue prism offered little in the way of visual contrast.

After a few hundred thousand copies were pressed, the prism logo was changed to a simple outline, making it easier to read the song titles. While copies with the light blue triangle are relatively rare compared to later issues, they were pressed in large quantities when new. Collectors will often pay a significant premium to find a copy of The Dark Side of the Moon that has both a light blue triangle and a low stamper designation.

CBS Records

In 1975, Pink Floyd albums in Britain moved to the CBS Records label, and the band has remained with that label to the present day.

Monaural Pink Floyd Albums

pink floyd tower mono
A rare American mono pressing of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The first two Pink Floyd albums were released at a time when record companies were still releasing records in both stereo and mono, the latter for people who owned older record players.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released in both stereo and mono in the U.S. and the UK, and the band’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, was released in both mono and stereo in the UK, but only in stereo in the United States.

Mono pressings are quite rare when compared with their stereo counterparts, as most people preferred to buy Pink Floyd albums in stereo by the time these two albums were released. It’s likely that stereo copies of these two albums outsold the mono copies by a ratio of roughly 50:1, making the mono versions of these to albums quite rare compared to the stereo issue.

American record companies phased out mono pressings earlier than those in the UK, making American copies of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn considerably harder to find in mono than the UK version.

Why are collectors interested in mono Pink Floyd albums? One of the reasons, besides relative rarity, is that the stereo and mono versions of the albums have distinctly different mixes. As the mono versions of songs were the ones most likely to be played on the radio, the artists and record companies usually spent more time on the mono mixes than on the stereo versions.

The mono mix of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is quite different from the stereo version, and many collectors prefer that version.

For whatever reason, the 1970 LP Atom Heart Mother was released in mono in Brazil, making that album one of the few titles by any artist that was pressed in mono, stereo and quadraphonic.

Quadraphonic Pink Floyd Albums

wish you were here quad
A rare quadraphonic copy of Wish You Were Here

During the mid-1970s, record companies introduced quadraphonic sound, which required the use of four speakers to produce a surround sound effect. Four channel releases were issued in reel to reel, 8 track tape, and LP formats, though releases and formats varied from country to country.

Three different Pink Floyd albums were released in quadraphonic on vinyl.

In the UK, copies of Atom Heart Mother, The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here were released in the UK in both stereo and quadraphonic. Quad copies of all three are quite scarce.

In the United States, the only Pink Floyd album to be released on vinyl in the quadraphonic format was Wish You Were Here, though The Dark Side of the Moon was released in quadraphonic on 8 track tape.

These titles are all quite collectible, as they have distinctly different mixes from the stereo versions. To get the full effect, you’ll need four speakers, four channels of amplification, and a four channel decoder. If you don’t have that equipment, and few people do, you’ll still hear noticeable differences from the stereo versions when playing them on stereo equipment.

Japanese Pink Floyd Albums

While Pink Floyd albums were issued worldwide, the releases in most countries did little to distinguish themselves from Pink Floyd albums released elsewhere.

That’s not the case in Japan, where there were a number of interesting Pink Floyd albums released that differed in various ways from their British or American counterparts. While all Pink Floyd albums released in Japan were issued in stereo only, there are still many reasons for why albums from Japan appeal to Pink Floyd collectors.

pink floyd relics japan
An original Japanese pressing of Relics, pressed on red vinyl and including the obi

The first distinguishing feature of Japanese Pink Floyd albums is the presence of the “obi,” a paper strip that wraps around the cover. The obi was intended to give record buyers information about the album (printed in Japanese), such as the title and the price. These paper strips were often discarded after purchase by buyers and over time, it has become quite difficult to find older Pink Floyd albums from Japan that still have the obi intact.

In some cases, such as with the first pressings of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the value of the obi alone can exceed the value of the album itself!

Japanese promo only pink floyd sampler
The rare 1970 Japanese promo-only Pink Floyd sampler LP

All Pink Floyd albums issued in Japan from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn through Meddle were issued on both standard black vinyl as well as on “Everclean” red vinyl, which was specially formulated to be resistant to attracting dust. The first three albums, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, and More, were released two different times on red vinyl with different catalog numbers and different obis.

While the red vinyl pressings were not intended to be limited edition collector’s items, the red vinyl was usually limited to first pressings only, and collectors are far more interested in the red vinyl copies than they are in the black vinyl versions.

Red vinyl pressings of Ummagumma are particularly rare, as only white label promotional copies of the album were released that way. All stock copies of the album were pressed on black vinyl.

The Pink Floyd albums More and Relics were issued in Japan with gatefold covers, unlike the U.S. and UK issues of those albums.

Dark Side of the Moon Japan
The Japanese record club issue of Dark Side of the Moon

The Japanese pressing of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is noteworthy for having 12 tracks – the 11 tracks included on the original UK pressing of the album and the additional track, “See Emily Play” that was included on the U.S. version of the album.

Finally, there were two different Pink Floyd albums released in Japan which were issued only as promotional items. The first, simply titled Pink Floyd, was issued in about 1970 and featured the head of a cow on the cover. This LP was reportedly pressed in quantities of less than 100 copies and contains a variety of tracks from the band’s early years.

The second of the promo-only Pink Floyd albums from Japan was a single disc version of The Wall called The Wall In Store. This album was intended for use in record stores.

Perhaps the rarest of all Japanese Pink Floyd albums is the version of The Dark Side of the Moon that was issued only through a Japanese record club. This version of the album features a live photo of the band performing on stage on the front cover, rather than the common “prism” artwork found on pressings from every other country.

Aside from all of the interesting things listed above about Japanese Pink Floyd albums, collectors also value them because of their high sound quality. Japanese LPs are usually pressed using high quality vinyl and the packaging and print quality of the covers and inserts are usually better than those found on releases from other countries.

Other Foreign Releases of Note

While Pink Floyd albums from most countries are nearly identical to those issued in the U.S. or UK, there are a few noteworthy pressings from around the world that were different in some way.

Obscured by Clouds from Turkey, with Queen on the cover!

The Australian and New Zealand pressings of Relics have a cover that was different from either the U.S. or UK pressing. The UK pressing had a cover featuring a drawing by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. The U.S. cover depicted an odd photo of an antique bottle opener.

The Australian edition had a photo of some coins on top of a map.

The original Italian pressings of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn were not released until 1971, by which time founding member Syd Barrett had been replaced in the band by David Gilmour. The Italian cover of this release has a photo of the band with Gilmour (and without Barrett.)

This particular album is quite scarce, and is one of the few Pink Floyd albums to have been counterfeited.

Several different Pink Floyd albums have been released in Turkey with covers that are significantly different from the covers used elsewhere. The 1978 reissue of A Saucerful of Secrets uses a cover photo taken from the A Nice Pair compilation album.

Italian Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The Italian Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The Turkish Obscured by Clouds cover features a live concert photo on the cover, but close inspection of the photo makes it clear that the band on the cover is not Pink Floyd, but Queen!

A South Korean-only Best of Pink Floyd LP features a live shot of the band on the cover, and this time, the band really is Pink Floyd.

There are hundreds of variations on covers of Pink Floyd albums from around the world, but the ones above are among the more significant ones. Small countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa, often issued unlicensed albums using whatever they could find for album cover art.

Pink Floyd Colored Vinyl albums

If you like collecting colored vinyl records, you’ll definitely like collecting Pink Floyd albums. Many Pink Floyd albums have been released as limited edition colored vinyl pressings over the years.

The listing of colored vinyl Pink Floyd albums below is not definitive, but you will notice that there are far more titles for this band than for most other artists, including the Beatles.

Blue vinyl Atom Heart Mother from France
Blue vinyl Atom Heart Mother from France

Blue Vinyl Pink Floyd Albums

  • Atom Heart Mother (France; 1978)
  • The Dark Side of the Moon (France; 1978)
  • Wish You Were Here (Netherlands and Germany; late 1970s.)
  • The Division Bell (U.S.; 1994)

Clear Vinyl Pink Floyd Albums

  • The Dark Side of the Moon (France; 1978)

Orange Vinyl Pink Floyd Albums

  • The Wall (Italy; 1979 – promotional issue only; limited to approximately 600 numbered copies)

Pink Vinyl Pink Floyd Albums

  • Animals (France; 1978) Issued with an all-pink cover as well as the standard one
  • The Dark Side of the Moon (Australia; 1988 – these copies are all quadraphonic)
  • Money (U.S.; 1982 – promo-only 12″ single containing a remix of “Money.”)
Orange vinyl The Wall from Italy
Orange vinyl The Wall from Italy

Red Vinyl Pink Floyd Albums

Seven different Pink Floyd albums were released on red vinyl in Japan:

  • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (two issues – 1967 and a 1971 reissue)
  • A Saucerful of Secrets (two issues – 1968 and a 1971 reissue)
  • More (two issues – 1969 and a 1971 reissue
  • Ummagumma (promo copies only; all stock copies were black vinyl)
  • Atom Heart Mother
  • Relics
  • Meddle

White Vinyl Pink Floyd Albums

  • The Dark Side of the Moon (Netherlands and Germany; late 1970s.)
  • A Momentary Lapse of Reason (France; 1988)

Other Pink Floyd albums exist on colored vinyl, but most of these are unauthorized, counterfeit pressings, manufactured by individuals trying to make quick cash from unsuspecting collectors.

Many of these colored vinyl Pink Floyd albums have labels indicating that they are promotional copies, but they’re not legitimate promotional items. The most common of these is The Dark Side of the Moon pressed on various colors, but we’ve also seen colored vinyl copies of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets that are counterfeits of original UK pressings of the LP.

We have also seen copies of Wish You Were Here pressed on red, green, and blue vinyl. Again, these are all unauthorized pressings that have little value.

Pink Floyd Picture Discs

Dark Side of the Moon picture disc
Dark Side of the Moon picture disc

Despite the large number of colored vinyl Pink Floyd albums on the market, there are relatively few picture discs by the band.

The most common by far is the 1978 pressing of The Dark Side of the Moon, released in the United States by Capitol. This album sold quite well for a picture disc, despite a retail price that was nearly twice that of the regular black vinyl pressing. The picture disc had a photo of the prism from the front cover on one side and the “pulse” image from inside the original cover on the back side. The album was released in a multi-colored non-gatefold cover and without the postcards or posters that came with the regular copies of the album.

A limited edition box set released in France in the late 1970s titled The First XI contained all of the band’s albums from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn through Animals. The versions of The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here included in this rare box set were picture discs, and these discs were not made available except as part of the set. The picture disc for The Dark Side of the Moon had a different photo from the U.S. picture disc of the album.

The only other authorized Pink Floyd picture disc of which we are aware is a single-disc edition of The Delicate Sound of Thunder that was released in Brazil as a promotional item only. Plans to release the album commercially in Brazil as a two-disc picture disc set were scrapped at the last minute, and a couple of copies of the two disc set are known to exist.

There are many other Pink Floyd albums in picture disc format, and these can be frequently seen for sale on Ebay. All of these are unauthorized counterfeit pressings and are not official releases.

Bootleg Pink Floyd Albums

A Pink Floyd bootleg album
A Pink Floyd bootleg album

Pink Floyd albums have been popular with collectors since the early 1970s and when any band becomes popular, bootleg albums will inevitably follow. These are unauthorized albums containing previously unreleased studio material or recordings of live performances that are sold without the permission of either the band or the band’s record company.

Bootleg Pink Floyd albums have long been popular among collectors who already own all of the band’s official releases, and over the decades, hundreds of Pink Floyd bootlegs have appeared on the market.

While a few of them, such as Omayyad, released in the early 1970s by the Trademark of Quality label, feature studio recordings, the vast majority of Pink Floyd bootleg albums feature recordings of the band in concert.

The band performed several times on the air for the BBC in the early 1970s and these recordings offer good, and sometimes exceptional, sound quality. Other recordings from the 1970s, such as Raving and Drooling, offer poor quality recordings made by someone in the audience with a portable tape recorder.

In the late 1970s, someone recorded a live concert of the band performing The Wall that became a huge seller and which likely sold tens of thousands of copies. When the band reunited in 1987 to tour for their Momentary Lapse of Reason album, bootleggers had an album on store shelves within a week of the first concert of the tour.

Many bootleg Pink Floyd albums have been reissued multiple times, and releases as either picture discs or colored vinyl are quite common. Some of these titles have become quite collectible themselves, particularly the titles on the Trademark of Quality label. Others command little value, either because the sound quality on the records is poor or because the material on them has since been officially.

Pink Floyd Albums Conclusion

As one of the world’s best-selling artists, Pink Floyd commands a lot of attention from collectors, and some Pink Floyd albums rank among the world’s top collectibles, with some records selling for thousands of dollars.

Some Pink Floyd albums that you would think would be rather common sell for surprising amounts of money. While The Dark Side of the Moon sold well from the day of release, finding a mint condition first pressing UK edition of the album that is complete is quite difficult to do some 40+ years later, and such an album can sell for more than $1000 at auction.

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Picture Discs – Records With an Image

Picture Discs

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picture disc recordsPicture discs are records that appear to have pictures, images, or graphics on their playing surface. While most phonograph records are black, except for the label in the center, picture discs may display a photograph or artwork over the entire playing surface.

Picture discs look like round photographs, though unlike photographs, they can also play music.

From a manufacturing standpoint, picture discs consist of a solid core, made of plastic, paper, or metal, that has a paper image placed over it. The core and photo are then covered with clear vinyl and the grooves are pressed on top of them using traditional record presses.

This process necessarily uses less vinyl in the grooves than standard records, and often yields less-than-optimal sound quality. Because of their substandard sound quality, most picture discs are produced as limited edition products, generally targeted at collectors, and are intended to supplement the supply of standard black vinyl records.

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History of Picture Discs
Vogue Picture Discs
Children’s Picture Discs
Cardboard Picture Discs
Picture Disc Albums
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Bootleg Picture Discs
Interview Picture Discs
Shaped Picture Discs
Picture Discs Today

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History of Picture Discs

jimmie_rodgers_picture_disc2While picture discs of albums date from the early 1970s, the technology isn’t new. Postcards laminated with playable records appeared during the first decade of the 20th century.

As these postcards were constructed differently from later versions, they are not normally considered as picture discs in the contemporary sense. The first commercial examples of picture discs using standard core-photo-vinyl construction date from the early 1930s, where they appeared in the form of ten inch, 78 RPM singles using a paper core with a shellac playing surface.

One of the earliest commercially released picture discs was a 78 RPM record by country singer Jimmie Rodgers – Cowhand’s Last Ride/Blue Yodel No. 12, released in 1931 by RCA Records.

The record is quite rare today, and sells for several thousand dollars when it turns up for sale. These early picture disc examples were quite fragile, and one rarely encounters a copy of the Jimmie Rodgers record that doesn’t have cracks or chips in the playing surface.

Early examples of picture discs had numerous problems – they were hard to manufacture, had a higher than average defect rate and suffered from poor sound quality. The sound quality issue wasn’t all that noticeable in the era of 78 RPM records, however, as most players were also of poor quality and a relatively high noise level during playback was pretty common for all 78 RPM records.

The various problems associated with the manufacture of picture discs, including the higher manufacturing costs, made them a relative rarity in the marketplace during the 1930s. During the Depression, few people had much in the way of disposable income, and the higher retail price of picture disc records made them a tough sell in a depressed economy. As the 1940s arrived, wartime rationing made producing anything but a standard black record impossible, as materials of any kind were relatively scarce through the end of 1945.

Vogue Picture Discs

example of vogue picture discsShortly after the end of World War II, a company called Vogue Records, from Detroit, Michigan, started a record label with the unique business model of selling only picture discs.

Their product was of a much higher quality than earlier pressings, and included much better sound quality than had been seen with the format.

Part of this had to do with the company’s manufacturing process, which used a solid aluminum core which was covered with a playing surface that was not too different from modern vinyl.

Unlike RCA’s early picture discs, which featured black and white artwork, Vogue’s products used eye-catching, bright, colorful graphics, making the product difficult to ignore in the record store.

Vogue was only in business for a year or so, releasing roughly 70 different titles during that time. In addition to those 70 titles, a number of “prototype” examples of unreleased Vogue titles have surfaced over the years. While Vogue picture discs were reasonably popular then and remain so today with collectors, several factors hindered the company’s success:

Their records cost more to produce than that of their competitors, and thus carried a retail price that was almost twice the price of their competitors’ products.

The company’s roster of talent was modest, and they didn’t have any big stars signed to the label. Most of the best-known recording artists of the day were locked into contracts that required them to record exclusively for their record labels, and Vogue found it difficult to sign artists who were likely to have hits.

The company’s location in Detroit, far from the music centers of New York or Los Angeles, likely contributed to the problem with a lack of talent at the label.

While Vogue Records was in business for a short time, their picture discs are surprisingly popular among collectors today, with several titles regularly selling for more than $500 on the collector’s market. Several unreleased prototypes have sold for as much as $8000.

Their appeal today is much as it was in the 1940s – they are attractive records offering colorful examples of period art and music in a single package. Due to their high manufacturing quality, quite a few Vogue picture discs survive today, and more common titles can be purchased for as little as $10 or so.

The demise of Vogue in 1947 more or less brought an end to the commercial manufacture of picture discs, at least those intended for the adult market. Nearly 25 years would pass before a record company again attempted to sell picture discs as anything other than a novelty item for children.

Children’s Picture Discs

Voco children's picture discWhile we are not aware of any picture discs for the adult market that were offered for sale in the 1950s, we do know of several companies that marketed them to children during this time.

Voco Records and the Record Guild of America produced picture discs of children’s music using a rather odd format – their records were seven inches in size, like a standard 45 RPM single, but they played at 78 RPM.

While not all of the company’s titles were released as picture discs, many of them were. To save costs, these picture discs were manufactured without a reinforcing core, simply laminating a playing surface over a printed image, which was probably cardboard.

A few Record Guild of America titles survive today and they tend to sell for modest prices on the collector’s market, probably due to the fact that they were products for children, leaving many surviving examples in poor condition.

Another company called Voco Records made picture discs for children in the 1950s. These were seven inches in size and appear to have been manufactured at both 45 and 78 RPM speeds. Not much is known about this company, other than the fact that they were made in Toronto, Canada. The few examples we’ve seen were quite attractive and colorful, and reminiscent of the Vogue Records from a decade earlier.

red raven children's picture discOne other unusual variant on picture discs for children that appeared in the 1950s was a product called Red Raven Movie Records. These were picture discs that had a series of 16 still images printed on the disc around the record’s perimeter.

Each of the images was one frame of a short animation sequence that repeated every time the record (which played at 78 RPM) made a rotation on the phonograph. In order to view the animation, a small device with 16 mirrors had to be placed on the spindle of the phonograph.

Red Raven’s picture discs were short-lived, probably due to the high cost of manufacturing. After a short time of making picture discs, the company cut costs by producing colored vinyl records with an oversized label. The labels had the animation sequence printed on them, though the playable part of the record was simply colored vinyl.

Red Raven records are not to difficult to find today, though the mirrored device that’s necessary to view the animation sequence is quite hard to find. Without it, you’re just looking at an interesting design that’s spinning around while the record plays.

Cardboard Picture Discs

motown cardboard picture discIn the late 1960s, there was a short-lived revival of sorts regarding picture discs for the teen market. In 1967, Motown Records released a set of 16 different 7” 45 RPM cardboard picture discs through Topps, the company that was then best known for producing baseball cards.

These picture discs had a photo of the artist on one side, which was the only side with a playing surface. The other side had text information about the artist and the song.

These are the only picture discs of this type that we’ve seen that were sold at retail during the 1960s.

Artists and titles in this series were:

#1 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Baby Love
#2 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Stop In The Name Of Love
#3 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
#4 The Temptations – My Girl
#5 The Four Tops – I Can’t Help Myself
#6 Marvin Gaye – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
#7 Martha & The Vandellas – Dancing In The Street
#8 Stevie Wonder – Fingertips – Part 2
#9 Four Tops – Baby I Need Your Loving
#10 Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
#11 Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Shop Around
#12 The Marvelettes – Please Mr. Postman
#13 The Temptations – The Way You Do The Things You Do
#14 Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – Love Is Like A Heat Wave
#15 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Come See About Me
#16 Diana Ross & The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You

A couple of years later, cardboard picture discs were given away free by Post Cereals as an incentive to get customers to buy the cereal. It was common practice at that time to include a small toy or trinket in a cereal box as an incentive, but these records were actually printed on the back of the box itself.

archies cereal picture discAdding to the incentive to buy was the fact that there were usually several different records available, which were numbered on the label.

This gave buyers reason to purchase more than one box of cereal. Over the years, we’ve seen titles by the Monkees, the Archies, the Jackson 5ive, and Bobby Sherman.

There were usually four different picture discs available for these promotions, and most of the titles included multiple songs. While the sound quality was poor, the opportunity to get four or five songs by a popular artist at no extra charge when buying a box of cereal was a pretty good deal.

A surprising number of these cardboard cereal box picture discs survive today and they tend to sell for relatively modest ($10 or so) prices. There are exceptions, however – surviving examples that included the complete cereal box with the record still attached have sold for upwards of $100.

Picture Disc Albums

curved air picture discAfter a period of a quarter century in which no picture discs appeared on the market for adult audiences, the first “modern” picture discs began to appear in 1971.

The first of which was the debut album by British progressive rock band Curved Air, Air Conditioning. This album, released as picture discs only in the United Kingdom, was certainly eye-catching, though it, like its predecessors, suffered from poor sound quality.

Due to complaints from buyers, the picture disc edition was limited to a pressing of 10,000 copies, at which time it was replaced by a standard, black vinyl edition.

In 1973, a second LP picture disc appeared, again from the UK, entitled Magical Love by the progressive rock band Saturnalia. This disc also had a holographic label in the center that was attached using glue. Over time, most of these have fallen off, and finding a copy of the Saturnalia disc with the label intact these days is somewhat difficult. Again, these picture discs were plagued by sound problems, and didn’t sell particularly well. As far as we know, that particular album was never reissued on vinyl, making it possibly a picture disc-only release.

In the late 1970s, American record companies began to send out picture discs as promotional items to programmers at radio stations. These picture discs were largely produced by an independent company called Fitzgerald-Hartley, under contract to the major record labels. Most of the picture discs produced in the United States in the late 1970s carry a Fitzgerald-Hartley “PicDisc” logo.

You can see a short video of picture discs being manufactured below. (Caution!: Video includes loud music!)

These promotional picture discs, unlike most records sent to radio stations, weren’t really intended for airplay, as the sound quality wasn’t good enough for that purpose. They were eye catching, however, and record companies hoped they’d get enough attention from radio station personnel to get the records played on the radio.

It isn’t known as to whether they actually helped in that regard, but these picture discs, including titles by Meat Loaf, Bob Welch, Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen, along with long-forgotten bands such as Liar, Fandango, and The Cryers, caught the attention of collectors, who were soon paying up to $100 (in 1970s dollars) for records that the record companies had been giving away for free.

A few of the titles released in the late 1970s as promotional picture discs include:

Joe Cocker – Luxury You Can Afford
Elvis Costello – My Aim is True/This Year’s Model (tracks from both albums)
Peter Frampton – I’m in You
The Jacksons – Going Places and The Jacksons
Elton John – A Single Man (later released commercially)
Kansas – Point of Know Return
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (black cover; burgundy cover copies were sold commercially later)
Molly Hatchet – Molly Hatchet, Flirtin’ With Disaster, Beatin’ the Odds, Take No Prisoners
Willie Nelson – Stardust
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town
Starcastle – Citadel
Toto – Toto
Bob Welch – French Kiss
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London (12” single)

starcastle promotional picture discThe record companies quickly realized that they had a product for which buyers would gladly pay a premium, and by 1978, commercially released picture discs began to appear on the market.

The first commercially produced album picture disc was released in early 1978. Titled To Elvis: Love Still Burning, the disc, issued on the tiny Fotoplay label, featured a painting of Elvis Presley on the disc, though the material on the album consisted of other artists performing Elvis songs.

The record, which was, as far as we know, the only record that Fotoplay ever released, was deemed significant enough to merit a cover story in Billboard magazine in August of that year.

Shortly thereafter, Mushroom Records issued a picture disc edition of Heart’s Magazine LP in a “limited” edition of 100,000 copies, along with another 30,000 copies in Canada. Each copy was numbered on the back cover, with the number expressed as a fraction, like this: 15355/100,000. Magazine was the first commercial picture disc album that was widely available for sale, as the album was available for sale by all of the major record chains.

The record sold so well that Mushroom actually pressed more than 100,000 copies. We once saw one that was numbered at 105,000 or so, making the numbering on the cover look rather strange: 105,857/100,000.

Not surprisingly, picture disc copies of Magazine, despite Heart’s decades of success, are not particularly hard to find, nor do they sell for a lot of money today. At any given time, there are 50-75 copies for sale on eBay, and most of them are still sealed and unplayed, nearly 40 years after their initial release.

The success of the Elvis and Heart LPs led to a number of releases in picture disc form by the major record companies, including titles by a number of then-famous artists. While all of these titles were manufactured as limited editions, not all of them were numbered.

Titles released between 1978 and 1980 in the United States included:

The Beatles – Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Bee Gees – Spirits Having Flown
Blondie – Parallel Lines
Boston – Boston
The Brothers Johnson – Blam!
Cher – Take Me Home
Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive! (single album edition of the two record set)
Heart – Dreamboat Annie
Jefferson Starship – Gold
Kiss – solo albums by Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley
Barry Manilow – Greatest Hits (an unusual two record picture disc set)
Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (burgundy cover; black cover copies were promotional)
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Elvis Presley – A Legendary Performer, Volume 3
Linda Ronstadt – Living in the USA
Rush – Hemispheres
Bob Seger – Stranger in Town
Steve Miller – Book of Dreams
Rod Stewart – Blondes Have More Fun
Styx – Pieces of Eight
The Who – Who Are You?

pink floyd dark side of the moon picture discFor a short time in the late 1970s, bins at records stores everywhere were full of picture discs, and the stores that sold imported pressings from Europe usually had a few titles for sale that weren’t available in the states.

At a time when record albums had a suggested retail price of $7.98, picture discs of the same titles had a list price of nearly double that, at $13.98. That equates to about $46 in 2015 dollars, and this high pricing, combined with the relatively poor sound quality of picture discs, soon came back to haunt the record companies.

Many consumers returned their expensive picture discs to the stores as defective, some due to sound quality issues and others because they were warped.

Part of the warping problem had to do with the die-cut covers used to sell the records; most were sold in cardboard covers with an 8” circle cut out to allow the record, which was enclosed in a clear plastic inner sleeve, to be seen by potential buyers. These covers weren’t as sturdy as regular album covers, and the combination of poor cover design and tight shrink wrap led to a lot of warped picture discs.

The record companies temporarily worked around this problem by printing a disclaimer on the cover, usually with some variation of – “Limited Picture Edition – Sound quality may not be comparable to conventional edition.” The record companies then refused to take returns on picture discs, and stores began to sell them on an “as-is” basis with no return privileges for buyers.

By 1980, picture discs could often be found in the cutout bargain bins, usually with holes punched in the cover or with a corner of the cover clipped off to indicate that it was a clearance item. We recall seeing hundreds of solo album picture discs by members of Kiss in the bargain bins, often with prices as low as 99¢. Ironically, those titles that were remaindered several decades ago are commanding premium prices today as collectibles.

Since 1980, record companies worldwide have occasionally released picture discs, though they are usually limited in production to a few thousand copies. In the United Kingdom, the format is usually used only for singles, rather than albums.

Prototype Picture Discs

xanadu prototype picture discCollectors eagerly seek out picture discs of records by artists they collect and admire, and some of these records can sell for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, particularly those items that exist only as prototypes.

These would be records which were intended to be issued either commercially or as a promotional item in picture disc form, but for whatever reason, were not. These titles are often pressed in very small quantities; in some cases, perhaps as few as ten.

One of the rarest such examples is a ten inch record of the single, Xanadu,by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra, intended to be created as a promotional item, but ultimately rejected by the record company.

As such, fewer than 50 of these were produced as prototypes, and copies have sold for as much as $10,000 at auction.

Another example was the single “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police, which exists as a prototype picture disc depicting only a few colored squares. Another Police prototype is an odd square picture disc depicting the CBS logo. This is odd, as the Police had no association with CBS Records.

This particular disc was probably made as a test of cutting shapes, and the employees at the pressing plant simply used whatever stampers were available at the time, leading to the creation of a rare Police collectible.

A 1976 LP by Dolly Parton, All I Can Do, was pressed as a picture disc for then-RCA executive Jozsef Bellak at his request. While rumors exist that 2-3 of these were made, only one is currently known to exist – it was Bellak’s personal copy and it was sold for $1500 in 2012.

Bootleg Picture Discs

beatles bootleg picture discBootleg records, or records containing music that has been released without the knowledge or permission of the artist whose music appears on the record, have been around for decades.

Bootleg records became quite popular in the early 1970s, when a number of individuals discovered that the copyright laws then in effect didn’t prohibit them from releasing live and unreleased material by popular artists such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones.

Starting in about 1979, bootleg picture discs began to appear on the market, offering much of the same material that had been previously released by labels such as the Trademark of Quality, The Amazing Kornyfone Record Label (TAKRL), Wizardo and Rubber Dubber. Early bootleg picture discs by the Beatles included the Beatles Decca demo recordings, an LP called The Beatles in Italy, and a live recording of their 1966 performance in Japan.

Other bootleg picture discs to be appear over the years include titles by Madonna, Metallica, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, among others. As is usually the case with bootleg recordings, the sound quality of these releases varies widely from title to title. Adding to the suspect sound quality is the noisiness of the picture disc itself. Still, collectors usually flock to buy these releases, as they are both unusual and limited in production.

While bootleg picture discs aren’t terribly common, they have appeared regularly over the past 35 years or so and are still manufactured to this day.

Interview Picture Discs

pink floyd interview picture discAn interesting variation on bootlegs were the interview picture discs that began to appear on the market in the mid-1980s.

While it is illegal for someone to release music recordings of an artist with whom they do not have a contractual agreement, it is not illegal to release recordings of that artist simply speaking.

This led to several companies releasing “interview” picture disc albums that featured nice photos of the artist or band on the record itself but only included recorded interviews with the artists within the grooves. This allowed companies to sell picture disc albums by famous artists without having to be concerned with violating copyright laws.

Because these records do not contain any actual music, they draw less attention from collectors than authorized releases that contain music, though some older ones, particularly those by highly collectible artists such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd, or Madonna, often sell for $40 to $60 when they turn up for sale.

Shaped Picture Discs

motley crue shaped picture discAfter the success of promotional picture disc albums in gathering attention for artists’ new releases, the practice of releasing promotional picture discs was extended to singles.

A few promotional titles were released in picture disc form as 12” singles and after that, a few were sent to radio stations as 7” picture discs.

The next step in the evolution of the modern picture disc was the development of die-cut, or “shaped” picture discs. These were manufactured at a full 12” size, but then cut to a shape that was something other than round. The grooves were still round, of course, so the record could be played, but the outer edge might be cut to all manner of intricate shapes.

The first of these shaped promotional picture discs was a record of about 10” in size that was shaped like an octagon for the Toto single “Georgy Porgy.” This was soon followed by “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, which was cut to the shape of a star-shaped police badge.

Commercial shaped picture discs soon followed, though the format has always been far more popular in the UK than in the United States. As the records are pressed at a 12” size before having material cut away, these picture discs are always used for singles, rather than albums.

A few examples of shaped picture discs to have been released over the years:

AC/DC – Danger (fly-shaped)
Heart – Nothin’ at All (heart shape)
Elton John – I’m Still Standing (piano shape)
Madonna – Into the Groove (heart-shaped), Lucky Star (star-shaped)
Motley Crue – Smokin’ in the Boys Room (comedy and tragedy masks shaped)
The Police – Message in a Bottle, Don’t Stand So Close to Me, Roxanne (all badge-shaped)
Prince – Purple Rain (motorcycle shape), Paisley Park (balloon shape)
Rush – Countdown (space shuttle shape)
Toto – Georgy Porgy, Africa (Africa-shaped)
ZZ Top – Gimme All Your Lovin’ (car shape)

There have been hundreds of shaped picture discs sold over the years from record companies around the world. As these are usually limited to a few thousand copies of any given title, shaped records by major artists usually command respectable ($50-$100) prices on the collector market.

Every now and again, copies of a picture disc that was intended to have been cut to a shape but have not actually been cut and are still at the original 12” size, are offered for sale. These are usually prototypes or test pressings that were saved by record company employees before the cutting process. The prices for these can vary widely, based on the artist, but uncut shaped picture discs by U2, Madonna, Iron Maiden, Queen, Prince, and the Police have all sold for $1000 at auction.

One must be careful when playing a shaped picture disc, as it’s possible to damage the needle on your phonograph if you miss the grooves when cueing the record for play.

Picture Discs Today

While they’re not as common today as they were a few decades ago, picture discs are still produced today. They’re generally released as limited edition pressings alongside their black vinyl counterparts and are intended for the collectors who just want to have everything by a particular artist.

In the United States, the format is almost always used for albums, but in Great Britain, picture disc singles, including shaped ones, remain popular as limited edition collector’s items.

Picture discs aren’t much good for everyday play, but they look nice on display and make a nice addition to any record collection.

Click here to view our selection of picture discs.

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Most Valuable Vinyl Records – The Top 10 Rarest Albums

Most Valuable Vinyl Records

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most valuable vinyl records Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and as a result, people are often searching for information about them online. One of the most popular searches, oddly enough, is for the phrase most valuable vinyl records.

People know that some records are more valuable than others, and that many records are quite expensive. As a lot of people are now giving thought to the boxes of records in their attic or basement that they haven’t touched in decades, it makes sense that they might have a curiosity as to whether they personally own any of the most valuable vinyl records.

The short answer is – they don’t, and neither do you. That’s not because you don’t have good taste in records or that you simply bought the wrong ones in the store all those years ago.

The real reason that you, or any randomly selected individual, don’t own any of the most valuable vinyl records is because, with few exceptions, nearly all of the most valuable vinyl records are highly unusual, one-of-a-kind items.

We’re talking about things like Elvis Presley’s cut-with-a-lathe acetate of “My Happiness”, or the one acetate of “That’ll Be the Day” by the pre-Beatles Quarrymen, or the intentionally pressed-in-a-quantity-of-one albums by the Wu Tang Clan (Once Upon a Time in Shaolin) or Jean-Michele Jarre (Music for Supermarkets).

Those records are indeed the most valuable vinyl records, but they’re all unique, aren’t likely to change hands anytime soon, won’t be affordable if they do, and aren’t records that anyone reading this article actually own.

We suspect that when people do a search for “most valuable vinyl records”, what they really want to know is “Do I personally own any of the world’s most valuable vinyl records?” We know that when we bought our first record price guides back in the late 1970s, the first thing we did was look up records we owned to see if we had anything that was worth a lot of money.

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Click here to browse some of the rarest records we have in our store.

We didn’t, of course, and that’s because nearly all of the top 100 of the world’s most valuable vinyl records are individually cut acetates, test pressings, pre-production (not commercially released) items that were never formally released, or other items that likely would only have been available to record company employees or in some cases, only to the artists themselves. A few other items on the list are ultra-rare pre-World War II blues 78s and ultra-rare 45 RPM singles that were released on tiny regional record labels and were quickly forgotten.

That being the case, we put this article together to list some of the world’s most valuable vinyl records, but with a bit of a twist. This article will cover the rare and the valuable, but only record albums, and only albums that were actually commercially available. We’re leaving out the 45 and 78 RPM singles because on this site, we focus on albums, so we’ll restrict the list to that format only.

That is, these are albums that were, at least in theory, sold in stores and records to which the general public might have been able to purchase at one time or another.

We’ll list 10 of the world’s most valuable vinyl records, more or less in order of value. Keep in mind that these are prices for items that have been sold publicly. Obviously, private sales are just that, and we have no idea as to the sorts of deals that may have gone on between private collectors.

World’s Most Valuable Records – The Top 10

It likely won’t surprise most readers to see that a majority of the most valuable vinyl records are by the Beatles. They are perhaps the most heavily collected artist, and the single biggest-selling band of all time. With that kind of interest, it only stands to reason that a number of albums by the Beatles would appear on a list such as this one.

The original withdrawn “Butcher cover” version of Yesterday and Today.

Beatles – Yesterday and Today sealed stereo “first state” Butcher cover (1966) – $125,000 – The infamous withdrawn pressings of the Beatles 1966 American LP Yesterday and Today are perhaps the most sought out album in history. The album was intended to be released with a photo that depicted the Beatles dressed in butcher smocks, posing with chunks of raw meat and parts of disassembled toy dolls. This cover became known as the “Butcher Cover.”

The response to review copies of the album was hostile, and stores were threatening not to stock the album when it was formally released to the public. Capitol Records changed their mind about the cover and printed new ones…which they then pasted over the photo with the dolls.

While the covers with the second cover pasted over the first one, known as “second state” Butcher covers, are collectible, the “first state” covers that never had the second cover pasted over it are among the rarest and most valuable of all records. Most of the review copies were sent back to the record company at their request, though it appears that a handful of copies were sold at retail in Southern California. Mono copies are considerably rarer than their stereo counterparts, and only a handful of copies survive today in pristine, still-sealed (unopened) condition.

There may be a few dozen sealed mono copies in existence, but there are likely fewer than 10 known sealed stereo copies, and one of them sold for $125,000 in 2016.

While a sealed stereo “first state” Butcher cover can sell for six figures, even a mint one can sell for considerable amounts of money, and copies have sold for more than $15,000

Mono sealed copies, mono or stereo opened copies, intact second state copies and peeled “third state” copies of this album sell for considerably less, sometimes for as little as $100, depending on condition.

Click here to read a more comprehensive article about the Beatles Butcher cover.

freewheelin bob dylanBob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with withdrawn tracks (1963) $35,000 – Bob Dylan’s first album, released in 1962, drew some critical notice but didn’t sell well enough to make the Billboard charts. His second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, on the other hand, drew attention and sold well enough to reach #22 on the American Billboard album chart.

The album consisted mostly of self-written material, including the now-classics “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

The album was issued in both mono and stereo, but at Dylan’s request, four songs were withdrawn from the album shortly before release and replaced with new ones.

The intended original album contained the songs:

  • “Rocks and Gravel”
  • “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”
  • “Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand”
  • “Talkin’ John Birch Blues”

These songs were replaced with:

  • “Girl From the North Country”
  • “Masters of War”
  • “Bob Dylan’s Dream”
  • “Talkin’ World War III Blues”

Even though the original version of the album was ready for release, new stampers were manufactured with the new songs, and the album shipped to stores on the scheduled day of release with the second set of songs.

It appears, however, that at some point during the early days of manufacturing the album, a few copies were accidentally pressed using the stampers for the original intended version of the album. On the mono copies, the labels listed the second set of songs, but actually played the withdrawn tracks. These can be identified by either playing the record or by examining the stamped numbers in the “dead wax” area near the label. The numbers on the rare version of the album end in -1, followed by a letter. Later pressings have “2” (or higher) as the final digit.

Only a dozen or so mono copies have been found so far, and only two copies have been found in stereo. The stereo pressings are easier to identify, as not only do the records play the original songs, but the labels also list the original songs.

Mono copies have sold for as much as $12,000, but one of the two known stereo copies sold a few years ago for $35,000. As these were pressed by mistake, these copies may very well have found their way into record stores back in 1963, and it’s possible that more copies are still out there.

beatles frank ifieldThe Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage (1964) $30,000 – When the Beatles first started releasing records in Britain, their UK label, Parlophone, offered their contract to the label’s American counterpart, Capitol. Capitol declined the offer, as English acts hadn’t sold particularly well in the U.S. up to that point.

Tiny Vee Jay Records ended up with the contract. They released a few singles that went nowhere, and gave up. When Capitol announced their intentions to release the Meet the Beatles album in early 1964, Vee Jay realized that they had a bunch of Beatles material sitting in their vaults.

A lawsuit from Capitol prohibited Vee Jay from releasing any Beatles product after October, 1964, but between January and October of that year, they released Introducing the Beatles, Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Beatles (a reissue of that album with a different title), The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons (that album again, along with a Four Seasons LP) and Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield.

Frank Ifield was an English singer whose biggest hit was “I Remember You,” which reached #5 on the U.S. charts in 1962. The Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield LP was a collection of eight songs by Ifield, along with four tracks by the Beatles: “Please Please Me”, “From Me to You”, “Ask Me Why”, and “Thank You Girl”.

That album was released in February, 1964 with a cover depicting a drawing of an old man with a mustache wearing a Beatle wig. The album sold poorly, and in October of that year, looking for a last-minute boost in sales before their rights to sell Beatles records went away, Vee Jay made some changes to the album:

  • The title was changed, dropping the “Jolly What!”, but retaining the “On Stage,” suggesting that the album was a live recording, which it was not.
  • All four Beatles song titles (but none by Ifield) were listed on the cover
  • The cover was changed to one with a drawing of the four members of the Beatles
  • “The Beatles” was printed in a lighter, easier-to-read font than was “Frank Ifield”

The new cover was only available for a few weeks and while exact pressing figures are unknown, it’s likely, based on sales over the years, that only a few hundred mono copies were pressed, and likely fewer than 100 stereo copies were pressed.

The version of the album with the old man on the cover is rare, and copies sell in the $100-$400 range, depending on condition and whether they are mono or stereo.

Mono copies of the second cover are rare and sell in the $5000-$10,000 range. The stereo pressing is one of the most valuable vinyl records sold in the U.S. by the Beatles and a sealed copy was offered for sale a few years ago by a prominent Los Angeles record store for $30,000.

Those looking to cash in should be aware that both the mono and stereo copies of this album have been counterfeited, with most counterfeit copies lacking the printing of the album’s title on the spine of the cover.

white album low numberThe Beatles – The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) low-numbered copies (1968) $10,000+ – After the 1967 LP Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that had an unusually elaborate cover, the Beatles went minimalist on their 1968 follow-up. Titled simply The Beatles, the album had a cover that was all white, though the name of the band was embossed on the cover.

In addition, every copy of the album sold during its initial release was individually numbered. Multiple copies were made in both the U.S. (in stereo only) and in the UK (in mono and in stereo) bearing #1. These were given to members of the group and to high-ranking record company employees.

A few years ago, Ringo Starr sold his personal mono copy with #1 on it in an auction and it sold for $750,000!

All other copies were consecutively numbered (though various numbering systems were used) on both U.S. and UK pressings and copies numbered into the millions. One would think that since every copy bears a unique number that all copies should share equal value, but collectors are particularly interested in finding copies that have low numbers.

Pricing can vary dramatically for numbered copies of The Beatles depending on the number. A mint copy with a six or seven digit number might sell for $100 or so, but copies numbered under 100,000 draw higher prices, and the prices increase substantially for copies lower than 10,000, 1000, or 100. In 2008, a UK copy with #5 sold for £19,201 (about $27,000 U.S.) and we recently saw a U.S. copy with number 32 offered for sale for $10,000.

While copies numbered under 100 were likely all issued to record company employees, it’s possible that numbers above that were sold to the public and these could sell for anywhere from $1000-$10,000, depending on the number.

The Beatles was sold with numbered copies in a number of different countries besides the U.S. and the UK, and prices will vary widely depending on the country and the number. Still, there are a lot of low-numbered copies out there, and The Beatles is one of those rare cases where you might just have one of the world’s most valuable vinyl records sitting in your closet.

velvet underground and nicoThe Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966) stereo pressing without the song “Sunday Morning” $22,000 – The 1966 debut by the Velvet Underground, the self-titled The Velvet Underground & Nico, sold poorly but remains one of the most influential albums of all time.

The album featured a banana on the cover in the form of a sticker and printed above it were the words “Peel slowly and see.” Many people did just that, and it’s hard to find an original copy of that album in either mono or stereo that still has a fully intact banana.

Copies of The Velvet Underground & Nico in mint condition with a complete banana have sold for upwards of $1000, but in 2017, a previously-unknown variation of the LP came up for sale. This version was missing the song “Sunday Morning,” which would ordinarily have been the first song on side one of the album.

The cover and label of this particular U.S. pressing did list that song title, but the record did not include the song on it. Apparently, the album was originally intended to be released without the song, but it was added at the last minute and new stampers were made. As with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a few copies appear to have been pressed with the earlier stampers by mistake, creating an ultra-rarity.

The only copy known to date sold for $22,000 in 2017, which would certainly qualify it as one of the most valuable vinyl records and was a stereo copy. Most stereo copies of the album have the letters “REV” (for revision) etched in the dead wax area near the label on side one. Copies of this ultra-rare version can be identified by either playing the record, where “I’m Waiting for the Man” would be the first song, rather than “Sunday Morning.” Alternatively, the record can be identified by the lack of “REV” in the dead wax on side one.

Introducing the Beatles stereo with "ad back" coverThe Beatles – Introducing the Beatles stereo with “ad back” cover (1964) $15,000 – Yes, another Beatles album, and another album from the misfit label Vee Jay. Vee Jay had acquired the rights to an album’s worth of Beatles songs (released as Please Please Me in the UK) in 1963, but due to the poor sales of several singles, the label, which was strapped for cash, decided not to release the album.

When Capitol released “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and announced the release of Meet the Beatles in January, 1964, Vee Jay remembered that they had the unreleased album in their vaults and quickly rushed to release it to the public.

The label titled the album Introducing the Beatles and quickly put together a front cover with a photo of the band, but they were in such a rush to get the album to stores that they didn’t bother to create a back cover for the album. First pressings of the album, issued in both mono and stereo, list no song titles anywhere on the cover. The back cover of the album shows pictures of 25 other Vee Jay albums, but has no information about either the group or the contents of the record.

About the same time, Vee Jay also released a few copies of the album that had blank white back covers. This may have been a production error. Within a couple of weeks, a “proper” album cover listing song titles was added to the album, and a couple of weeks later, that back cover was changed as two songs (“Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”) were dropped from the album and replaced with two others (“Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why.”

The first version of Introducing the Beatles with the 25 cover photos on the back cover is known as the “ad back” cover and the version with no printing at all is known as the “blank back” cover.

The “ad back” version is the more valuable, as it’s both harder to find and is considered to be the original pressing of the album. Stereo copies have sold for as much as $15,000, putting them among the most valuable vinyl records, and mono copies have sold for about half that price. As Vee Jay pressed about 50 mono records for every one in stereo, the stereo version is a relative bargain.

“Blank back” copies sell for $3000-$5000, depending on whether they are mono or stereo, but finding a blank back copy without a lot of cover wear is quite difficult.

While Introducing the Beatles is the most heavily counterfeited album of all time, most of the counterfeit copies of this album are of later pressings. We are not aware of counterfeit copies of either the ad back or blank back versions of this album.

Be aware that due to the large number of counterfeits of this album, most people believe that Introducing the Beatles is actually a fairly common album. That’s not the case; it’s rather rare and exceptionally so in stereo.

beatles albums parlophoneThe Beatles – Please Please Me UK stereo with black and gold label (1963) $21,000 – The Beatles first album, Please Please Me, was released in Britain nearly a year before its U.S. release as Introducing the Beatles. The album was initially released in March, 1963 in the UK on the Parlophone label, and first pressings were available only in mono.

A month later, stereo copies were released, and like the mono, the label used on the record was the then-current black Parlophone label with gold print. Shortly after the stereo release, Parolophone changed their label artwork to a black label with yellow and white print, and that label was used for all subsequent pressings of the album through 1969.

At the time, mono records typically outsold stereo pressings by a ratio of nearly 100:1, as most buyers did not own stereo phonographs. While mono pressings sold fairly well when the album was first released, stereo copies did not, and it is estimated that fewer than 1000 stereo copies were sold with the black and gold label before Parlophone changed label designs, making the first-issue stereo pressings quite rare, given that the album eventually sold millions of copies.

While original mono copies are rare, it’s the stereo pressings that qualify as being among the world’s most valuable vinyl records.

Finding an original stereo UK pressing of Please Please Me is quite difficult, but it’s even harder to find a copy in collectible condition, as most people who bought the album played it until it was worn out. Mono copies turn up for sale fairly frequently, but stereo copies are much harder to find and much more expensive.

In 2014, a stereo copy in exceptional condition sold on eBay for £14,994, or about $21,000 in 2018 dollars.

stonewall tiger lilyStonewall – Stonewall (1976) $14,000 – You may not have ever heard of a band called Stonewall, and that’s not surprising. They released only one album, the self-titled Stonewall in 1976, and it’s not even fair to suggest that that album was even properly released.

Stonewall was issued by the small Tiger Lily record label, and Tiger Lily is known among record collectors as a “tax scam” label. Tiger Lily was apparently run by Morris Levy, who was also the president of Roulette Records. Under tax laws in effect in the 1970s, record labels could charge recording, pressing and distribution costs against profits.

Tiger Lily was apparently set up for the express purpose of not making money. The label solicited tapes from a variety of artists who thought they might get a record deal. Ordinarily, when record companies solicit tapes, they listen to them, find artists the like, sign them to a contract, and put them into a studio to record an album.

Tiger Lily Records apparently took a different approach. They asked for tapes, cut records from them and released the albums without any effort to promote them and often without even informing the artists and certainly without paying them their due royalties. Most of the titles were pressed in small runs of a few hundred copies, and then then were deleted from the catalog.

Most Tiger Lily albums purchased by the public were likely found in the discount bins.

In the meantime, Tiger Lily fabricated recording and distribution “costs” which they used to offset profits at the main label, Roulette.

The 60+ known albums released by Tiger Lily covered the full spectrum of music, from pop to country to hard rock. Everything released by the label is collectible to some degree, but some records are harder to find (and contain better music) than others.

Stonewall was an album by a hard rock group if the same name, and the album compares favorably to a number of better-known hard rock acts of the era, such as Grand Funk Railroad or Cream. Their lone album is also one of the hardest titles to find on the Tiger Lily label, and in 2014, a copy of the album was sold on eBay for $14,100.

We’ve never seen a copy and we don’t know anyone who has, but there have to be more copies out there than the handful that have turned up to date. While it’s likely that future copies that turn up will sell for less money than $14,000, the album still qualifies as one of the most valuable vinyl records sold to date.

It’s also a pretty good album, and it has since been legitimately reissued.

beatlrs white album exportThe Beatles – The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) UK export copies (1968) $10,000+ – Yes, the White Album appears on this list again. This time, it’s not the number on the cover that matters (though it might affect the price.) This particular version of the White Album is the version that Parlophone Records in Britain made especially for export.

In 1968, the Beatles created their own record label, Apple Records. All of their records from that point on, in both the UK and the rest of the world, were intended to be issued on that label and in most countries, the White Album appeared with green Apple labels. Due to some legal issues, the Apple trademark hadn’t yet been secured in a few countries when the White Album was released.

For service to those countries (in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa), Parlophone pressed a few copies of the White Album that had black and yellow Parlophone labels, rather than Apple labels. There were likely only a few thousand copies ever pressed like this, if that, and most of them have long since vanished.

A copy in pristine condition was sold in 2015 for just under £10,000, or about $14,000 in 2018 dollars. This record is an interesting listing among the most valuable vinyl records as it’s a UK pressing that one might find just about anywhere other than the UK, as the record was made only for export.

beatles yesterday red target labelBeatles – Yesterday and Today red Capitol “target” label (1971) – Yes, another pressing of Yesterday and Today by the Beatles qualifies as one of the most valuable vinyl records, but this one is not a Butcher Cover.

After the Beatles created their own Apple Records label in 1968, all of their new albums in the U.S. and the UK were released on that label. In the U.S., even older titles were eventually reissued with Apple, rather than Capitol, labels, and this remained the case until the Apple label was dissolved in 1975.

In 1970 or 1971, due to an error at Capitol’s Winchester, Virginia pressing plant, a few copies of the 1966 LPs Revolver and Yesterday and Today were inadvertently pressed using the red “target” style Capitol label that was then in use for all non-Beatles albums issued by Capitol.

The Revolver pressings are fairly rare, and sell for $300-$500 when they turn up for sale, compared to $30 or so for the regular Apple pressings. The mispressing of Yesterday and Today, on the other hand, is exceedingly rare, and to date, only 2-3 copies have turned up for sale.

A copy with this label was sold in 2016 for $11,250. While only a few copies are known, it’s quite likely that others are out there. It should be noted that prior to moving the Beatles Capitol albums to the Apple label, all of them were briefly available on a green Capitol label that has similar artwork to the red label.

While red label pressings of Yesterday and Today would sell for thousands of dollars, the green label pressings command prices in the $100 range, as they are far more common.

hank mobley blue note 1568Hank Mobley – Hank Mobley Blue Note 1568 (1957) – $10,000 – Hank Mobley was a tenor saxophone player who had a long career, the early part of which was spent with Blue Note Records of New York City. Many of Blue Note’s releases from the 1950s have long been sought out by collectors, and first pressings of a number of their titles from the 1950s routinely sell for more than $1000.

The most valuable of all of them is the self-titled Hank Mobley, released in 1956. Oddly enough, the album was Mobley’s sixth title for Blue Note, but for some reason, the first pressing of that album was quite small, with estimates that no more than 300-1000 copies were printed.

First pressings can be noted by a discrepancy in the record company’s address on the label; side one lists the city as “NYC,” while side two lists “New York 23.” For whatever reason, the album was not reissued after Blue Note was acquired by Liberty Records in the mid-1960s, making all copies of the album relatively rare compared to other Blue Note titles.

While Hank Mobley has long been a highly sought out album by fans of jazz and hard bop, in recent years, the price of the album has escalated dramatically. Copies often change hands for upwards of $5000, and in 2015, a buyer on eBay paid £7300 ($11,000 in 2018 dollars) for a pristine copy.

Copies with “NYC” on both sides also command high prices and sell for almost $5000 in mint condition.

Most Valuable Vinyl Records Conclusion

No list of the most valuable vinyl records can be either complete or definitive. Thousands of records are sold every day, and new high prices are established all the time. As we mentioned earlier, the true examples of the most valuable vinyl records are odd, one-of-a-kind items that likely come from the collection of either the artists themselves or high-ranking record company employees and are not the sorts of records that the layman is likely to encounter.

Others are obscure singles, either 45 or 78 RPM that were pressed by tiny regional labels or which were pressed by major record companies but withdrawn prior to release, with only a few copies “leaking out.”

In this listing of the most valuable vinyl records, we’ve tried to list albums only, as that’s what our site is about. We also tried to list only records that were sold commercially. Granted, they might have been available only in select regions or available only for a short period of time. In a couple of cases, they’re records that were released by accident using stampers that were mistakenly used at the pressing plant by employees that weren’t paying as much attention as they should have been.

Do you own one of these records? Frankly, it’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. In our nearly 40 years of selling records, we’ve had exactly one of the records on this list – an “ad back” stereo copy of Introducing the Beatles.

Still, a big part of record collecting is the thrill of the chase and hunting down of rarities, and every one of the most valuable vinyl records listed here is something that someone, somewhere, might possibly encounter in going through a box of used records at a yard sale, a thrift store or even a record shop.

LIkely? No, but the unlikely happens every day. Good luck!

We don’t have the most valuable vinyl records, but you can browse some of the rarest records we have in our store.

 

Japanese Records – The Appeal of Japan LPs

Japanese Records

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Note: Due to COVID-19-related supply issues, particularly in the United States, we’re currently buying more records from our Japanese suppliers than usual.  It puts our inventory a bit out of balance, but then again, it’s also providing us with some amazing items.

You may have noticed that we have a lot of Japanese records in stock here at RareRecords.net. If you are unfamiliar with Japan LPs, you might wonder why we have so many Japanese records for sale and not, say, a comparable number of French or German records.

That’s a reasonable question, so we will explain why, as a collector, you may find it worth your while to add some Japanese records to your collection.

Shortly after World War II, Japan’s manufacturing industry was trying to recover quickly from the war and to do so, they became primarily concerned with making inexpensive, low-quality merchandise that they could produce quickly.

Because of this, the phrase “made in Japan” soon became synonymous with poor quality, and most Japanese products were scorned as being cheaply or poorly made.

That changed by the early 1960s, when the country began to try to change their image, much as South Korea and China have been doing in the past two decades. By the mid-1960s, Japan had earned a reputation for producing high-quality cameras and stereo equipment, among other things.

With the increase in quality of stereo equipment, Japanese records also improved in quality, with record companies using better materials for their covers and high-quality, dead-quiet virgin vinyl for the records themselves.

In addition, record companies also paid strong attention to the mastering and pressing processes, trying to produce the best-sounding records possible.

By the early 1980s, Japanese records were being exported all over the world to be sold to quality-conscious audiophiles, who liked the high-quality covers and the quiet playing surfaces.

This was a time when American record companies were often making records from noisy, recycled vinyl, and using stampers until they wore out, which resulted in a poor sounding domestic product.  Many sound-conscious buyers began buying Japanese records instead.

Read on to see why so many record collectors are interested in buying Japanese records.

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You can browse our selection of Japanese records here.

Why Collectors Seek Out Japanese Records

 

Japan LPs on red vinyl

Besides good sound, a quiet playing surface, and quality cover printing, Japanese records also offered some other things of interest to the collector.

There are several factors that make Japanese records appealing to both record collectors and audiophiles:

Red vinyl.

Toshiba, one of the primary record manufacturing companies in Japan, pressed many of their records on red, “Everclean” vinyl from 1958 through (reportedly) early 1974.

The Everclean vinyl was designed to be less prone to collecting static electricity and dust than the more common black vinyl.

This “Everclean” formula was proprietary to Toshiba, so only the record labels that contracted with Toshiba to manufacture their records issued albums on red vinyl.

While not intended to be collectors’ items at the time of manufacture, these red vinyl pressings are more sought out by collectors today than their black vinyl counterparts, as colored vinyl records are far less common than black vinyl ones, and collectors like the unusual.

The labels that issued albums on red vinyl included Odeon, Liberty, Capitol, Stateside, DJM, Warner Brothers (through 1970), and World Pacific, which meant that collectors might find albums by such artists as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, and Julie London, among others, pressed on red vinyl.

Japan LPs with different coversThe decision regarding which Japanese records would be pressed on red vinyl was seemingly random; there was no way of knowing if a particular title by a given artist would be issued on black vinyl, red vinyl, or both.

Among collectors, if an album was pressed on both black and red vinyl, the red vinyl pressing will command a significantly higher price, even if the red vinyl pressings are more common than the black ones.

In a few cases, such as with Ummagumma by Pink Floyd and Empty Sky by Elton John, the red vinyl was limited only to promotional copies, and all copies sold in record stores were black vinyl.   In the case of Live Album by Grand Funk Railroad, not only were the red vinyl pressings limited to promotional copies, but only one record of the two record set was pressed on red vinyl!

Different covers.

Often, particularly in the 1960s, Japanese records were released with different covers than their U.S. counterparts. This was often a temporary measure, and these alternate covers rarely stayed in print for long.

One example would the the 1969 release of Smash Hits, by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The original Japanese pressing featured a colorful photo of the entire band, taken through a fish eye lens.

U.S. pressings (and later Japanese issues) featured multiple images of Hendrix alone. The original cover is quite rare today.

Other Japanese LPs that had covers that were significantly different covers from their UK or U.S. counterparts were:

  • Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
  • Canned Heat – Boogie With Canned Heat
  • Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold as Love
  • Julie London – Swing Me an Old Song and About the Blues
  • Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (record club issue)
  • The Who – The Who Sell Out and My Generation

Relative rarity. Most Japanese records contain music by Japanese artists that are sung in Japanese; English-language albums have been, especially in the 1960s, a relatively small part of the overall industry in that country.

As a result, most Japanese records of English-language music were pressed in small runs; sometimes as small as a few hundred copies. Rather than keeping titles in print, the records would be deleted after the initial run and repressed if demand warranted it.

Depending on sales, reissues might come a few months later, or several years later.

Often, these repressings would have a different cover, catalog number, and obi from the earlier issue.  It isn’t unusual to find that some popular Japanese records have been released at least a half a dozen times, with each pressing being different in some way from all of the ones that preceded it.

Good sound quality.

There are many factors that determine how a record will sound, including the quality of the master tapes used, how the record was mastered, and what kind of vinyl was used to press the records. Japanese records are often revered for their high quality sound.

American record companies that pressed records in the millions in the 1970s and early 1980s often used inexpensive or recycled vinyl to press their records, resulting in poor sound or excessive surface noise.

They would also press a high number of records from a single stamper, with each record pressed sounding worse than the one made just before it.

Most Japanese records were pressed using high quality “virgin” vinyl that was manufactured exclusively for pressing records. These records are often extraordinarily quiet and have little or no surface noise, allowing the listener a better listening experience.

In addition, English-language music titles were usually pressed in fairly small quantities in Japan, meaning all of the discs were likely pressed while the stampers were still fairly new.

For many years, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, an American company known for their high-quality audiophile pressings, contracted the pressing of their records to JVC in Japan, as JVC had invented an exceptionally durable and quiet vinyl compound known as “Super Vinyl” that was unavailable anywhere else.

japanese records with different obi

The obi.

While most Japanese records feature local music, a lot of music fans there like foreign music, as well. The language barrier in Japan presented a problem – should foreign album covers be changed for Japanese records,with artist names, album titles and song titles printed in Japanese?

The solution was the obi, which means “belt” or “sash”. The obi is a strip of paper, usually about two inches (5 cm) wide, that wraps vertically around the album cover, containing information about the artist and album in Japanese.

As these strips of paper were fragile and easily torn, they are often missing when older albums are found today, especially since consumers in the 1950s and 1960s attached little significance to them and often threw then away shortly after purchase.

Finding Japanese records made prior to 1970 that still have the obi intact can be quite difficult, and for some albums, nearly impossible. The inclusion of the obi can dramatically affect the price of some Japanese records, sometimes increasing the price by a factor of ten or more.

While usually found in a wraparound strip, there are other versions of the obi that have occasionally been used. In late 1963 and early 1964, a short-lived hankake obi, or “half obi” was used. These were small strips of paper that simply folded over the top of the cover, attached with glue at the top edge. These were problematic for retailers, as they tended to easily fall off of the record.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few record companies, most notably RCA and CBS, used a larger, foldover obi that ran across the top of the cover. These are generally known as a “cap” obi, and are often missing, as the only thing that held them to the cover was the album’s original shrink wrap.

Some labels used a sticker instead of an obi in the 1970s and 1980s. These stickers were attached to the shrinkwrap itself and are often missing when these albums turn up for sale today.

Some collectors revere Japanese records for their high manufacturing quality and sound, and couldn’t care less about whether the obi is present or not.

Other collectors attach a great deal of significance to the obi, regarding it as an essential part of the album.

That’s a matter of personal preference, though a copy of an album with an obi will always command a higher price than a copy of the same album without one.

Japanese Records Summary

Japanese records offer great sound, visual interest, and general interest as something unusual in record collecting. No matter what artist you collect, chances are there are some Japanese records by that artist that you will find to be a welcome addition to your record collection.

You can browse our selection of Japanese records here.

 

Counterfeit Records and Pirate Pressings

Counterfeit Records – Buyer Beware

introducing the beatles counterfeit recordsWhen anything becomes both valuable and collectible, it’s inevitable that sooner or later, someone will attempt to reproduce it in order to profit from presenting and selling the reproduction as if it were the real thing. It happens with money, paintings and stamps, and unfortunately, rare records.

While many counterfeit records were easily identified and sold as such when they were new and plentiful, over time, people forget about them or forget how to distinguish them from original pressings.

Often, buyers will pay top dollar for records that aren’t authentic. Just as often, the sellers of those records aren’t even aware that the item they’re selling is a counterfeit, rather than an original pressing.

Counterfeit records, pirate pressings and bootlegs have been sold to unwitting collectors for decades, though the practice of making counterfeit records seems to have peaked in the late 1970s. In this article, we’ll cover the history of counterfeit records, show a few examples of some frequently seen titles, and offer some general advice as to how to avoid inadvertently paying a lot of money for a record that may be a forgery.

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Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

Counterfeit Records and Pirate Pressing Terminology
History and Motivation
Examples of Counterfeit Records
Examples of Pirate Pressings
Modern Pirate Pressings
Counterfeit Stickers and Resealed Records
How to Identify Counterfeit Records
Conclusion

Counterfeit Records and Pirate Pressing Terminology

Before going into detail about these questionable pressings, it’s important to understand the terminology and the differences between the three kinds of unauthorized records that are usually encountered in the market.

elvis costello counterfeit
Counterfeit copy of Elvis Costello Live at the El Mocambo. Note the tears around the spindle hole. These are common on counterfeit pressings

Counterfeit records – Counterfeit records are unauthorized releases of any record that are intended to duplicate the original, authorized pressing in order to fool the buyer into thinking that they are buying the genuine item.

These records often look quite a lot like original pressings and can easily fool the untrained eye or inexperienced buyers. Most counterfeit records are singles or albums by major artists and are usually reproductions of items that are long out of print or titles which were only issued for promotional or radio station use.

Pirate pressings – Pirate records are pressings which contain recorded music which has been previously and legitimately released, but are packaged in such a way as to not fool the buyer into believing they are buying the original item.

Pirate pressings may contain the exact same songs as a well-known album, but may have a different cover, a different title, a different label and record company mentioned on the product, and often may feature all of those things.

A relative of pirate pressings are so-called “tax scam” labels, which often popped up for short periods of time to release records for the express purpose of losing money. The Tiger Lily label may be the best example of this.

Unlike counterfeit records, which are made to fool buyers into paying money for a rare collectible, pirate pressings were often sold at the same price as regular albums, and were simply manufactured to make money from buyers who might otherwise buy the legitimate album.

Bootlegs – Bootleg albums are records which contain previously unreleased material, usually by a well-known artist. Bootlegs represent an entirely new product, and are not intended to fool the buyer into believing that they’re buying a legitimate release from a major record company. While there are some exceptions, most bootleg records do not represent legitimate releases and usually contain previously unreleased studio or live recordings.

The term “bootleg” is often used interchangeably in casual conversation with “counterfeit” or “pirate” to refer to any record that was not authorized by a record company and/or recording artist.

This usage is incorrect and often confuses collectors and would-be buyers, as bootlegs are distinctly different products from counterfeit records. The three terms, counterfeit records, pirate records and bootleg records refer to three distinctly different products.

Despite this, one will often hear even experienced record sellers refer to a counterfeit record as “a boot,” as in, “This record isn’t original; it’s a boot.” One rarely encounters the term “pirate” among collectors, but that may have a lot to do with the fact that pirate pressings, while once quite common in the 8 track tape format, have always been relatively rare in the record market.

Counterfeit Records History and Motivation

introducing the beatles counterfeit
Early counterfeit of Introducing the Beatles – note the poor print quality of cover and label

Counterfeit records have been sold to collectors for decades; the earliest examples likely date to the age when records were still shaped like cylinders. Many rare blues 78 RPM singles have been counterfeited, as well.

All five of the Elvis Presley singles issued on the Sun label have been counterfeited in both 45 and 78 RPM formats, as these became collectible rather early in Elvis’ career.

As collectors started to seek out records that were no longer available for general sale, unscrupulous individuals decided to fill the need in the marketplace by making reproductions.

Early attempts were often of questionable quality, but as technology improved in the graphics industry, so did the quality of the counterfeit records produced by these individuals.

While some counterfeit records were produced to be sold to collectors at the market price for the reproduced item, many titles were simply sold in quantity to record wholesalers, often at rock-bottom prices.

The album generally regarded as the most-widely counterfeited album ever, Introducing the Beatles, was often found in the 1970s in stores selling them at discounted prices that rarely topped $4.

Few buyers likely thought they were buying a rarity at those prices, especially when the discount bins were often full sealed copies at that price.

Of course, over the decades, many of these records have changed hands multiple times and their origins have long been forgotten. Today, people find the now-40-year-old-copies of that Beatles album and assume that they must be original because they’re old, or because their parents bought them as children.

In fact, they’re just forty year old counterfeit records.

While some titles, such as Introducing the Beatles, often appeared in bargain bins, other counterfeit records were made to fool buyers purchasing brand new releases. In the late 1970s, counterfeit copies of new titles by major artists often found their way into the distribution chain.

At that time, it was sometimes possible to buy counterfeit pressings of a new album the very week it was released. These were sold by stores that may have had no idea that the records they were selling were fraudulent in origin.

Perhaps the most famous example of this was the soundtrack to the film, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring the Bee Gees. This album was pressed in large quantities in anticipation of it becoming a big seller.

Unfortunately, the movie was a flop and the record sold poorly, leading many retailers to return them to distributors. The record company reportedly had more copies of this particular album returned to them from distributors who couldn’t sell them than they had pressed in the first place.

Regardless of whether the records being reproduced were older collectibles, rare promotional items, or new releases, the motivation for those who made them was the same – to produce them as cheaply as possible and to sell them at a profit.

Most often, counterfeit records are rare titles by major artists, though there are also plenty of examples of relatively obscure titles by artists that are unknown outside the collecting community. The latter is particularly true of albums in the garage rock and psychedelic rock genres.

Examples of Counterfeit Records

To list all known examples of counterfeit records, even in the rock and roll category, would be a thankless task best suited to encyclopedists. Still, there are a number of well-known examples that most collectors are likely to encounter sooner or later, and that would include, not surprisingly, counterfeit records by the Beatles.

Introducing the Beatles – Introducing the Beatles is the granddaddy of all counterfeit albums; no other record has ever come close. It’s quite likely that the counterfeit copies of this album outnumber originals by two or three times, despite the fact that the original album sold quite well.

Savage Young Beatles counterfeit. Note the red catalog number (arrows)
Savage Young Beatles counterfeit. Note the red catalog number (arrows)

Introducing the Beatles was released on the small Vee Jay label in January, 1964 and due to legal action, was out of print by October of that year. After that, it became a highly sought after collector’s item, and the counterfeiters took over to fill that demand.

Early counterfeit issues were clumsily produced, with fuzzy covers and poor color. Later pressings were much more convincing.

With original pressings of the album, mono copies outnumber stereo copies by a ratio of roughly 50:1, making stereo copies quite rare. Naturally, about 95% of the counterfeit copies have covers that say that they are stereo.

What they don’t have are records that say they are stereo, and every fake copy of this album we’ve ever seen with a stereo cover had a record that played mono and lacked the word “stereo” on the label.

Original pressings were made with surprisingly thick vinyl with stamped numbers in the trailoff or “dead wax” area near the label. Most counterfeit copies are pressed with thinner, more flexible vinyl and have handwritten numbers in the dead wax.

Counterfeit copies of the album that feature a color band around the label are usually missing the color green in the band.

The easiest way to determine whether a copy of Introducing the Beatles is genuine or not is to look at the hole on the label. Do both the title of the album and the name of the group appear above the label? If so, the record is likely genuine. If the name of the album and the name of the group are separated by the play hole, then the record is a counterfeit.

Any copy with a brown border around the front cover is a fake.

Many original pressings of Introducing the Beatles included a custom Vee Jay paper inner sleeve. These are missing on all counterfeit copies.

beatles songs pictures and stories counterfeit
Counterfeit copies of Songs Pictures and Stories of the Beatles leave out the word “Stories” from the title.

Other counterfeit Beatles albums on Vee Jay:

  • Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles – The counterfeits of this album omit the word “stories” from the title and lack the original album’s gatefold cover.
  • The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage – Originals have the title of the album written on the spine of the cover; counterfeit copies do not.
  • Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage – Originals have the title of the album written on the spine of the cover; counterfeit copies do not

Other counterfeit Beatles and Beatles-related albums of note:

  • Yesterday and Today – Many of the counterfeit copies of the Beatles famous “Butcher Cover” have front covers that feel slick to the touch, while originals had a rough feel to them. Many of the fakes have colored vinyl records; the originals were all black. The colored vinyl pressings are technically pirate issues.
  • Let It Be – Believe it or not, this album was out of print for several years in the late 1970s, so some wily individuals made copies of it. Originals have a red label with sharp printing; the fakes that we’ve seen have pinkish labels with somewhat blurry printing.
  • The Savage Young Beatles – (see image above) Original pressings feature the catalog number on the front cover printed in black; the counterfeit copies show the number in red.
  • The Beatles Christmas Album – This one can be tricky, as many counterfeit copies of this record are quite convincing. The original album had a cardboard cover with a paper slick glued on; most of the fakes have the cover art printed directly on posterboard. On original pressings, look at the second photo on the lower left of the front cover. The words “theater royal” are legible on original pressings.

Note: the presence of the stamped words “Bell Sound” in the vinyl are not necessarily an indication of an original pressing, as many of the fakes have this.

  • Original and counterfeit copies of Two Virgins. Note the bag that opens at the top and lacks the seal sticker
    Original and counterfeit copies of Two Virgins. Note the bag that opens at the top and lacks the seal sticker

    John Lennon/Yoko Ono – Two Virgins – Original U.S. pressings included a brown paper outer cover that was sealed with a round white sticker on the right side. Copies with brown covers that open on other sides, which lack the sticker, or copies where the brown wrapper is not large enough to cover the entire album cover are likely fakes.

  • Roots: John Lennon Sings the Great Rock & Roll Hits – Counterfeit copies of this 1975 mail order album are quite convincing, especially since the original pressings were so poorly made.Original pressings included a custom inner sleeve advertising other albums on the label, and had the title of the album printed on the spine.On original covers, the text on the other albums shown on the back cover is legible, and on original discs, the catalog number is faintly etched on the label itself.
  • Ed Rudy – American Tour With Ed Rudy #2 – an album of Beatles interviews. Original pressings had thick, ultra-heavy vinyl; the counterfeit pressings used thin, flexible vinyl.

Other common or well-known counterfeit albums by major artists:

  • David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World – Original U.S. pressings of this 1970 album featured a cartoon cover, but were quickly deleted due to poor sales. Counterfeit pressings have handwritten matrix numbers in the dead wax; originals have stamped numbers. The labels on original pressings are smooth in texture, while the fakes tend to be pitted.
  • Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio – Originals of this album sell for thousands, and were pressed on thick, brittle vinyl and had the title of the album printed on the spine. Fakes have thin, flexible vinyl and no spine printing.
  • Elvis Costello – Live at the El Mocambo – This late 1970s LP was originally issued only to radio stations in Canada. Most counterfeit copies have flimsy posterboard covers and labels with tears around the spindle hole. Many fakes of this album have completely different labels altogether.
  • Emmylou Harris – Gliding Bird – This was Emmylou Harris’ first album originally had a color cover and label. Copies that have black and white printing are fakes.
  • Buddy Holly – That’ll Be the Day – Like the album above, originals of this album sell for thousands, and were pressed on thick, brittle vinyl and had the title of the album printed on the spine. Fakes have thin, flexible vinyl and no spine printing.
  • Phil Lesh/Ned Lagin – Seastones – Fake copies of this odd electronic album have posterboard covers; the originals used paper slicks glued to a cardboard cover.
  • Madonna – Erotica – This 12” single picture disc is one of the few picture discs to have been counterfeited. Originally pressed as a legitimate release but withdrawn before being distributed, the original pressings are quite rare and sell for thousands of dollars. Genuine copies have stamped matrix numbers; counterfeit copies do not.
  • Todd Rundgren – Runt – Todd Rundgren’s 1970 solo album was counterfeited several times in the late 1970s and include versions on both the Ampex and Bearsville labels. On all copies, the words “Queens Litho in U.S.A.” are clearly legible on original covers but not on the fakes.The fake Ampex copies usually have a red printed box on the cover that mentions “We Gotta Get You a Woman.” Originals do not have this, as the “box” was actually a sticker that was attached to the copy used to make the counterfeit pressings. Oddly enough, the rare variation of Runt that includes alternate takes and mixes has not been counterfeited.
  • The City – Now That Everything’s Been Said – This 1968 LP featuring Carole King originally had a color cover and label; the fakes have black and white covers.
  • The Yardbirds – Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page – This album by the Yardbirds was released by the band’s former label to take advantage of the success of Jimmy Page’s new band, Led Zeppelin. Page sued and the album was withdrawn from sale but was quickly counterfeited to meet collector demand. Counterfeit copies of this album exist on both the Epic and Columbia Special Products labels. Look for pitted labels and tears around the spindle hole on the fake copies, which may have stamped matrix numbers in the dead wax just like the originals.The most common counterfeit pressing of this album features a black and white cover and a black and white label.  You would think that this would immediately suggest to anyone that this album is a counterfeit, as all original pressings had color covers and yellow labels, but we’ve seen a lot of people over the years selling these as “white label promo” copies.  There are no legitimate white label promotional copies of this album; even the copies sent to radio stations had yellow labels. Not that it matters, since the white labels on the counterfeit copies do not indicate that they are promotional pressings.   All copies of this album that have either black and white covers or white labels are counterfeits.

live yardbirds real and counterfeit

Other albums we’ve seen over the years as counterfeit pressings include:

  • The Banana Splits – The Banana Splits – The soundtrack to this 1970s children’s show was once quite collectible, counterfeit copies of a white label promo copy exist.
  • David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World (German pressing with the “round” cover)
  • David Bowie – An Evening With David Bowie – promotional interview album; the counterfeit copies are quite convincing.
  • Chocolate Watch Band – One Step Beyond – white label promotional copies of this album have been counterfeited
  • Chocolate Watch Band – The Inner Mystique – Counterfeit copies of this album have white labels; the originals were brown.
  • Gandalf – Gandalf 1969 psych LP on Capitol.
  • David Gilmour – David Gilmour (1978) – We inadvertently bought a counterfeit pressing of this album brand new from a major record store chain within a month of the album’s initial release.
  • The Kinks – Face to Face (U.S. copies on Reprise)
  • Mad River – both Capitol albums by this late 1960s band have been counterfeited.
  • The Nice – Ars Longa Vita Brevis (Columbia Special Products pressings)
  • The Nice – The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (Columbia Special Products pressings)
  • Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (U.S. pressings)
  • Leslie West – Mountain – Fake copies of the debut LP by Leslie West have poorly printed covers and labels.
  • The Yardbirds – For Your Love – The counterfeit pressings of this LP are quite good, though the quality of the photos on the front cover is not as good as the original pressings.
  • The Yardbirds – Little Games

This list is far from complete; there are hundreds of examples of counterfeit albums.

Examples of Pirate Pressings

pirate pressings on melody recordingsPirate pressings are records containing material that is legitimately available elsewhere, but is packaged differently.

The purpose of these pressings, unlike counterfeits, is not to fool the buyer into thinking that they’re buying something rare and valuable, but to simply get the buyer to pay for it.

In the 1970s, pirate 8 track tapes were quite common and were often sold at truck stops and convenience stores. Titles would be identical to those sold in record stores but the labels usually lacked artwork and the names of the companies producing the products were different from legitimate issues.

Pirate records, by comparison, are less common. A company called Melody Recordings issued a number of titles in the early 1970s, all of which had the same cover, depicting two crowns and two scepters.

Artists and titles in this series included:

  • Cheech and Chong – Cheech and Chong
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Faces – A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse
  • Grand Funk – E Pluribus Funk
  • George Harrison and Others – The Concert for Bangladesh (custom cover)
  • Michael Jackson – Got to Be There
  • Carole King – Music
  • Carole King – Tapestry
  • Led Zeppelin – IV
  • Don McLean – American Pie
  • Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
  • Charley Pride – Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs
  • Santana – Santana (third album)
  • Paul Simon – Paul Simon
  • Sonny & Cher – All I Ever Need is You
  • Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
  • Neil Young – Harvest

There were other labels that released such albums in the early 1970s, but they were largely out of business by 1975, due to increased enforcement of U.S. copyright laws.

In the mid-1980s, a label called Koala popped up that issued a number of albums by well-known artists, all without liner notes or photos of the artists themselves. Little is known about this label, which the covers claimed was based in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Many of the Koala covers featured generic images or photos and carried this disclaimer:

“Notice – The illustrations are a commercial concept for this album. Therefore we are unable to say that the illustrations represent a completely accurate presentation of the recording artist as he has or does now appear. This album may contain previously released material.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artists included:

Paul Anka – She’s a Lady
The Monkees – She Hangs Out
The Fendermen – Poison Ivy
…along with dozens of others.

Modern pirate pressings

Led Zeppelin pirate picture disc
Led Zeppelin pirate picture disc

Most contemporary pirate pressings fall into a gray area that resides somewhere between pirate pressings and counterfeit records. The most common examples would be records which appear, at first glance, to be official record company issues, but which are pressed as either colored vinyl records or picture discs, even though no official release of those album exists in those formats.

All five Elvis Presley 78 RPM discs on the Sun label have been pressed on colored vinyl, for example. The pressings are thin, flexible vinyl, when the originals were made from rigid shellac, and were, of course, all black.

We have seen numerous albums by such artists as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or Metallica, to name a few, that appear to be genuine record company releases, except for the fact that they’ve been pressed on colored vinyl or as picture discs. These records are often sold as “limited editions” or as “promotional copies.”

On the colored vinyl issues, the covers usually look identical to the original issues. The labels may or may not look the same, and are often older label designs that mimic the designs used on the original issues of the albums, rather than the labels currently in use.

Counterfeit Stickers and Resealed Records

fake album stickers
This Dylan album has three stickers, and they’re likely all fakes. Click image for larger version.

While counterfeit records remain a problem and will likely continue to be one for as long as records are sold, a new problem has popped up in recent years, largely involving records sold on eBay by a relatively small number of sellers.

That problem involves used records that have been resealed in shrink wrap in order to fool buyers into believing that the used records being sold are actually new ones.  Often these records have counterfeit stickers applied to the shrink wrap, promoting a song or an included bonus.

These records are sealed examples of albums that are rarely found in sealed condition, and these sealed examples usually have rare and/or previously unseen stickers attached to the shrink wrap.

To be clear, there’s nothing unusual about finding still sealed examples of older or rare records. We have plenty of sealed records for sale in our store. Nor is there anything particularly unusual about finding sealed records for sale that have stickers on the wrap.

Older sealed records are often found with price stickers still attached, and some older albums had “hype” stickers attached that were intended to make potential buyers aware that the album contained a particular song, or that it contained a bonus of some kind, such as a poster.

The problem is that it appears that there are a few sellers on eBay and elsewhere who are finding nice used examples of rare records, re-sealing them in shrink wrap, and then attaching newly-printed stickers to the wrap. They are then claiming that these records are vintage new, unopened items.

In some cases, the stickers are common ones that were often seen on those titles when they were new. In other cases, the stickers are unusual to the extent that people who have been selling rare records for 30-40 years do not recall ever having seen them before.

Sometimes, the records have stickers attached to the covers that say “Promotion Copy – Not for Sale,” though the record inside may or may not be (and likely is not) a promotional copy of the album.

Not surprisingly, these records, which are almost always titles by collectible artists, such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin or the Velvet Underground, end up selling for large, and sometimes, record-breaking, prices.

pet sounds fake sticker
The previously-unknown “promo” sticker. Click image for larger version.

With modern graphics programs like Photoshop and affordable laser and inkjet printers, it’s quite easy to scan and print convincing replicas of stickers, especially since many of them consisted only of white text on black paper or black text on white paper.

The problem for would-be buyers is that the stickers are fake, the shrink wrap is not original, the “new” record being advertised is almost certainly a used one, and most importantly, the seller makes no effort to make any of those things known to potential buyers. The records are presented as rare, sealed examples of original pressings with rare, previously-unknown stickers.

Obviously, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for buyers to determine if a sticker or shrink wrap is original or not via photographs online.

On the other hand, there are a few things that potential buyers should consider when examining such items.

    • Look at all of the items the seller has for sale to see if there’s anything suspicious about the group of records as a whole. We’ve noticed that the sellers who offer such records tend to have groups of records for sale at any given time that have a number of things in common:
      • They only have records by top-tier artists for sale and they’re all valuable items. It’s all Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Velvet Underground, etc.  They never have albums for sale by non-collectible artists.
      • Every album has one or more stickers on the shrink wrap.
      • Every album (or nearly all) are still sealed, or are opened copies that still have shrink wrap on the cover.
    • Look for common price stickers.  We’ve noticed that a lot of these records tend to have price stickers from either Sears or Kmart.  While both stores sold records in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s unusual to see a seller offering 20 records for sale from a broad period of time that all have Sears or Kmart stickers on them.If you see that ten of the albums for sale also have the same price sticker on them, that’s likely a clue that something isn’t what it seems to be.
    • Look for rare or unusual stickers. Stickers with song titles are common. Check other auction listings to see if other sellers also have albums with similar stickers.Check completed auction listings on eBay and at popsike.com to look for other examples of such stickers to see how common or rare they might be.It would be quite unusual for someone to find a sticker on a cover of an album that is 50 years old that no one has ever seen before.Yet one of these eBay sellers recently had a copy of the Beatles Yesterday and Today album for sale with a sticker that suggested that the album was part of Capitol Records’ archive.The sticker had a typed date and noted that the record was a “second state” Butcher cover. And yes, the cover was still in the shrink wrap.

      Another oddity from the same seller was a sealed copy of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, complete with a never-before-seen sticker that indicated that the album was a promotional copy.

      The sticker looked very professional, and the album sold for thousands of dollars.

      butcher cover archive sticker
      The Capitol Records “archive” sticker found on a Beatles Butcher Cover.

      Unfortunately, the sticker (and probably the shrink wrap) was a fake, as Capitol designated promotional copies at that time by punching the word “free” or “promo” in the cover, rather than using stickers.

      Another Beach Boys oddity turned up not long ago. Their first album, Surfin’ Safari, was originally issued with a cover that indicated that the album was stereo. This was an error; the album was not true stereo. Later pressings corrected this by changing the banner to read “Duophonic”, which was Capitol’s name for their rechanneled stereo process.

      This particular copy of Surfin’ Safari featured both a stereo and a Duophonic banner, as well as a never-before-seen sticker touting the alleged “benefits” of Duophonic. That album sold for a lot of money, but the entire thing was almost certainly fabricated by an unscrupulous seller.

    • Look for stickers that don’t seem quite right. We recently saw a first pressing stereo copy of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (see image above or click here) that had a hype sticker for the song “Like a Rolling Stone”, a hype sticker for the (very rare) photo that came enclosed in the first few copies pressed and a discount sticker indicating that the record had been reduced in price to only $1.27.That’s a first pressing of what was, in 1965, a brand-new record. While all three stickers may be reproductions, the $1.27 sticker is the one that stands out for being wrong, as that album, especially in stereo, would never have been discounted to such a low price as a brand-new release.
    • We’ve also seen stereo copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles with similar stickers. While mono copies might have been found in discount bins when Capitol stopped pressing mono records, there would have been no reason to discount the stereo version, which remained in print for decades and which remained a big seller for the entire time it was in print.
    • Velvet Underground & Nico
      A typical example of a copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico

      Be suspicious of stickers that are nicer than they should be. Most genuine stickers are wrinkled, or may have wear or fading, especially after 30-50 years. Newly-printed stickers, of course, will always appear perfect.

      As an example, consider the first album by the Velvet Underground & Nico, which came with a sticker on the cover that looked like a banana. The cover had a tease printed on it – “Peel slowly and see.” Pretty much everyone who bought that album did try to peel it.

      Unfortunately, the stickers usually became torn during attempts to peel it, and many people gave up. Most copies seen for sale have a banana that has been completely peeled, one that has been partially peeled, or one where someone tried to peel it, gave up, and then put the now-torn sticker back in place.

      What is almost never seen is a copy of that album where the banana is 100% intact. Yet one eBay seller often has 2-3 copies for auction per week, and each of them has a banana sticker that is absolutely perfect. How unusual is that? There is probably one copy of that album in 1000 that has a sticker that no one has ever attempted to peel.

    • …and a seemingly perfect unpeeled one, complete with another sticker that no one has ever seen before.

      Look for listings that have only sealed records or listings where nearly all of the records are either sealed or are still in the shrink wrap. Shrink wrap machines are fairly inexpensive, but finding perfect copies of 50 year old records to reseal is hard.

      Close examination to check for wear under the shrink wrap may be difficult to do online, but we’ve seen records from some of these sellers where the wear on the cover under the shrink wrap was noticeable even in the photos they used in their auction listing. Ring wear on the cover or wear near the mouth of the cover are often giveaways.

How can you protect yourself against resealed records or albums with fake or counterfeit stickers? There is no surefire way to protect yourself, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Look out for any of the unusual or suspicious things listed above. If all of the seller’s albums for sale are rare, perfect, sealed, and have stickers, you’re likely looking at a bunch of fraudulent listings.
  • Don’t do business with sellers that do not offer refunds if you aren’t satisfied.
  • Do your research. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to know what you’re buying.

How to Identify Counterfeit Records

david bowie - man who sold the world
David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World. Original labels are flat; fakes are shiny and pitted.

It can be difficult to identify any particular record as a counterfeit, especially if you do not have a known original pressing at hand with which to make a comparison, or if you have never seen an original pressing before.

There are certain traits that are often seen on counterfeit records:

      • Labels that are pitted, off-center, or have tears near the spindle hole.
      • Vinyl that has streaks, bumps or other marks that may suggest that it’s of poor quality.
      • Thin vinyl – Records from the 1950s and early 1960s were usually pressed from heavy, relatively rigid vinyl. Counterfeit pressings of those titles are usually pressed on lightweight, flexible vinyl.
      • Incorrect cover construction – Older album covers were usually printed on paper slicks that were then glued to gray or brown cardboard. Many counterfeit records have covers that are printed directly on white posterboard, making the covers thinner and lighter.
      • Poor cover detail – Printing and detail on both the album cover and the label may be of poor quality or be somewhat blurry. Make sure that the smallest text on the cover is completely legible.
      • Incorrectly formatted matrix numbers – Many original pressings from major labels have machine stamped numbers in the dead wax area. Most, but not all, counterfeit records have hand etched numbers. There are exceptions to this, however, and some fakes do have stamped numbers.

Buyers should always be suspicious of any unusually rare record offered for sale in exceptional condition at a price that seems too good to be true.

One thing that almost all counterfeit records have in common is that they’re always in mint condition. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re likely new. Original copies of albums that are 30-50 years old, on the other hand, rarely turn up in new, unplayed condition, so buyers should take that into consideration if you’re unsure.

Counterfeit Records Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that people want to take advantage of record collectors, but if there’s a record that people want to buy and it’s rare, chances are good that someone has reproduced it for profit. Your best advice when considering a purchase is to buy from reputable dealers, or find someone who may be familiar with an original pressing and get their opinion before buying.

While most counterfeit records can be spotted by an experienced eye, a few are exceptionally good copies. Be careful when buying, especially if the condition and the price seem too good to be true.

Colored Vinyl Records Are Popular With Collectors

Colored Vinyl Records

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colored vinyl recordsIf you have spent any time around records, either 45 RPM singles or albums, you might have encountered the term “colored vinyl records.” You might think that’s a strange question; after all, all records are colored vinyl records, aren’t they? And aren’t they all black?

Historically, most records are black, probably because black vinyl is relatively inexpensive compared to other colors of vinyl and possibly because the dark colors might help obscure any impurities that might be in the compound.

This isn’t a new thing; since the introduction of the commercial cylinder record in 1889, most records of any kind have been made from materials that were either naturally black or which were colored during the manufacturing process to make them appear to be black. The reasons for this had to do with both cost and with quality control. When you use different types of materials and different sources, you can make sure that all of your finished product looks the same by adding substances to make them look black.

Despite this, over the years, a few recordings, dating to the cylinder era, have been manufactured as colored vinyl records, with “colored vinyl” generally defined as some color other than black. Colored vinyl records have long been popular with collectors and they usually command a premium price on the collector market. In this article, we’ll cover the history of colored vinyl records and show examples of some of the more interesting ones we’ve seen over the years.

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Colored Vinyl Records History

The earliest examples of colored vinyl records date to 1908, with the introduction of Blue Amberol cylinders by the Edison company. These cylinders, which were more durable and had longer playing time than the earlier versions, used celluloid that was dyed blue in order to make them stand out in the marketplace.

vocalion colored vinyl recordsIn about 1920, the then-new Vocalion records pressed colored vinyl records in the form of a reddish-brown, mostly to distinguish their products from others in the marketplace. While the company claimed that their records were more durable than the black ones offered by their competitors, the red color was mostly a marketing ploy.

Most records sold at the time were packaged in simple paper sleeves, rather than in custom covers, as albums are today. If a buyer were to browse through a stack of records and notice that some of them were colored vinyl records, they might be more likely to buy one, simply because it was a bit unusual.

In the 1930s, Columbia Records pressed a number of 78s as colored vinyl records, with most of them being blue.

Far more interesting were the records from Seattle-based Morrison Records, which began pressing colored vinyl records in the 1940s using multicolored vinyl.

morrison records colored vinylBecause of the way the vinyl was mixed, no two records, including those pressed consecutively, were alike. Though the tiny label had no artists of note on their roster, their records are moderately collectible today simply because of their unusual appearance.

Record companies rarely pressed colored vinyl records in the early to mid-1940s, probably due to cost concerns and the rationing of materials mandated by World War II. In the late 1940s, when RCA introduced their then-proprietary seven inch 45 RPM records, the company made the decision to press colored vinyl records in eight different colors.

These colors represented different genres of music, with classical records being pressed on red vinyl, for instance, and country records being pressed using green vinyl. They did this only for singles, however; all of their albums were made using black vinyl.

This unique brand of marketing using colored vinyl records didn’t last long, probably due to cost concerns. By 1950 or so, RCA was pressing all of their records, including their singles, using black vinyl, though they did maintain the color distinction for their classical records, which had a red label and a blurb on the cover that said “RCA Red Seal.”

Older Labels That Manufactured Colored Vinyl Records

tops mayfair colored vinyl recordsThere were not a lot of colored vinyl records pressed in the 1950s, though a few small labels, such as Aladdin Records and Crown Records, pressed a few titles on red vinyl.

Crown’s decision to make colored vinyl records is a bit odd, since the company was a budget label that mostly issued recordings that had previously been released by other companies.

Though Crown used the more expensive red vinyl, as opposed to the common black, they cut corners in other ways by producing poorly-constructed covers that had no reinforcement at the seams and by selling their albums without paper inner sleeves.

Another budget label that pressed colored vinyl records was the Tops label from California. Tops released mono records; their stereo pressings were issued on the sister label, Mayfair. These labels issued a few titles on red and yellow vinyl, with yellow vinyl being the most common. Here’s an example of a multicolored vinyl record from Mayfair by actress and model Sandy Warner.

Liberty Colored Vinyl Records

Stereo records were introduced to the market in late 1957, but not all labels immediately began producing them, as the market for them initially was quite small. Most of the labels, including the larger ones, introduced stereo pressings slowly. Liberty Records, then a major label, added stereo pressings to their catalog in 1960.

To celebrate, Liberty pressed a handful of titles as colored vinyl records using both blue and red vinyl. Oddly enough, the fact that these titles were colored vinyl records wasn’t advertised in any way on the cover, but would simply come as a surprise to the buyer. While Liberty issued records on both blue and red vinyl, the red vinyl pressings seem to be more common than the blue ones.

Although most of the titles in this limited series were pressed using either one color or the other, at least three titles, Julie London’s Julie is Her Name, Martin Denny’s Exotic Sounds from the Silver Screen and Spike Jones’s Omnibust, were pressed on both colors of vinyl.

Bel Canto Colored Vinyl Records

bel canto stereo demonstration recordA short-lived record label from Columbus, Ohio, Bel Canto, arrived on the scene in the late 1950s. Bel Canto was an odd label in a number of ways. First of all, they were located in Ohio, away from the music scenes on either coast.

The company was owned by Thompson-Ramo-Woolridge (later TRW), a company known as an aerospace company and defense contractor, not as an entertainment company. Even more odd was the fact that Bel Canto released all of their albums on colored vinyl and in stereo only, which was quite unusual at a time when more than nine records out of ten were sold in mono.

One of Bel Canto’s titles, a stereo demonstration record, was pressed on multicolored vinyl. Most of Bel Canto’s releases fell into the light jazz and popular vocal category, and as far as we know, the label was out of business well before 1965.

Columbia Colored Vinyl Records

colored vinyl promotional recordIn the 1960s, a few record companies, notably Columbia Records and their affiliated label, Epic, began pressing colored vinyl records for promotional use.

The record company realized that radio station program managers often received dozens of records per month, and they wanted their product to stand out among them and perhaps get airplay as a result.

Columbia pressed hundreds of colored vinyl singles throughout the 1960s by artists as diverse as Andy Williams, Eydie Gorme, Patti Page, The New Christy Minstrels, Bob Dylan, the Yardbirds, Simon and Garfunkel and the Dave Clark 5.

Colors of vinyl used were green, blue, red, yellow, purple and orange, though red was by far the color used most often.

Columbia also pressed at least 14 colored vinyl albums for promotional use on red, yellow, blue, purple and green vinyl. The selection of albums pressed as colored vinyl records wasn’t nearly as diverse as the label’s singles; the titles were all easy listening, classical or soundtrack/original cast recordings.

Perhaps the most noteworthy among them were two different titles by Barbra Streisand – The Second Barbra Streisand Album was pressed on blue vinyl and Color Me Barbra was pressed on red vinyl.

madonna white vinyl promo LPOccasionally, starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present day, other record labels have pressed some of their titles as colored vinyl records exclusively for promotional use.

Sometimes these were intended as a tool to get the record played on the radio and at other times, they were simply pressed as a “thank you” to radio personnel for having promoted the record already.

As a rule these rare pressings always sell for higher prices than their black vinyl counterparts that were sold in stores.

A few examples:

  • The Beatles – Reel Music – yellow vinyl; limited to 12,000 numbered copies
  • Electric Light Orchestra -Ole ELO! – yellow vinyl
      • Electric Light Orchestra -Out of the Blue – blue vinyl
  • Fabulous Poodles – Mirror Stars – pink vinyl
  • Elton John – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – brown vinyl; autographed on the inside cover by Elton John and Bernie Taupin (2000 copies)
  • Madonna –Like a Virgin – white vinyl
  • Madonna -Bedtime Stories – pink vinyl
  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – You’re Gonna Get It – red vinyl
  • Sparks – Introducing Sparks – red vinyl

The Chicago-based Chess label, which issued rhythm and blues records in the 1950s and 1960s, and its jazz subsidiary, Argo, pressed a number of titles on beautiful multicolored vinyl in the 1960s as promotional items.

Japanese Colored Vinyl Records

japan red vinyl LPIn 1958 in Japan, Toshiba Musical Industries, one of the two or three large manufacturers of records in Japan, began pressing colored vinyl records, with the introduction of their red, “Everclean” vinyl.

This vinyl compound was created in order to be more resistant to static electricity, and was intended to help prevent records from accumulating dust. Toshiba pressed red colored vinyl records from 1958 through early 1974, though they often coexisted on the shelves with black vinyl pressings.

Labels that were pressed by Toshiba included Capitol Records (and all of their subsidiaries), Odeon Records, Warner Brothers Records (through 1970),  Liberty Records, Stateside Records, and World Pacific Records.

While the red Everclean vinyl was intended to prevent the buildup of static electricity, the label was inconsistent in its use, as only a small percentage of the albums and singles pressed during that sixteen year period were made using that vinyl compound.

Furthermore, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to which albums would be issued on red vinyl and which only on black, and sometimes that was the case even with a particular title. In some cases, promotional copies of a particular album might have been pressed with red (or black) vinyl while the copies available for sale in the stores might be either the same or perhaps the opposite color.

Though these Everclean pressings were not manufactured with the specific intention that they be collectors’ items, they have become so over time, and a red vinyl copy of a given album will always sell for a higher price than its black vinyl counterpart, even if the red vinyl version is more common than the black one. Red vinyl LPs exist for such artists as the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Grand Funk Railroad, and Julie London, among numerous others.

Japanese records are collectible for a number of other reasons that you can read about here.

Taiwan Colored Vinyl Records

taiwan colored vinylIn the 1960s, thousands of titles were released in Taiwan as colored vinyl records. None of the record companies in Taiwan seem to have had legitimate licensing arrangements with major American or European record labels, however, making all of these titles unauthorized.

The most common colors used for these colored vinyl records were a pale green, a bright orange and a bright red. Some had English language label names, such as First Records, while others were printed in Chinese.

The albums were of poor quality, and while the records sounded terrible, being dubbed from other records, the quality of the album covers was even worse. The artwork was poorly printed on ultra-thin paper that was laminated in thin plastic.

What these colored vinyl records lacked in quality, they made up in quantity – nearly every major artist of the 1960s saw their albums issued as colored vinyl records in Taiwan. These include titles by Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and hundreds of other artists.

Despite their poor quality, these records are sought out by collectors today. In some cases, these albums represent the only colored vinyl albums available by a particular artist.

Mass Market Colored Vinyl Records

Seeing an opportunity to make some money from record collectors by selling them the same titles a second time, record companies began pressing colored vinyl records as limited edition collectibles in the late 1970s. Albums by bands such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Elton John, AC/DC, and the Eagles were pressed on various colors of vinyl for a short time.

While a few of these titles were domestically produced, such as the Beatles’ White Album, most of them were available in the United States only as imports from Canada, England and the Netherlands. Several of the titles from England, including the Beatles’ Abbey Road, Let It Be and Magical Mystery Tour, were pressed exclusively for export, making them quite hard to find in England today.

led zeppelin colored vinyl LPHere’s a list of a few of the titles pressed on colored vinyl in the late 1970s (not comprehensive):

  • AC/DC
    • Got Blood If You Want It – multicolored vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Powerage – red vinyl (Canada)
  • Beatles (article about Beatles colored vinyl albums here)
    • 1962-1966 – red vinyl (U.S., Japan, France, Germany, UK, and possibly others)
    • 1967-1970 – blue vinyl (U.S., Japan, France, Germany, UK, and possibly others)
    • Abbey Road – green vinyl (UK; export only)
    • Greatest Hits – gold vinyl, purple vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Magical Mystery Tour – yellow vinyl (UK; export only)
    • Let It Be – white vinyl (UK; export only)
    • Love Songs – yellow vinyl (Canada)
    • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – gray marbled vinyl (Canada) clear, green, yellow, blue, purple, orange (France)
    • White Album – white vinyl (U.S., France, Germany, UK (export only) and possibly others)
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Deja Vu – brown vinyl (UK)
  • Eagles – Greatest Hits green vinyl (UK)
    • Hotel California green vinyl (Netherlands)
  • Fleetwood Mac
    • Fleetwood Mac – white vinyl (UK)
    • Rumours – white vinyl (Netherlands)
  • Elton John
    • Blue Moves – blue vinyl (France)
    • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – yellow vinyl (UK)
  • Led Zeppelin – IV – lavender vinyl (UK)
  • Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery and Imagination – yellow vinyl (Canada)
    • Pyramid – orange vinyl (Netherlands)
  • Pink Floyd
    • Animals – pink vinyl (France) two versions; one has an all-pink cover!
    • Atom Heart Mother – blue vinyl (France)
    • Dark Side of the Moon – white vinyl (Germany, Netherlands)
    • The Wall – orange vinyl (Italy)
    • Wish You Were Here – blue vinyl (Germany, Netherlands)
  • Ramones – Road to Ruin – yellow vinyl (UK)
  • Rush – Hemispheres – red vinyl (Canada)
  • Rolling Stones
    • Beggar’s Banquet – white vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Between the Buttons – yellow vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Big Hits, High Tide and the Green Grass – orange vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Black and Blue – blue vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Get Your Yeah Yeahs Out – blue vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Let It Bleed – red vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Miss You (12” single) pink vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Some Girls – orange vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Their Satanic Majesties’ Request – white and clear vinyl (Netherlands)
    • Through the Past, Darkly – green vinyl (Netherlands)
  • Steely Dan
    • Can’t Buy a Thrill – yellow vinyl (Canada)
    • The Royal Scam – yellow vinyl (Canada)
    • Greatest Hits – yellow vinyl (Canada)
    • Aja – yellow vinyl, red vinyl (Canada)
  • Synergy (Larry Fast)
    • Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra – clear vinyl (U.S.)
    • Sequencer – clear vinyl (U.S.)
    • Chords – clear vinyl (U.S.)
  • Neil Young – Harvest – peach colored vinyl (UK)

Many of these albums are now quite rare and are sought out among collectors, particularly the colored vinyl titles by The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

Unusual Colored Vinyl Records

ac/dc- splatter vinyl LPThe majority of colored vinyl records are pressed using a single color – red, green, blue, etc. Occasionally, there have been examples of records pressed using more than one color or a color that wouldn’t be considered a “normal” color.

Twelve inch singles by Kraftwerk and Metallica have been issued on pale green “glow in the dark” vinyl. Madonna’s Hard Candy was released on a red and white swirl “candy” vinyl. Several titles, starting with Faust’s self-titled 1971 LP (UK) were pressed in clear, transparent vinyl.

A Bob Marley title was pressed with three colors of vinyl – red, yellow, and green, to evoke the colors of the Jamaican flag.

Others are made using a hodgepodge of colors and are known as “splatter” or “swirl” vinyl, depending on the appearance of the finished product.

There have been quite a few examples of multicolored vinyl pressings in recent years, mostly from small, privately-owned record companies. Third Man Records, run by Jack White of White Stripes fame, has released a number of unusual colored vinyl records in the past few years.

Privately Pressed Colored Vinyl Records

julie london privately pressed LPSometimes, a record company or pressing plant employee will take it upon themselves to press colored vinyl records, even though they have not been authorized to do so by their employer. They may do this for their own use, or with the intention of secretly reselling the records at a profit at some point in the future.

Because of the covert nature of these pressings, it’s not possible to document all of them, and sometimes, they aren’t even discovered until many years (or decades) after they were initially manufactured.

Collectors are generally very interested in these sorts of titles, provided that it can be demonstrated that they were manufactured at the time of the record’s initial commercial release and that they were made at the same facility used to press the regular, black vinyl copies of the same record.

Here’s a list of a few of the titles we’ve seen over the years that appear to have been privately pressed as colored vinyl records:

  • The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night – a single copy of this album is known to exist on pink vinyl.  This copy was found at a Los Angeles yard sale!
  • Dave Brubeck – Jackpot – one copy of this LP is known on blue vinyl
  • Dion – Runaround Sue – copies of this 1962 LP are known to exist on both green and brown vinyl
  • Fats Domino – Just Domino – One copy of this 1962 LP is known to exist on multicolored vinyl
  • The Doors – The Doors – one test pressing of this album is known to exist on white vinyl
  • Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding – copies of this 1967 LP are known to exist on red and on yellow vinyl
  • Electric Light Orchestra – Ole ELO! – While yellow vinyl copies of this album were officially issued as promotional items, there are also copies on red, white, and blue vinyl that were pressed by a record company employee.
  • John Lennon/Yoko Ono – Milk and Honey – green and yellow copies exist; these were reportedly pressed from legitimate stampers, likely by a record company employee
  • Julie London – Julie Is Her Name – a single copy of this 1955 LP is known to exist on half red/ half green vinyl (see photo)
  • Ketty Lester – Love Letters – one copy is known to exist on multicolored vinyl
  • Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed – two copies are known to exist on multicolored vinyl
  • Nina Simone – The Amazing Nina Simone – one blue vinyl copy of this 1959 album is known
  • Ike and Tina Turner – River Deep, Mountain High – one copy of this album is known on blue vinyl

This list is hardly comprehensive, but because of the nature of these pressings, it’s impossible to document all of them. New ones are discovered all the time; the Julie London album, pressed in 1955, turned up for the first time in 2014!

Unauthorized or Pirate Colored Vinyl Records

pirate pressing colored vinylSince collectors have demonstrated a willingness to buy just about anything by their favorite artist, a number of unscrupulous individuals have taken it upon themselves to issue quite a few colored vinyl records by famous artists.

These titles are technically known as “pirate” pressings; they very closely resemble official releases, but are actually unauthorized private pressings.

As these pressings are unofficial and are not related to official releases by the artist represented, nor are they authorized by the artists’ record companies, these pressings rarely attract much attention from record collectors.

They do, however, usually sell for quite a bit more than the standard, black vinyl pressings of the same title, usually selling for $30-$40.

Here are a few examples of titles we’ve seen for sale on colored vinyl that are unauthorized:

 

  • Led Zeppelin
    • Led Zeppelin I – multiple colors of vinyl
    • Led Zeppelin II – multiple colors of vinyl
    • Led Zeppelin III – multiple colors of vinyl
    • Houses of the Holy – multiple colors of vinyl
    • Physical Graffiti – multiple colors of vinyl
  • Pink Floyd
    • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – multiple colors of vinyl
    • A Saucerful of Secrets – multiple colors of vinyl
    • Dark Side of the Moon – multiple colors of vinyl (these are distinctly different from the authorized pressings listed above)

There are numerous other examples of these, but it’s impossible to document all of them.

Colored Vinyl Records Today

Limited edition colored vinyl pressings continue to this day, particularly among companies that specialize in reissuing older titles. The original pressing of a Bob Dylan album from the 1960s might have been on black vinyl, but you can buy a red vinyl pressing today!

Many titles released in the past five years have been issued as colored vinyl records, sometimes for the entire run and sometimes as a limited edition item.

About five years ago, Warner Brothers Records began reissuing the entire Metallica catalog as high quality pressings, some were mastered at 45 RPM for better sound quality. All of these titles were briefly available as colored vinyl records, though several of the titles were limited to 100 colored vinyl copies. Later pressings in the series were manufactured in larger quantities to help satisfy collector demand.

Record companies today understand that it’s a bit more work than it used to be to persuade customers to pay cash for hard media, rather than downloads. Because of this, it’s quite common these days to see titles issued as colored vinyl records as an added incentive for the customer to buy.

That’s not the only reason why someone might want to buy colored vinyl records, however.
Because colored vinyl pressings are generally more free of impurities than black vinyl, many of them provide good sound quality. This is particularly true of those colored vinyl records which are pressed for promotional use by radio stations. Regardless of sound, they’re all popular among collectors, if for no other reason than the fact that they’re different and unique.

Click here to view our selection of colored vinyl records.

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Bootleg Records – Live, Unreleased, and ROIR Albums

Bootleg Records – What Are They?

Bootleg records have been sold for decades, but a lot of collectors don’t know much about them, and many have never seen one. In the strictest sense, a bootleg record is an album that has been pressed and sold by a third party who has no relationship with the recording artist or the artist’s record company and which has been released with neither the knowledge or approval of either. Bootleg records may be released as a tribute to the artist by fans, but it’s most common for them to be made with the intention of selling them as for-profit products.
beatles kum back bootleg album

The term ROIR is sometimes used to describe bootleg records with the term meaning, “Records Of Indeterminate Origin.” This is an accurate description, as the records themselves rarely accurately list who manufactured them or where they were made.

There is a good reason for this; bootleg records have long been illegal in most western countries.

In this article, we’ll discuss the definitions and origins of bootleg records, provide examples of some of the better known ones, and explain why bootleg records hold interest for record collectors.

You can browse our selection of unauthorized/live/ROIR records here.

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Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

Definition of Bootleg Records
Bootleg Records History
Types of Bootleg Records
Packaging
Trademark of Quality Label
Other Bootleg Record Labels
Artist and Record Company Responses
Conclusion

You can browse our selection of unauthorized/live/ROIR records here.

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What Are Bootleg Records?

bootleg records - great white wonder
An early Bob Dylan “Great White Wonder” LP

Bootleg records are singles or albums that have been pressed and distributed with neither the knowledge or permission of the recording artist or their record company. Bootleg records have traditionally been sold to earn a profit for those who manufacture them and to fill voids in the marketplace by providing recorded material by popular artists that is not available through legitimate, licensed recordings.

While the manufacture of bootleg recordings is illegal in most Western countries, copyright laws in the 1960s and 1970s were less strict than they are today, and at one time, bootleg records were so common as to be found in the bins in chain record stores and major department stores.

Most bootleg records contain either previously unreleased studio material or live, “in concert” recordings. Occasionally, bootleg records have compiled rare or otherwise hard to find legitimately released material, though such compilation albums comprise a small percentage of the bootleg market. Historically, most bootleg records have been live recordings, as those are the easiest type of unreleased material for manufacturers to obtain.

The term “bootleg records” is sometimes applied to any unauthorized record, including counterfeit records, which are copies of legitimate releases that are created to fool the buyer into thinking that they are buying an authorized release, and pirate records, which are unauthorized pressings that contain previously released legitimate recordings.

Strictly speaking, the term “bootleg records” only applies to unauthorized releases of previously unreleased material and not pirate or counterfeit pressings. (new window)

Bootleg Records History

The Rolling Stones "Live R Than You'll Ever Be"
The Rolling Stones “Live R Than You’ll Ever Be”

Bootleg records have been sold since at least the 1930s; there are numerous 78 RPM records in existence that are unauthorized. It’s quite possible that there were also bootleg recordings available in the cylinder record era, though record keeping from the early 20th century regarding copyright is a bit vague.

The term “bootleg records” is most commonly used, however, to describe unauthorized pressings issued starting in the late 1960s, when various individuals discovered that the copyright laws then in existence did not prohibit anyone from releasing previously unreleased live or studio recordings by any artists of their choosing.

The first of the modern bootleg records was a two record set of previously unreleased music by Bob Dylan. The album was originally released without a title and issued in a plain white cover. This album became known as “Great White Wonder,” and was soon released under that title, with the title rubber-stamped onto an otherwise plain white cover.

Sales figures are unknown, but the album is believed to have sold upwards of ten thousand copies. Of course, with copyright laws not applying to such releases, Great White Wonder soon became copied by other bootleg manufacturers, and the album has since appeared in a multitude of configurations, on black vinyl and colored vinyl, and with and without properly printed covers.

Shortly thereafter, an album by the Beatles called Kum Back appeared in stores, containing material from the then-unreleased Let It Be recording sessions. At this time, numerous FM radio stations around the country began playing both Kum Back and Great White Wonder on the air, and this helped sales tremendously.

bootleg records with paper insert cover
An example of a bootleg record with a paper insert, rather than a printed cover. Note the plain label.

A third title that attracted a lot of attention at that time was a release by the Rolling Stones called Live R Than You’ll Ever Be, which contained recordings from the band’s 1969 American tour. This album, in a rubber stamped white cover, sold so well that it encouraged the Rolling Stones’ record company to release a legitimate live album from the tour in order to take advantage of what was obviously large market demand.

It may seem odd today, but at the time, these three titles and a few others that popped up shortly thereafter were often available in mainstream record stores. We know a collector who bought his copy of Kum Back at a Sears store in Texas when the album was first released.

Over the next few years, hundreds, if not thousands, of bootleg records appeared on the market from a variety of manufacturers.

fake label
A “fake” label. This record plays music by Fleetwood Mac

In the earliest days of bootleg records, most releases had plain covers and plain labels. This was due to the fact that record companies who were pressing these albums were reluctant to put printed labels on the discs, due to their dubious legality. Similarly, print shops that printed album covers for record pressing plants weren’t too eager to manufacture covers for albums which were, even then, technically illegal.

Over the next decade, bootleg records appeared on the market with blank labels, printed labels that correctly listed the name of the artist and song titles, and “fake” labels that listed a nonexistent artist and fabricated song titles. These labels likely came from manufacturing plants that were under contract to major record companies; if someone from a major label happened to stop by the pressing plant, they wouldn’t pay much attention to an album by Bruce Dillon, even though that album might actually play music by Fleetwood Mac!

Types of Bootleg Records

Bootleg records generally fall into three categories:

  • Live recordings – Live, “in concert” recordings probably comprise 80% of the market for bootleg records. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, these tapes were usually acquired by individuals who managed to sneak tape recorders into concert halls in order to surreptitiously record the performances. These so-called “audience tapes” are of varying quality, with some being quite good and others bordering on the unlistenable.Many bootleg records from the mid-1970s were sourced from FM broadcasts, as radio stations often had access to live recordings, including those from syndicated radio programs such as the King Biscuit Flour Hour. The quality of these recordings is generally excellent and virtually the equal of authorized live albums.Other live recordings have been obtained from crew members who worked on the mixing console at the concerts, as many artists have long recorded most or all of their performances.These recordings are usually intended for the artists’ own use, but sometimes employees made copies of them and made those available to bootleggers.
  • Previously unreleased studio recordings – While previously unreleased studio recordings comprise a relatively small percentage of bootleg albums, they’re highly sought after by collectors, who are often interested in obtaining everything they can by artists they follow. Such recordings are relatively hard to obtain, and usually come from record company employees, either directly or indirectly.The Bob Dylan Great White Wonder set, the Beatles Kum Back and the Beatles Ultra Rare Trax series are good examples of bootleg records that contain unreleased studio material. In the case of the Ultra Rare Trax series, the quality of the recordings was the equal of commercially released Beatles albums, as the source material reportedly came directly from the vaults of their own record company.Another Beatles title, Sessions contained recordings for a planned Beatles album of songs they’d recorded but never released that was to have been released in 1985. For various reasons, the project was canceled, but cassette tapes of the unreleased album, made for internal record company use, found their way into the hands of bootleggers, and shortly thereafter, an unauthorized album called Sessions appeared on the collector market.
  • Collections of previously released (but rare) material – While the market for bootleg records usually seeks out previously unreleased material, a few titles have included rare, previously released recordings. These might be singles that were long out of print, obscure B-sides of singles, or recordings that were previously issued only as promotional releases that were not intended for sale to the public.Two examples of such releases would The Complete Christmas Collection by the Beatles, which contained material that was previously only available on records sold through the Beatles Fan Club, and The Paul Simon Solo Album, which was a reissue of a 1965 LP by Paul Simon that was never released in the United States.

Packaging of Bootleg Records

william stout
Trademark of Quality LP with William Stout artwork

While packaging of bootleg records was initially minimalist, with plain white covers and blank labels, competition quickly emerged in the industry and that led to better quality, if still untraditional, packaging. While many covers still had rubber stamped titles, those covers were often available in color. Printed covers soon followed from a few manufacturers, and some manufacturers, notably the Trademark of Quality (TMOQ) label and K&S records, pressed most of their records on colored vinyl.

Printed covers and colored vinyl helped spur sales, especially since few commercially available records in the early 1970s were available on colored vinyl. Albums that had rubber stamped covers began to include printed paper inserts that listed the artist, album title and song titles (and sometimes, the source of the material inside.)

A few titles had somewhat more elaborate packaging. When the company that printed the hardcover tour book for Blind Faith’s only U.S. tour found themselves with thousands of leftover programs at the end of the tour, a bootlegger bought a number of them and packaged them in a box along with a live recording from that tour.

A 10 disc package of Beatles outtakes from the Let It Be sessions was released in the mid-1980s, with every one of the discs on colored vinyl and with the entire set packaged inside a box that resembled those in which theatrical films are shipped. A late 1980s Led Zeppelin set called The Final Option contained 70 records, all on colored vinyl, and was packaged inside a heavy acrylic box.

These sorts of packages are unusual; most of the bootleg records made in the 1970s had simple covers and paper inserts. Most of the titles released in the 1980s had printed covers, though many still included either blank labels or labels with fake information.

Trademark of Quality Label

Various labels used by Trademark of Quality
Various labels used by Trademark of Quality

As the market for bootleg records grew in the early 1970s, a few manufacturers decided that establishing a brand identity might be good for business. While a number of companies attempted to do so, perhaps the most famous of them was the Trademark of Quality label, which is often abbreviated as TMOQ (or less frequently, TMQ.)

The Trademark of Quality label was started by two individuals from California, “Dub” Taylor and Ken Douglas They were the creators of the original Great White Wonder album, and they used their profits from that project to create their own record company.

Trademark of Quality releases included more than 150 titles that included live material, unreleased studio material and a few titles containing previously released (but hard to find) material. The earliest titles in the TMOQ catalog had rubber stamped covers (though most were color covers with stamped titles and paper inserts) and simple labels with either a number (“1” or “2”) or a drawing of a pig on them (either a “sideways” pig on early releases or the face of a pig smoking a cigar on later ones. A few later titles had printed covers with artwork by now-famous artist William Stout and printed labels that included both the name of the artist and song titles.

Most of the titles released by the Trademark of Quality label, which was in business from 1970 to 1976, were released on colored vinyl. Often, the first pressings of a given title were on colored vinyl, with subsequent pressings on regular black vinyl. For a few titles, a handful of copies were pressed on multicolored vinyl. Pressings on the Trademark of Quality label were highly regarded among collectors, as the vinyl itself was of good quality as was the source material of most of their releases.

The latter was an important factor, as the quality control in the overall manufacture of bootleg records was somewhat shoddy. Some companies used poor quality vinyl and often, equally poor quality recordings. Buyers rarely knew what they were going to get when they bought bootleg records, but most of the titles released by the Trademark of Quality label offered good recordings and good sound quality.

Because of this, the Trademark of Quality label is quite collectible today. Most of the material they released over the years has never been made available through legitimate sources, and 40+ years later, most of their titles are quite hard to find. Titles by major artists such as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd often sell for several hundred dollars, and some titles, particularly those on multicolored vinyl, occasionally sell for more than $1000.

Earlier pressings, with the large “1” or “2” on the labels, tend to sell for more money than the later pressings with either the sideways pig or the still-later “smoking” pig. The two different pig designs came about after Ken and Dub decided to part ways. Each of them continued to press titles under the Trademark of Quality name, but each used their own version of the label.

A label formed in the 1980s that was also known for high quality releases with finely printed color covers and colored vinyl records was a label from Europe called Swinging Pig. This name was an homage to the Trademark of Quality label.

Other Bootleg Record Labels

K&S records on multicolor "splatter" vinyl
A title from K&S records on multicolor “splatter” vinyl

Ken Douglas of Trademark of Quality fame formed another well-known and highly regarded bootleg records label in the mid-1970s called The Amazing Korneyfone Record Label, or TAKRL, as it is known among collectors. This company released about the same number of titles as the TMOQ label.

TAKRL used printed, black and white covers, along with some that were plain white covers with printed paper inserts. As far as we known, all of the titles on the Korneyfone label were pressed on black vinyl.

Other labels of note in the 1970s were the Rubber Dubber label, which released a few titles with rubber stamped covers, Idle Mind Productions and K&S records. Both Idle Mind and K&S tended to use plain white covers with paper title inserts, though both released many titles on colored vinyl.

Many of the titles on the K&S label were pressed on beautiful, multicolored “splatter” vinyl. As this label was based in Canada, many of their records were reportedly seized by Customs officials during shipment to the United States. As a result, many K&S titles are quite hard to find today, though they’re sought out by collectors due to their attractive multicolored pressings.

Artist and Record Company Responses

Not surprisingly, record companies and the artists themselves were largely not happy about the exploding market for bootleg records, as they weren’t making money from their sales and they had no control over either content or quality. In a few cases, the official response to a bootleg release was to issue a similar legitimate one.

mccartney wings from the wings
“Wings from the Wings” – pressed on red, white and blue “Bicentennial” vinyl

When Live R Than You’ll Ever Be was released in December, 1969, the Rolling Stones’ label, Decca Records, responded by releasing the official Get Your Ya-Yas Out not long after. Reportedly, the bootleg recording had sold in excess of 250,000 copies, though exact sales figures remain unknown.

An Elton John concert from November, 1970 that had originally been broadcast on FM radio was released by a number of bootleggers under a variety of titles. The official response was to simply release the concert legitimately, and the resulting album was Elton John’s first “official” live album titled 17-11-70 (or 11-17-70 in the United States.)

Swinging Pig label
An example of a title on the Swinging Pig label

After Paul McCartney and Wings toured the United States in 1976 a three record set, pressed on red, white, and blue vinyl appeared with the title Wings From the Wings. This led to the official release of an authorized set, Wings Over America, which featured almost identical content.

The biggest response to the boom in the sales of bootleg records came from the United States Congress, which passed stricter copyright laws in 1976. This greatly reduced the number of bootleg records being produced, and numerous record stores stopped selling them, due to fear of being arrested for copyright violations.

While production of bootleg records declined in the United States in the 1980s, it increased in Europe, where copyright laws differ. A number of companies produced high quality pressings, often with color covers and colored vinyl, throughout the 1980s.

By the end of the decade, most manufacturing of bootleg records had come to a halt, as the industry moved towards compact discs.

Bootleg Records Conclusion

Bootleg records remain popular with collectors today, as they offer a number of things that draw collector interest. Most of them offer recorded material that is otherwise not available via the artists’ legitimate releases, and many of them were pressed on colored vinyl or even as picture discs, which are two features that always draw collector interest.

The Trademark of Quality label is collectible in its own right, and some titles are available from that label in a variety of configurations – black vinyl, colored vinyl, multicolored vinyl, and so on. Prices for bootleg records on that label that sold for as little as $4 when new now approach hundred, and sometimes even thousands, of dollars.

While not all record collectors are interested in bootleg records, and not all artists are represented by them, they remain an interesting area of record collecting.

You can browse our selection of unauthorized/live/ROIR records here.

Acetates and Test Pressings – Souvenirs of Record Production

Acetates and Test Pressings – What Are They?

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailacetates Example of an acetate label[/caption]

Most record collectors, like any other buyers of phonograph records, are primarily interested in commercial releases; that is, copies of records that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold at retail to the public. These are the kinds of records that are likely to comprise the bulk of anyone’s record collections

Serious collectors are usually interested in owning just about anything and everything produced by artists that they admire, and unusual items such as acetate pressings (also known as “acetates” or “lacquers”) or test pressings. These are records or components of record production that were manufactured not for sale, but to evaluate the process of making the commercial record itself.

As both acetates and test pressings are fairly rare, they tend to command a lot of interest in the collector market. While such pressings by any artist are rare, there is generally a lot of interest in acetates and test pressings by artists who are themselves popular with collectors, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and so on.

In this article, we’ll discuss the nature of acetates and test pressings, how they are made, why they are made, and what makes them of interest to collectors.

Browse by Category

Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

Acetates and Lacquers
Uses for Acetates
Collector Interest in Acetates
Counterfeit Acetates
Test Pressings
Collector Interest in Test Pressings
Counterfeit Test Pressings
Conclusion

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Click here to see our selection of acetates
Click here to see our selection of test pressings

Acetates and Lacquers

While acetate pressings are usually referred to by record sellers and collectors as “acetates,” the term used to describe them within the industry is “lacquers.” That term makes more sense, as there isn’t any acetate used in the production of these records. For purposes of this article, however, we’ll call them “acetates,” as that’s the popular term used in the record collecting world.

Acetates represent the first step in the physical manufacture of a record, be it a single or an album. While acetates are technically “records” in the sense that they can be played on a turntable or phonograph, they are not pressed out of plastic using mechanical stampers, as are commercial records.

Acetate cutting lathe (photo credit: JacoTen)
Acetate cutting lathe (photo credit: JacoTen)

Instead, acetates are individually created using a cutting lathe, which is a device that loosely resembles a turntable. Acetates are lacquer-coated aluminum discs that are entirely smooth when first manufactured. They are “cut” by placing them on a cutting lathe that has a signal fed to the cutting head from either a live audio source or a performance recorded on magnetic tape. As the music plays, the cutting head cuts a groove in the soft lacquer surface.

The lacquer-coated disc rotates while the music plays, and the recording engineer controls the lathe, which must be periodically adjusted to compensate for changes in volume during the performance and to allow for gaps in between tracks.

In the early days of recording, music was played live in the studio and recorded directly to acetate discs. Since the 1940s, most performances are recorded first to magnetic tape and then transferred to acetates at the convenience of the record company.

Once the cutting process is complete, the disc is playable on any turntable to evaluate the performance, if necessary. Due to the softness of the lacquer coating, acetates are not particularly durable and will wear out and become noisy with repeated play. Acetates that are used for evaluation purposes are not generally used for production. Other discs will be cut for that purpose and then will be nickel-plated as part of the process to produce the stampers that will be used to make test pressings and later, records for sale to the public.

Uses for Acetates

Acetates are made for two purposes – to evaluate a recording and its suitability for pressing records and to use in the production of the finished product itself. For production, an acetate is first nickel plated and the plating is removed to create a negative image known as a father.

beatles acetates
A genuine Beatles acetate

This process can be repeated by plating the father to produce a positive image known as a mother. The mother can be duplicated to create stampers. Typically, a father can be used to create about ten mothers and each mother can create ten stampers. A stamper can be used to press anywhere from 300-1000 finished records.

If all of the mothers and stampers are exhausted due to high production, another acetate must be cut and the process repeated.

Acetates are considerably heavier than records of a comparable size and usually weigh two to three times as much. While most acetates do have a label, these are generally generic labels with blank lines intended to be filled in by hand. Information found on the labels of acetate pressings usually consist of the name of the artist, the title(s) of the song(s) and perhaps the date the disc was cut and the timing of the song(s) on the disc.

Lacquer-coated blanks used to cut acetates used to have more than one hole near the center. One was the usual centering hole for the cutting lathe and/or turntable spindle; the other was a drive hole that fit a pin on the lathe to ensure that the disc wouldn’t slip on the lathe. More modern cutting lathes use a vacuum pump to hold the disc in place, making the drive hole unnecessary.

On rare occasions, there is a third purpose for acetates – sometimes, when a record company is in a hurry to get their album or single to radio stations, they will send acetates directly to radio. These are usually supplemented with regular vinyl pressings as soon as it can be arranged, as acetates are entirely unsuited to repeated play, as might be warranted by having them played on the radio.

Collector Interest in Acetates

What is the appeal of lacquers and acetates to collectors? There are a few reasons that collectors might be interested in owning acetates by the artists whom they collect:

velvet underground acetate
An original 1966 Velvet Underground Acetate that sold for $25,000

They’re rare. Obviously, as acetates must be cut on a lathe, one at a time, they are going to be extremely limited in production. In general, there are probably fewer than a half dozen acetates cut of any single or album title. Most will be used for record production, and the process of plating them to produce a father destroys them.

A few others will be used for evaluation or promotional purposes, though it’s relatively rare for acetates to find their way out of the hands of record company personnel and into the public market. Their rarity alone makes them desirable. A popular album may sell in the millions, but only a couple of people are likely to ever have the opportunity to own an acetate copy of that album.

Good sound – Acetates sound terrific. While acetates are not suitable for repeated play on a turntable, they are playable and they usually sound better than the finished records sold at retail. Acetates are cut directly from the tape, where records are made from stampers that are made using multiple plating processes. Each step on the process to create a stamper creates a slight loss in quality, so acetates that haven’t been worn out from too much play will almost always sound better than finished records.

Unique content – Sometimes, artists have acetates prepared of songs just to hear how they sound as a record, though they may not have any intention of releasing them commercially. These may be working versions of songs that are later changed before release or songs that aren’t intended to be released at all.

On other occasions, acetates may be cut of “working” versions of albums, where the order of the songs may not be final. In other cases, one or more songs may appear on an acetate made early in the production process of an album but the final version of that album may not include them, making the acetate a rare collectible. We recently saw an acetate of the 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl that was a working version of the album that contained two songs that were not on the finished LP. Those two songs have never been commercially released, making that particular acetate a desirable Beatles rarity.

About two years ago, someone found a box containing nearly 150 Bob Dylan acetates in a building in New York. Many of these acetates contained unreleased songs and/or different versions of songs from the versions that have been commercially released. Several of these discs have been sold publicly at prices in the several-thousand-dollar range.

bootleg acetate
A Pink Floyd bootleg album issued as an acetate

A few bootleg albums have been released in acetate form over the years, simply as a gimmick. The only titles we have seen like this originated in Japan, usually in limited editions of no more than twenty five copies. As producing discs one at at time is both expensive and labor intensive, product of bootleg acetates as a commercial product is not a very common practice.

Prices for acetates can vary widely, depending on the artist and the content. Obviously, the more collectible the artist, the greater the interest from the collecting community. While all acetates are rare, collectors will be more interested in (and pay higher prices for) examples that feature unreleased material or versions of songs that are not otherwise available.

An acetate of an album by an artist that isn’t particularly collectible might sell for $10 or even less. On the other hand, an acetate containing unreleased material by a well-known artist might sell for thousands of dollars. About ten years ago, an acetate containing rough versions of the material that became the first album by the Velvet Underground sold for more than $25,000. That material has since been released commercially.

An acetate of Elvis Presley’s first recording sold for $300,000 in 2015 to musician Jack White of White Stripes fame.

Counterfeit Acetates

beatles counterfeit acetates
A counterfeit Beatles acetate

Unfortunately, in the collecting world, nearly anything of value has been counterfeited, and that includes test pressings and acetates. They’re rare, they’re in demand, and they can sell for a lot of money, and that has led unscrupulous individuals to create acetates that appear to be original, record company-produced products but are actually homemade items that have no inherent value.

While counterfeit acetates exist for a number of artists, the most common artist represented by these discs is the Beatles. Many of these fake discs have labels that say either “EMIDISC” or have a representation of the Beatles’ own Apple label.

Since legitimate Beatles acetates turn up infrequently, few potential buyers have enough experience to be able to determine if an item offered for sale is a legitimate item or a counterfeit.

Many of these counterfeits have been artificially aged to give them a look of authenticity, and a number of them have sold for three and four figure prices at auction. The best advice we can offer to potential buyer is to know your seller and to get a guarantee when you make your purchase.

Test Pressings

test pressings
A sample test pressing label

Along with acetates, collector also have a lot of interest in records known as test pressings. It’s not a clever name; a test pressing is exactly what the name suggests – a record manufactured for the express purpose of evaluating the finished product.

Test pressings might be manufactured for the purpose of listening to material that is being considered for commercial release or they might be made as a test of production stampers for a finished commercial record.

Unlike acetates, test pressings are vinyl records pressed from stampers and are physically virtually identical to commercially available records. The only difference is that test pressings usually have custom labels similar to those found on acetates. These labels might have the words “test pressing” pre-printed on them and may include blank lines that can be filled in by hand to indicate the name of the artist, the title of the album, the catalog number and perhaps the date of manufacture.

Like acetates, test pressings are occasionally sent out to radio stations for promotional use if the production discs aren’t yet ready, but most of the time, they’re simply used to evaluate the finished product. This would include making sure that the record contains the correct and intended versions of the songs on it, that the sound quality is acceptable and that the playing order is correct.

Test pressings are usually found without printed covers. They are usually packaged in plain white covers. Often they will be accompanied by a “label copy sheet,” which is a sheet of paper that contains the information that would ordinarily be printed on the label of a finished album – the album title and catalog number, the name of the artist, song titles and running times, the name of the record company and publishing information for the songs themselves.

Collector Interest in Test Pressings

Collectors like test pressings for many of the same reasons that they like acetates. While they are made further along in the manufacturing process than acetates, test pressings are usually the first discs made from production stampers, so they will likely sound better than commercially available, or “stock” copies of the records sold in stores.

Scarcity – Test pressings, like acetates, are also relatively rare. While acetates may be unique or limited to just a couple of discs, test pressings are usually manufactured in larger, though still limited, quantities. Unless test pressings are made to be issued as promotional copies, they are generally limited to no more than twenty copies, though the number of discs manufactured can vary widely.

A colored vinyl album by the Doors, issued only as a test pressing
A colored vinyl album by the Doors, issued only as a test pressing
genesis test pressings
A test pressing of the unreleased Genesis live album

Alternate or unreleased material – Like acetates, test pressings sometimes contain either unreleased material or songs that are different in some way from the commercially available versions of that particular album. The 1972 Beach Boys album Holland was originally intended to include a song called “We Got Love,” but the record company was unhappy with the song selection. The group recorded a song called “Sail On, Sailor” that was used in the place of “We Got Love” on the commercial release. A few test pressings of the earlier version exist and are of great interest to Beach Boys collectors.

A few test pressings of Bob Dylan’s 1975 LP Blood on the Tracks exist with different songs from the released version. The album was close to its release date when Dylan decided to rerecord a large portion of the album. Reportedly, only five copies of the test pressing of the original recording are known to exist. One of them recently sold for $12,000.

Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a printed gatefold cover that was blank on the inside and which featured the name of the artist and the title of the album in a font that looked like handwriting, rather than the block print used on the final version. Several hundred of these “script cover” test pressings were sent out to radio stations and are quite sought after today, usually selling for upwards of $1500 when they’re offered for sale.

The first live album by Genesis, 1974’s Genesis Live, was briefly intended to be a two record set but was ultimately released as a single album. A few test pressings of the two record set were made in the Netherlands. This set includes material that has otherwise never been released, and the few copies that have turned up over the years have sold for as much as $4000 at auction.

The audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released eight titles in the early 1980s as Ultra High Quality Recordings, or UHQR, as they are known. These titles were made using a then-uncommon heavy-weight 200 gram vinyl pressed with a special “flat” profile that the company did not use for their regular pressings. All eight titles were limited to 5000 copies for commercial sale. The company also made test pressings of a handful of titles that they were considering releasing in the UHQR format, but which they ultimately decided not to release.

These titles included all thirteen of the UK Beatles albums, along with A Trick of the Tail by Genesis, Rickie Lee Jones’s first album, and The Grand Illusion by Styx, among others. These rarely-seen test pressings usually sell for upwards of $1000 each on the rare occasions when they are offered for sale.

Unreleased albums – Occasionally, artists will complete an album with the intention of commercial release, only to have the release canceled for any one of a number of reasons. These unreleased albums usually exist in the form of test pressings, and sometimes they turn up for sale.

One good example would be Läther, by Frank Zappa. The album, intended as a four-record set, was recorded in 1977. Zappa’s record company rejected the finished album, though test pressings exist. The album was finally released officially in 1996.

Another unreleased Zappa album, Crush All Boxes, was intended for release in 1980, but was scrapped in favor of releasing You Are What You Is instead. At least one test pressing is known to exist of that title.

Counterfeit Test Pressings

While counterfeit acetates are fairly common, counterfeit test pressings are not. We have seen a few examples over the years, including the original version of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The most common counterfeit test pressings would be for titles that were otherwise unreleased. Buyers should exercise due diligence when considering a purchase, but as a rule, counterfeit test pressings are relatively uncommon.

The nice thing about test pressings is that they are physically no different from a commercially available album, which means that they can be played as often as any other record. Most collectors don’t buy them to play them, however; instead they tend to buy them as a collectible item in addition to the regular version of the album.

Acetates and Test Pressings Conclusion

While acetates and test pressings could hardly be regarded as something that every collector might find essential, they are unusual and interesting items to add to one’s collection. They’re relatively rare, they usually offer superior sound, and they occasionally offer access to material that otherwise might not be commercially available.

Click here to see our selection of acetates
Click here to see our selection of test pressings

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Record Articles

We have written a number of articles about various aspects of record collecting. We hope you find them to be helpful.

Why do people collect vinyl records? – An explanation about record collecting.

Acetates and Test Pressings – What are they?

Audiophile Records – Albums made to sound better than regular pressings

Beatles Albums – Information about Beatles albums from around the world

Beatles Colored Vinyl Albums – Beatles albums from around the world that were issued on colored vinyl

Bootleg Records – Unauthorized pressings including live albums and ROIR pressings

Butcher cover – The story of the Beatles’ most notorious album – Yesterday and Today

Colored Vinyl – Information about records pressed on some color of vinyl other than black

Counterfeit Records and Pirate Pressings – Information about fake rare records

Japanese albums – Why collectors seek out records from Japan

Lesley Gore records – We have a large collection of albums, singles and more by the singer.

Most Valuable Vinyl Records – The Top 10 Rarest Albums That Were Sold in Stores

Picture Discs – Information about picture discs and their history

Pink Floyd Albums – An overview of unusual records by one of the world’s most collectible artists

Stereo Records and Mono Records – Why collectors prefer one or the other

Vintage Vinyl Records – 9 Reasons Why Collectors Like Them – The reasons collectors might prefer vintage records over new ones

Vinyl Record Collecting Glossary – A collection of useful terms related to records and record collecting

Vinyl Record Storage and Care – Taking Care of Your Investment

Vinyl Records Value – What determines what your records are worth?

White Label Promo – Information about promotional releases

 

Peggy Lee – In the Name of Love red vinyl Japan LP with obi

Peggy Lee - In the Name of Love red vinyl Japan LP with obi

Offered for sale is an original Japanese pressing of the 1964 LP In the Name of Love by Peggy Lee, pressed on red vinyl and including the ultra-rare original obi.

About this copy: This copy of In the Name of Love is an original 1964 Japanese pressing, pressed on red “Everclean” vinyl and including the original lyric insert and the original blue and white obi, which is nearly always missing.

The cover and disc and obi are M-.  The original envelope-style paper inner sleeve is included.

A gorgeous copy of a scarce LP.

Background: In the Name of Love features tracks arranged by Billy May, Dave Grusin and Lalo Schifrin.  The album spent six weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at #97.

Allmusic had this to say about In the Name of Love:

Peggy Lee works with arrangers Billy May, Dave Grusin, and Lalo Schifrin on this disparate collection of new songs and evergreens. Whether or not she’s taking into consideration the new rock revolution led by her new labelmates the Beatles, she often has her chartmakers come up with light jazz-rock backgrounds, starting with the title song. Lee has long since demonstrated her credentials in the field of Latin music, so she doesn’t seem to have felt the need to treat “The Girl from Ipanema” as a samba; instead, May conceives a swinging rhythm for the tune. Although there are ballads, including delicate versions of “My Sin” and “Shangri-La,” many of these tracks are uptempo, including Lee’s own contribution, her co-write with Schifrin on the movie song “Theme from ‘Joy House’ (Just Call Me Love Bird).” It all culminates in an excellent new song by old Lee compatriot Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, “When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do).”

You can listen to “The Boy from Ipanema” here:

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