Billy Joel – The Stranger rare Japan Mastersound LP with obi

billy joel- the stranger japan mastersound lp

Offered for sale is a rare Japanese “Mastersound” half speed mastered pressing of The Stranger by Billy Joel, including the original obi.

Note: This copy is unusual; while every copy we’ve previously had said “Half Speed Mastered” on both the obi and the label, this one says, “Digital Mastering” on the obi but says “Half Speed Mastered” on the label.

This copy appears to be a different mastering from the copy in our own collection that says “Half Speed Mastered” on both the obi and the disc, as the stamper numbers are significantly different.  It’s possible that this copy is actually digitally mastered, even though the label says otherwise.  We don’t know.

About this copy: This copy of The Stranger is a limited edition “Mastersound” pressing from Japan, issued in 1980 on the CBS label.

This copy includes the original obi, lyric insert, custom inner sleeve, generic Mastersound booklet listing other titles in the series, and generic posterboard Mastersound sleeve.

The cover is still in the original shrink wrap and is M-, but there’s trace corner wear at the mouth.  The obi is M-.  There is a hype sticker attached to the shrink wrap.

The inner sleeves are M-.  The lyric insert and booklet are M-.

The disc is M- with a couple of faint sleeve scuffs.  There are a few spindle marks on the labels, but no marks on the vinyl.

A nice copy of a terrific LP.

Background: Columbia Records had a short-lived series of audiophile pressings in the early 1980s that they called their Mastersound series.

These were high-quality pressings mastered with extra care and pressed on premium quality vinyl, and sold at a premium price.

Probably 90% of the records issued in that series in the United States were half speed mastered, while the remainder were digitally mastered.   Most of the digitally mastered titles were of classical music.

That wasn’t the case with the Japanese Mastersound series, however.  Nearly all of the titles in the CBS Mastersound series from Japan were digitally remastered, and most of them don’t sound as good as their analog Japanese counterparts.

In fact, there were only five pop/rock titles in the Japanese series that were half speed mastered:

  • Billy Joel – The Stranger
  • Earth, Wind & Fire – Greatest Hits
  • Electric Light Orchestra – Discovery
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees

All are quite rare, and all sound great.

Released in 1977, The Stranger was the fifth studio album by Billy Joel, and his commercial breakthrough that made him a star.

The LP reached #2 on the U.S. charts and has sold more than ten million copies to date.

Allmusic.com gave The Stranger a 4 1/2 star review:

Billy Joel teamed with Phil Ramone, a famed engineer who had just scored his first producing hits with Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years for The Stranger, his follow-up to Turnstiles. Joel still favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and clean up the production. The results aren’t necessarily revelatory, since he covered so much ground on Turnstiles, but the commercialism of The Stranger is a bit of a surprise. … Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.

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Country of origin: Japan
Size: 12″
Record Label: CBS
Catalog Number:
30 AP 1874
Year of Release: 1980
Format: Stereo
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(Porcupine Tree) Blackfield – Welcome to My DNA sealed 2011 UK LP

blackfield - welcome to my dna lp

Offered for sale is a still sealed numbered limited edition UK pressing of Welcome to My DNA by Blackfield, featuring Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.

About this copy: This copy of Welcome to My DNAis a still sealed numbered (488/2000) UK pressing on 180 gram vinyl, issued in 2011 on the Kscope label.  This was the first vinyl release of this LP

As the album is sealed, the records are presumably new and unplayed.

The wrap is fully intact, with no rips, tears or holes.

A beautiful copy of a terrific LP.

Background: Welcome to My DNA, released in 2011, was the third of several collaborations between Israeli singer Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.

Allmusic.com gave Welcome to My DNAa 3 1/2 star review:

On Welcome to My DNA, their third studio album, Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson of Blackfield continue to pursue their neo-progressive Pink Floyd-meets-Tears for Fears sound, overlaying it with doom-ridden imagery. The Pink Floyd influence is overt in the slow-paced soundscapes and echoey vocals, though at times Blackfield pick up the pace and even rock a bit, notably on “Blood,” which has a Middle Eastern rhythm at times. … The album is, thus, something of a downer, but the music aims toward a majestic simplicity that it sometimes achieves.

 

Country of origin: UK
Size: 12″
Record Label: Kscope
Catalog Number:
817
Year of Release: 2011
Format: Stereo
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Porcupine Tree – On the Sunday of Life sealed UK orange vinyl 2 LP set

porcupine tree - on the sunday of life orange vinyl lp

Offered for sale is a still sealed orange vinyl UK pressing of the 2 LP set On the Sunday of Life by Porcupine Tree.

About this copy: This copy of Up the Downstair is a limited edition 180 gram orange vinyl pressing on the KScope label, issued in the UK in 2008.  This is a reissue of an album that was originally released in 1992.

The double album is still sealed; the records are presumably new and unplayed.

A beautiful copy of a terrific LP.

Background: Originally released in 1992, On the Sunday of Life was the debut album by Porcupine Tree.  The album received relatively little notice at the time and did not sell well.

Allmusic.com gave On the Sunday of Life a 3 star review:

Porcupine Tree’s debut is really one big in-joke, which actually makes for a better reason to record something that pretends to be profoundly deep through and through. As released, it doesn’t make mention of the tracks’ origins as the supposed product of a mysterious cult psych/prog rock band, but the packaging and artwork (even the fonts) would make the Dukes of Stratosphear proud. …Meanwhile, the many instrumental pieces are simply wonderful, pastoral, ambient rambles, drum solo jams, and more. It may all be ’70s-era Pink Floyd for a more knowing time, but as a genre exercise and on its own, On the Sunday of Life is still a great debut.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest (conditions apply.) Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a popup window)

 

Country of origin: UK
Size: 12″
Record Label: Kscope
Catalog Number:
801
Year of Release: 2008
Format: Stereo
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Vinyl Records Value – What Are Your Records Worth?

Vinyl Records Value

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vinyl records value
Are your records valuable?

What are my records worth? That’s a common question these days as record albums are making a comeback among both casual music fans and hard core collectors. People are aware that some records are valuable, but most people don’t know exactly which records people are looking for or why they’re looking for them.

Establishing vinyl records value is an inexact science, and there are a number of factors that go into determining whether a given record is something that will bring a lot of money from a collector or something that would best be used as a place mat.

In this post, we’ll go over a number of factors that may determine the value of a particular record. Keep in mind that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, and it’s quite rare for a record to be valuable based on one factor alone. It’s usually a combination of things that add to a vinyl record’s value, and other factors can sometimes turn a valuable record into one that isn’t worth all that much seemingly overnight.

The list of qualities that can affect a vinyl record’s value is constantly changing, and the list shown below should not be considered to be definitive. As this post on vinyl records value is going to be fairly lengthy, we’ll divide it into sections.

Vinyl Records Value Categories

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

Age of the Record
Who is the Artist?
Overall Scarcity
Sealed Records
Autographed Records
Commercial vs. Promotional Issues
Small Label vs. Major Label
Label Variations
Mono vs. Stereo vs. Quadraphonic
Colored Vinyl and Picture Discs
Picture Sleeves
Acetates and Test Pressings
Foreign Editions
Limited Editions
Withdrawn Releases
Counterfeit Records
Reissues and Falling Prices
Condition of the Record
Finding Recent Prices
Conclusion

Featured Items

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Age of the Record

old records
Are old records valuable?

Many of the people we’ve spoken to about records over the years have the impression that “old records” must be worth more than new ones. While the age can have an effect on a vinyl record’s value, it’s one of the less important factors. Releases from early in the career of a famous artist may have more value than those from later in their careers, particularly if they didn’t become famous right away. A good example of this would be the recordings of Elvis Presley. While his first five records for the Memphis-based Sun label sold reasonably well for their day, their sales figures were minuscule compared to those of his later releases on RCA, making the Sun versions fairly valuable.

On the other hand, records by artists that are not of interest to collectors will have little value, regardless of age. There are many records in the easy listening genre from the 1950s, such as those by Ray Conniff or Percy Faith, that are now some 60 years old, but they still sell for only a couple of dollars in most used records stores, provided they bother to offer them for sale at all.

“Old records” may have some value, but as a rule, it’s not because they’re old. It’s because of something else.

Who is the Artist?

This should be obvious, but the artist in question will be a big factor in determining the value of a record. While tens of thousands of artists have released records since the invention of the medium, not all of them interest the public in equal measure.

Some artists are simply more popular as well as more collectible than others. Artists in the rock, blues, jazz, classical and soul categories tend to be more collectible than those in the easy listening, country, spoken word or comedy categories.

Famous artists' records tend to be more valuable
Famous artists’ records tend to be more valuable

Some artists tend to have a longtime following, while others are popular only while they are actively recording. With the former, such as Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, blues singer Robert Johnson, or the Beatles, many of their records remain both valuable and highly collectible long after they stopped recording or even after their deaths.

Other artists may have had records with high values only during the time they were recording, with prices in the collector market dropping considerably after they finished their careers or when they passed away.

In the late 1970s, for example, Todd Rundgren and the Cars were highly collectible, but these days, there’s little interest in their recordings. On the other hand, records by the Beatles are selling for the highest prices ever and prices remain steady more than 40 years after they released their last album.

Exceptions to that exist; that can come in the form of artists who were never particularly popular, but who were influential in the industry. That’s true of artists such as Robert Johnson, the Velvet Underground, or the Stooges. None of these artists were very successful and their records sold poorly when new. All three were enormous influences on other musicians, however, and as a result, their records sell for surprisingly high prices today.

Still, as a rule, popular artists will have records with higher values than obscure ones.

Overall Scarcity

This factor is pretty straightforward when it comes to vinyl records value; records that sold well and are quite common are going to be less valuable than records that sold poorly or are hard to find. A lot of albums sold in the 1970s and early 1980s sold millions of copies when new, and as such, it isn’t difficult to find copies in nice, playable condition.

That being the case, such records aren’t likely to sell for very much money in the collectors market.

Even best-selling records can get scarce over time
Even best-selling records can get scarce over time

On the other hand, even records that sold well when new can become scarce in time, especially when one takes the condition of the record into account. Albums by Elvis Presley and the Beatles sold millions of copies when they were first released, but finding nice original copies of those records now can be difficult, as many have been thrown away or damaged through heavy play or abuse.

People have tended to take better care of their records in recent decades, so it’s a lot easier to find a nice copy of a 1980s album by Bruce Springsteen than it is to find a 1960s album by the Rolling Stones, for example.

“Common” is also relative; records that sold well in the 1950s and 1960s still sold in substantially smaller quantities than those sold in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1950s, it was rare for even a popular album to sell much more than a million copies. By the 1980s, albums selling more than 5 million copies were relatively common.

What the “common vs. scarce” factor means is that the most valuable record by a particular artist may not be their best-known title, but rather one that was disregarded by the public and/or critics when originally released, making it relatively scarce today. A good example of this would be Music from the Elder by Kiss, released in 1981. Released after a string of best-selling albums, Music from the Elder had a different sound from their previous releases and offered no hit songs and no songs that regularly received airplay. As a result, the album soon went out of print.

The group went back to making records that were similar to their earlier releases and sales of subsequent albums were brisk, making Music From the Elder a collector’s item.

Sealed Records

One factor that’s of vital importance in determining a vinyl record’s value is condition, which we’ll discuss at length later. Because the condition of a record is held to be important by collectors, the ideal example of a record to own, in the eyes of many collectors, would be one that has never been played at all. Because of this, collectors will often pay a huge premium for sealed, unopened examples of records they are seeking.

sealed recordsWhen record albums were first offered in the late 1940s, they were sold without any external wrapping on the cover. Customers in record stores could remove the records from the cover and many stores would even allow them to play the records to help them make a buying decision. This led to problems with both theft and damage, and by the early 1960s, a number of large retailers started sealing their albums in plastic bags. Eventually, this practice was picked up by the major record companies, who began protecting their covers with shrink wrap.

In general, a copy of an album that is still in original, unopened shrink wrap will sell for a lot more money than one that is in opened condition, even if the opened copy has not been played.

The difference in price can range from modest to quite significant, depending on the artist and title. A sealed copy of a relatively recent release may carry a small premium over an opened copy, but older and/or more desirable titles may exhibit a substantially larger premium. Sealed copies of older albums by the Beatles might sell for as much as ten times the price of an opened example, for instance.

This is a case where age can affect vinyl records value, as the older an album is, the harder it is to find a copy that has never been opened or played.

Autographed Records

autographed record
An example of an autographed record.

One factor that can influence vinyl records value is having the autograph of the artist on it. While autographed albums and single aren’t particularly common (while forgeries of them are), they usually do command a premium over regular copies of the record that are not signed.

Autographed records that are personalized, such as “To Jane, best wishes…” tend to sell for less money than those that simply have the artist’s signature on it. When it comes to musical groups and autographs, albums that are autographed by the entire group will sell for substantially higher prices than those with the signatures of some, but not all, members.

Autographed records with provenance, such as a photograph of the artist signing the record, tend to bring the highest prices of all.

Commercial vs. Promotional Issues

One factor that can affect vinyl records value is if the record in question is a promotional issue, as opposed to a commercial, or “stock,” copy of the record. Promotional, or “promo,” copies of a record are often identified in some way, and they often have a special label that indicates that the particular records was made for promotional, or radio station, use. While the labels on most records are colored, many promotional issues have white labels, which has led to the term “white label promo” being used among collectors.

promotional recordPromotional copies of records are usually pressed before stock copies to ensure that they reach radio stations prior to the commercial release of the record. They are also pressed in relatively small quantities compared to stock copies of the same records. While an album may sell in the millions, there may be only a few hundred promotional copies made of that same record, making them collector’s items.

Sometimes, promotional copies of a particular record may be different from the stock counterpart. The promotional copies of the Beatles’ single “Penny Lane” had a different ending than the version of the song on the stock copies of the single, making these rare copies quite valuable in comparison to the million-selling stock counterpart.

On other occasions, a record may be issued only as a promotional item. Such albums may be live recordings, made for radio broadcast, or perhaps compilation albums, again intended to stimulate airplay. These “promo-only” releases are usually sought after by collectors, though the interest in them will be directly related to the interest in the artist. A promo-only Rolling Stones record, for example, will attract far more interest from collectors than one by Andy Williams.

As a rule, a promotional copy of any record will command higher prices in the collector’s market than the stock counterpart, though there are occasional situations where the opposite is true. Some records have sold so poorly in the stores that the promotional copies are actually more common than the stock counterparts. A good example of this is the Beatles’ first single, “My Bonnie,” which was credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. Promotional copies with a pink label, while relatively rare, are probably ten times more common than the stock copies with black labels, of which fewer than 20 copies are known to exist.

We have written an extensive article about white label promo records; you can read it here. (new window)

Small Label vs. Major Label

Jim Reeves first album on the small Abbott label.
Jim Reeves first album on the small Abbott label.

This issue of scarcity comes into play when one looks at whether a particular record was released by a small, regional label or a large national one. Larger labels have national distribution and multiple pressing plants, and popular records might be pressed in the millions. Smaller labels might press only a few hundred or several thousand copies of a particular record.

There are examples of records being initially released on small labels and then later released on larger labels when the small record company negotiated a distribution deal with the larger label in order to sell more records. An example of this would be the 1963 surf album Pipeline by the Chantays, which was originally released on the California-based Downey label. When the song became a hit, Downey struck a deal with the nationally distributed Dot records to have them release the album instead. Today, copies of the album on the Downey label are far harder to find than their Dot counterparts, and sell for higher prices.

Sometimes an artist will release records on a small label and then move to a larger one. In these cases, their earlier releases tend to be more collectible than their later ones. The country group Alabama released a couple of albums on the small LSI label under the name “Wild Country” before changing their name and moving to the large RCA label. As the records by the group issued by RCA sold quite well, they tend to sell for modest prices. The two albums on LSI, on the other hand, are quite rare and sell for several hundred dollars or more when they’re offered for sale.

Another example, also in the country genre, is the first album by Jim Reeves. His first album, Jim Reeves Sings, was issued in 1956 on the small Abbott label. When that album began to sell well, Reeves moved to major label RCA. While his RCA albums sell for modest prices, his lone album on Abbot has sold for as much as $1000.

Label Variations

One album, 6 labels. One is worth $10; one is worth $10,000!
One album, 6 labels. One is worth $10; one is worth $10,000!

A significant factor in determining a vinyl record’s value is the label on the record itself. A given album or single might have been released with several different labels on the disc itself, even among releases by the same record company.

Record companies often change the appearance of the labels used on their records. While it has happened less often in recent decades, changes in label art an appearance were quite common among the major labels during the 1960s and 1970s.

Records by the Beatles, for instance, were released by Capitol Records on a black label with a rainbow colored perimeter, a green label, a red label, a custom Apple label, an orange label, a purple label, and a new version of the original black label, all over a period of about 20 years.

As a rule, collectors tend to favor original pressings, so for a given title, the most desirable label variation would be whichever one was in use on the day the record was originally release for sale to the public. There are exceptions to this, however. The red Capitol label mentioned above was commonly used in the early 1970s for a number of titles, but was never intended to be used for records by the Beatles. A few copies of the band’s Revolver and Yesterday and Today albums were accidentally issued with that label, and despite not being “original” issues, they do sell for quite a lot of money on the collector’s market.

Sometimes, minor differences on labels can make a difference, as well. The first copies of Meet the Beatles to be sold in America were rushed to the stores without including publishing information for the songs on the record. While later copies had either “BMI” or “ASCAP” after each song title, the very first issues of the album sold in stores lacked this text. While this might seem to be a minor matter, the difference in value between a copy that lacks the text and one that has it can be more than $1000, depending on condition.

As many albums by popular artists have remained in print for many years, or even decades, the label on the record in question is often a significant factor in determining that vinyl record’s value.

Mono vs. Stereo vs. Quadraphonic

mono record stereo recordA significant factor that can affect a vinyl record’s value is the format. Until 1957, records were sold only in mono. Between 1957 and 1968, records were usually sold in both mono and stereo, and between about 1972 and 1976, a few records were available in 4 channel quadraphonic sound. During the time when records were sold in more than one format simultaneously, one of the formats was usually pressed in smaller quantities than the other. Mono records were more common than their stereo counterparts in the early 1960s, for instance, but were the harder variation to find by 1968. Quadraphonic pressings were always intended for a niche market, and never sold in large quantities, except in the few cases where all copies of a particular title were encoded in quadraphonic sound.

While the value of a mono record in relation to its stereo counterpart will depend on when the record was released, quadraphonic copies are almost always worth more money than the same album in stereo.

The topic of mono vs. stereo is a complex one, and we have previously cover that in detail in another article which you can read here. (new window.)

Colored Vinyl and Picture Discs

picture disc recordsWhile most records are pressed from black vinyl, sometimes other colors are used. On rare occasions, a special process is used to create a picture disc, which has a photograph or other graphics actually embedded in the record’s playing surface. With few exceptions, colored vinyl and picture disc pressings are limited editions, and are usually far harder to find than their black vinyl counterparts.

Both colored vinyl pressings and picture discs have been issued as commercial releases and as promo-only releases. In the early 1960s, Columbia Records would occasionally press promotional copies of both singles and albums on colored vinyl (we’ve seen red, yellow, blue, green, and purple) in order to grab the attention of radio programmers.

In the late 1970s, picture discs were often pressed as promotional items and became quite popular among collectors. Most of these were pressed in quantities of only a few hundred copies.

More often, colored vinyl and picture disc records are issued as limited edition pressings, created to spur interest among buyers. Most of these titles are also available on regular (and more common) black vinyl.

As with everything else on this list, there are occasional exceptions to the rule. Elvis Presley’s last album to be issued while he was alive was Moody Blue, which was pressed on blue vinyl when originally released. A couple of months later, RCA Records decided to press the album on black vinyl as a cost-cutting move, which would have made the blue pressings rare and desirable. Shortly after this decision was made, Elvis passed away, and the label made the decision to return to blue vinyl for that album, and all pressings for the next ten years or so were issued blue vinyl. In the case of Moody Blue, it’s the black vinyl pressings that are actually the rare ones.

We’ve written articles about colored vinyl and picture discs, and you can read it here:

Colored vinyl article (new window)
Picture disc article (new window)

Picture Sleeves

A rare Can't Buy Me Love picture sleeve.
A rare Can’t Buy Me Love picture sleeve.

While vinyl record albums usually include printed covers, most 45 RPM singles do not, as they were generally issued in plain paper sleeves. It was not uncommon, however, for singles to be issued in special printed sleeves bearing the title of the song, the name of the artist and perhaps a graphic or photograph. These are known as picture sleeves, and most of the time, these picture sleeves were available only with the original issues of the records. While not intended as limited edition items per se, picture sleeves were designed to spur sales and were often discontinued once sales of the record began to pick up.

For various reasons, some picture sleeves are harder to find than others, and there are a number of records, some by famous artists, where certain picture sleeves are rare to the point where only a few copies are known to exist. Some picture sleeves, such as “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones, which was withdrawn prior to release, can sell for more than $10,000.

Others are rare, but not to that degree. The picture sleeve for the Beatles’ single “Can’t Buy Me Love” were commercially available, but were only printed by one of Capitol Records’ pressing plants, making it available only for a short time and only in the eastern United States. It’s one of the rarest commercially available Beatles picture sleeves, and mint copies have sold for more than $1000.

This is one of the factors that pretty much has no exceptions; a record with a picture sleeve is always more valuable than the same record without one.

Acetates and Test Pressings

test pressing recordWhile the majority of records are standard issues that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold in stores, some are pre-production versions that were made for in-house use at the record companies prior to making the stock pressings.

Acetates, or lacquers, as they are more properly known, are records that are individually cut on a lathe by a recording engineer. The recordings are cut on metal plates that are coated with soft lacquer. Acetates are the first step in the process of making a record, as they can be plated with metal and used to make stampers for production of the copies sold in stores.

They can also be played on a turntable and are often used to evaluate the sound of a song or an album prior to putting it into formal production. While acetates can be played as one would play any regular record, they don’t wear particularly well and will become quite noisy after only a few plays.

On rare occasions, acetates have been sent to radio stations as promotional items when regular pressings were not yet available.

As acetates are cut one at a time, they are understandably rare, and command a high value in the market place as they are both rare and unusual.

Test pressings are a bit more common than acetates, and are made to test stampers prior to mass produced production runs. They are usually the first pressings made from a set of stampers, and can be distinguished by their labels, which will differ from those used on stock pressings. Test pressings may have blank white labels or they may have special labels that indicate that they are test pressings. These custom labels usually have blank lines printed on them so that the people working with them can write the title and artist on the labels by hand.

As with acetates, test pressings are usually used for evaluation purposes by record company personnel, though they are occasionally sent out as promotional items. As they are rather unusual and limited in production to just a handful of copies, test pressings are highly regarded and sought out by collectors. Sometimes, test pressings may contain different versions of one or more songs from the commercially released albums. This can also add to their value.

Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a cover that had the album title in a different font from commercial releases. These so-called “Script Cover” pressings of the album have sold for more than $1000.

We have written a more in-depth article about test pressings and acetates. You can read it here. (new window)

Foreign Editions

A unique Beatles album from Denmark.
A unique Beatles album from Denmark.

Records pressed in foreign countries are often of interest to record collectors. While most collectors are interested in records from the country where they live, a lot of them are interested in owning anything unusual by the artists that interest them.

Most record albums are designed by record companies in either the United States or Great Britain, and most releases from either country are nearly identical. Other countries, however, have been known to create dramatically different versions of records from the U.S. or UK counterparts.

Sometimes, foreign pressings may have different titles, or different covers from the more common versions from the U.S. or UK. On other occasions, record companies in other countries may choose to press albums on colored vinyl.

Many albums from Japan from the late 1950s through the early 1970s were pressed on dark red vinyl. Japanese pressings were also issued with a paper sash, or “obi,” that wrapped around the cover and provided information for the buyer in Japanese.

These pressings are highly regarded by collectors for both their unusual appearance and their sound quality.

If an artist is not from the United States, collectors will often seek out records from the artist’s country of origin. While many American Beatles records are worth a lot of money, so are those from Great Britain, as the band released records there prior to releasing them in the U.S.

Prices for foreign (non-U.S.) records can vary widely, depending on age, condition, and all of the other factors mentioned in this article. In general, collectors in the United States will always be interested, to some degree, in any foreign record by artists whose records they collect.

We’ve written a detailed article about Japanese records. You can read it here. (new window)

Limited Editions

A numbered, limited edition Beatles album.
A numbered, limited edition Beatles album.

While scarcity can be a major factor in a vinyl record’s value, intentional scarcity can affect it even more. While limited edition pressings of albums are a relatively new thing, they are now quite common, with record companies intentionally limiting releases to a few hundred or a few thousand copies.

In past decades, when records were the predominant format for selling music, record companies were content to sell as many copies as possible of a given title. In recent years, records have become more of a niche item, and record companies are somewhat hesitant to spend the money to master, press, and distribute them. By producing only a limited number of a given title, and by making it publicly known that production will be limited to xxx number of copies, the record companies have a greater likelihood of having a particular title sell out quickly, rather than sitting on a shelf for a period of months or years.

Sometimes, these limited editions are individually numbered, while most are not. Sometimes, a limited number of copies of a given album will be pressed on colored vinyl, with a larger number pressed on black vinyl. In some cases, such as with the soundtrack album to the 2010 film Inception, all copies are colored vinyl and they are numbered as well.

Limited edition pressings my most any artist will have some value above the original selling price, as record companies are unlikely to issue limited edition pressings if there is no established market for them.

The exception to this would be records from companies that do not ordinarily release records, such as the Franklin Mint. Over the years, the Franklin Mint has released a number of recordings as limited edition sets, usually spanning many volumes. Most of these recordings were also pressed on colored vinyl and the sets were marketed in mass media to consumers who were not record collectors. These recordings have little value unless they are offered in complete sets, some of which came with as many as 100 records.

Withdrawn Releases

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

Occasionally, record companies release an album or single, only to change their mind and withdraw it from general release. This can happen for a number of reasons, ranging from a corporate decision that may or may not have anything to do with the record itself, a decision by the artist to change the product after release, or even an announcement by prominent retailers that they will refuse to sell the record as released.

Regardless of the reason for withdrawing the record from circulation, such releases will naturally be scarce, hard to find, and in demand among collectors. More often than not, withdrawn releases will also command substantial prices on the collector market.

Listed below are a few examples of record albums which were withdrawn from the market shortly before or shortly after being released to stores.

Angel – Bad Publicity – The 1979 album Bad Publicity had a cover that depicted the band having a raucus party in a hotel room. After only a handful of copies had been issued as promotional items, the album was withdrawn, retitled to Sinful, and released with completely different artwork showing the band in white suits against a white background.

Prince – The Black Album – In 1987, Prince intended to release an untitled album that had an all-black cover on which neither a title nor the name of the artist appeared. The so-called “Black Album” was withdrawn prior to release by Prince himself, for reasons that remain unclear to this day. A few copies have leaked out over the years, and they have sold for as much as $10,000.

The Beatles – When retailers complained about the original cover art for the Beatles’ 1966 album Yesterday and Today, which showed the band sitting on a bench with broken dolls and raw meat, Capitol Records ordered all copies returned from stores and radio stations. The cover was replaced by a picture of the band sitting around a steamer trunk.

This so-called “Butcher Cover” is perhaps the best known record in all of record collecting, and copies have sold for thousands of dollars.

We have written an extensive article about the Beatles Butcher cover. You can read it here. (new window)

Counterfeit Records

Original (color) and counterfeit (black and white)
Original (color) and counterfeit (black and white)

Whenever there’s a commodity that is worth money to people, there are unscrupulous people who try to take advantage of them by forging that commodity. Paintings have been forged, currency has been counterfeited, and unfortunately, so have many rare records.

While there are many factors that go into determining vinyl records value, perhaps none is more important than the need for the record to be an original pressing and not a counterfeit pressing created at a later date to resemble the original issue.

Counterfeit records first appeared on the market in the late 1960s or early 1970s and while the early attempts were rather obvious and fairly crude, technology has improved in recent years, making many counterfeit records difficult for the layman to identify. The practice isn’t limited to rare or valuable titles, either, as a number of mass-produced titles were counterfeited in the late 1970s. These titles were sold by chain record stores alongside the legitimate record company issues.

If a record routinely sells for a lot of money, there is a good chance that the title in question has been counterfeited. Many albums by the Beatles, along with other popular artists such as the Yardbirds, Elvis Presley, and Pink Floyd, have been counterfeited. In a few cases, such as the Beatles album Introducing the Beatles, counterfeit copies may actually outnumber the real ones.

It goes without saying that a counterfeit copy of a rare record will have limited value when compared with an original pressing.

We have written an extensive article about counterfeit records. You can read it here. (new window)

Reissues and Falling Prices

One factor that can significantly affect a vinyl record’s value is the availability of reissues. In the 1950s through the mid-1970s, record companies kept close tabs on whether an album was selling well or poorly. Poor selling albums were usually removed from the catalog and existing copies were sold at a discount. Starting in the 1980s, record companies took a different approach, and reduced the prices of slow-selling records, keeping them in print but offering them for sale at a lower price point.

Collectors often become interested in records that have gone out of print, and the prices for these no longer available titles can get quite high, depending on the artist and title. In these cases, collectors are usually paying high prices simply to hear the music. Record companies do pay attention to such market trends, and today, it’s quite common to see newly-pressed reissues of albums for sale that haven’t been available on the market in decades.

In the case of some albums, which may have only been originally for sale from small record companies, these reissues might actually sell more copies than the original album. When an album is reissued, the original vinyl record’s value usually falls in the marketplace. While some collectors remain interested in owning an early or an original pressing of a recently reissued album, there are others who are only interested in hearing the music, and will be happy to own a reissued version of the album instead.

Reissues can often affect a vinyl record’s value dramatically, and sometimes, the price of original pressings can drop as much as 90% when a formerly rare album again becomes available as a newly-released record.

Condition of the Record

While all of the factors listed above are important when it comes to evaluating a vinyl record’s value, perhaps none is as important as the condition of the record. Most mass produced records sold over the past 60 years or so have been poorly cared for by their owners. They may have been played on low-quality equipment, stored outside of their covers, and handled by their playing surfaces, rather than their edges.

Record changers, which were phonographs that were capable of playing up to a dozen records in sequence, were popular in the 1960s and 1970s and were particularly prone to adding scratches and abrasions to a record’s playing surface. Many covers were poorly stored, leading to ring wear or splits in the covers. Furthermore, owners often wrote their names or other information on the record’s cover or label.

Condition matters a lot.
Condition matters a lot.

Collectors are interested in buying records in the best possible condition, and ideally, they’d like to own copies of all of their records in the same condition in which they were originally sold – mint and unplayed, with pristine covers.

Finding a copy of any record that is more than 20 years old in such condition is quite difficult, and the value of a record can vary widely depending on its condition. In the case of many records from the late 1950s and early 1960s, finding worn and nearly-unplayable copies of a particular record might be relatively easy, while finding one in mint condition may be nearly impossible.

In the case of such records, a mint copy might sell for 50 times as much money as a worn-out copy of the same record.

When it comes to a vinyl record’s value, condition is paramount, and worn copies of a record usually sell for modest amounts of money except in the cases of items that are rare to the point of being unique.

In the case of records that are common to moderately rare, anything copy that isn’t in something close to new condition may have little to no value at all.

While some collectors are willing to accept “filler” copies of a rare record in poor to average condition until they find a better copy, most buyers prefer to buy only once, and will hold out for the best possible copy they can find.

What does all of this mean? It means that if you’re someone who has a box of “old records” and you want to know about those vinyl records’ value, you’ll likely discover that they’re common titles in average to poor condition and they’re likely not worth very much money.

On the other hand, if you have a rare record that is also in exceptionally nice condition, you’ll likely be able to sell it for a premium price.

Finding Recent Prices

Starting in the late 1970s, the easiest way to find out about vinyl records value was to consult a price guide. Over the past 40 years, a number of books have been published every other year or so that list the value of certain types of records. There are price guides for rock albums, jazz albums, classical albums, 45 RPM singles, country records, and soundtrack and original cast recordings. There are also specialty price guides for records from Japan, records by the Beatles and records by Elvis Presley.

A record price guide.
A record price guide.

While these guides have served collectors and sellers fairly well, the books are bulky, somewhat expensive, and have a tendency to become outdated rather quickly. That’s not to say that they aren’t useful; on the contrary, they serve as valuable references. Furthermore, even the outdated price guides can offer insight as to how a vinyl record’s value has increased over time. It’s amusing to look at price guides from the late 1970s to see how albums that might sell for $1000 today were once listed as having a value of $35 or so.

Record price guides are still published today and they’re still useful tools. On the other hand, there are also some online tools that can provide some more accurate and up to date information regarding vinyl records value. Several sites, for example, monitor the sales of records on the eBay auction site and archive them, making it possible for you to see what a particular records might have sold for yesterday, or last month, or even five years ago.

As there are millions of records for sale on eBay, including multiple copies of most records at one time, the marketplace is somewhat of a buyer’s market, which means that the prices of most records sold on the site are somewhat lower than they might be in a record store or in a private transaction between two collectors.

Still, the millions of record sales on the site each year do provide some good insight into overall vinyl records value, and can also show trends over the past decade or so. This makes it easy to see if a particular record is increasing in value over time or going down as interest sometimes wanes.

While there are a number of different sites that track and archive record sales on eBay, the two we use most often are:

Popsike.com – This site is free to use for a limited, but unspecified, number of searches. After a certain number of searches, you’ll be asked to register, which is free. If you exceed a further (unspecified) limit, you’ll be asked to subscribe. Currently, the cost of subscribing to Popsike is about $35 per year, though most users will never use the service enough to reach the threshold that requires paying a subscription fee.

Popsike’s home page has a few lists of popular searches, as well as lists of recent sales in certain popular categories, such as blues, Beatles, classic rock, jazz, and classical. You can search by artist or title and you can sort results by price or date of sale. Popsike has listings for record sales on eBay going back to 2003, though they note that their database is neither definitive nor exhaustive.

Collectors Frenzy – We also like Collector’s Frenzy. This site’s homepage has a quick list of the 20 records that have sold on eBay from the previous day. There’s a calendar on the page so that you can go back a day, a week, a month, or more. You can also search the site to find examples of a particular title that may have sold in the past. The site has simpler search features than Popsike, and the database doesn’t seem to go back quite as far. But the “what sold yesterday” tool is quite useful just to get a sense of current trends in pricing.

Vinyl Records Value Conclusion

We hear from people all the time – “I have some records. What are they worth?” With most commodities, the answer is a fairly simple one. If you have an ounce of gold, it’s worth a certain amount of money. The same applies to a barrel of oil.

That’s not the case with records, however. Vinyl records value is determined by a number of factors, including condition, scarcity, the name of the artist, and a host of other things, both obvious and obscure.

Because the value of a particular record is tied to so many factors, it’s difficult to give a general answer as to its value without knowing all of the particulars about that particular pressing.

The quickest way to find out is to check with Popsike or Collector’s Frenzy for a quick glance at recent sales. Keep in mind that these prices reflect retail sales, and not the amount of money that you’d receive if you’re selling to a store or a reseller. Keep in mind that the highest prices are paid for copies in near mint condition, which may or may not apply to the records you currently have in your possession.

Record collecting is a fascinating hobby, however, and the many factors that can go into determining vinyl records value are among the things that keep the hobby interesting to collectors.

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Vinyl Records – Why People Collect Them

Vinyl Records – The Appeal of Record Collecting

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collecting vinyl recordsDespite the predictions of many just a few short years ago, vinyl records are still selling well in the twenty-first century. This would have surprised a lot of people in the late 1980s, when vinyl records were in serious decline as a working format, partly due to the introduction of the compact disc earlier in the decade.

Like many things in popular culture, vinyl records have gone out of style only to become popular again.

It’s pretty obvious that records are back in a big way, as many stores that only sold compact discs a few years ago have replaced almost all of them with vinyl records. Not only that, but the selling prices of collectible records have not only remained steady, but have actually increased at a time when most people get their music via digital downloads.

Why are vinyl records making a comeback? What is the source of their appeal? Why are record collectors so passionate, and what, exactly, do they collect? In this article, we’ll cover the history of the phonograph record, including its decline and resurgence and explain the many reasons why people are once again lining up to buy vinyl records.

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33 1/3 Long-play Vinyl Records
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33 1/3 Long Play (Lp) Vinyl Records

Columbia LP logoIn order to avoid writing a novel, we’ll skip the early history of vinyl records, as the early ones were made from wax, celluloid, and shellac. The modern “vinyl” record as we know it dates to the late 1940s. Record companies were looking for a format to replace the 78 RPM record, which had the limitations of fragility and a short playing time.

A collection of similarly-themed 78 RPM records, known as an “album”, was bulky, heavy, and expensive to produce, and the record companies were looking for more viable, cost-effective alternatives.

RCA opted to go with the seven inch, 45 RPM record, which had one song on each side, and they developed a special player that would allow listeners to cue up a stack of them to be played in series. These “albums” were sold in small boxes that were quite a bit smaller than their 78 counterparts and were cheaper to make and ship and were far less prone to breakage. Consumers were still expected to handle a stack of records in order to listen to a collection of songs from the same artist, which was a bit of a nuisance.

Columbia Records went with an alternative format, which they trademarked as the Lp®, for “long-play.” This format, which we’ll refer to from now on as the LP, played at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, using a ten inch (and later, twelve inch) disc. The LP format offered much longer playing time; they typically played for about 12-15 minutes for a ten inch disc and up to 25 minutes for the twelve inch size.

The records were made from various materials early on, but the industry eventually settled on polyvinyl chloride, which came to be referred to as “vinyl.” With that, vinyl records as we know them were born and the first long-play albums were released in 1948.

Each company was committed exclusively to their own format, but Columbia’s LP format won the format war fairly quickly, and both Columbia and RCA soon licensed their technology out to other interested parties. The 45 RPM record did eventually replace the 78 RPM disc, and by the late 1950s, production of 78 RPM singles ended.

It took a few years for the industry to move from the ten inch disc to the twelve inch format that remains popular today. Part of this had to do with the manufacturing process, which was largely geared towards pressing ten inch 78 RPM discs. It was only logical to continue to make LPs in that size, but by 1954, nearly all U.S. record companies had phased out their production of ten inch LPs.

Popularity of Vinyl Records in the 1950s

vinyl records in the 1950sThroughout the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, record albums were somewhat of a niche item, with most music being sold in the form of singles.

Part of the reason for this was the price; new albums in the mid-1950s sold for about $4, which equates to about $35 today. By 1960, some stereo records were being sold for as much as $6.98, which works out to about $56 in present-day dollars.

There’s a reason why so many albums from the 1950s are hard to find today – they sold in minuscule quantities, due to their price. If you were a lucky teenager in the 1950s, you might have received an album as a birthday or Christmas gift, but if you wanted to actually buy music, you likely bought singles.

Record companies knew this, which is why a lot of rock and roll artists of the 1950s didn’t release any albums at all. Most of the albums sold in that decade were of the jazz or easy listening variety. The emergence of Elvis Presley in 1954 would soon change that, and by the time the Beatles arrived in a big way in early 1964, albums began to be big sellers.

Stereo Vinyl Records

Record companies had long been trying to find a way to commercially sell recordings in stereo. In 1956, commercial reel to reel tapes came to market, and introduced stereo to the consumer marketplace. The tapes and the equipment to play them were quite expensive, and the pre-recorded reel to reel tapes had to be duplicated one at a time, which made mass production tedious. The major record companies began to aggressively pursue technologies to allow them to manufacture vinyl records in stereo, as they could be more easily mass-produced.

stereo vinyl recordsThe first stereo records came to market in late 1957, though for the next ten years, monaural (or “mono”) records continued to dominate the market. Stereo records were sold for a dollar more than their mono counterparts, making them more suitable to well-heeled buyers of jazz and classical recordings.

Most of the stereo albums released in the 1950s were in those niches, and popular and rock and roll titles in stereo from that decade are rather scarce today and usually sell for a significantly higher price than their mono counterparts.

An added expense for stereo record buyers was the fact that they also had to buy a new record player that was equipped to play the stereo vinyl records as well as a second (or replacement) amplifier and an additional speaker. This was beyond the financial reach of a lot of buyers, who continued to buy records in mono, and that is one of the many reasons why so many early stereo records are quite rare today.

Throughout the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, record companies were quite conscious of the quality of their products, taking great care in every step of the process from recording the music to pressing the discs to printing the covers. Most of the major labels produced a product made from high-quality vinyl that looked great and sounded great, too.

Decline of Vinyl Records

Over time, the retail price of vinyl records didn’t really keep up with inflation, making albums more affordable by the early 1970s. By this time, the format of the stereo LP had become universal, and nearly every home had a stereo player. International problems involving the petroleum industry in 1973 led to some manufacturing issues, and consumers noticed a significant decline in the quality of the vinyl records on the market.

The quality of the vinyl used in the manufacture of records declined noticeably, with many companies using recycled vinyl that often contained visible impurities. Warped records were common, especially with the short-lived “Dynaflex” vinyl records produced by RCA that weighed little more than half as much as their records of just a few years before.

Changes in technology, as well as strong interest from the public in a higher-quality product, led to the development of the digital compact disc. The CD, as it became known, was both smaller (at 5 inches) and thinner than a record album, and less prone to problems in sound quality as a result of mistreatment by the user. Introduced in 1982, the CD began much as the stereo LP did, with high priced media and playback equipment.

The record companies weren’t sure how much the public would be willing to pay for compact discs, but they know how much they cost to make and how much they’d have to charge retailers who wanted to buy them at wholesale. Rather than set a suggested retail price for the compact disc, they allowed the market to set the price, which quickly settled in the $18 range (about $44 in 2017 dollars.) Given that the suggested list price for a record album at that time was $9.98, the record companies realized they were sitting on a potential goldmine, and quickly went about trying to phase out vinyl records altogether.

compact discsThey did this by aggressively promoting the compact disc format and taking advantage of the CD’s longer playing time. Albums would be released in both formats, but the CD would often contain one or more extra songs that were not on the LP counterpart.

In addition, the record companies started refusing to accept returns on defective LPs, forcing retailers to absorb the cost. In time, the combination of these two factors caused many retailers to stop stocking vinyl records altogether.

By 1990, vinyl record albums were available almost exclusively through subscription record clubs, and by 1995, the format was declared by the industry to be virtually dead, with total sales worldwide in the range of just a couple of million units. Considering that in the mid-1980s, some titles had sold more than ten million records alone, this was effectively the end of vinyl records, and after more than a century, many people felt the medium’s time had come.

Vinyl Records Resurgence

The record companies enjoyed a lot of success after they succeeded in removing records from the marketplace, but in the late 1990s, the popularity of the digital and easily-downloaded mp3 format, nearly destroyed the industry. People were buying CDs, “ripping” them to their computers and sharing them online with the whole world. Consumers no longer saw a reason to buy music when they could simply download it from the Internet for free. The rise of file sharing sites such as Napster caused industry profits to plummet.

Over time, the record companies realized that people would also pay for digital downloads, and Apple’s iTunes store and streaming Websites such as Spotify proved that it was possible to get people to pay money for downloadable music. In the meantime, something odd happened – the small companies that were licensing titles from the major labels and releasing them on vinyl started to see an increase in sales, as did stores that sold used vinyl records. It seemed that people who bought music missed the ability to buy a piece of music and actually hold their purchase in their hands.

young people with vinyl recordsOver the past decade, the major labels have slowly returned to releasing titles in the form of vinyl records, and today, oddly enough, virtually every new release from a major artist is available in LP form, and much to everyone’s surprise, they’re selling.

In fact, sales of vinyl records in 2015 reached totals that hadn’t been seen since the mid-1980s, with some 40 million units sold. Pressing plants worldwide are running at capacity, often running 24 hours a day in order to meet demand.

In addition, audio equipment manufacturers are once again selling mass-produced turntables and people are buying them. Many of the buyers are under the age of 30, and were born at a time when it was nearly impossible to buy new vinyl records at all. Demand is there across the spectrum, and out of print and collectible titles are selling for more than ever. Ringo Starr’s personal copy of the Beatles’ 1968 LP known as the White Album recently sold for $790,000. That’s a lot of money for an artifact of a format that was regarded as dead a few decades ago.

Collecting Vinyl Records

It’s surprising to see how many new fans are coming to record collecting today and that includes relatively young collectors who are seeking out vinyl records that were made before they were born.

People have been collecting records since they were invented. Though most people who collect vinyl records today are interested in the modern-era LP or single, there are still collectors who are interested in early 20th century cylinder records and 78 RPM singles.

Most of the interest in 78s is in the area of rhythm and blues and early rock and roll. The former didn’t sell particularly well when they were new and are thus fairly rare today. The latter were pressed at a time when the industry was phasing out the format. For most singles pressed after 1955, the 78 version is harder to find today than the 45 RPM equivalent.

There are a number of reasons why people collect vinyl records; there’s no “one size fits all” answer. Still, there are a few explanations that seem to apply to the majority of collectors.

Vinyl records are tangible – Obviously, there’s some appeal to buying something and being able to physically handle it. Buyers are more likely to regard their purchase as something of value when it’s a physical object than they are if it’s merely something that they downloaded.

Advantages of physical size – Vinyl records are bigger than compact discs, which makes it easier to read song titles, lyrics, and liner notes than it is on a compact disc. Even people with exceptional eyesight have long complained that reading the small booklets enclosed with compact discs is difficult. The larger size of record albums also allows for better appreciation of cover photos and graphics, which often represent a lot of time, money and effort on the part of the artists who created them.

album with bonus posterBonus items – Vinyl records occasionally included bonus items such as stickers or posters, which are generally too large to fit in a compact disc case. Back in the 1970s, albums often came with posters, and millions of teenagers had the posters from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon hanging on their wall. With the resurgence of vinyl records, buyers can once again enjoy that experience.

Visual appeal – While vinyl records pressed from black vinyl aren’t particularly interesting, record companies occasionally press records using colored vinyl or even press albums as picture discs, where the record is made from clear vinyl covering a photo or image.

Improved sound – This argument has been going on for decades, but a lot of listeners prefer the sound of vinyl records to that of digital downloads or compact discs. We’ve found that in blind tests, where the listener doesn’t know which source they’re hearing, they usually choose the record over the compact disc as the one that sounds the best to their ears.

Many listeners have felt this way ever since the compact disc, and during the decade or so when records were largely unavailable, a lot of these listeners simply didn’t purchase new music anymore. With the resurgence of vinyl records, they’re buying again. Some of the titles that were issued in the 1990s as CD-only releases are now being issued as vinyl records for the first time ever and they’re selling well.

Improved sound, even for records – With vinyl records selling for a premium price today, record companies are now showing an interest in producing a quality product that they haven’t shown since the early 1960s. Great care is now being taken in transferring the master tape to the lacquers used to make stampers, a process called “mastering.”

When reissuing titles from the 1950s through the 1970s, the record companies are making an effort to use the best-available tape sources, rather than digital copies made for compact disc use. Finally, the companies that press the records are making an effort to use quiet, high-quality vinyl compounds that allow the records to be played with a minimum amount of surface noise. As a result, the vinyl records produced today are among the best every made in the nearly 140 year history of the medium.

Attachment to an artist – While most buyers of vinyl records are interested in hearing the music recorded on them, many collectors are interested in a particular artist. These collectors often seek to obtain a copy of every single or album by their favorite artists, including foreign versions that might have different song lineups, different covers, or some other visible difference from the version sold in their home country.

For collectors of very popular artists, such as Elvis Presley or the Beatles, this type of collecting could potentially result in a collection consisting of thousands of albums if the collector sought out every conceivable variation.

Types of Vinyl Records That People Collect

While most collectors are interested in albums, there’s a lot of interest in singles, too. In the early days of rock and roll, many artists released singles that were never issued on albums. A few artists released singles exclusively, and there are some genres of rock, such as rockabilly and 1960s garage rock, that are represented almost exclusively by 45 RPM singles.

While albums are popular with collectors, some genres are more popular than others. Rock and roll is far and away the most popular, followed by jazz, classical and soul and rhythm and blues. While there is a bit of interest in other areas of music, such as country or movie soundtracks, interest in those areas seems to be on the wane.

Although the most popular titles in jazz and classical music are still available today as current releases, collectors seek out original pressings, as they generally sound better than modern reissues. The reason for that is that many of the original tapes used on albums in the 1950s and 1960s are long lost, and current pressings are made from tapes that are several generations removed from the original tapes, resulting in a loss of sound quality.

Certain classical titles, usually stereo pressings from the late 1950s and early 1960s, regularly sell for hundreds of dollars. A number of jazz titles from the 1950s, particularly those on the legendary Blue Note label, sell for thousands of dollars in mint condition.

The specific types of music that people collect does tend to shift over time as collectors become older and new ones start the hobby. In the 1980s, rare rock and roll records from the 1950s brought premium prices, while many rare titles from the British Invasion era of the 1960s could be purchased at affordable prices. Now, as the collectors of 1950s rock have grown older, the prices for those recordings has dropped, while the prices of many 1960s rock LPs, particularly those of the Beatles, have risen dramatically in price.

While the kinds of vinyl records that interest collectors are often defined by the kind of music they offer, there are certain types of records within those genres of music that attract particular attention in the collector market:

Artists

collectors like artists People collect all kinds of vinyl records, and they collect them for all kinds of reasons. The primary reason, however, is an interest in a particular artist. Most collections start out based on interest in one artist in particular, though many collectors are interested in more than one artist. From there, many collectors seek to obtain a copy of every album or every record by that particular artist.

Each individual collector defines what will comprise their collection. Some might be happy with a copy of every one of the artist’s albums so they can listen to them. That comprises a basic collection.

Others might be interested in owning a copy of every album, plus a copy of every album from every country that released that album, plus a copy of every different variation (mono and stereo, or black vinyl and colored vinyl, for example) of that album known to exist.

Still other collectors might want simply anything related to their chosen artist, whether it’s an album, a single, an 8 track tape, a magazine, a gold record award, or an autographed copy of an album. There’s no single set of rules for what makes up a particular collection, but it almost always stems from an interest in a single artist.

By far, the most commonly collected artists are the Beatles and Elvis Presley. While Elvis isn’t as popular as he once was, rare and unusual Elvis records still sell for thousands of dollars. The Beatles’ popularity seems incapable of waning, and a surprising number of people who weren’t even born when the band broke up collect Beatles records.

Audiophile Records

audiophile recordsThe early days of stereo in the late 1950s introduced us to “audiophiles”, who were people who were interested in well-recorded sound and who went out of their way to purchase records that produced a realistic, you-are-there listening experience.

In the late 1950s, record companies made an effort to produce vinyl records that emphasized stereo separation in their recordings, and these recordings often in the classical genre, are highly sought out today.

Many jazz and rock records are also well-recorded, but the listening experience of these recordings was often marred by the fact that the records themselves may have been poorly pressed, either due to errors in mastering or in the use of poor quality vinyl in the pressings themselves.

Beginning in the late 1970s, a few small companies sought to correct this problem by licensing the master tapes of highly-regarded titles in the rock, jazz and classical genres and releasing them as high-quality pressings made with improved mastering techniques and better vinyl. These records, produced by such companies as Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and Quality Record Pressings, are collectively referred to today as “audiophile records.”

Another trend in audiophile records that became popular in the late 1970s was direct-to-disc recordings. These limited edition pressings were recorded live in the studio, direct to the cutting lathe, without the use of recording tape. Bypassing the tape completely resulted in a much better sounding finished product, though direct-disc recordings could not be mass produced since only a limited number of pressings can be manufactured from the finished lacquer disc produced by the cutting lathe.

In addition, few artists are interested in recording live in the studio without overdubs, and the need to record an entire side of an album without stopping makes the entire process rather time consuming. Most direct-disc recordings have been by jazz artists.

Audiophile records are usually intentionally produced in limited quantities, restricted by relatively limited demand in the marketplace and by time-limited contracts with the record companies.

Due to the limited-edition nature of the products and the extra care involved in their manufacture, mass-produced audiophile records tend to sell for a premium price when new, and often for substantially higher prices once they go out of print and are no longer available for general sale.

Bootleg Records

Bootleg records are vinyl records produced without the consent of either the artist or the artist’s record company. While bootleg recordings have existed since the 1930s, the modern industry started in 1969, when a few enterprising individuals discovered that the copyright laws then in effect in the United States did not prohibit anyone from releasing any previously unreleased material by any artist.

bootleg recordsThis led to the release of thousands of albums over the next five years by hundreds of different artists, usually in the form of previously unreleased studio material or live, “in concert” recordings, with the quality of these records varying dramatically based on the quality of the source tapes used.

Some bootleg records were sourced from tapes made from high-quality FM stereo broadcasts, while others were made from recordings made at live concerts using smuggled tape recorders or copies of copies of copies of studio recordings that had been passed around for years by collectors.

Several manufacturers became well-known for their quality bootleg records, including the Trademark of Quality and Amazing Kornyfone labels, both of which were operated out of California.

When bootleg records first appeared in the late 1960s, many mainstream stores carried them, but Congress quickly changed the copyright laws, which sent the manufacturers “underground.” After that, bootlegs, as they came to be known, were mostly sold via specialty stores or mail order, and by the end of the 1980s, the market for bootlegs as vinyl records effectively came to an end as compact discs took over that market..

Collectors are interested in bootleg records, as they often provide an opportunity to hear recordings that their favorite artists, for whatever reason, have declined to release legally. Many bootleg records were issued on colored vinyl, and all of them, by definition, were limited editions, making them fairly rare once they became unavailable. Certain titles on the Trademark of Quality label have sold for more than $1500, and many routinely sell for $100-$300 today.

Colored Vinyl Records

Most of the vinyl records ever pressed are black in color. While the vinyl compound normally used to manufacture records isn’t naturally black, it can vary in color and all of the variations are relatively unattractive. Pigmentation is added to make the records black, and the reason that most records come in that color is because it’s the cheapest way to make them.

Vinyl records have been occasionally manufactured using colors other than black over the years, and when RCA first introduced the 45 RPM record in the late 1940s, their original intention was to use different colors for records in different genres. Country music records were pressed with green vinyl, and classical records were red. This didn’t last long, and within a year or so, RCA was pressing black records, just like everyone else.

colored vinyl recordsIn the early 1960s, Columbia Records, then the nation’s largest record company, began occasionally pressing records on colored vinyl for radio station use. Radio stations often received dozens of records per month with the hopes that they’d play them, and the record company decided that anything that drew attention to their product would be helpful. Columbia and associated labels pressed hundreds of colored vinyl 45 RPM records in the 1960s, representing artists as diverse as the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, Andy Williams, and Eydie Gorme.

In the late 1970s, a few record companies began pressing copies of some of their best-selling titles on colored vinyl as limited edition releases, which sold for a premium price. Titles by Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Rush, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and dozens of others became available for a short time on vinyl in a wide variety of colors – blue, red, orange, yellow, white, purple, green and even multicolored “splatter” vinyl.

While collectors liked these pressings, they didn’t sell well enough to justify continuing to press them this way on a regular basis, though record companies have continued to occasionally offer colored vinyl records as limited-edition releases. With very few exceptions, colored vinyl records will generally sell for more money than their black vinyl counterparts. They often sound as good or better than black vinyl pressings, due to fewer impurities in the vinyl, which would be visible in a colored vinyl disc.

Many collectors will purchase both a black vinyl and a colored vinyl pressing of the same album and use the black one to play. They’ll just put the colored vinyl copy on the shelf as part of their collection.

Monaural Records

Prior to 1957, all records were monaural, or “mono” as they popularly came to be known. All of the information recorded on the disc was contained in a single channel of information, and the records were intended to be played on a hi-fi system with a single speaker. In 1957, stereo records were introduced, offering two channels of information, and providing a more realistic listening experience.

Stereo records required a special stylus on the phonograph, a stereo amplifier, and two speakers for reproduction. Stereo records could not be played on a turntable or record player that was designed for monaural records without being damaged. Buyers who went shopping for albums at their local record store would have to not only look for the title they wanted, but also for the format, mono or stereo, that their own playback system required. Stereo records cost more than mono records, and retailers hated having to stock multiple variations of the same titles, as it added to inventory costs.

In the late 1950s, mono records outsold stereo records by a ratio of about 50:1. Over the next decade, however, that ratio changed, and by 1967, stereo records were outselling mono records by a similar ratio.

mono vinyl recordsIn the early days of stereo, most amplifiers were powered via vacuum tubes, which were relatively expensive. Starting in the early 1960s, these tube amplifiers were slowly replaced in the market by transistorized, “solid-state” equipment, much of which was imported from Japan. As the equipment became more affordable and more widely available, more buyers began to buy stereo records instead of their monaural versions.

Retailers of vinyl records hated the fact that they had to stock most titles in both mono and stereo, and in the early days of stereo records, that format was often available on a special order basis only. By the late 1960s, a switch had taken place and as fewer people were buying mono records, they eventually became special order items themselves.

It took about ten years for the sales of stereo records to overtake the mono versions, but by 1968, the sales of mono albums in the United States had dwindled to the point where the record companies no longer regarded them as commercially viable. The last mono releases by major record labels in the U.S. came in mid-1968, and some titles by major artists released at that time, such as the first three albums by The Doors and the first two by Jimi Hendrix, are highly sought after today in their mono versions.

Every since the decline of mono records in the late 1960s, collectors of artists who were issuing records at that time have sought out the mono pressings of their albums, which became increasingly scarce as the decade went on. Mono albums by the Beatles from 1964, for instance, are fairly common today, but their two releases from 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, are both quite rare in mono.

In the past five years, a number of mono titles by major artists that were originally released in the late 1960s have been reissued, but collector interest remains strong for original pressings.

Original Pressing Records

While there are exceptions to this rule, original pressings of a particular album often sound better than later issues. This has a lot to do with the tapes used to master the record, as magnetic tape tends to deteriorate over time, both from age and from repeated use. With popular albums from the 1950s and 1960s, the master tapes have often been archived, with current pressings made from copies of those tapes or even copies of copies. In some cases, the original tapes are damaged to the point of no longer being useful and in a surprising number of cases, the master tapes are simply lost.

original pressing recordsWhen the tapes aren’t useful or are no longer available, record companies have to find alternative sources to master their records and the result is usually a record that doesn’t sound as good as the original pressing. Because of this, collectors are often willing to pay a premium for original pressings of classic or highly regarded albums, as they sound better than later pressings.

There are some exceptions to this, particularly if the album was originally release by a record company that wasn’t known for using quality vinyl, but as a rule, original pressings will sell for higher prices than later issues of the same title.

Picture Disc Records

Picture disc records were introduced as somewhat of a novelty in the early 1930s, as an attempt to attract the attention of the buyer by way of changing the appearance of the record itself. A picture disc is a record that appears to have an image or graphic on its very surface.

Picture discs are produced by taking a round graphic or image and laminating it with colored vinyl using a traditional record stamper. While the resulting product may look like a photograph, it will play on a turntable just like other vinyl records, though the sound quality may not be as good as traditional pressings.

Picture discs first appeared on a few 78 RPM records in the 1930s, but weren’t particularly common at that time, probably due to the difficulty in manufacturing them. A company called Vogue Records brought them back in the 1940s, and every record Vogue produced was a 78 RPM picture disc. Financial issues soon forced the company out of business, and picture discs disappeared until the early 1970s.

picture disc recordsBy the 1970s, production methods had improved, and in 1977, picture disc albums returned, though they were usually issued only as promotional items. As some of these promo-only titles began to change hands among collectors for sizable sums of money, the major record companies began to issue titles commercially, usually as limited edition releases.

Titles issued as promotional releases in the 1970s include Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Willie Nelson’s Stardust. Commercial releases from that era include The Beatles’ Abbey Road and the debut album by Boston.

While there were a lot of titles released in the late 1970s in this format, consumers balked at paying prices that were 50% higher than those of regular pressings for records that were relatively noisy and often prone to warping. Since that time, American companies have only occasionally released picture discs, though the format has remained popular in Great Britain all along, particularly for singles.

While most picture discs are round, a few have been issued over the years cut to unusual shapes. The grooves on the records are round, of course, so the records are still playable, but shaped picture discs, while infrequently issued, are usually popular with collectors.

Promotional Records

white label promo recordsPromotional records are those created to generate sales of a particular album, usually be being pressed especially for radio use. In the 1950s, a few record companies began to send copies of records to radio stations, usually with special labels that were marked “promotion copy – not for sale.” These vinyl records were marked this way in order to distinguish them from the inventory that was intended to be sold to the public.

After a few years, the industry more or less settled on a standard practice of using white labels to distinguish their promotional issues, and such copies of a particular record are often referred to by collectors as “white label promos.” Promotional copies of any record were usually limited to a few hundred copies, where commercial, or “stock” copies of an album might eventually number in the millions.

Because promotional copies of vinyl records are relatively rare, collectors will often pay a premium for them. As a bonus, promotional copies of any record are usually pressed before the stock copies, so they’ll often sound as good, or better, than the copies sold in the stores. In some cases in the 1980s, promotional copies of albums were actually pressed on high-quality vinyl that was better than that used for for stock copies.

Occasionally, record companies will press special editions of a single or an album for radio use only, with no stock equivalent. These “promo-only” releases are usually sought out by collectors and they have a tendency to sell for prices that reflect their relative scarcity.

Sealed Records

sealed recordsUntil the mid-1960s, records sold at retail in the United States were not shrink-wrapped at the factory to protect the vinyl prior to purchase. In fact, in the 1950s, many record stores allowed customers to listen to a record prior to purchase in order to determine if they wanted to buy it.

Problems with theft and damage led to the introduction of protective plastic packaging for albums. Initially, this packaging consisted of a loose-fitting plastic bag that was heat-sealed, but later the industry switched over to tight-fitting shrink wrap.

By shrink wrapping their records, stores were able to assure buyers that the product they were buying was new and untouched by human hands since it left the factory. Of course, most records purchased at stores were immediately opened and played by the buyers as soon as they got home from the store.

Today, many collectors of vinyl records will pay a premium, and sometimes a substantial one, for an example of an out of print title that is still sealed in the original shrink wrap, in order to own an example of an unopened, never-been-played record by their favorite artist. The amount of the premium that one might have to pay in order to acquire a “still sealed” example of any album will vary according to how hard the album is to find in general and how much demand there is for that particular artist.

A still sealed copy of an easy listening album by Ray Conniff from the 1960s, for example, will likely sell for no more today than it did when new. On the other hand, a sealed original 1960s pressing of some titles by the Beatles have been known to sell for thousands of dollars.

As a general rule, a sealed copy of any album will sell for a minimum of twice as much as a used copy in mint condition.

Singles

45 RPM singleA lot of collectors are interested in collecting singles, whether they’re the common 45 RPM variety or the less common 78 RPM version. Many music buyers started out buying the songs they heard on the radio as singles before graduating to buying albums.

Part of the reason for that was price; singles are a lot cheaper than albums. Although the market for 45 RPM singles has mostly gone away in the age of compact discs, a lot of collectors are interested in the format.

A surprising amount of recorded music to have been released in the past 60 years was only released as a single. Many of these are obscure releases from small, independent record companies, and these records usually fall in the genre of rockabilly, country, and 1960s-era garage rock, where a band scraped up a bit of money, recorded a single song, and pressed a few hundred copies for friends and relatives. Some of these obscure singles sell for thousands of dollars today.

Another aspect of collecting singles is that many of them were issued with picture sleeves, which usually depicted a photo of the artist along with the song title. Over the years, many of these sleeves have been lost or they might have only been issued with the first few thousand copies of a particular title. Because of this, many picture sleeves from the 1950s and 1960s are quite rare today, with many of them commanding prices in the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

Even picture sleeves by popular artists such as the Beatles or Elvis Presley, while not rare in the absolute sense, can sell for quite a bit of money due to collector demand exceeding supply. While some collectors are interested in singles exclusively, most collect both albums and singles.

Soundtrack Records

soundtrack recordsWhile not as popular as they were a few decades ago, soundtrack albums are a niche in which a few collectors of vinyl records specialize. Most of them are interested in the music of specific composers, many of whom did the bulk of their work writing scores for films and stage musicals. Composers such as Bernard Hermann, Alfred Newman and Max Steiner have long been popular with collectors.

The soundtrack albums that tend to attract the most attention are those by well-known composers for films that weren’t popular with the public. This usually led to a relatively short time in print for the soundtrack album, making them hard to find a few years later.

The soundtrack albums for popular films, which were likely to sell well, such as The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady, on the other hand, are quite common as used records and don’t draw much attention on the collector market. On the other hand, soundtracks for obscure foreign films, many in the horror genre, are quite popular.

Perhaps the most valuable soundtrack album ever was the 1954 release of The Caine Mutiny, featuring a score by Max Steiner, which was withdrawn from the market shortly after (or possibly shortly before) its commercial release. Only a handful of copies are known to exist, and copies have changed hands for as much as $6000 in recent sales.

Collecting Vinyl Records Conclusion

As with any other area of collecting, there’s no set of rules regarding what kinds of vinyl records people collect or why any particular individual collects them. The one common factor, of course, is the music, and the love of music is what usually drives people to the hobby in the first place. One of the nice things about record collecting, unlike stamp or coin collecting, for instance, is that vinyl records can actually be played and enjoyed as they were intended to be enjoyed – to reproduce the music itself. Any other enjoyment that one might derive from collecting vinyl records is a bonus.

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Vintage Vinyl Records – 9 Reasons Why Collectors Like Them

Vintage Vinyl Records

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vintage vinyl recordsAfter a twenty year period of relative scarcity and public indifference, sales of vinyl records are back and have been increasing annually for more than a decade. Nearly all new releases by popular artists are now available in vinyl format, as well as in downloadable form or as compact discs.

While sales of new vinyl records are increasing as more people become familiar with the format, buyers are also turning towards vintage vinyl records as a way of adding to their record collections. In fact, there are currently more than five million records for sale on eBay, and most of those are vintage vinyl records.

The appeal of new records would be immediately obvious – you get a pristine copy of your favorite artist’s newest release. But why would people want to buy vintage vinyl records? What is the appeal of vintage vinyl records to the average buyer or collector?

In this article, we’ll explain why so many buyers are interested in vintage vinyl records and why, for many collectors vintage vinyl records are the only kinds of records that they will buy.

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Sound Quality
Extra Features
Different and/or Better Artwork
Different Versions
Availability
Increasing Scarcity
Collectability
Price Advantages
New Discoveries
Vintage Vinyl Records Conclusion

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Sound Quality

There are many reasons why the average record buyer or collector would be interested in vintage vinyl records, and we’ll get to all of them in this article.

Any reason for preferring vintage vinyl records over new ones is valid, of course; buyers are free to buy whatever they personally like. For many buyers, however, the main reason for buying vintage vinyl records rather than new ones is the sound quality.

The source material for nearly all commercially released recordings is magnetic tape. While a lot of recordings made in the past 30 years were made using digital tape, which can be copied repeatedly without degradation, most of the recordings ever made (and many new ones) used analog tape.

simon and garfunkel vintage vinyl recordsAnalog tape does not age well; over time the sound can degrade due to improper storage. Poor storage can cause the coating on the tape that contains the recording to flake off, rendering the tape useless.

Of course, copies of analog tape can be made, just as with digital tape.

Unlike digital tape, however, the sound quality of analog tape gets worse with each subsequent copy. A copy of an original tape will not sound as good as the original. A copy of that copy will sound worse, and so on.

The appeal of vintage vinyl records in this regard is that original pressings of albums were made from tapes that were new at the time the records were pressed. Newly-pressed copies of those same records may be mastered using tapes that are copies of copies of copies.

In the case of some older albums from the 1950s and 1960s, the original master tapes may no longer even exist, and new pressings of these older albums may have been mastered from the best source that’s currently available. While those sources may be quite good, they’re likely not as good as the tapes that were used to press the albums when they were first released 40 or 50 years ago.

While current record manufacturing techniques are quite refined and the quality of the vinyl used in modern pressings is quite good and is capable of producing exceptional sound, the final product is only going to sound good if the record was mastered from a good source.

In the case of some classic albums, the record companies have taken good care of the original master tapes, and current pressings of albums by a lot of artists from the 1950s and 1960s sound just fine. Albums by the Beatles, for example, still sound great, as EMI Records has taken good care of the tapes over the years.

In other cases, the results can vary widely. Columbia Records did not take particularly good care of the master tapes for Simon and Garfunkel, for example, and even though their albums stayed in print for many years after their original release in the 1960s, their albums tended to sound worse and worse over time.

If you’re buying vintage vinyl records and get early pressings of whatever albums you’re seeking, you’ll know that the records were mastered from tapes that were new at the time the records were made and that the tapes used to master the albums were not copies of copies or copies.

In many cases, vintage vinyl records simply sound better than new ones.

Extra Features

vintage vinyl records with poster
A copy of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon with one of the posters that came with it.

Many classic albums are again available in the vinyl format, making it easy for buyers to grab albums by the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, or the Beatles. With the rise of Internet marketing, you can even have new copies of albums these and other artists delivered to your door.

While those new pressings have their advantages, many of them will not include the extra features that once accompanied albums. It was once fairly common for albums to include such extras as postcards, lyric inserts, custom inner sleeves with liner notes or lyrics, or even postcards.

Here is a partial list of albums that originally included a poster when they were new:

  • Beatles – The Beatles (aka The White Album)
  • David Bowie – Space Oddity
  • Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
  • Jimi Hendrix – Smash Hits
  • Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  • George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
  • Cream – Goodbye
  • Grand Funk – Live Album
  • Ricky Nelson – More Songs by Ricky
  • Jimmy Clanton – Jimmy’s Happy/Jimmy’s Blue

Other vintage vinyl records included different sorts of inserts. The 1977 Kiss album Love Gun, for instance, included a special insert that could be assembled to form a cardboard gun. The second album by Country Joe and the Fish included a board game. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon came with two posters and two stickers.

We’re an American Band by Grand Funk included a set of stickers and the record was pressed on yellow vinyl, as well. Tim Buckley’s Greetings from L.A. had a section of the cover that was removable and could be used as a postcard. This was also true of Duty Now for the Future by Devo.

the who - live at leeds
A copy of Live at Leeds by The Who, with the inserts that were originally included.

Live at Leeds by The Who came with a set of 12 different paper inserts, including a reproduction of their contract to perform at Woodstock.

While vintage vinyl records often included these sorts of interesting extras, most recent reissues do not, usually because of cost concerns. That was also true years ago; many vintage vinyl records that included such things as posters often included them only for a short time after the record was originally released, making them somewhat scarce today.

Even original copies of vintage vinyl records that did include such extras as posters can be hard to find complete today, as many of those posters were removed from the album cover and hung on the buyers’ walls. Eventually, those posters all came down from the walls, but they rarely found their way back into their album covers.

Part of the fun of shopping for vintage vinyl records is to find those albums that came with extras and trying to find a copy that’s complete.

Different and/or Better Artwork

bob dylan = blonde on blondeAlbum art is another reason why a buyer might prefer vintage vinyl records to new ones. Of course, an album, by sheer advantage of larger size, will provide better artwork than a compact disc, and certainly better than a download, which comes with no artwork at all.

But there are advantages of vintage vinyl records over new pressings when it comes to artwork, as well. We’ve previously discussed how master tapes can be lost, forcing record companies to settle for not-as-good reproductions. The same is true of album artwork.

Artwork gets created, and then stored in file cabinets, and sometimes the artwork in those file cabinets gets misplaced, thrown away or accidentally destroyed.

When that happens, new artwork has to be created, usually by using an existing album as source material. This can result in new pressings with album covers that have poor quality artwork. The cover art may be the wrong color, or the images may be blurrier than they were on the original.

A good example of this is Bob Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. At some time in the past, the original artwork for the album was lost, and copies of the album made since the 1970s have a blurry, faded photo of Bob Dylan on the cover. Collectors of vintage vinyl records would likely prefer to find an original pressing that had better artwork. In the case of Blonde on Blonde, original 1966 pressings included a photo of actress Claudia Cardinale on the inside of the cover which was later removed for legal reasons.

Most albums sell best when they’re first released, and as sales tapered, record companies would often change cover art to save money. In some cases, vintage vinyl records were released with gatefold covers that were eliminated in later pressings due to cost concerns.

The album that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks made before joining Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham/Nicks, is a good example. When first released in 1973, the album had a gatefold cover and then went out of print due to poor sales.

Another example is the 1970 LP Let It Be by the Beatles. That album was originally issued with a gatefold cover, but the album went out of print in the mid-1970s. When it was reissued in the 1980s, the album was released without the gatefold cover. Collectors of vintage vinyl records will likely prefer the original version.

The 1971 LP L.A. Woman by the Doors had a cover with a cellophane “window” on the front with the images of band members on it. The yellow paper inner sleeve gave the clear cellophane a yellow appearance. Newer pressings of this LP simply have the image of the band printed on the front cover against a yellow background.

A few years later, after the duo became famous, the album was reissued, but without the gatefold cover. There are many similar examples, and while some current reissues of such albums do include the original cover art, collectors tend to prefer the gatefold covers that often came with vintage vinyl records.

Different Versions

santana abraxasWhile a surprising number of classic albums are now available again in the LP format, they’re not necessarily available in all of the different versions that may have previously been available. Vintage vinyl records released between 1958 and 1968, for example, were usually released in both mono and stereo. In the early to mid-1970s, many albums were also briefly available as four-channel quadraphonic pressings.

Mono and stereo versions of the same album usually had different mixes, and the two albums often sounded considerably different from one another. Sometimes, the mono version of a particular record might lack backing vocals that could be heard on the stereo version, such as in “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by the Monkees or “Blue Jay Way” by the Beatles.

Sometimes, the mono and stereo versions of the same album might feature different versions of one or more songs. The quadraphonic pressing of Volunteers by the Jefferson Airplane has different versions of several songs from the stereo version. This is also true of The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East, a 1971 live album that has two different versions of songs on the quadraphonic version than those found on the stereo version. One of those songs, “Whipping Post, takes up all of side four!

Record companies discontinued releasing albums in both mono and stereo in 1968. Over the previous three or four years, more people had been purchasing stereo turntables and began to show a preference for stereo records over mono records. When sales of mono LPs reached the point where making them as a separate product from stereo records was no longer economically feasible, record companies discontinued them.

Since the elimination of mono records in 1968, most albums that were originally available in both stereo and mono have only been available in stereo versions. There have been a few mono reissues in recent years of titles by prominent artists, but for the most part, collectors who are interested in having albums by their favorite artists from that era in both mono and stereo are going to have to find the mono version by buying vintage vinyl records.

Some vintage vinyl records were originally available as limited edition colored vinyl pressings or picture discs. While it’s true that some of these records have been reissued this way, most vintage vinyl records that were originally sold that way are not available in those formats as new pressings today.

Availability

the j's with jamie
One of thousands of vintage vinyl records that you cannot purchase new today.

Sometimes, the reason people are looking for vintage vinyl records is a simple one – a matter of availability. While there are lots of albums currently available in the vinyl format as new releases (one large retailer currently lists 19,802 new vinyl titles in stock) that hardly represents the entirety of what collectors or music buyers might be seeking.

When companies choose to reissue older albums, they’re interested in sales. If they aren’t sure that they can sell several thousand copies of a given title, then they’re not going to spend the money to press the records.

That’s fine, if you’re interested in albums by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, or Rush, or Led Zeppelin. But if you’re interested in any one of a thousand other artists, you may be out of luck and vintage vinyl records will likely present your only opportunity to buy that music in the vinyl format.

Fortunately, not all artists are equally collectible, and finding vintage vinyl records by the majority of artists isn’t that difficult, nor is it that expensive. It would be nice if every album ever released was currently available for purchase as new vinyl, but market economics make that highly unlikely. If you’re a fan of Rosemary Clooney, Martin Denny, or Gary Lewis and the Playboys, you’ll likely have to settle for vintage vinyl records.

Increasing Scarcity

It’s a mistake to assume that if something is readily available, it will always be readily available. That’s certainly the case with vintage vinyl records. There was a time, not all that many years ago, when one could usually find boxes of records at yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores.

la woman doors
A copy of L.A. Woman by the Doors with the original “window” cover

While vintage vinyl records still occasionally show up in such places, they do so far less frequently and in far smaller quantities. It’s been several years since we’ve seen vintage vinyl records for sale at any yard sale. While we do still occasionally see them at thrift stores, we don’t see them as often, and certain genres, such as jazz and rock, rarely turn up there anymore.

There was a time when we used to see albums by Led Zeppelin or the Beatles at thrift stores, for example, but these days, everything seems to be easy listening. Part of the reason is that people who have such records usually don’t want to donate them to charity; they’d rather give them to friends or family members or sell them on eBay.

Buyers are aware of this, and they know that you’ll have better chances of finding the vintage vinyl records that you want if you buy them now, rather than waiting until later. We know many buyers who would rather spend their limited funds on vintage vinyl records than new ones, simply because the older titles they’re looking for may not be available a year or two from now.

Collectability

introducing the beatles
Some vintage vinyl records will always be collectible

As with any other limited commodity, people collect records, just as people collect stamps, coins, or Picasso paintings. While there are certainly new releases that are collectible, particularly as many new releases are limited editions, most record collectors have collections that consist largely of vintage vinyl records.

That’s certainly going to be the case with anyone who collects any major artist – the Beatles, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, or the Rolling Stones, for example. These are artists that are well-established and who released their first records decades ago.

Collectors who are interested in those artists and others of the same era will almost always be interested in obtaining original pressings of at least some of those records. Sure, you can buy the entire Beatles catalog, right now, in the form of new, still sealed records.

But purchasing or owning a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that was pressed and released in 2018 isn’t the same thing as owning a 1967 original pressing. There’s an indefinable quality to vintage vinyl records that appeals to collectors, and we’ve met many collectors who were interested in owning original copies of rare albums, even if they were in poor condition.

They might have a new copy to play, but the still like having original copies of vintage vinyl records on their shelf and they might very well have a beat up 1967 pressing of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the shelf, right next to a new one that they bought last year.

Price Advantages

Sometimes, vintage vinyl records can be a bargain

There can certainly be price advantages to buying vintage vinyl records rather than buying new ones. For the most part, second hand records will cost less than new ones. A new copy of just about any album is likely to be priced at $20 or more, where used records can often be purchased, even in stores, for less than $10, and sometimes for $5 or less, depending on title.

Furthermore, it’s still possible to buy vintage vinyl records at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales, though as we mentioned above, vintage vinyl records are less common in such places than they used to be.

It goes without saying that collectible vintage vinyl records are not going to be less expensive than new ones. A mint original pressing of that Sgt. Pepper LP by the Beatles is certainly going to cost a lot more than a new copy of a current reissue.

That’s true of many collectible albums, but the truth is that most of the records ever made are not particularly collectible, and records that are not particularly collectible usually comprise the bulk of anyone’s record collection.

We personally own about 2000 albums, and while we do own a number of rarities, we also own hundreds of vintage vinyl records that would likely sell for less than $5 in any marketplace. That’s not to say that we don’t like those records, but not all records, not even all good ones, are valuable.

That might be because they’re records that are largely unknown, records by artists who have mostly been forgotten, or albums that sold so well when they were new that no copies of them are particularly valuable today.

If you’re buying collectible records, you’ll pay more for original pressings than you will for new ones. But if you’re just buying music in general, buying vintage vinyl records will likely save you a lot of money over buying new ones, and that’s assuming that new copies of the titles you’re seeking are even available.

New Discoveries

vintage vinyl records moog
You might find new and interesting things.

A final advantage of vintage vinyl records over new ones is the ability to affordably discover new music by artists you might otherwise not have heard.

With the price of new vinyl records averaging about $20 per title, few buyers are likely to grab a title by an unknown artist on a lark, just to see how they sound. Most buyers don’t have enough disposable income to buy records by artists with which they are unfamiliar, so they stick with what they know.

But as we have previously mentioned, most vintage vinyl records are priced affordably, and any well-stocked store that sells second hand records will likely have hundreds or even thousands of affordably priced vintage vinyl records.

The same is true for thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales. When you find records that are for sale at more affordable prices, you are in a better position to buy something with which you aren’t familiar just to see if you like it.

We’ve purchased countless records over the years that were unknown to us at the time, but had covers that suggested that they might be interesting and prices that were reasonable. Some turned out to be great finds and others not so much. But that’s part of the fun of buying vintage vinyl records – you never know what you’re going to find and sometimes, you end up discovering new artists and genres of music that you might never have bought new.

Vintage Vinyl Records Conclusion

There are reasons for why people buy anything and that applies to cars, houses and vintage vinyl records. While there are lots of good reasons to buy new ones, there are also a lot of compelling reasons to buy vintage vinyl records.

Vintage vinyl records are often more affordable than new ones. There are thousands of titles that aren’t available new anymore and are only available for purchase as vintage vinyl records.

There are many cases where vintage vinyl records offer better sound than newer releases, and that’s particularly true of older recordings where the master tapes may be damaged. Some vintage vinyl records may have originally been sold with posters, booklets or other extra features that newer reissues don’t include.

And finally, vintage vinyl records can offer you the opportunity to find and discover new music and artists that you previously knew little about.

There are times to buy new records, and you’d certainly want to do that if the album in question is a new release. After all, there aren’t going to be any “vintage” versions of an album that came out for the first time last month. But for many buyers, vintage vinyl records offer a lot of advantages over new ones.

While we do have a few new titles in our store, most of the records that we sell are vintage vinyl records.

Click here to view our selection of vintage vinyl records.

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
Prototype Picture Discs
Bootleg Picture Discs
Interview Picture Discs
Shaped Picture Discs
Picture Discs Today

Featured Items

Click here to view our selection of picture discs.

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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Japanese Records – The Appeal of Japan LPs

Japanese Records

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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.

There was a time when the phrase, “made in Japan” was synonymous with poor quality, and most Japanese products were scorned as being cheap or poorly made.

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.

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 was known 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.

Featured Items

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 things 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 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, 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, 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 come out on black vinyl, red vinyl, or both.A

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

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.

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 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 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.

While usually found in a wraparound strip, there are other versions of the obi that have occasionally been used. In the early 1960s, 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. 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 “counterfeit0” 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
  • 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
  • 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 relatively 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 used records are new ones.  Often these records have counterfeit stickers applied to the shrink wrap, hyping 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.

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.

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 is that the stickers are fake, the shrink wrap is not original, the “new” record 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, 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, Velvet Underground, etc.
      • 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 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 giveaway that something isn’t what it seems to be.
    • butcher cover archive sticker
      The Capitol Records “archive” sticker found on a Beatles Butcher Cover.
      This Beach Boys album had both stereo and Duophonic banners as well as a never-before-seen Duophonic sticker at the bottom. Click on image for larger version.

      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.

      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 everything is rare, perfect, sealed, and has 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 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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Promotional Colored Vinyl Records
Japanese Colored Vinyl Records
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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
      • 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
    • 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, 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 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, 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
    • 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; the brown vinyl copy may be unique
  • Fats Domino – Just Domino – One copy of this 1962 LP is known to exist on multicolored vinyl
  • The Doors – The Doorsone 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.
  • 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:

  • John Lennon/Yoko Ono – Milk and Honey – green and yellow copies exist; these were reportedly pressed from legitimate stampers that were stolen from the record company.
  • 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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