Record-album value lies in its cover Pristine package can spin big money


In 1966, the Beatles upset sensibilities with their "Yesterday -- and Today" album cover picturing the Fab Four in butcher smocks amid chunks of meat and chopped-up parts of toy dolls.

Public indignation led to a quick recall of the offending covers, most of which were destroyed by Capitol Records. The record was reissued in more ho-hum wrappings. More than a few shrewd folks surmised there might one day be some value to the banned covers.

They were right. A stereo version of the original album in sealed, mint condition recently sold for $15,000. As with most collectibles, condition matters. Value of a "butcher cover" Beatles album can slide to $5,000 if it's in mint condition but no longer sealed, on down to $1,000 for near-mint or $500 for very good condition. That's still impressive value for an item that cost a whole lot less to begin with.

The collectible-record market still offers a chance for pristine "finds" in closets or at rummage sales, but the vast majority of old albums gathering dust are just that: worthless, scratched-up dust-catchers.

Biggest prices for collectible records go to rare rock 'n' roll, country and western, rhythm and blues, and jazz from the 1950s and 1960s. The most ever paid was $18,000 for the 1952 R & B single "I Can't Believe," by the Hornets.

A German collector has lately been running magazine ads offering $20,000 for a 1961 single by Elvis Presley of "Can't Help Falling in Love," rare because it was issued in 33 rpm (small hole) format rather than the typical 45 rpm single.

In more highbrow fare, the "right" late 1950s recording of Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops can now command more than $300 in mint condition.

Among more recent recordings, limited editions or promotional works carry weight. A limited edition 1988 promotional compact disc by Prince, titled "Black Album," sold at auction for $13,000.

The advent of the compact disc, while eliminating manufacture of vinyl records, has done little to alter collectible record value. The "oldies"nostalgia craze, helped by old collections that turn up regularly, continues to boost the collectible market, though prices for less-than-great works have stagnated during recession.

"Condition is everything and only the rarest record would ever have value in beat-up condition," says Jerry Osborne, author of "The Official Price Guide to Records" (House of Collectibles, New York, 1990) and publisher of DISCoveries collector magazine. "While a record sealed in shrink-wrap has more value, some people won't buy sealed records because there's no absolute guarantee the record inside is the right one."

The sleeve of a single or an album's cover always is more valuable than the record itself, he notes.

"Packaging is important in collectible records because the picture of the singer or band really helped sell records in the days before MTV music videos," explains Jerry Weber of Pittsburgh.

Goldmine and DISCoveries, the two major record collector magazines, offer articles on record collecting, as well as a market for records through their ads. A one-year 26-issue subscription to Goldmine is $35. Address is 700 E. State St., Iola, Wis. 54990. Meanwhile, a one-year 12-issue subscription to DISCoveries is $19. Address is P.O. Box 255, Port Townsend, Wash. 98368-0255.

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