Frank Sinatra, who released his first new recording in 10 years this holiday season, is more than a timeless crooner whose music is still played nonstop in hundreds of restaurants. In some corners, Ol' Blue Eyes is considered an investment.
While not igniting the collector frenzy of vintage Elvis Presley or Beatles memorabilia, many of his items are rising in value:
* "Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music (Part II)," a promotional album distributed free by Budweiser in 1966, features Sinatra sporting a mustache on its cover. Worth $150 to $200 five years ago, today it commands $300 to $400 in mint condition.
* "From the Bottom of My Heart," a hard-to-find 1939 recording that originally sold for less than $1, was valued at $350 to $500 five years ago. It now goes for $500 to $1,000.
* Sinatra movie promotional posters from theater lobbies of the 1940s, worth $100 apiece five years ago, have tripled in value.
* A typical Sinatra autograph worth up to $200 five years ago has since doubled in value.
Most Sinatra memorabilia is actually worth little, due to poor condition or the fact so many copies were made. Complicating matters, the rerelease of an old album on CD usually can diminish the value of an original album by making it less exclusive.
Nonetheless, Sinatra's new recording, "Frank Sinatra Duets," from Capitol Records has also targeted the collector market, though the experts aren't willing to take a stab at its eventual value.
A total of 3.6 million compact discs, cassettes and vinyl LPs were issued of this recording that features artists such as Barbra Streisand and Bono of the rock group U2 singing with Sinatra. Since only 2,500 vinyl LPs were made and the first 1 million CDs made were individually numbered, avid collectors are buying up multiple copies and stashing them away unopened.
"I think his new recording will bring a new generation of collectors into the Sinatra market and increase demand for his older collectibles," predicted Gary Doctor, president of the 2,000-member International Sinatra Society. "My advice for collectors of older original albums is that the most desirable and valuable ones are those with the cover and record in superb shape."
(The International Sinatra Society, P.O. Box 7176, Lakeland, Fla. 33807-7176, has dues of $20 annually in the United States and Canada, or $25 overseas. Membership includes six magazines a year, a catalog of items for sale, an auction list and discounted products.)
The $12 "Official Price Guide to Frank Sinatra Records and CDs" by Vito Marino and Anthony Furfero (House of Collectibles, New York: 1993) employs a six-level rating system ranging from "mint" for a sealed album with no visible signs of handling to "poor" for a scratched record with serious problems.
"If a sealed copy of an album warrants $60, an unsealed copy would likely be $50," explained Furfero, a collector from Glen Rock, N.J.
Many record shops and collector shows feature vintage Sinatra items, and a would-be collector should visit them, counseled Marino, also a collector. He considers Sinatra's 78 rpm records and his 10-inch LPs from 1948 to 1954 particularly attractive collectibles.
"Some collectors obtain all the versions of an album printed, which in some cases may be as many as 10 different covers, pullouts, photographs, liner notes or album notes," said William Daugherty, an executive with the Footlight Records retail shop in New York City and an avid collector.
However, auction houses such as Sotheby's in New York and Butterfield & Butterfield in San Francisco, which have expanded into pop collectibles in a big way, maintain there still isn't a significant enough market for Sinatra memorabilia to track trends in higher-priced items.
"It's only about every couple of years or so that we see a Sinatra item or two come up for sale," noted Dana Hawkes, Sotheby's director of collectibles.
Some Sinatra collectors actually listen to their albums, while others, for safety's sake, crank up CDs.
"I transfer all of my records onto tape because I don't want them to wear out or take the chance of marring them," said Lori Walters of Altamonte Springs, Fla., whose prized 45 rpm recording of Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing "Something Stupid" has appreciated from $15 to $35 in the past five years.