Rare Velvet Underground acetate heads to auction

By Susan Sliwicki

A longtime vinyl record lover, Adam Rosen has handled his fair share of LPs, EPs, singles and special pressings through the years. He started out by collecting records he liked, then moved on to acquiring LPs for deejaying. Eventually, he started selling vinyl via Shuga Records, both online (www.shugarecords.com) and in a brick-and-mortar store (located today at 4115 Ogden Ave. W., Building 4, Floor 3 in Chicago).

Of all the records Rosen has expected to handle through his vocation or avocation — he’s a fan of house, dance, jazz, classical and indie rock — a 1966 acetate of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” probably wasn’t on the short list. But come July 18-28, his company will be representing the owner of that exact rarity, who wishes to remain anonymous, in an eBay-hosted auction.

The story of the acetate begins in April 1966, when Norman Dolph created it in secret. Dolph was working on the project with the group at Scepter Studios, serving as a so-called “ghost producer” at the request of the band’s then-manager, Andy Warhol, in exchange for one of Warhol’s original paintings, according to the news release detailing the sale.

Warhol initially had pitched this acetate to Columbia Records executives, but the label turned him down flat. “The Velvet Underground and Nico” finally was released in 1967 on the Verve label (5008), with the now-iconic Warhol banana-sticker artwork gracing its cover. (Good luck finding a Near-MInt original pressing with the banana unpeeled, as it were, for less than $100.)

Velvet Underground acetate Shuga Records

A rare Velvet Underground acetate from 1966 will be up for grabs at an online auction hosted by Shuga Records. Photo courtesy Shuga Records.

But this test pressing differs in several ways from the familiar Verve version. For starters, there’s no glitzy artwork by Warhol; the sleeve is a plain-Jane wrapper all the way. Second, there are the handwritten labels on the pressing. Each label is dated April 25, 1966, attributed simply to The Velvet Underground (no billing for Nico), numbered XTV-122402 and labeled “Att Mr. N. Dolph.”

The next big difference? The track listing. The nine-track test pressing begins with “European Son,” followed by “Black Angel’s Death Song,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” The B-side kicks off with “Heroin,” followed by “Femme Fatale,” “Venus In Furs,” “I’m Waiting For the Man” and “Run Run Run.” This is the same track listing and run order featured on Polydor’s 2012 Record Store Day release of “Scepter Studios Sessions,” which was limited to 5,000 copies. As of press time, numerous copies of “Scepter Studios Sessions” were readily available for purchase via Amazon.com starting at $14.10 and topping out at less than $30.

Although the contents of the acetate are nothing new — the 2012 Polydor release supposedly was crafted from band member Moe Tucker’s identical copy of the test pressing — the bigger factor in play is the opportunity to own a rarity and a piece of history.

This particular acetate was offered on eBay before. In 2002, Warren Hill bought it at a street sale in Chelsea, New York, for 75 cents. Fully aware of what he’d purchased, Hill listed the recording on eBay and eventually sold it for $25,200, according to the news release. (Hill’s first attempt to auction off the acetate saw a final bid of $155,401 that was rendered invalid when the winning bidder failed to finalize the transaction.)

To commemorate the upcoming eBay auction of a 1966 test pressing of “The Velvet Underground With Nico,” Shuga Records and The Office of Johnston commissioned 55 walnut boxes containing wooden replica LPs complete with a reproduction letterpress print label, as well as a similarly-crafted receipt of authenticity tucked into the box’s lid that details the item and its sale history. Goldmine/Kris Kandler photo.

To commemorate the upcoming eBay auction of a 1966 test pressing of “The Velvet Underground With Nico,” Shuga Records and The Office of Johnston commissioned 55 walnut boxes containing wooden replica LPs complete with a reproduction letterpress print label, as well as a similarly-crafted receipt of authenticity tucked into the box’s lid that details the item and its sale history. Goldmine/Kris Kandler photo.

The announcement of the sale was accompanied by a collectible of its own: a hand-crafted walnut box housing a wooden LP complete with a replica label of the acetate, accented with letterpress prints created on a type of press prevalent when the band made its recording. Only 55 such boxed sets were made to commemorate the upcoming sale, according to the news release.

So, how much is this historic acetate expected bring at auction? Will the availability of “Scepter Studios Sessions” reduce collector interest in owning the original? We asked Rosen for more details.

GOLDMINE: Did you get to see/inspect/hear the acetate? What is the play and visual condition? And what kind of sleeve (if any) accompanies it? Are there any additional items included in the lot, and if so, what are they?
ADAM ROSEN: We’ve seen it, on a visit to meet the owner when we began talking. There are surface scratches — no warping or anything. It’s in a generic sleeve; no artwork was made for these test pressings, per usual. No additional items are included. We did not hear the acetate, as the current owner has never played it. The current owner believes Saturn Records played it prior to his purchase. It was described by Saturn Records as follows in their listing for the item during its previous sale:

Visual: VG-, Surface scratches on both sides.
Aural: VG-. There is surface noise which is fairly consistent throughout the LP.

It is most dense during the first two tracks, but we are told by a friend that is handy with ProTools that getting rid of the surface noise throughout would be fairly easy.
The main flaws are a skip about 35 seconds into the first song (“European Son”), and a skip about 10 seconds into the eighth song (“I’m Waiting for the Man”). Digital trickery could be used to smooth out the skip on the eighth song fairly easily, but the skip on the first track may prove a bit more difficult.

GM: Is there any idea whether/how many other acetates may have survived in addition to this one and the Tucker copy?
AR: This copy and Moe’s copy are the only two known in existence, as far as anyone can determine.

GM: Are there any more details about how this acetate has been preserved and stored?
AR: Upon taking delivery of his purchase, the current owner immediately placed the item in a climate-controlled bank vault. The only time is has been out of the vault since the day of delivery was to take the photos for the sale, and the day he removed it to show us.

GM: How did Shuga Records get involved in this sale?
AR: We are one of the larger online record stores, and we have many years of experience in mail order/Internet sales of rare and high-value recordings. The owner of the acetate reached out to us to sell the it on his behalf due to his desire to remain anonymous, as well as our expertise in conducting high-value album sales.

GM: Who made the wooden LPs and replica labels? And how did the idea to create a commemorative item come to be?
AR: It was a collaboration between us and Office of Johnston. We basically knew that we wanted to send out something more special than a standard press release. This is a very unique piece of rock history; a simple letter would not suffice.

GM: Which charity will benefit from the sale?
AR: A “to be announced” animal charity. The choice is still being finalized by the owner of the acetate.

GM: Are there specific start and end dates scheduled at this time for the auction?
AR: Sometime in July. Exact details will be added to the
www.velvetundergroundacetate.com splash page as they are available.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The auction will be live July 18-28, 2014, via the Shuga Records’ eBay store (http://stores.ebay.com/Shuga-Records). According to the main auction page, the auction will be open only to pre-approved bidders once the bidding hits $25,000. To get pre-approval, call  (773) 521-9060.

Velvet Underground Scepter Sessions

This Record Store Day release of The Velvet Underground’s Scepter Studio sessions is believed to contain the same items as the rare acetate heading to auction. The commercially pressed version was made from a test pressing owned by band member Moe Tucker.

GM: What is the pre-auction estimate for the price this acetate is expected to bring? I know you cited the past sales history in the news release, but I’m wondering about potential effect of the 2012 Record Store Day release.
AR: It’s hard to estimate. Last time it went for sale, it had significantly less promotion and press than we have already received on the item this time. It ended up selling for $155,000 the first time, but as we know, that bid fell through. Throughout the bidding though, there were numerous parties bidding over $100,000, indicating that it was not solely the non-paying bidder that was driving the price.

GM: Anything else you would like to add about this auction or the item?
AR: We’re excited to be a part of such an interesting record. Not a lot of LPs carry such a unique back story. GM

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