Sound Advice: How can you combat ink marks on a picture sleeve?

By  Tim Neely

Writing appears on this side of a Beatles picture sleeve; the other side is clean.

Writing appears on this side of a Beatles picture sleeve; the other side is clean.
A reader recently found a copy of one of the world’s most sought-after Beatles items. There’s only one problem — and it’s not that the item is counterfeit.

I hope you can help me with a little problem. I found a copy of a very rare picture sleeve of the Beatles, “Can’t Buy Me Love”/ “You Can’t Do That” (Capitol 5150).

Unfortunately, some fool has defaced the sleeve (shown at right) with a ballpoint pen. Do you know of anyone having any luck in removing ink from a sleeve — if not perfect, a somewhat improved look?

— David Colman

Answer: The best advice I can give is this: Don’t touch that sleeve!

Yes, it’s disappointing when a collector finally finds that elusive item, one that he or she may never encounter again, and it’s defaced.

It is very tempting to try to do something, anything, to make the flaw go away. But almost anything you do will likely make it worse.

Some things can be removed safely from record labels and/or picture sleeves. For example, I’ve rarely had a problem removing those stickers that came with those old record boxes from the 1950s and 1960s, especially from glossy labels. I’d still do so with extreme care, but they usually come off without any visible damage to the label or sleeve. Tape is, shall we say, a stickier problem. Old Scotch tape sometimes comes right off, but it almost always leaves a residue. Adhesive tape, which I have sometimes seen used on labels or sleeves, is almost impossible to remove; it’s best to leave it there.
Writing on labels or sleeves is another matter entirely. Sometimes, a pencil mark can be removed or at least lightened with careful use of a good eraser. But I’d certainly experiment on either a common or duplicate item before I tried it on something rare.

You can find advice that works for removing pen markings from fabric, for example. You can also find advice that works to a lesser degree for removing pen markings from paper. But that advice assumes you are dealing with an ordinary piece of paper and not a picture sleeve that, in near-mint condition, has sometimes fetched close to $1,000. By trying to remove the ink, one runs the risk of removing part of the underlying image as well.

In the end, because of the writing on the B-side, the sleeve is worth a lot less compared to the near four figures of a near-mint copy.

But one thing you know for sure: The sleeve is 99 percent likely to be authentic.
By the way, how can you tell if a “Can’t Buy Me Love” picture sleeve is authentic, other than noting that  “some fool … defaced the sleeve”?

First, all copies of the picture sleeve are “East Coast” editions. This means that both sides of the sleeve are cut straight across the top. “West Coast” Capitol picture sleeves have a die-cut “tab” in the middle of one side of the sleeve. West Coast sleeves do not exist for “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Second, the photo used on the sleeve is the same one that appeared on the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sleeve. On that cover, however, two different versions of the photo were used; one of them has George Harrison’s head cut off.

The “Can’t Buy Me Love” sleeve used the version of the photo that does not have George’s head trimmed. If you see a copy of “Can’t Buy Me Love” with the incorrectly cropped image, it’s a counterfeit.

Finally, use the “I smell a rat” test. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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