Sound Advice: Sealed albums don’t reveal secrets easily

 By TIm Neely
Nina Simone (Guy LeQuerrec/©Magnum Photo)
Nina Simone (Guy LeQuerrec/©Magnum Photo)
Question: I am wondering how one might identify a “first pressing” for a sealed LP. I have a sealed copy of The Amazing Nina Simone and I certainly don’t want to open it. Judging from the type of cellophane and the appearance of the cover material, I am pretty sure it would be from the original release period, 1959. Thanks!
— via e-mail

Answer: If only it were easy to do so! Sealed original copies of albums, especially from the 1950s and 1960s, are red-hot collectibles right now. Even some more recent albums, especially big hits, can fetch three to four times their near-mint value if they have never been opened.

But the problems are many.

First, record labels tended to change more quickly than the covers. To use one example, most stereo Beatles albums that were originally issued on Capitol from 1964 through 1967 had almost identical covers for well over a decade. At a glance, it is virtually impossible to tell if your stereo copy of Meet The Beatles! has a Capitol rainbow label, Capitol lime-green label, Apple label, or an even later variation. And the label on the record makes a big difference in value.

Some people learn the kinds of inner sleeves that the label used in certain periods and try to “peek” through the sealed opening to figure out a record’s vintage. That might work for a label like Capitol, but what about RCA, which often used inner sleeves with a white background?

Second, it’s too easy to re-seal an album. You almost have to be an expert on plastics to determine how old the cellophane is on the LP. It’s my experience that the shrink wrap used in the 1960s is more brittle and “crinkly” than the 1970s and 1980s stuff, but that isn’t foolproof. Even earlier shrink wrap tended to be more of a loose bag, similar to that used by today’s audiophile labels, than a form-fitting seal.

And third, if you do choose to open them, sealed albums are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. The disc could be warped, or it could even be wrong for its cover! (This has happened to me. Fortunately, I didn’t pay a premium for it, but I once found a Fred Waring disc inside a Brenda Lee cover. Or was it vice versa?)

So how can you tell if your shrink-wrapped item is truly vintage? One of the best ways is to see if the plastic has any stickers attached to it.

Look for a retail store price tag. Many still-sealed LPs sat in stores for years and were finally removed from the racks because they couldn’t sell at any price. Another kind of sticker was affixed to most albums at one time or another, hyping one or more songs on the album. Those are the ones that say something like “Contains The Hit …” or “Featuring …”. If that is still attached to an LP shrink-wrap, it’s probably at least a somewhat early pressing.

Question: At a flea market I bought an album for $1: The Nomadds (Radex MLP-6521) from 1965, autographed by the band. Goldmine’s 1994 catalog lists this as NM for $300. I e-mailed a famous dealer and he brushed me off saying, “Never heard of them — sounds like a garage band.” Actually, they are a white doo-wop group with some decent harmonies on songs like “Tragedy,” “Love Potion No. 9” and a couple of Chuck Berry numbers. So, who’s right, Goldmine or the dealer?

— Mark Newton, Tampa, Fla.

Answer: Both are right.

Many times, a musical genre is in the ears of the beholder, and this is one of those cases. The Nomadds were not a garage band, at least not stylistically. But neither were they white doo-wop, unless you consider, say, early harmony-rich British Invasion music to be “white doo-wop.”

They came out of Freeport, Ill., which is in the northwestern part of the state. They played local clubs for years, but suddenly became very popular in their neck of the woods because their influences — Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly — were the same as a certain mop-top band from Liverpool. In 1965, one of the members of the Nomadds took out a $1,000 loan and paid a local recording studio owner, Dexter Witt, to record an album.

That payment covered the whole package — studio time, in-house production, plus 250 copies of the LP with covers. Those copies quickly sold out, and the Nomadds used their profit to have another 500 copies pressed. According to Lee Garner, one of the members of the Nomadds, those 750 copies were all that were ever made of their Radex album.

So yes, it’s a rare and valuable record, highly regarded by those who have heard it. It’s even on the 2009 schedule of Music Maniac Records in Germany, on both LP and CD — the first reissue to be authorized by the band members.

That said, any dealer has the right to be uninterested in what you have. You can always try someone else.

Question: I am wondering if you could tell me about the value of a record I’ve been given. It’s a Jerry Lee Lewis Sun record “Breathless,” which has his green signature on the side of the label. Could it be a machine autograph? Were there issues of “Breathless” released with such a signature?

— Greg Schell via e-mail

Answer: As far as I know, there were no copies of “Breathless,” or any other Sun 45, pressed with a replica autograph on the label, in green or in any other color. So that scrawl on the label might be an authentic autograph by “The Killer” himself. Of course, it also could have been put there by a former youthful owner as a way of demonstrating his or her ability to write the name “Jerry Lee Lewis” in cursive handwriting.

If you were to try to sell it as an autographed copy, I’d take the time to find an expert to have it authenticated. Autograph collecting is big business, but it’s also rife with fakery.

Question: I have a Rolling Stones LP, The Rolling Stones Now!, London LL 3420 with the “FFRR” label. But it has no jacket or record sleeve. I’ve done some searching about to find if it has any value the way it is now. The only value I can find comes from a complete package. I was wondering if you can help me with its value, or some site where a person may be interested in it.

— Tucker Nearing via e-mail

Answer: Basically, your record is all but worthless as is. The only exception would be if someone had an empty cover for London LL 3420 and wanted a copy of the record to “reunite” with it. Other than that slim hope, when one talks about albums, a cover is usually worthless without its record, and a record is usually worthless without its cover.

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3 thoughts on “Sound Advice: Sealed albums don’t reveal secrets easily

  1. Your site says ”
    Goldmine’s 1994 catalog lists this as NM for $300

    Please, what does “NM” mean as used above?

  2. Marlene,
    NN designates that the album or record is
    “near mint” meaning almost perfect, or like brand new…
    this usually means the album has been opened , but is in “like new” shape…There are 2 grades one for the cover and one for the actual record in reffering to an LP.
    With 45’s the fact that they come in a loose fitting sleeve that is not sealed…well, the vinyl is to be adjudged in excellent shape with no visible means of wear…
    I hope this helps.

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