Sound Advice: Stereo not always worth more than mono

By  Tim Neely

Question: I understand that for awhile (I don’t know the dates), labels would release albums in both mono and stereo, and was wondering if, everything else being equal, would an album in stereo be worth more than the mono version? I’m particularly interested in titles on the Columbia label.

Jay Ogletree, Cumming, Ga.

Answer: Most of the time, yes.

Major record labels, including Columbia, generally released albums in both stereo and mono versions from about 1958 through 1968. In the earliest days, not every album was released in both formats at the same time, which is why some labels, including Columbia, had separate, independent numbering systems for mono and stereo albums. For the first several years of stereo albums on the label, there was no relationship between the mono and stereo catalog numbers.

Finally, in the early 1960s, by which time virtually every album of new material received both a mono and stereo release, Columbia’s pop records — the ones with the mostly red labels — settled into a pattern where the stereo number is 6,800 more than the mono number, because that was approximately how far apart the numbers were when the label made the decision to coordinate them.

For most of the history of dual releases, the stereo albums in their original editions are harder to find than the mono equivalents. This is because the stereo versions had a $1 greater list price than the mono, thus in the early days, fewer copies sold in stereo.

But around 1967, the record labels raised the price of mono albums to match their stereo counterparts, basically killing off mono. By early 1968, some labels had stopped issuing albums in both formats, and others did so only selectively. By the end of that year, no one was releasing new albums both ways any more, though some labels continued to issue promotional mono LPs even as late as 1973.

A simple rule of thumb is this: If the album was released before 1967, the stereo version on the original label is worth more than the mono version or, at worst, worth the same. For albums released in 1967 and especially 1968, the mono is worth more — sometimes a lot more — than the stereo. Two extremely collectible “late mono” albums, both on Columbia, are the red-label stock copies of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (KCL 2729) and Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills (KCL 2900), both of which fetch well into three figures in mono. Their stereo versions, even on the original red “360 Sound Stereo” label, are common and usually inexpensive.

I focused on Columbia here, but the above is true for most other major labels. Independent labels, however, are different; most of them didn’t get into stereo in a big way until, in some cases, the mid-1960s. For example, true stereo Vee-Jay albums, regardless of title, are difficult to find. Also, historically, even though there are more mono than stereo copies out there, collectors have paid more for the mono versions of indie-label modern jazz than for stereo.

Even among the majors, if a stereo album is considered to be an audiophile classic, all bets are off. For example, albums on the RCA Victor Red Seal (classical) label with both mono and stereo versions are almost worthless in mono, but certain rare titles can fetch hundreds in “Living Stereo.”

Finally, in the early 1960s, major labels — and eventually the indies, too — began issuing mono-only material in “rechanneled stereo” or “enhanced stereo” or “Duophonic” or with similar terminology, in order to take advantage of the $1 extra consumers were willing to pay for stereo. Except for completists, rechanneled albums are usually avoided.

Should records (vinyl LPs) be stored standing straight up?

— via e-mail

Yes. They should be stored as close to vertically as possible without overstuffing the box or shelf in which you are keeping them.  Store them too tightly packed, and cover ring wear can result. Store them too loosely, and it’s possible that the covers can become misshapen.

Storing albums on top of each other in a horizontal stack is a bad idea. Over time, “dish warps” of the records on the bottom can result because of pressure from the pile of records above.

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