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Complete Collector: Acetates offer rare finds, but need plenty of TLC

Key points include: ? History of Acetates ? Fragile Format Presents Challenges ? Why Collect Acetates? ? Famous Acetates ? Should You Make Acetates Part of Your Collection? ? How to Care for Your Acetates

This is Part I in a series exploring different music collecting formats. Ready for more? Click here for Part II: Cassettes!

There are as many ways to collect as there are collectors to find new ways. Just as nobody can tell you what you should be collecting, no one can tell you what you shouldn?t.

Over the next few months, this column will concentrate upon a few of the myriad formats we have been offered for our music over the years.

From 78s to four-track cartridges, from unblemished mono to unimaginable DVD-A, the music industry has never ceased offering up new and improved ways to hear and store the songs we love ? and each of those ways has its die-hard adherents.

The stories that each of these formats can tell, however, are not simply dry dissertations on the history, development and, where appropriate, the quiet discontinuation of these formats. We will dig deep into the collecting lore that surrounds each subject to unearth the releases that collectors are most commonly searching for and find out what makes them so special.

Why is Pink Floyd?s Animals such an in-demand eight track? What is so special about the quadraphonic pressing of Black Sabbath?s Paranoid? Why is a UK ?export? pressing of the Beatles? Something New album worth a hundred times more than an American edition? And what on earth is a Pocket Rocker?

Even if you don?t collect any of these things, the information within will, hopefully, help you with the ones you do.

This column, we focus on acetates: the rock star's rough draft.

History of Acetates:
Acetates are a relic of the days before cassettes, DAT and CD-Rs came into widespread use in recording studios. Manufactured from aluminum coated in a thin sheet of vinyl, acetates were produced to allow the concerned parties to hear how a particular version of a recording would sound outside of the studio, on their home hi-fi, for example.

Manufactured on very basic disc cutting machines, most acetates exist in extremely limited quantities; sometimes no more than one or two copies would be produced, and, when they are found on the open market, they often bear no identifying marks whatsoever.

Most studios utilized a blank label, at best adorned with their name and address; it was up to the individual disc?s recipient whether the artist or song title was then scribbled on by hand.

Fragile Format Presents Challenges:
Neither were acetates ?built to last.? The vinyl coating is so thin that even three or four plays will cut through it, while the aluminum is susceptible to problems of its own.

A fuzz-like mold can grow on the playing surface with surprising rapidity.

For these reasons, many of the acetates on the market today are irreparably damaged and, consequently, few collectors give them serious attention.

Why Collect Acetates?
Yet the field also represents one of the most fruitful hunting grounds around, the source of some unimaginable treasures ? financial and musical.

Many acetates contain music that is otherwise unavailable in any form. For every band that actually gets a record out, there are many, many more who book a studio under their own steam, record their music, collect the acetates and are never heard of again. And even among those who do go on to great things, still their closet might overflow with the acetate reminders of long-forgotten sessions, undertaken in their distant youth.

Famous Acetates:
In 1958, a young band