Sound Advice: Value of test pressings is largely subjective

The value of test pressings.

By Dave Thompson


Question: I am in possesion of two 45s that I have been told are demo records. Can you help me with any information as to their origin/history and value content?

The first is on a gray label with Atlantic Recording Studios across the top of the label, mono and the time 3:10 with the title FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE ROBERTA FLACK. At the bottom is 11 West 60th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10023. The flip side is ungrooved and black. The front side is also black.

The second 45 is black vinyl also, on the Bell Label, Sound Studios Inc. 237 W. 54th Street, New York 19, N.Y. The label reads RANK AND 9/14/60, 2:30 45 R.P.M. PATSY Jack Scott. The flipside is the same with the exception of the time, 1:57, and the song GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION by Jack Scott. The song titles and artists names on both recordings are typed and they are in V.G. condition.

Thanks for your help.

— Bobby K.

Demo discs, or test pressings, as they are also known, were the first records to come off the pressing plant, long before stock copies of the same record were manufactured. As their name suggests, they were intended to give all interested parties — the artist, management, producer, engineer, record company and so on — a chance to hear the record before it went into mass production to make sure they’re happy with it. Other copies would be shipped out to interested DJs and other media types to get their early opinions.

Test pressings are rare in themselves, although their value is very subjective. A serious Roberta Flack collector would definitely be interested in your one-sided demo disc. Jack Scott collectors, assuming you can find any, would likewise be intrigued by your find. Outside of those rarified fields, however, these discs would probably be regarded as curios at best and would sell for only a small premium above a regular promo copy.

To put things into perspective as far as the finished product goes, Roberta Flack’s 1972 release of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” b/w “Trade Winds” on Atlantic 2664 is worth $5 in Near Mint Condition, according to Goldmine’s Price guide to 45 RPM Records, 7th Edition.

I have a question about three albums I recently found: Rob Bernard by Rob Bernard, Jin 4007, sealed; The Very Best Of Sheb Wooly, MGM E/SE-4275 (stereo), sealed; and What You Get When The Gettin’ Gets Good by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, Charly Records (London), CRB1090.

The cover of the third album is autographed by Hank Ballard. The other two are both in their original covers and are both sealed. What is the value of the two sealed albums and the one that is autographed?

— Otto Theurer, Houston

The jewel in this particular crown is the autographed Hank Ballard disc. Interest in his music was soaring even before his death in 2003 — as, indeed, this particular release reminds us. What You Get When The Gettin’ Gets Good was released in 1985, compiling a number of Ballard greats for the benefit of audiences that were only just beginning to discover him. He toured regularly around the U.K. and Europe in the late 1980s, even recording a live album in London in 1987, Hank Ballard Live At The Palais. It’s difficult to give you a firm value on this, as the autograph would need first to be authenticated. But, if it is genuine, it would certainly boost the value of an otherwise reasonably common LP.

Of your other finds, the Rob Bernard album is definitely an interesting one. A native of Opelousas, La., Bernard made his professional debut on local radio KSLO at the age of 10.
His first singles were released through Jake Graffagnino’s Carl label, before Bernard signed with Floyd Soileau’s Jin in 1959, and scored a hit with “This Should Go on Forever” — which Jin licensed to Argo when it became apparent that the record was going to be bigger than anything they could handle. Your album dates from that period and will be of interest to anybody whose collecting habits delve into the roots of Louisiana swamp rock.