Sound Advice:Can an X-ray save the day for a curious collector?

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By Joyce Greenholdt

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Question: This question is a follow-up to a question about identifying whether a sealed album is a first pressing from the Sept. 11, 2009, issue of Goldmine. My question is, have you ever heard of anyone performing some type of X-ray on a sealed album to see/read the label of the disc, so as to verify authenticity?

I do not have the album mentioned in the original question, but it is a similar situation, where if I open the album it will lose a lot of value, but the only way to verify the authenticity (according to the books I have read) is the wording on the disc label.
— Jim

Answer: I’m sorry to say we couldn’t come up with a definite answer to your question.

I spoke with a former X-ray technician, who said that a medical X-ray probably would not do the trick, since there isn’t much difference in density between the cardboard album cover, vinyl, label and ink.

X-rays work well for finding broken bones because the difference between bone and soft tissue is much like the difference between a rock and a bag of water. X-rays focusing on soft-tissue areas alone often require the patient to drink or be injected some kind of contrast material that will show up differently on the film.

Archaeologists used X-rays to recover portions of an ancient text by Archimedes that had been scraped off the parchment and written over. They were able to do this because the ink contained iron, which fluoresced under the X-rays without damaging the parchment surface. However, they were exposing each page to the X-rays directly — not trying to see through layers of parchment on top.

Other archaeologists used X-rays and CT scans to look inside a mummy case without damaging the ornaments or contents by unsealing it. They were able to do a three-dimensional scan so precise that they could “strip” away the painted decorations on the sarcophagus to see what the actual sculpture looked like. However, they weren’t trying to get an image of anything with hieroglyphics on it, so again, the situation is not exactly the same.

So if the ink on the record label included material that would react to the X-rays and if the X-ray equipment being used for this could differentiate between the album cover and the record label (possibly using something like a CT scanner, which is used for three-dimensional imaging), then you might be able to get an image of the label legible enough to confirm that you have the right album in the sleeve and possibly even identify whether it’s a first pressing.

This leaves aside any question of what obtaining such an image might cost — even if it could work, it might not be worth the expense.

If any Goldmine readers out there can supply any definite answers to this question, we’d love to hear from you!