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Collecting records


A record is usually valued based upon rarity. Older records are harder to find, have less in existence, and are therefore more valuable. A record that was only a limited pressing of 100 will have more value than one pressed 100,000 times, but a collectible is only worth what someone will pay for it.

Variations are a 'big world' and most countries have record companies with an international artists division. ELP records got released in a lot of countries. And with that comes variation. Sometimes just different label/disc designs, sometimes different covers. Sometimes, different record companies handle different releases. Some countries package records differently. In Japan, for instance, records and CDs are released with a paper strip around them, called obi, that is made specifically for a release, written in Japanese, and adds to the value of the record. Many of these also have liner notes writte in Japanese language.

In addition to the LP are 7" singles, used to promote songs off of an album. Sometimes they are released with a picture sleeve that is similar or totally different than the album the single came from.

The record industries have to find ways to promote their products, and always budget promotion into any release. Promotional records are made. When it came to vinyl records, sometimes the sleeve would simply have a promotional stamp placed on it. Better yet are the records where the label is changed. The label would be printed with the words 'For Promotional Use Only', or some variation of that. Sometimes, a white label would be in place of the standard commercial label. These white label promos are very desirable amongst collectors. On rarer occasions, these promos will have music on them that is not on the releases available to the public. In the case of many major labels, promos were pressed separate from stock copies. In many cases, such as A&M, CBS and MOTOWN etc, they were pressed on pure virgin vinyl, unlike styrene which was used for their stock copies. The sound and quality is markedly better and not to mention the rarity of them, in many cases being one out of many thousand copies. Beyond that, it gets more complex. There are records called test pressings and acetates. These are used during the manufacturing process to assist in the mass production of records. These are very rare and sometimes, finding one can lead to a major discovery.

"In the beginning"

For those who are not familiar with the making of a record, here some short explanations to the above pictures:
In record-company parlance, this was called a 'biscuit' at the LP manufacturing plant. LPs were pressed immediately after the exact amount of PVC (polyvinylchloride) was squirted between the two record labels - at a temperature exceeding 300 degrees.
But occasionally, when a press repairman went to stop the press and fix something, the biscuit was removed by hand (with thick gloves - because hot!) and tossed aside. The vinyl quickly cooled and hardened, and once in a while an employee would take a biscuit back to their desk for use as a paperweight.
The former owner of this item worked for a CBS Records manufacturing plant from 1976-80, so was able to take home goodies like this on many occasions - but never quantity on anything, always just 'onesies.'
I purchased this in an auction from a guy living in Santa Barbara, California.

The information contained in the dead wax

The information to be found in the dead wax, the area between the last track on the record and the label, varies greatly from one record company to the other, regarding value as well as quantity of useful information. The dead wax data on the products of smaller labels are often written manually by hand. If the catalog number represents the only information in this area, then only a 'graphological' comparison with another copy of the respective album could reveal whether the pressing matrix has been manufactured from the same 'mother' or not. If additional information besides the matrix number can be found, then the placement or spacing of this information can also be considered in this comparison. Mostly by larger companies show data printed in the dead wax by machine.

Delta number
Delta is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet and looks like a triangle. This triangle with an added combination of numbers can be found in the dead wax of productions by several US companies, mostly based on the West Coast pressing plants - across various companies and in chronological sequence! Method and system of the allocation of delta numbers has not been completely resolved yet.

Matrix number
The side identification number for each side of a record. It is usually printed on the label and is also in the dead wax of a record. RCA, Columbia and Epic had special alphabetical prefixes for their matrix or master numbers.

ST = stereo
MC = Manticore
73 = year of pressing
2991 = press number
H = run of pressing (in alphabetical order, means A=first run etc.)

Additional matrixcode remarks on ELP singles pressed by Atlantic Records UK

For a CD it is printed on the inner ring of a CD. The identification of CD pressing plant is similarly easy, because the inner ring of the CD shows the Mould SID-code (IFPIxxxx). The manufacturer of the CD-master (identifies the Laser Beam Recorder that was used to cut the master) is given by the Mastering SID-code (IFPIxxxx). Another code is a barcode called Code 39, because there are 9 light and dark bars in each character code, and 3 of these bars are wide (39 means 3 'wide' of 9 'bars'). On most CDs there are three numbers separated by dashes, such as 2-2-1. These numbers refer to the father, the mother, and the stamper. In the example given, 2-2-1, the first 2 indicates that the CD was made from the second father, the second 2 indicates that the CD was made from the second mother made from the second father, and the third number, 1, means that the CD was made using the first stamper made from the second mother (the stamper is what is installed in the mold machine).

Test pressings

A test pressing is basically a first run copy of a record to be sure everything is correct before making the final run. A test pressing run is very small, and therefore test pressings are very hard to find and quite valuable. In the UK, the test pressings were mostly one-sided with completely blank labels or no label.

In the US, the test pressings come from Presswell. Presswell Records were based in Ancora, NJ, and normally made records for Atlantic. As Columbia's own pressing plant was at Pitman, NJ, it would at first sight seem odd that they asked Presswell to make a test pressing of an already released album. However, the album was selling well, and Columbia may have wanted more copies of the record than they could press themselves and needed to contract another pressing plant. This happened all the time in the days of vinyl (Beatles records were often pressed by Decca and other companies, because Parlophone couldn't keep up with the demand, and Columbia pressed Beach Boys albums for Capitol). Presswell could therefore have carried out some contract pressings for Columbia, because of excess demand, and this was a test pressing made by them as proof of quality. Presswell pressings have 'PW' somewhere in the wax around the label, near where the matrix numbers usually live, where as Columbia pressings have a 'C'.

Pressing plants who handled Atlantic:
PR = Presswell Records Mfg. Co., Ancora, NJ (they handled most of Atlantic's LP's during much of this period)
LY = Shelley Products, Huntington Station, NY
SP = Specialty Records Corp., Olyphant, PA
MO = Monarch Record Mfg. Co., Los Angeles, CA
PL = Plastic Products, Inc., Memphis, TN
RI = PRC Recording Corp., Richmond, IN
AR = Allied Record Co., Inc., Los Angeles, CA
And not to forget Columbia, which pressed LP's for Atlantic (only available via the Columbia Record Club, a.k.a. Columbia House).
In the UK Garrod & Lofthouse printed many albums and singles. The company went into liquidation in the mid-nineties.

Information on the label

Besides the common label information (artist, title, tracks, composer, running time, revolutions per minute, record company, catalog number, country of origin), there are still some other specific informations:
The official associations administering the mechanical reproduction rights. Their function is to protect the copyright of sound recordings. They represent the interests of the copyright holders, supervise the performance and broadcast rights, and collect and distribute the respective fees. In Germany this is done by GEMA, in the USA by ASCAP and BMI, SACEM in France, NCB in Denmark, Austro Mechana in Austria, and other too numerous to mention. All these associations are joined together in the umbrella organization BIEM, located in Paris/France and responsible for the negotiation of international agreements.

Grading standards

The Goldmine Grading System was first created in the early years of record collecting and published in 1974.

Mint (M)
Absolutely perfect in every way. Certainly never been played, possibly even still sealed.

Near Mint (NM or M-)
A nearly perfect record. Many dealers won't give a grade higher than this implying (perhaps correctly) that no record is ever truly perfect. The cover should have no creases, folds, seam splits or other noticeable similar defects. No cut-out holes, either. And of course, the same should be true of any other inserts, such as posters, lyric sleeves and the like. Basically, a record in near mint condition looks as if you just got it home from a new record store and removed the shrink wrap. Near Mint is the highest price listed in all Goldmine price guides. Anything that exceeds this grade, in the opinion of both buyer and seller, is worth significantly more than the highest Goldmine book value.

Very Good Plus (VG+)
Generally worth 50 percent of the Near Mint value. A Very Good Plus record will show some signs that it was played and otherwise handled by a previous owner who took good care of it. Record surfaces may show some signs of wear and may have slight scuffs or very light scratches that don't affect one's listening experiences. Slight warps that do not affect the sound are "OK". The label may have some ring wear or discoloration, but it should be barely noticeable. The center hole will not have been misshapen by repeated play. Picture sleeves and LP inner sleeves will have some slight wear, lightly turned up corners, or a slight seam split. An LP cover may have slight signs of wear also and may be marred by a cut-out hole, indentation or corner indicating it was taken out of print and sold at a discount.

Very Good (VG)
Generally worth 25 percent of Near Mint value. Many of the defects found in a VG+ record will be more pronounced in a VG disc. Surface noise will be evident upon playing, especially in soft passages and during a song's intro and fade, but will not overpower the music otherwise. Groove wear will start to be noticeable, as with light scratches (deep enough to feel with a fingernail) that will affect the sound. Labels may be marred by writing, or have tape or stickers (or their residue) attached. The same will be true of picture sleeves or LP covers. However, it will not have all of these problems at the same time, only two or three of them.

Good (G), Good Plus (G+)
Generally worth 10-15 percent of the Near Mint value. Good does not mean Bad! A record in Good or Good Plus condition can be put onto a turntable and will play through without skipping. But it will have significant surface noise and scratches and visible groove wear (on a styrene record, the groove will be starting to turn white). A cover or sleeve will have seam splits, especially at the bottom or on the spine. Tape, writing, ring wear or other defects will start to overwhelm the object.

Poor (P), Fair (F)
Generally worth 0-5 percent of the Near Mint price. The record is cracked, badly warped, and won't play through without skipping or repeating. The picture sleeve is water damaged, split on all three seams and heavily marred by wear and writing. The LP cover barely keeps the LP inside it. Inner sleeves are fully seam split, crinkled, and written upon. Except for impossibly rare records otherwise unattainable, records in this condition should be bought or sold for no more than a few cents each.

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