Fifty years ago a combination of corporate rivalry and spite resulted in the introduction of the 45-rpm record format.
Today nearly everything produced on the 45-rpm format is becoming more collectible by the day, says Tim Neely, an authority on record collecting and the author of the Goldmine Price Guide to 45 RPM Records.
"Part of that is because of the mistaken belief that 45s aren't being made anymore," Neely said. "This is far from the truth. There are quite a few interesting and collectible 7-inch singles that are as recent as the end of 1998, even one or two from 1999."
Though annual production of the 7-inch vinyl discs has probably fallen to under 1 million, in their heyday a top-selling 45 single would sell 1 million copies by itself, according to Neely.
Neely believes there's no really good reason why 45-rpm records exist in the first place.
In June 1948, Columbia Records demonstrated the new 33 1/3-rpm long-playing format to its rival, RCA Victor Records. The hope was to ensure the success of the new format by convincing RCA to join with Columbia in using the new format.
Instead, the president of NBC (owner of RCA) was furious at being beaten by a competitor and set RCA engineers to the task of developing their own new format.
In a 1998 interview with Michael Hobson of Classic Records, George Avakian, a member of the team involved in developing the LP, recalls learning how the 45 format was chosen.
"In 1962, when I was at RCA, someone finally told me where 45 rpm came from," he said. "They apparently took 78 and subtracted 33, which left them with 45, which they went with out of spite."
Twenty-five years ago the hot 45 collectibles were group records and doo-wop music. These recordings are still collectible.
The 1956 doo-wop classic "In the Still of the Nite" by The Five Satins ranges in value from $900 to $2,000 depending on the producer credit on the label.
In those days, genres such as psychedelic and "garage bands" were generally overlooked by collectors. The Kingsmen's Jerden-label "Louie Louie" is now valued as high as $60. "Incense and Peppermints" by Strawberry Alarm Clock can be worth $200 if on the All American label.
One thing that hasn't changed since 1974 is the high demand for Elvis Presley's Sun recordings.
The 70s saw these recordings valued in the hundreds of dollars; today they fetch from $2,000 to $4,000 in mint condition. A 1998 aberration was a copy of "That's All Right/Blue Moon of Kentucky" selling for $17,000.
Another hot spot in the world of 45 collectibles is the blues. For years, records by American blues artists were undervalued compared to their rarity. Recently there have been significant increases in value for early 1950s 45s by such artists as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters.
Hooker's Rockin-label recordings as "John Lee Booker" are valued at up to $1,000.
Neely also sees increasing collector interest in hits of the 1950s and '60s. Collectors have come to realize how difficult it is to find hit singles in good condition.
Top-ten 45s were bought to be played often, not to be put away. For example, almost every significant Motown hit of the 1960s has gone up in value, as has every Rolling Stones single on the London label. The Stones' "I Wanna Be Your Man" backed by "Stoned" has increased from $8,000 to $10,000 in value over the past two months.
Pre-hit labels of 1950s and 1960s hits have also seen dramatic price increases. These are first issues of songs that became hits on other, larger labels.
"Sea of Love" by Phil Phillips is valued at $1,500 in near mint condition on the Khoury's label but falls to $25 on Mercury. The Regents' "Barbara-Ann" on the Cousins label can bring up to $1,200 but just $25 on the Gee label.
Music of the 1980s and '90s, while generally not as pricey as the early 45s, is certainly collectible. Madonna's 1984 Sire recording of "Borderline/Think of Me" with the fold-out poster sleeve is valued at $84.
A 1993 "Silver Bells/Christmas Time Is Here" by R.E.M. is worth $25, and add another $25 if it is in the picture sleeve.
Picture sleeves is one of the fastest-growing areas of collecting according to Neely. Most of the price increases are with sleeves from the 1950s and '60s, as these are much harder to find in good condition.
Ricky Nelson's picture sleeve from the Verve single "Ricky" is valued at $200. The sleeve from "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," a 1954 recording by the Orioles, reaches $1,000.
New collectors need not despair of the high prices quoted here. The hobby of collecting 45s and their sleeves is still wide open to beginners. Such artists as the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton and thousands more, can be collected for under $10 a disc.