Is a record album still sealed in its original protective wrapping worth a premium over a comparable opened copy?
Apparently it made a difference for one rare album in a recent auction.
A copy of The Beatles' Yesterday and Today album with the "butcher" cover and still sealed in its original packaging sold for $38,500 in a recent auction conducted by Good Rockin' Tonight. That's the most ever paid for a record at auction.
But one expert advises caution in paying a premium for still-sealed albums.
"One of the problems with still-sealed albums is that they can be resealed and passed off as authentic period pieces," said Tim Neely, a contributor to Goldmine music magazine and editor of its Standard Catalog of American Records book. "That's why I hesitate to pay a premium for a still-sealed album."
Also, Neely said, there can be different states of condition within the realm of "still sealed."
"A still-sealed album can have a cut-out notch, which automatically knocks the cover down to VG+ or VG++ at best," he said. "The cover can have ring wear if it is improperly stored. And you don't know what the record will sound like, or even if it's been properly pressed."
The particular copy of the Beatles' album that set an auction record came with a credible ownership pedigree, apparently resting any fears by the winning bidder that the album was tampered with at some point since its release in 1966.
"In this case," Neely said, "I know whose album it was before it was in this GRT auction, and I believe, based on my trust of the former owner, it's exactly as it was in 1966."
Still, Neely considers a stereo version of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan with four songs pulled from later versions to be the most collectible record album until opened copies of the Yesterday and Today with the "butcher" cover bring close to what the sealed copy commanded.
The Dylan album was originally issued with four cuts controversial by 1963 standards: "Let Me Die in My Footsteps," "Rocks and Gravel," "Talkin' John Birch Blues," and "Gamblin' Willie's Dead Men's Hand." There are several varieties of this album, according to the Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records.
Some list the four deleted tracks but play different songs; some don't list the deleted tracks but still play them. One of the latter versions is the most valuable, according to the Goldmine book. It's valued at $15,000 in near-mint condition.
All the versions listed in the book are mono, but since 1992, two stereo examples of the album were discovered.
The Beatles' famous Yesterday and Today album went through similar incarnations, though the variations are with the album cover rather than the actual music on the album.
Capitol's original cover showed the Fab Four in white coats with pieces of meat and body parts from baby dolls strewn about them. Many considered the artwork in poor taste, and the album was recalled from stores shortly after its release.
A more sedate cover showing the Beatles gathered around a travel trunk replaced the "butcher" cover. In some cases, the new artwork was simply pasted over the old cover. In other cases, the new artwork does not have the old underneath.
The most valuable, of course, is an original cover that never had the new cover pasted over it. The second most valuable is a pasteover in which the new cover was removed to reveal the original, but the value depends on the success of the removal.
The Good Rockin' Tonight auction brought several other notable prices:
A 45-rpm picture sleeve -- not the record, just the sleeve -- of The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man," in grade VG+, brought $10,450. That's a record for a picture sleeve.
A 78-rpm copy of Charlie Patton's "Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues," graded VG+, brought $11,550. That's a record price for a blues record.
A near-mint copy of the 10-inch version of Billy Ward and His Dominoes on the Federal label brought $24,200, a record price for a rhythm-and-blues recording.
A 10-inch LP of Their Greatest Hits by The Midnights brought $15,400.
A copy of Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" on the Sun label, described as "better than near mint" condition, sold for $11,000.