Company sleeves

Most British records between 1955 and 1985 (by when picture sleeves had largely taken over) came in a sleeve with a logo, the company sleeve, or stock sleeve / bag / cover. The 45 came in stiffer paper than a 78 sleeve, most often. Some people kept their records in the matching sleeves, some put them in sleeves but didn’t care which one, and some just threw the sleeves away.

A friend told us that she threw away every “paper bag” immediately on purchase and kept all her singles loose in a box. She pointed out that if you bought a doughnut you chucked the paper bag away. 

Some people call them sleeves, some say bags. In 1980, The Lambrettas put out a single on Elton John’s Rocket Records label. The title was Page 3, and The Sun newspaper objected. Elton John could probably envisage the result of enraging The Sun and the title was switched to Another Day (Another Girl). The sleeve was scrapped and the retitled disc came in an “Emergency Bag.”

The withdrawn sleeve for Page 3 / The “Emergency Bag.” (click to enlarge)

Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide isn’t as convinced as I am about the value of company sleeves which it defines as standard non-picture sleeve for singles, printed with name or logo of the label. That hardly does justice to the people who designed them. It says:

Most singles from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s were issued in ‘company’ sleeves, carrying the name and logo of the label which issued the record. Unless a picture sleeve is indicated, the prices listed in this guide are for singles with their company sleeves intact and like the records themselves in Mint condition. 

But then they say:

Most collectors are not too concerned about company sleeves … (they) don’t usually have much effect on a record’s value.

That’s a contradiction. It irritates to see a 1959 Pye single stuck in a 1972 Pye sleeve. The design is totally different. Yet many professional record dealers seem happy to match the name without any reference to date, colour or style. Others will put a blue-labelled record in a blueish sleeve.

Your Momma’s Out Of Town: Carter-Lewis & The Southerners, Oriole 1963
Catalogue number 45-CB-1868.

The record shop normally wrote the catalogue number in the white box top right. There it is. 1868. It matches the centre label. The record was first sold in this sleeve. It’s still in it.

A sleeve with the correct catalogue number written in by the original dealer implies that the record has always lived in it, so has been looked after. A sleeve of the correct design and year doesn’t prove it’s always been in the sleeve, but at least it’s possible. A sleeve of the right label, but the wrong design for the year might mean the record was sleeveless until a secondhand dealer clothed it.

A picture sleeve, in record collecting terms, is a one-off individually designed sleeve. So The Lambretta’s “emergency bag” is a picture sleeve, or in guides p/s. There’s no picture, but it could only be used for that record.

The exception to lack of interest in sleeves are Beatles Parlophone sleeves, where having the right advert on the reverse for the month and year is essential, and obsessives have tracked down the correct matches to each of the singles.  

Beyond the rarified world of Beatles collectors, little research has been done on company sleeves and labels. Until now. Company sleeves are all illustrated in the accompanying labels sections.

There is a British-American difference. Most records in British used vinyl stores will be in company sleeves, over 80%. Expensive ones should be in the right sleeves, but probably half are in the wrong company sleeve, though several will be “right company, wrong year.” 

Lawrence Records, Nashville, Tennessee – plain white sleeves predominate

It struck me in America that the majority of used 45s are in white sleeves, often new white sleeves. Company sleeves were below 20% of stock. The reason can be seen at Graceland. They have racks of Elvis’s own collection of singles (allegedly) and none of the 45s are sleeved. They’re bare and naked in the rack, rubbing against each other. In several stores, I saw records put in supermarket plastic bags, better than nothing and cheaper to buy than plain white record sleeves.

American 45s sold in plastic bags: Oxford, Mississippi

A British shop will often put all the decent 45s in 7″ plastic sleeves to protect the company sleeve. I do at home. It makes sense, it only takes a few people browsing to render the sleeves creased and tatty. To many British collectors, the sleeve is an integral part of a disc’s desirability.

British 45s sheathed in plastic bags to protect the sleeves

You can buy plastic outer sleeves online in 7″, 10″ and 12″ online, or at Record Fairs. These are labelled “covers.” You’ll find them in 200 gram or 450 gram and the stiffer ones are better. Some particularly valuable singles and LPs turn up in perspex sleeves which are harder and stronger, but I’m told they make the vinyl “sweat.” I see no evidence in ones I put records in decades ago. Buy in packs of 50 or 100, not an ndividual sleeve from a record store at 50p!

The result of this difference in attention to sleeves is clear. In the USA, you can pick up stacks of mouthwatering singles on iconic labels like Chess or Motown and Sun, amazed at the $1.98 or $3.98 stickers on the white sleeves. When you take them out, the vast majority are scuffed or scratched and dull to the point where many British dealers would chuck them in the skip. I asked the dealers in several stores. I concluded that far fewer Americans kept discs in sleeves, and I suspect that’s because in relative terms, 45s were far cheaper, and therefore more disposable than they were in Britain. 

To put it in perspective, my first summer job, aged fifteen, paid £2 15 shillings for a forty hour week (£2.75 in decimal money), i.e. less than 7p an hour. A 45 rpm single cost 6s 8d, or  33p. Or nearly five hours work for a teenager. So you kept it in the sleeve. And looked after it, and years later you wrote books about it.

A mouthwatering selection of American R&B / Soul 45s. All bought sleeveless or in plain white sleeves, several unplayable quality