Limited, numbered and de-luxe
I’m going on a lengthy diversion into art and pottery and books before I get to records. So in the words of your call centre operator when you phone a utility company … bear with me.
However beautiful and desirable they might be, manufactured items have an issue in terms of price. A bowl? A plate? A car? Well, they can make more. A screenprint? A lithograph? The same thing. What’s the value of a photograph, however brilliant? We know they can make as many copies as they like. So they came up with a concept, the limited edition. ‘We will print a certain number of copies … then we will destroy the screen, the negative, the mould.’ The next question, is how many copies? A limited edition of 100,000 copies is not going to fix a price. So then they started numbering. It happened with ceramics, with print media, with photographs. Screenprints often go for producing editions of 200, so copies are all signed and numbered. It’s vital that the artist signs at the same time and the numbers are in the same pen and handwriting. 57/195. £300 to you.
That does not stop them re-using the image putting a border with Winston Smith Galleries, Mayfair printed above and Exhibition: September 1984 at the bottom and selling it as a poster at £10. Yes, they often did this.
Next comes the concept of the collectable. A word of warning, anything that is sold as a special collectable item will almost certainly dive in value. That is because most buyers will put them carefully to one side and look after them. In every field, condition rules, but if everyone that has survived is in near perfect condition, then value will not stick. It even works with cars. A very high proportion of every Ferrari or Roll-Royce produced survived. Compare the Hillman Avenger, Austin 1800, Renault Dauphin or Hillman Imp. You never seen one in a car show. They were used, abused and left to rust.
Narrow it down to items sold and advertised as (a) collectable (b) will therefore appreciate in value. My first example will be Franklin Mint plates. Every Sunday colour supplement advertised them. A shop near us sold them. They sold plates to hang on the wall and they came in a box with a hanger, so I guess they’re not dishwasher safe. My mum loved the cottage gardens designs … it was probably a series, and we bought her one at Christmas and birthdays and dutifully put them on the wall for her. I think they cost £38 each … a lot of money 30 years ago. But the adverts said that previous ones had gone up in value. They were an “investment.” When she died, I looked at our local charity shops. They all had them. £3 to £10, maybe £12 with the box and certificate of authentication. We donated them to a charity shop with the boxes and certificates.
We have some of the Shakespeare series that my mum bought for us in return. I was deeply embarrassed when an actor in one of our videos said his grandma kept giving them to him, what with him being a thespian, and he thought them in the worst possible taste. We still have ours. I like them for some odd kitsch reason. And that is the ultimate collecting rule: only buy it if you know what it is, and you like it.
Move on to books. The Folio Society was also advertised as being an investment as well as a handsome addition to a library. They were in slip cases, larger than normal, on high grade paper, had re-set text and illustrations. People believed they would become heirlooms for their great-grandchildren. I never succumbed to the lure, but I do look at them in secondhand shops. They often operated their adverts on the first one at a reduced price to hook collectors. (The first one’s free … as your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer might say.) Just looking today online, new editions include Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger at £37.95 and Frank Herbert’s Dune at £79.95. Perhaps you’d prefer their “Limited Edition” series? Madame Bovary by Flaubert is £295. Gulliver’s Travels by Swift is £465. Normal editions run between about £30 and £80 depending on length. Secondhand? Most are £8 to £20. They’re almost all in excellent condition. Some are unread. The only flaw I see regularly is sun damage to the spine.
I’ve bought a few used ones. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck are examples. One was £12, the other £10. I wanted to re-read them and the paperbacks are yellowed and the print tiny.
Neither are available new from the Folio Society. Compare the value of The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck. First British edition. First American Viking editions run from £30 to £1500 (ignoring the inscribed edition at £3000). A British Heinemann edition runs up to £60. Rule: originals will always be worth more than de-luxe reprints.
I look out for the Folio Shakespeare series. I first bought a dozen for £30 in a charity shop because they have interesting introductions by directors and actors of the 1960s and most of all, have large texts with no footnotes and they open flat on a table. I’m not studying for exams. My English teacher for A level explained what hoist with his own petard meant in Hamlet (though he side-stepped Let us speak of country matters). I don’t want a third to a half of each page filled with footnotes, so Folio are perfect.
I expect to pay £4 to £8 for one. I discovered that they were in print for many years, slowly adding new titles. That means the early releases exist in multiple reprints. The last, mid 1970s ones don’t, and cost more IF the bookshop knows its business. This was explained when I got one of the few I don’t have in Stratford-upon-Avon. I mentioned that £15 was twice what I normally paid. She pointed out the date and that it was one of the rarest, then added ‘And because this is Stratford and we’re next door to the site of the house Shakespeare had built, we can get it.’ That’s another collecting factor.
All this applies to records …
The Beatles, aka The White Album
There was a corner shop in Cottingham Road, Hull, just a few hundred yards from the university. I lived in a student house … the university had bought up houses in surrounding streets, did them up to a standard pattern, and connected them to the main university heating system with pipes down the road. Last time I was in Hull I was surprised to see they have reverted to private houses. Anyway, we were very near the shop and as well as sweets, tobacco, sliced bread, aspirins, eggs and milk, it had two boxes of new LPs. They had a window display with cornflakes, detergent and a couple of LPs. I recall wandering across one morning. The proprietor was not in a good mood. He pointed to his window display, ‘How am I supposed to sell these?’ he said. Indeed he had The Beatles, aka The White Album, and The Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet in the window. Two blank squares of white cardboard. I commiserated, though the true pleasures of the white album were hidden inside: four carboard pictures, one of each Beatle.
I was particularly thrilled with the picture of George when I saw it. He was wearing a turquoise round-necked shirt in a silky material. And so was I. An identical one, or very near identical one. My girlfriend had been in Tangier with her parents that summer and had brought back this very shirt as a gift to me. I wish I had it. I could advertise it as “shirt worn by George Harrison on the white album pictures.” Lie? Welcome to the world of collrectables.
Inserts are essential in any collectable second hand LP. The White Album pictures are essential. When I was at UEA in Norwich, there was a guy called American Bill (mentioning ethnicity was not an issue in 1970 universities). He was from Texas and I suspect ZZ Top modelled their hair and beards on him. He had bought a large number of White Albums and had papered an entire wall with the inserts (Americans are rich, we simply thought). Then he had hand-touched the eyes so each set was different. Spooky? It was. That means a number of White Albums without inserts ended up in Norwich. No one will want them.
Who came up with the concept of numbering the White Album? I guess Paul McCartney had been hanging around art galleries and knew the lure of numbers. There was no printed title. On early copies THE BEATLES is embossed not printed. Later American editions printed THE BEATLES in pale grey instead. Each copy had a unique serial number stamped on it. The cover design was by Richard Hamilton with Paul McCartney’s input. Richard Hamilton has said that everyone assumed Yoko Ono was involved, but it was not so and his only contact was Paul.
Richard Hamilton Since Sergeant Pepper was so over the top, I explained, ‘I would be inclined to something very prissy, almost like a limited edition. (Paul) didn’t discourage me, so I went on to propose a plain white album; if that were too clean and empty, then maybe we could print a ring of brown stain to look as if a coffee cup had been left on it – but that was thought flippant. I also suggested that they might number each copy, to create the ironic situation of a numbered edition of something like five million copies.This was agreed, but then I began to feel a bit guilty about putting their double album under plain wrappers; even the lettering is casual, almost invisible, a blind stamping.
Quoted in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, by Barry Miles, 1997
Paul McCartney … now he was saying ‘Let’s call it The Beatles and have it white, really white.’ I was saying, ‘Well, I dunno. It’s a great concept, but we are releasing an album here. This is not a piece of art for rather an élite gallery, this is more than that. I see the point. It’s a nice idea, but for what we were to people, and still are, it doesn’t quite fit. We’re not a blank space. A white wall, The Beatles … then Richard had the idea of the numbers.
Quoted in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, by Barry Miles, 1997
So, they wanted to create the ironic situation of a limited edition of five million copies. It was a pop art in-joke. And for EMI who had to apply the numbers, an expensive in-joke. Were there five million? Eventual sales were 6.5 million. Online claims say they stopped numbering at 3,200,000.
What number is mine? Admission. It is one of the only Beatles albums I didn’t buy on release and I have a later reissue from when I started working and could afford it. Many critics rate it as their best or near best. I rate it fourth worst (or rather “least superb”) of the original albums, above Let It Be, Beatles For Sale and Yellow Submarine. They had stopped collaborating which is why Paul could get away with sub-Hinge & Bracket material like Honey Pie or the odious ode to a dog, Martha My Dear while John could indulge in Revolution #9 or sing I need a fix cos I’m going down … on Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Charlie Manson’s favourite album … Piggies, Helter Skelter. The only song on there that makes my Beatles “Top 30” is Blackbird. I know the album well … my girlfriend bought it. I started getting back into it via a favourite movie, Across The Universe (2007) where they covered Dear Prudence, Blackbird, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? Revolution and Helter Skelter. It sent me back to the originals.
The numbering in-joke took off … The CD edition was numbered too. They were modest in their expectations. No leading zeros. Mine is plain 23334.
The De Luxe 50th Anniversary Box Set from 2018 is numbered. I don’t suppose that will run to five million, but mine is 0110350, so there are one hundred and ten thousand plus of them. Amazon still has it on sale at £102.71 (September 2020).
They even numbered the CD sleeve of The Blues White Album a Telarc covers album. Mine is 83553. They sold 83553 copies of a blues covers CD by barely known artistes? Wow! A Google image search reveals that like the new one on sale on amazon, all the copies have #83553 on the front. Another in joke … it’s the Telarc catalogue number on the back … CD83553.
The numbering on the original LPs dictates the price. According to Rare Record Price Guide it goes like this (Mint values):
|FIRST PRESSINGS of “The Beatles”|
|0000001 to 0000010||£10,000 plus|
|0000011 to 0001000||£3000|
|0001001 to 0010,000||£1000|
|Un-numbered 1973 edition||£25|
|Un-numbered 1982 edition||£30|
|Un-numbered 1995 edition||£20|
That is ultra-conservative for the 2020 Guide.
In 2008, # 0000005 sold for $30,000.
Then in 2015, Ringo Starr decided to auction # 0000001. Rumours had it that it had originally gone to John Lennon. The auction house estimated its value as $40,000 to $60,000. Wrong. It sold for $790,000 ($650,000 plus buyer’s premium) a record price for any album ever. Ringo had preserved it in a bank vault for 35 years and donated all the sale proceeds to charity.
Ringo Starr: We used to play vinyl in those days. We didn’t think, “We’ll keep it for fifty years and it will be in pristine condition.” Whoever gets it will have my fingerprints all over it.
Interviewed by Rolling Stone.
Not a mint copy then.
There are urban myths out there. Some suggest there were four x 0000001, one for each Beatle. Others that there were twelve x 0000001 for a select group (which would make 000002 rarer and more valuable). No one has substantiated the existence of more copies of 0000001, so let’s go for the Beatles getting 0000001 to 0000004. The Beatles Anthology had Paul assuming that John got #1 because he shouted loudest, but Ringo is quoted. He got #1 of the UK edition and #4 in the American edition.
The USA manufactured versions have overlapping numbers due to the fact that more than one factory was making the albums, making the actual value of an American-pressing low number pretty useless to anyone but a die-hard collector.
Autographs still dominate … the highest autographed sale is £136,800 in 2013, and that’s # 2595599. (SEE Autographs for more)
Numbered editions became the thing in the last decade. Record Store Day limited editions drove it. Led Zeppelin did a series of box sets, and they were canny about the numbering. each contained a numbered art print of the original cover, which is a lot easier to print than a heavy case.
Led Zeppelin IV is an all-time classic, so you can see the market for it. The edition size is 30,000. How has it held up? Resellers have new ones at £117 to £149. Discogs median is £66, and highest £115 … why would you want to pay more when new ones still exist six years later for £117? There are mint, sealed (so “as new” online at around £200. (I bought it used for £50 about six months after it came out. It looks untouched. Only the HD download card was missing).
Robbie Robertson was in there earlier with How to Become Clairvoyant back in 2011. What’s remarkable about this is the package … 3 LPs, 2 CDs a DVD of each track of the master recording, and a book of art which weighs a ton. It has sleeves which contain art grade archive storage sleeves, each containing a lithograph. It must rate as the most elaborate package ever for a new album.
There are two hardback albums in the slip case:
Every copy is signed (in the Art album):
Every copy is numbered:
The lithographs are in an album:
It’s on sale online “as new” from Santa Barbara, USA at $315 (£239) though shipping will set you back a minimum of £30. They say “no additional import charges on delivery” … OK, but you could get stung for 20%. Plus clearance charges of £25. It’s listed for sale on Robbie Robertson’s site.
Discogs have a median of £125 and a Highest of £159. Two are on sale at $399 and at $500. Overall, yes, I became clairvoyant and so my copy IS collectable.
Bob Dylan was onto it with the vinyl edition of Triplicate in 2017:
Both these guys have been around long enough to know collectability …you put it on the box set with vinyl as well as CDs. Don’t bother with the CD versions.
Looking at luxury super de luxe premium collectors edition boxed sets on line, I see zero evidence that the actual number makes a blind bit of difference to value. People buy them for bonus tracks, careful remastering, extra toys, but not in my opinion for the number … unless it’s The White Album.
SEE ALSO: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society box set, fully reviewed