Matching sleeves

Matching sleeves to records is not hard, which is why it’s surprising that some dealers don’t bother at all, or others make vague matches. So a 1957 HMV goes in a 1966 sleeve. They don’t seem to notice the design factors, like colour, logos, that make matching straightforward.

Even the dealers who take little trouble will often keep a sleeves box, as many collectors do. The one illustrated is (one of) mine, and yes, they are alphabetical. So when I picked up a reasonably priced red label Love Me Do by The Beatles, 1962, it was in a dark green Parlophone sleeve from 1968.  Wrong. In my sleeve box, I had just the right used Parlophone striped sleeve to make a match and enhance the value. 

Love Me Do: The Beatles, Parlophone 1962

I check all sleeves. With Decca, London and RCA the differences are subtle early on, but they’re clear later. When Decca moved to the spiral sleeve designs, they switched from a curved logo to a rectangular logo … exactly like the one printed on the blue spiral Decca sleeve, or red spiral London sleeve. Just follow the logo.

Decca … click to enlarge

London-American … click to enlarge

It’s not quite that simple. There are several variations on the orange / brown Decca or blue / beige / white London sleeves that date them more finely (which will be important on a collectable record), and you can find that detail in the label section.

With EMI it’s blindingly obvious that black centre discs go in the “plain colours” series of sleeve designs. The EMI group switched all their sleeves to a new plainer design by the end of 1962.  At the same time, most of the various coloured centre labels became black. They consolidated their labels at the time of the design change.There are several variations within that, but a crude match can be made. In the 50s and 60s, singles stayed in print for a couple of years and therefore later pressings appear in later sleeves. It’s not hard and fast.


The Columbia label from EMI is complex. The EMI section of the series goes into this in painstaking detail, but it will suffice to take a broader view here. Collectors in general are more interested in centre labels than sleeves, because they can’t get switched. EMI’s Columbia label centre had three broad designs between 1955 and 1970. OK, there are several variations (and the adverts on the reverse add complication) so that the comprehensive Labelography by Jan Petterson devotes about a 100 pages to them, but we’re looking at the broad view.

Columbia (EMI) gallery … click to enlarge

1 King Of The Zulus, Louis Armstrong 1953. Gold lettering, blue print on sleeve 1953
2 I Love You Baby, Paul Anka 1957, Silver lettering, red print on sleeve
3 Lollipop, The Mudlarks, 1957, Silver lettering, purple centre, dancing sleeve
4 Livin’ Doll: Cliff Richard, 1959, green label, dancing sleeve
5 The Frightened City: The Shadows, 1960, green label, circles sleeve
6 Duke of Earl: Gene Chandler, 1962, green label, striped sleeve
7 Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um: Major Lance, 1964, black label, pea green sleeve
8 In The Country: Cliff Richard, 1966, black label, 1966, dark pinky red sleeve
9 Love Loves to Love Love: Lulu, 1967, black label, blue sleeve

Purple centres come with gold logos (early) and silver logos (late). Gold on purple logos go in a cream sleeve. Cream sleeves can have black lettering or red lettering. Silver logo on purple could be a cream sleeve or the subsequent 1957 purple “dancing” sleeve.

They switched to green centre labels in 1958 while they were using the purple sleeve, and used that match for a couple of years. Then they switched to the circles design, then the broad vertical stripes design. All these can have green centres.

When they switched to a single colour sleeve in late 62 or early 63, the centre label changed to black. Those single (plain) colour sleeves have half a dozen minor variations. Then they switched to dark red, blue, then scarlet without changing the overall design, but if it’s black, the sleeve must be plain. The pea green sleeve was used for five or six years. The colour allocation seems random. Then the last couple of years, a scarlet sleeve in the same design (not shown) took over.

You can follow the same process through the other major EMI labels. HMV and Parlophone. Rare Record Price Guide has a section devoted to Parlophone sleeves of The Beatles era which need to be precisely correct.

First cream sleeves (purple), then they moved to dancing sleeves (purple at first, followed by the label identifying colour: green for Columbia, red for Parlophone, light blue for HMV) which carried through two types of sleeve with a geometric pattern, then a move to black centre labels with the “single colour” sleeves. 

So many, perhaps most, discs come in the wrong sleeve that you can quickly build up a stock. If discs are in the wrong sleeve, and I don’t have a match, I use a plain white sleeve (bought by the hundred at record fairs). The wrong sleeve goes in the box for future reference. Some sleeves are hard to find … York Records is peeping out of my sleeve box, and there aren’t many York sleeves around. 

Used company sleeves are beginning to find a market online and at record fairs. Online they can be £1 or £2. Much more if it’s a rare used sleeve, like Planet or Marmalade. Some shops knock them out at 50p … the price of a replica sleeve, though the sensibler ones are reluctant knowing the correct sleeve adds value. Even in the lower price range it enhances a disc because it “looks right.”

Some shops will buy in unwanted singles (cheaply) in good quality sleeves … especially if the sleeves are ones which can be used on more interesting discs, like London-American or Stateside … yes, there is MoR crap on both these labels. They’ll then knock out the unwanted singles in white sleeves.

Many punters will switch, or try to switch sleeves, while browsing. If all the singles are the same price, I’ll do this myself. If they’re differently priced, you need to ask, but generally few sellers mind a wrongly applied sleeve on a cheaper disc switching to a more expensive record as long as they switch the price tag too.

For example, I found this Red Bird single at £2 in a Decca sleeve. In the same box was the rare Red Bird sleeve on a Columbia disc at £1. They’d all come from the same person, and the dealer didn’t mind me re-uniting the disc with its original sleeve, which it obviously was. If he’d thought of doing it himself, he pointed out, he’d have asked a fiver for it. The mint price is £10.

Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand): The Shangri-Las, Red Bird, 1964

Even the august Record Collector can get it badly wrong. These images are from a 2012 article on The Kinks. See the PYE – SLEEVES AND CENTRES article on this site (LINKED) to get the correct matches:

Mr Pleasant: The Kinks. 1961 sleeve on 1967 record
Berkeley Mews: Pink sleeve is later. Blue centre? Blue sleeve.

It is not an exact science. Various guides will tell that the (blue) sleeve was used until catalogue number XYZ 123, then changed to a (puce) sleeve from XYZ 124 on. Possibly. The big thing is printing centre labels, and companies used up existing sleeve stock around the point of changeover so you can find numbered copies in different sleeves. Also a record might stay in print for months, going pat a change in design … Love Me Do and The Young Ones by Cliff rRichard are examples of discs released just before a sleeve change. Early Love Me Do will be in a striped sleeve, later pressings in a geometric sleeve. Early The Young Ones came in Columbia’s circles sleeve. It was still #1 when EMI switched to the stripes sleeve.

Case Study: Runnin’ Scared

Runnin’ Scared: Roy Orbison, London-American 1960

Runnin’ Scared: Roy Orbison London-American 1960. All three copies of this record were found in numbered or labelled sleeves.

45-HLU-9342, as it’s affectionately known, was in the charts for fifteen weeks from May 1961. The left-hand sleeve should have disappeared early in 1960 (and I think it is an early user switch: it’s labelled, not numbered), the other two both co-exist in early 1961.