Plain sleeves

Mockingbird by Inez Foxx, Sue WI-301, 1963. Which is the correct sleeve? The one that came with the original single?

Company sleeves become grubby and creased, and some dealers prefer to use standard crisp white new sleeves. It seems to be a spreading practice at Oxfam. It makes the 7 inch single rack look clean and inviting.

If an original sleeve is grubby, I prefer the dealers who put the record in a clean sleeve, and put it in a plastic bag with the grubby sleeve behind, giving you the choice. The crisp white sleeve obscures a possibly dubious history, so the printed company sleeve is always more desirable.

If you want the records to look crisp and clean, new replica sleeves are an alternative, but they are sometimes used inappropriately.

A large number of records were sold initially in white sleeves. All early Island, and most Sue were in white sleeves. Sue list the roster of artists on the company sleeve. They didn’t have that long list of artists until just before they ceased business.

Because Sue are valuable they turn up in replica sleeves often.  In the case above, it’s a genuine 60s Sue sleeve. But it didn’t ever match the record. The record was around ‘Very Good’ and at sometime a battered or scratched Sue record (ALL Sue records are collectable) must have turned up in this sleeve. Take it off the rough copy, put it on the good one.

You can see how tempting it is to put them together. Wrong. One specialist dealer usually has a lot of Sue singles, nearly everyone in a spanking new replica Sue red sleeve. That’s not how they were originally sold.

I can trace back my singles, and some of the most collectable of all were bought in white sleeves … I know because I wrote the number and title on them on the day of purchase. Some of the most collectable labels frequently used plain sleeves.    

Plain white sleeves … click to enlarge

Every late sixties British releases on Atlantic (both black centre and red centre) and Stax (mid-blue and light blue) came new in a plain white wrapper. Similarly, a whole slew of mid-70s Capitol releases with a red  with beige lettering centre label were bought new in white sleeves.  In the same period, the American versions had attractive company sleeves, and in the case of Capitol, one which was designed as a whole with the centre. Capitol was an exception to EMI’s strong bright company sleeves of the era, and the matching red and beige US sleeve never appeared on British releases.

Other labels never designed a sleeve. Charisma put its efforts into the Mad Hatter centre label, but was content with white sleeves. Bronze had a nice centre, but no sleeves. Elektra never had company sleeves before becoming part of WEA. Ode and Cotillion both had interesting American sleeves that never made it across the Atlantic.

According to the Big Boppa website, which sells replica sleeves, fifteen labels used the same white bag initially, including Atlantic, Elektra, Stax, Island and Sue. It’s thin, it has a wavy cut top. A dealer described it to me as the thin white, greasy paper bag. It doesn’t look like the crisp plain white sleeves in contemporary shops. 

With some labels, plain sleeves were transitional. A few late 1973 / early 1974 A&M records had white sleeves, and these appear to be issued in a gap between the black circular sleeve and the white circular sleeve.

Apple is especially annoying, because the black sleeve compliments the best centre design of all-time and you couldn’t buy Apple replicas. Apple sold some in plain black, without the logo and that looks fine, but others came in white. I resorted to picking up old Apple singles in the right sleeve, such as a copy of My Sweet Lord which had a very good sleeve, but it contained a deeply scratched record. 29p. Replicas cost 41p – 52p anyway, so I bought it and threw the record away. Other Apple were bought new in plain white. Both Junior’s Farm and The Back Seat of My Car were definitely white when I bought them.

An ex-Trojan manager explained that the first 5,000 copies usually got their company sleeves, then it moved to white because the sleeves were far cheaper. They were not alone, and the tendency increased in the picture sleeves era. Companies that were “all picture sleeve” like Geffen never had a company sleeve designed for the UK, so when picture sleeves ran out, they went to white.

Slippin’ & Slidin’: Buddy Holly, Coral, 1963
posthumous B-side to Brown Eyed Handsome Man,
and one of my all-time favourite B-sides

Early on, Coral, Vogue and Vocalion releases from Decca came in eco-friendly unbleached brown paper sleeves. You can tell originals because the paper’s smooth inside, rougher outside. Decca and London demos were in these sleeves too.

gallery- brown, black, grey … click to enlarge

Track was early in supplying discs in black sleeves in the late sixties. By the mid seventies, plain black was the sleeve of choice for labels who (a) first ran out of picture sleeves (b) ran out of “group” sleeves (c) couldn’t be arsed to design a company sleeve. President came in plain black as standard which goes well with the yellow and black centre. Creole did a black sleeve with its name and address in tiny lettering at the foot of the reverse side. That meant it had to be specially printed, so why didn’t they bother with a logo? The cost of typesetting, perhaps. Rialto had a yellow sleeve with Rialto printed in white in one corner so faintly that you hardly notice it.

United Artists used a very dark brown plain sleeve. In murky flourescent light in a shop it looks black, it is dark chocolate, and matches the centre well.  but These plain coloured sleeves would all have been commissioned and specially made, whereas white sleeves could have been bought in bulk. They would have cost less than sleeves printed with a logo or words, but not much less. 

DEP International had pale-grey which also had a gloss on it. DEP International plain sleeves would have cost more than a normal printed sleeve. Charley’s sub-label, Affinity, had subtle paper sleeves with a texture pattern in pale beige.

When I discovered replica sleeves from Big Boppa, Sleeve It Out and Covers 33, I was tempted to put them on some of the appropriate singles, after all if the first few thousand had had company sleeves, why not add one? 

gallery … single colour sleeves … click to enlarge

Some labels had plain sleeves made in special colours. Island had pink. Chrysalis had plain lime green, and Blue Mountain had pale blue. These were all on Island release at the same time.

Dance Away: Roxy Music EG, 1979

EG Records released via Polydor come in dark indigo plain sleeves (very dark blue, but not black), and there must have been reasonable access to indigo sleeves at the time because a few other labels, such as mid-70s Track and GM, also used them. Polydor distribution is a common factor.

Berserkley used plain yellow sleeves at least some of the time. I can’t guarantee the deep rose sleeve on the Peg disc. I’ve seen it only twice, and one dealer was sure it was right. The other had also just ‘seen one before’ and matched it. The rose sleeve here turned up on something obviously wrong, and I had it in a box of sleeves for a couple of years before I saw one on a Peg single (I also had a Peg single in a white sleeve). The colour match looks right though.

Several companies supply new, clean white sleeves (thicker and whiter than authentic 60s sleeves), but at the time of writing, the only easily available plain black sleeves are shiny card, though you pick up a lot of black sleeves on secondhand 70s and 80s discs. It’s a pity … if you want a neutral unlabelled sleeve, black suits most discs far better than white.