rca victor cartoon picture sleeves of the ’50s

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

FOR A SHORT TIME IN 1955–1956, RCA Victor man­u­fac­tured a se­ries of car­toon pic­ture sleeves for 45 rpm records. Each sleeve had a “This Is His Life” theme that summed up the artist’s life in a few comic strip-like panels. These sleeves were prob­ably shipped to radio sta­tions to catch the at­ten­tion of the DJs.

Like most Amer­ican in­dus­tries at the time, the record in­dustry was less reg­i­mented than it be­came. It was also folksier—some might say, more human—and many of the in­dus­try’s prod­ucts had a look and feel that we would con­sider am­a­teurish today.

This ar­ticle is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56.

To my eye, while some of the car­toon sleeves look like the slick art­work of ’50s ad­ver­tising, others look like they were ren­dered by a tal­ented high school art stu­dent who was into comic books.

The sleeves’ art also re­minds me of the Rip­ley’s Be­lieve It Or Not text-and-art fea­ture found in al­most every news­paper in the country in the ’50s and ’60s. 

One of the car­toon sleeves was about Elvis and it has been a highly sought-after col­lectible for decades. Now, let’s check out these sleeves and the records they housed.


KayStarr ThisIsXLife PS 800x800

Cartoon picture sleeve: promo copy of RCA Victor 47-5999, Kaye Starr's "If Anyone Finds This, I Love You" from 1955.
The ear­liest known car­toon sleeve is as­so­ci­ated with Kay Starr’s single “If Anyone Finds This, I Love You” / “Turn Right” (47–5999) from Jan­uary 1955. The car­toon sleeves is­sued in 1955 are usu­ally found with pro­mo­tional records, such as the one above.

White label promos

Like many record com­pa­nies of the ’50s, RCA Victor made spe­cial sin­gles for pro­mo­tional use. These promos were usu­ally meant to be shipped to radio sta­tions in the hope of some airplay.

These spe­cial pro­mo­tional sin­gles had plain white la­bels and were known as white-label promos to col­lec­tors. They are often ab­bre­vi­ated as WLP (or wlp).

RCA Victor began man­u­fac­turing white-label 78s in the 1940s and white-label 45s in the early ’50s. The last white label promo 45 I found there was Anita Carter’s I Wore Dark Glasses (At Your Wed­ding) / False Hearted (47–6364) from early De­cember 1955.

Of course, the first RCA Victor reissue of the five Elvis Sun records was made in late No­vember while the other four reis­sues weren’t pressed until mid-January 1956.


Cartoon Picture Sleeve: photo of a "Ripleys Believe It Or Not" feature.
The de­sign of these RCA Victor car­toon sleeves re­minds me of the Rip­ley’s Be­lieve It Or Not news­paper fea­ture. Be­lieve it or not, it is still syn­di­cated to news­pa­pers more than one hun­dred years after its first appearance!

The cartoon sleeves

I am dis­cussing the promos above be­cause most col­lec­tors be­lieve the car­toon sleeves were made ex­clu­sively for pro­mo­tional use—meaning each car­toon sleeve housed a white-label promo record. At least this was true through early De­cember, after which these newly man­u­fac­tured sleeves would have to house a black-label record as RCA Victor stopped making promos.

The de­sign for each theme was the same: the front cover fea­tured a nut­shell “bi­og­raphy” of the artist in a few comic strip-like panels (and not nec­es­sarily a fac­tu­ally ac­cu­rate bi­og­raphy). Be­cause of this de­sign, they are re­ferred to as car­toon sleeves, al­though comic strip sleeves would be more appropriate.

Along with the panels, each cover has a scroll with a drawn por­trait of the artist. For male artists, the scroll reads “This Is His Life”; for fe­male artists, it reads “This Is Her Life”; and for groups, it reads “This Is Their Life.”


RCA Victor cartoon picture sleeve for Julius La Rosa from 1955.

RCA Victor cartoon picture sleeve for Billy Regis from 1955.
Twenty-five of the known sleeves are red and eleven are white. As the white sleeves were made from cheaper paper than the red sleeves, they turn brown with age and are even more dif­fi­cult to find in near-mint con­di­tion than the red ones.

Probably promotional

Most of the records in­cluded with these sleeves that are listed on the 45cat web­site are white-label promos. I went through all the sales of the car­toon sleeves on Pop­sike for all of the artists to see which sleeves in­cluded promo 45s. Then I went through the copies cur­rently for sale on Discogs. I only found eleven sales of all of these sleeves on the two sites.

This scarcity of sales on the in­ternet in­di­cates that these sleeves should be con­sid­ered rare and are prob­ably out­ra­geously un­der­valued in the col­lec­tors market. Here is the break­down of the records that I found:

•  sleeves with white label promo records:  8
•  sleeves with stock black label records:     1
•  sleeves without ei­ther record:                    2

It’s pos­sible that each of the sellers who found one of these sleeves then went looking for a pro­mo­tional copy of the record and matched them up to sell them as a set. Or we can make the more ob­vious, and sim­pler, as­sump­tion that each seller found the promo record and the sleeve to­gether be­cause that’s how RCA shipped them in 1955–1956.

To see all known copies of the car­toon sleeves on the 45cat site, click here.


AnitaCarter 47 6364 IWoreDarkGlasses wlp 800 1
The last white label promo 45 man­u­fac­tured by RCA Victor in the ’50s was Anita Carter’s I Wore Dark Glasses (At Your Wed­ding) / False Hearted (47–6364) from early De­cember 1955.

Dating the sleeves

Each of the car­toon sleeves from 1955 is as­so­ci­ated with a spe­cific record, each of which was pressed as a white-label promo. Here’s the con­fusing part: RCA Victor kept man­u­fac­turing these sup­pos­edly pro­mo­tional sleeves months after they stopped man­u­fac­turing pro­mo­tional records! 

The 45cat web­site has a page de­voted to these sleeves with three dozen listed. The first sleeve was specif­i­cally made for 47–5999, Kay Starr’s If Anyone Finds This, I Love You / Turn Right from Jan­uary 1955. We know the sleeve be­longs to that single be­cause the two song ti­tles from that single are printed on the sleeve (see image above).

The first nine sleeves have the song ti­tles printed on the front so these sleeves can be tied di­rectly to spe­cific records. After that, none of the sleeves have song ti­tles or cat­alog num­bers, so there is no way to con­nect them with any spe­cific record using those numbers.

All of the events men­tioned on the sleeves that can be traced to a spe­cific date oc­curred around mid-1955. This is true even for those sleeves that are be­lieved to have been used as late as the summer of ’56. 

The last known car­toon sleeve fea­tures Jaye P. Morgan. It is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with 47–6653, Just Love Me / The Call Of The Wild from Au­gust 1956. The copy of this sleeve on the 45cat web­site has the record’s cat­alog number and date written on it as “47 6653 – 8/23/1956.” (See image below.)

This was prob­ably written on the sleeve at a radio sta­tion when the sleeve and record were re­ceived at the sta­tion. So, granting that, then we know that these car­toon sleeves were used into the summer of ’56.


RCA Victor cartoon picture sleeve for Jaye P. Morgan from 1956.

Cartoon picture sleeve: copy of RCA Victor 47-6653, Jaye P. Morgan's "Just Love Me" from 1956.
The last known car­toon pic­ture sleeve fea­tures Jaye P. Morgan and is as­so­ci­ated with the Just Love Me / The Call Of The Wild single from Au­gust 1956. Note the hand­written date on the sleeve, 8/23/1956, which is prob­ably when the radio sta­tion re­ceived this from RCA. The car­toon sleeves from 1956 are usu­ally found with stan­dard black-label records.

Avid Record Collector Price Guide

First, twenty-five of the known sleeves are red and eleven are white. As these white sleeves were made from in­ex­pen­sive, un­coated paper, they turn brown with age and are very dif­fi­cult to find in near-mint condition.

As stated above, all of these “This Is Her/His/Their Life” car­toon sleeves are rare and are un­der­valued in the col­lec­tors market. Any of these sleeves in near-mint con­di­tion should be worth at least $50–100 ex­cept that there is little de­mand for any of them (aside from the Elvis sleeve, below).

The few copies I found on Pospike and Discogs were in VG con­di­tion and sold for a few dol­lars with the record. Based on this lack of in­terest, it’s likely that should near-mint copies of these sleeves housing near-mint copies of the ap­pro­priate records turn up, then they would prob­ably sell in the $20–30 range.


RCA Victor cartoon picture sleeve for Elvis Presley from 1956.
The Elvis car­toon pic­ture sleeve is on cheap paper and, while far from the rarest of the car­toon sleeves, the de­mand is such that re­ally clean copies sell for four figures.

The Elvis cartoon sleeve

The Elvis “This Is His Life” sleeve has been pop­ping up on the col­lec­tors market for decades. It re­mains a bit of a mys­tery as dif­ferent records have been found in­side the sleeve. This sleeve is a major col­lectible and, as such, has its own ar­ticle. (See the “Post­scrip­tu­ally” sec­tion below.)

This ar­ticle about RCA Vic­tor’s se­ries of car­toon pic­ture sleeves is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56 Click To Tweet

Cartoon picture sleeve: caricature of Elvis Presley from 1956 by Santos.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: Since the fea­tured image at the top of this page is a record label that al­ready ap­peared in this ar­ticle above, I am filling this space with a car­i­ca­ture of Elvis. This cool drawing of Elvis was done by the artist Santos. I have pub­lished eleven col­lec­tions of Elvis car­i­ca­tures on this blog; to view the first one, click here.

Elvis GoldSuit 1959Postscriptually

The first four­teen ar­ti­cles in this se­ries are al­most com­pleted and listed below with links to each. Should you ac­cess one of these ar­ti­cles and re­ceive an Error Page, try back a week later.

01  RCA Vic­tor’s “SPDSeries of Spe­cialty Records
02  What Was the First Elvis Record That RCA Victor Released?
03  The Biggest Country & Western Record News of 1955
04  The First RCA Elvis Record Was “I Forgot to Re­member to Forget”
05  The RCA Victor Car­toon Pic­ture Sleeves of the ’50s
06  The Elvis “This Is His Life” Car­toon Pic­ture Sleeve
07  RCA Victor 47–6357 Bootleg Pic­ture Sleeves
08  The “Record Bul­letin” Pic­ture Sleeve for RCA’s First Elvis Record Is a Fake
09  Did RCA Re­lease Other Ver­sions of Elvis’ Songs to Com­pete With Elvis’ Records?
10  A New Kind of Hit Re-run With Elvis Presley
11  Was “E‑Z Pop Pro­gram­ming 5” the First LP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
12  Was “E‑Z Country Pro­gram­ming 2” the First LP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
13  Was SPD-15 the First EP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
14  Is the Country & Western Jukebox Pro­mo­tion Kit a Fake?

More ar­ti­cles ad­dressing the early RCA Victor re­leases are planned. Each will con­tain the block­quote, “This ar­ticle is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56,” like the one at the be­gin­ning of this article.

To find all the ar­ti­cles in the se­ries, copy the block­quote, paste it into the Find op­tion (the mag­ni­fying glass in the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the top of each page), and then press Re­turn or Enter on your keyboard.

Fi­nally, thanks to Paul Combs (Elvis Records), Frank Daniels (Frik­tech), Dave Reynolds (Elvis Rare Records), and Joe Spera (Elvis Presley Tapes) for their input in some or all of these articles.



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