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.
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 ’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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 “SPD” Series 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.
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)