collecting elvis 78 rpm singles from the ’50s

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 minutes.

COL­LECTING ELVIS 78 RPM SIN­GLES from the ’50s is a daunting task. Even though only twenty-nine 78 rpm sin­gles were re­leased in the US, each is a rather rare record. Aside from their rel­a­tive rarity, 78s are fragile and dif­fi­cult to find in near-mint con­di­tion. Plus, for com­pletist col­lec­tors, there are mul­tiple press­ings of each number!

This ar­ticle is in­tended to be a com­ple­men­tary piece to “Is The Last Amer­ican Elvis 78 Pre­pos­ter­ously Un­der­valued By Col­lec­tors?” which was pub­lished pre­vi­ously on this blog. That ar­ticle fo­cused on RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, from 1958. It was the final Presley platter re­leased as a 78 in the US.

This is my ad­mit­tedly flawed method of as­cer­taining the rel­a­tive rarity of Elvis 78s. Anyone who wants to em­ploy a more painstaking method­ology and share it, feel free to con­tact me.

That ar­ticle re­quired that I find some way to com­pare its rarity factor. I did this by counting the number of copies that sold on eBay over the past twenty years. I could do this be­cause Pop­sike, a web­site for record col­lec­tors, keeps track of every record that sells on eBay for at least $15.

While this is far from a per­fect way to reg­ister rarity, it’s a bit more con­ve­nient than calling every rare record dealer in the country and re­questing their sales logs for the past few decades.

As I will be re­fer­ring re­peat­edly to the Pop­sike web­site, here is a link to that site: About Us.

 

Elvis Sun209 ThatsAllRight 78 800 trim
While this copy of Sun 209 has a clean label, the wear and tear to the grooves in the record are vis­ible. Also, as these records were made of a shellac-based com­pound, they were brittle and broke easily.

Tallying up the amounts

The list of 78s below is, of course, im­per­fect but using Pop­sike for the re­search was a lot easier than using Discogs. Using eBay ads has its down­sides as so many sellers don’t seem to know much about buying and selling used records. 

Any ad for any single (whether 16, 33, 45, or 78 rpm) on the in­ternet or a printed page should include—at the very least—this data:

•  name of artist
•  name of record company
•  com­plete cat­alog number
•  song ti­tles from both sides

Un­for­tu­nately, many eBay ads only have parts of this basic information.

Compiling the results

To com­pile this list of 78s, I counted each record three times:

1.  I typed “Elvis [record com­pany] [A-side title] [B-side title] 78” and counted the results

2.  I typed “Elvis [record com­pany] [A-side title] 78” but only counted the ads that only listed the A-side title. 

3.  I typed “Elvis [record com­pany] [B-side title] 78” but only counted the ads that only listed the B-side title. 

This may not have been the best way to do this, but it was con­ve­nient and it is easy for anyone to duplicate—including you. 

If you find fault with these re­sults and want to com­pile your own using an­other source (such as Discogs), please send me your results.

Hell’s Belles, I may pub­lish them!

 

Elvis 47 6636 BlueSuedeShoes companysleeve 800
Be­tween 1955 and 1959, RCA Victor re­leased twenty-four 45 rpm sin­gles by Elvis. While ten were ini­tially is­sued in custom pic­ture sleeves, mil­lions of copies of all two-dozen 45s were shipped in com­pany sleeves (also known as man­u­fac­tur­er’s sleeves) like the one above.

45 rpm records

I wanted to in­clude a tally of the 45s for each of the records along­side the tal­lies for the 78s. How­ever, eBay does not have sep­a­rate ad­ver­tising tem­plates for sin­gles re­quiring sellers to fill in the basic, es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion noted above. Con­se­quently, if I type “Elvis Don’t I Beg of You 45” into Pop­sike, it brings up more than 400 list­ings. These list­ings include:

•  orig­inal US records
•  orig­inal US records with pic­ture sleeves
•  orig­inal US pic­ture sleeves without records
•  Gold Stan­dard and other reissue records
•  non-US records and pic­ture sleeves

The 400 Pop­sike list­ings do not in­clude those copies of the US 45 that sold for less than $15, for which there could be thou­sands more record sales!

 

Collecting Elvis 78 RPM Singles: first page of the listings for RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, on Popsike.
This is a screen­shot of the first page of the list­ings for RCA Victor 20-7410, the 78 ver­sion of I Got Stung / One Night on Pop­sike. The im­ages on this page are rel­a­tively clear and easy to rec­og­nize as US pressing and there­fore easy to count.

Sun Records

Sun Records was a tiny outfit, even among in­de­pen­dent record com­pa­nies of the time. Most of the sales of their Presley plat­ters were in the South and the South­west, and most of the records sold—at least in 1954—were 78s.

The list below in­cludes the cat­alog number, both sides of the record, and the number of copies I found on Pop­sike (in bold typeface).

1954-1955

Sun 209
That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Ken­tucky                                               350

Sun 210
Good Rockin’ Tonight / I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine               190

Sun 215
Milkcow Blues Boogie / You’re A Heart­breaker                                       90

Sun 217
Baby Let’s Play House / I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone                200

Sun 223
Mys­tery Train / I Forgot To Re­member To Forget                               250

The total of the five Sun 78s sold on eBay is just over a thou­sand in just under twenty years. That’s about fifty per year or only four per month.

Sun 209 was a big seller for Sun while the next two were duds—especially Milkcow Blues Boogie, which was easily the poorest-selling Elvis Sun single. (Which makes sense as it must have sounded oth­er­worldly in 1954 be­cause it still sounds that way sev­enty years later).

Sun 209 prob­ably com­fort­ably out­sold 210 and 215 com­bined, as the num­bers above would lead one to be­lieve. Sun 217 made it for one week onto the Top 10 of the Bill­board na­tional C&W survey. It may have out­sold the first three com­bined at the time.

RCA Victor reissues Sun 223

Sun 223 was an even bigger hit, spending eight weeks in the Bill­board C&W Top 10 be­fore Presley signed with RCA Victor in late No­vember 1955. His new record com­pany even­tu­ally pushed I Forgot To Re­member To Forget / Mys­tery Train to #1 in early 1956.

As the deal be­tween Sun and Victor al­lowed the Mem­phis com­pany to keep selling Elvis 78s and 45s, Sun 223 is far and away the best-selling Sun single and the eas­iest to find sev­enty years later.

Given this in­for­ma­tion, when I started com­piling this list I as­sumed that there would be con­sid­er­ably more 78s of 217 and 223 than of the other Suns.

I was wrong. Per­haps the number of house­holds that re­placed their 78 players with a new 45 player in­creased dra­mat­i­cally over eigh­teen months, even in the South.

 

Elvis 20 6357 MysteryTrain NOHF Right 800
RCA Victor reis­sued Sun 223 on 78 rpm as 20-6357 and on 45 rpm as 47-6357. While Sam Phillips had in­tended Mys­tery Train to be the hit side, both disc jockeys and record buyers pre­ferred I Forgot To Re­member To Forget.

RCA Victor

After RCA Victor signed Presley on No­vember 10, 1955, the singer’s new record com­pany im­me­di­ately started pro­moting and man­u­fac­turing his first Victor record. RCA Victor 6357 was a reissue of Sun 223 but with I Forgot To Re­member To Forget as the fea­tured hit and Mys­tery Train as its flip side. As noted above, it be­came Pres­ley’s first #1 record.

A few weeks later, in early 1956, RCA Victor si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­leased the four re­maining Sun records on the market as four new Victor records. While each of these re­mained among RCA Vic­tor’s best-selling sin­gles for months, none of them made the na­tional charts. (Which doesn’t make much sense, but that’s an­other story.)

1955-1956

RCA Victor 20-6357
I Forgot To Re­member To Forget / Mys­tery Train                                 115

RCA Victor 20-6380
That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Ken­tucky                                                   55

RCA Victor 20-6381
Good Rockin’ Tonight  / I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine                90

RCA Victor 20-6382
Milkcow Blues Boogie / You’re A Heart­breaker                                         55

RCA Victor 20-6383
Baby Let’s Play House / I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone                   60

This is sur­prising: since I Forgot To Re­member To Forget / Mys­tery Train was in the Bill­board C&W Top 10 from the time RCA Victor took over man­u­fac­turing (De­cember 1955?) into May 1956, I as­sumed that I would find more copies of the 78 having sold on eBay than the Sun 78. I was wrong. 

I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine

The number of copies of 20-6381 that I found (90) com­pared to the other three non-hits was sur­prising. The suc­cess of 6381 oc­curred in late 1956 when I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine was in­cluded on an EP album, which at­tracted the at­ten­tion of disc jockeys and record buyers. 

I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine spent six weeks on the Bill­board Top 100 as a fea­tured se­lec­tion from an EP album (EPA-865, ANYWAY YOU WANT ME). The pop­u­larity of the album track prob­ably boosted sales of the single in late 1956 and early 1957, as re­flected in the num­bers above.

 

Elvis 20 6638 ImGonnaSitRightDownAndCry 1100
I had al­ways be­lieved that the rarest of the seven sin­gles that RCA Victor “dumped” on the market in Au­gust 1956 was 6641 but ac­cording to my counting, that des­ig­na­tion be­longs to 6638—at least as a 78. In fact, ac­cording to my count, this is one the rarest Evis 78 and may there­fore be un­der­valued by collectors.

1956

In the six months after reis­suing the Sun sin­gles, RCA Victor re­leased three new sin­gles (6420, 6540, and 6604). They also is­sued one long-play LP album with twelve new tracks (LPM-1254) and five extended-play EP al­bums (none of which are listed below). Of the twenty tracks on the EPs, all but two tracks were pre­vi­ously re­leased on LPM-1254 or on singles.

In late Au­gust, RCA Victor re­leased all twelve tracks from LPM-1254 as six sin­gles (6636-6641) plus the two EP tracks (6642). With this move, it was pos­sible for fans who owned 78 rpm-only or 45 rpm-only record players to own every­thing Presley had re­leased up to this time on a ten-inch or seven-inch single.

These seven sin­gles were ef­fec­tively “dumped” on the market with vir­tu­ally no fanfare—RCA Victor didn’t even an­nounce these records via ads in the trade pub­li­ca­tions! Nonethe­less, all seven records sold mod­er­ately well, av­er­aging al­most 200,000 sales each straight off! 

RCA Victor 20-6420
Heart­break Hotel / I Was The One                                                           430

RCA Victor 20-6540
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me                       230

RCA Victor 20-6604
Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel                                                                        420

RCA Victor 20-6636
Blue Suede Shoes / Tutti Frutti                                                                      60

RCA Victor 20-6637
I’m Counting On You / I Got A Woman                                                        45

RCA Victor 20-6638
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You) 
     I’ll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin’)
                                                       30

RCA Victor 20-6639
Tryin’ To Get to You / I Love You Be­cause                                                  45

RCA Victor 20-6640
Blue Moon / Just Be­cause                                                                             120

RCA Victor 20-6641
Money Honey / One-Sided Love Af­fair                                                        75

RCA Victor 20-6642
Shake, Rattle And Roll / Lawdy, Miss Clawdy                                        45

RCA Victor 20-6643
Love Me Tender / Anyway You Want Me (That’s How I Will Be)      450

Not sur­pris­ingly, I found hun­dreds of sales for the big hits (6420, 6540, 6604, and 6643). I found more than a hun­dred sales for only one of the seven Au­gust records—6640, which was a minor hit on the Bill­board Top 100.

I am plan­ning a sep­a­rate ar­ticle ad­dressing Elvis’ non-big-hit sin­gles of the ’50s.

 

Elvis 20 6800 TooMuch 800
RCA Victor 6800, Too Much / Playing For Keeps, was not one of Pres­ley’s biggest sellers yet I found far more 78s of it than I did of the mas­sive hits that fol­lowed, All Shook Up and Teddy Bear.

1957

RCA Victor 20-6800
Too Much / Playing For Keeps                                                                    230

RCA Victor 20-6870
All Shook Up / That’s When Your Heartaches Begin                              155

RCA Victor 20-7000
(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear / Loving You                                              150

RCA Victor 20-7035
Jail­house Rock / Treat Me Nice                                                                   275

These tal­lies for 1957 are con­fusing: either 6870 and 7000 should have num­bers sim­ilar to 7035, in­di­cating bigger sales than those of 6800, or 7035 should have a lower count, re­flecting the de­clining sales of the 78 rpm format.

 

Elvis 20 7240 WearMyRingAroundYourNeck 800
RCA Victor 20-7240, Wear My Ring Around Your Neck / Doncha’ Think It’s Time, is not only one of the rarest Elvis 78s of 1958, it may be among the rarest com­mer­cially re­leased Elvis records. As such, it may be ab­surdly un­der­valued by collectors.

1958

RCA Victor 20-7150
Don’t / I Beg Of You                                                                                         90

RCA Victor 20-7240
Wear My Ring Around Your Neck /
Doncha’ Think It’s Time                50

RCA Victor 20-7280
Hard Headed Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why                                               90

RCA Victor 20-7410
I Got Stung / One Night                                                                                   25

All four 78s from ’58 are rather rare records! The most sur­prising thing about them is how few copies of Wear My Ring Around Your Neck / Doncha’ Think It’s Time that I found. If my find­ings re­flect re­ality, then 20-7240 may be a sleeper as an Elvis col­lectible: it may be under-appreciated and under-valued in to­day’s marketplace. 

I wrote a sep­a­rate ar­ticle about the rarity and value of 20-7410 (“Is The Last Amer­ican Elvis 78 Pre­pos­ter­ously Un­der­valued By Col­lec­tors?”).

 

Elvis 20 7410 OneNight without78R.P.M. full 800
The rarest Elvis 78 was the final Elvis 78 re­leased in the US, RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night. The last copy sold on eBay was in May 2023; it was graded VG+ and sold for more than $3,000!

The Avid Record Collectors price guide

In trying to make sense of the list­ings on Pop­sike and the prices that the records fetched on eBay  there are sev­eral ob­sta­cles in the way of as­sem­bling an ac­cu­rate price guide for Elvis 78s:

1.  While there are prob­ably some truly knowl­edge­able 78 col­lec­tors out there, most of the Elvis col­lec­tors I know only grudg­ingly ac­knowl­edge their ex­is­tence let alone the im­por­tance of adding them to their collections.

2.  The bar for grading 78s is con­sid­er­ably lower than the one for old 45s. If the photos on the eBay ads that I ex­am­ined were ac­tu­ally of the items being sold, then al­most without fail the records were over-graded by the sellers. Records I would have listed as VG- or maybe VG, were usu­ally ad­ver­tised as VG+. 

3.  Some sellers make up their own grading system while other sellers write weird things about the records.

4.  The prices paid vary dra­mat­i­cally even for records as­signed the same grade.

There­fore, there is no Avid Record Col­lec­tors price guide for these records!

 

Elvis Sun215 MilkcowBluesBoogie 78 sleeve 800
Sun Records did not issue Elvis records in com­pany sleeves. Orig­inal 78s were shipped in plain paper or card­board sleeves (some of which looked like the one above).

Collecting Elvis 78 rpm singles

Col­lec­tors looking to com­plete their ’50s col­lec­tion or wanting some­place to in­vest a few dol­lars should con­sider buying Elvis 78s in near-mint con­di­tion and any of the rarer 78s in VG or better if the price is right.

 

Elvis art JoePetruccio APrivateMatter 800 1

FEA­TURED IMAGE: As the image at the top of this page—a photo of the 78 rpm ver­sion of Sun 209—also ap­pears as an il­lus­tra­tion in the text (where it can be en­larged with a right-click), in­stead of re­dun­dantly placing it here, too, I have chosen an­other image. “A Pri­vate Mater” is one of the hun­dreds of bi­o­graph­ical il­lus­tra­tions you can find on Joe’s My Elvis Journal web­site.

 

photo of Elvis from early 1957 in his full gold suit by Nudie of Hollywood.

Postscript

I re­peat my­self: the method I used to count the records (all those wee im­ages, some blurred, some too dark) strains the brain as well as the eyes. If some­body can come up with a less haz­ardous means to count records on Popiske, please send your method. I will give it a test run and if it works, I will re­place my method with yours.

Fi­nally, thanks to Bryan Bradley for reading early drafts of this ar­ticle and cor­recting errors.

 


 

2 thoughts on “collecting elvis 78 rpm singles from the ’50s”

  1. As al­ways a great and in­ter­esting read; thanks for taking the time in the research.

    Just wish those 78s were easy to ob­tain this side of the pond.

    Reply

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