is the last american elvis 78 preposterously undervalued by collectors?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 13 minutes.

WHAT’S THE RAREST ELVIS RECORD of the ’50s that was re­leased com­mer­cially in the US? I don’t mean a mis­take of some kind (such as a mis­pressing or a record with­drawn from cir­cu­la­tion). RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, was the last Amer­ican Elvis 78 rpm record and just may be that record!

The 78 rpm record—almost all of which were ten-inch sin­gles with one track per side—had been the coin of the realm of the recording in­dustry for more than forty years! When RCA Victor in­tro­duced the seven-inch, 45 rpm single in 1949, within a few years it had quickly sup­planted the 78 as the in­dus­try’s biggest-selling format.

RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, was the last Elvis 78 in the US and cur­rently goes for the big ones!

The ex­plo­sion of rock & roll on the radio, on record players, in movies, and even on the still-new medium of tele­vi­sion in the middle of the decade was driven al­most ex­clu­sively by teenagers buying 45s! The seven-inch single was easier to carry, more durable, and even cost less than ten-inch singles.

To hasten the as­cent of the 45, RCA Victor put Op­er­a­tion TNT into play at the be­gin­ning of 1955. They low­ered the cost of records al­most across the board. This in­cluded both 45 rpm for­mats: EPs were low­ered from $1.58 to $1.49 while sin­gles dropped from $1.16 to 89¢!

But the 78 re­mained at 98¢, ten per­cent higher than the 45s.

 

Last American Elvis 78: photo of RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, from 1958.
RCA Victor 20-7410, the 78 rpm ver­sion of “I Got Stung” / “One Night” (pic­tured above) was re­leased si­mul­ta­ne­ously with the 45 rpm ver­sion (47-7410).

A crushing blow

Vic­tor’s plan worked and sales of 78s de­creased dras­ti­cally in the next few years. The June 24, 1957, issue of The Bill­board fea­tured a news item ti­tled “Victor Price Hike Body Blow to 78’s” (page 19) that ad­dressed the im­mi­nent demise of the 78 rpm record:

“A crushing blow will be struck against 78 rpm press­ings on July 1, [1957,] when RCA Victor raises its price on the old-speed disks from 98¢ to $1.15. Ac­cording to Jack Burgess, Man­ager of Vic­tor’s single records de­part­ment, 78s have con­tinued to de­cline rapidly in the past year.

Con­se­quently, costs have risen above the point where the com­pany can show a profit on them. Burgess also stated that at the same time, the com­pany would begin to press its 78s on semi-flex records in­stead of shellac. Smaller ship­ments have been in­creasing the per­centage of breakage on the old-type disks.

On July 1, 1957, RCA Victor struck a crushing blow against 78 rpm records!

In re­viewing the de­cline of 78s in the past year alone, Burgess pointed out that Elvis Pres­ley’s ‘Heart­break Hotel,’ his biggest hit in 1956, sold about 2,000,000 to date. [But it] has sold less than 10% on 78s.

Vic­tor’s price change will also apply to its sub­sidiary Vik label. All 45 rpm sin­gles con­tinue at the sug­gested list of 89¢.”

The para­graphs above were edited for brevity and style for this blog. Keep in mind that RCA Victor was the com­pany that in­tro­duced the seven-inch, 45 rpm record in 1949. They had done their damnedest to make this format the media that mat­tered among record buyers. From 1954 well into the ’60s, they ac­com­plished that with buyers of most pop­ular music genres, in­cluding rock & roll.

Semi-flex records

The ar­ticle states that RCA Victor “will begin to press its 78s on semi-flex records in­stead of shellac.” Bill­board re­ports most of its news via the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to its ed­i­tors by the record com­pa­nies. RCA Victor may have in­tended to change the com­pound for 78s but did they ever get around to doing it?

That is, does anyone have any RCA Victor 78s from 1957 or 1958 pressed on vinyl in­stead of shellac?

Elvis’ biggest hit in 1956

Of course, Heart­break Hotel was not Pres­ley’s biggest hit in 1956. That honor be­longs to Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel.

 

Billboard 08 15 1952 RCA 45 ad 1 800 copy

Billboard 08 15 1952 RCA 45 ad 2 800 copy

Billboard 08 15 1952 RCA 45 ad 2 800 copy 1
This 3-page spread for RCA Vic­tor’s “America wants 45” cam­paign ap­peared in the Au­gust 15, 1952, issue of The Bill­board. RCA Vic­tor’s pro­mo­tion of the seven-inch record fi­nally pushed their sales past those of the older ten-inch record two years later.

A little background

The people at RCA Victor must have felt a tremen­dous blow to their pride when Co­lumbia scooped them by in­tro­ducing the ten and twelve-inch 33rpm LP records in 1948. They re­sponded with their own rev­o­lu­tionary format: the seven-inch, 45 rpm single. 

Over the next few years, the two record in­dustry gi­ants en­gaged in what was re­ferred to as a “battle of the speeds,” each com­pany ex­pecting their al­lies in other com­pa­nies to choose one format over the other!

In the Au­gust 15, 1952, issue of The Bill­board ap­peared “The In­dus­try’s Ten Most Eventful Years,” an ar­ticle cred­ited to Joe Csida (pages 50-51).

“In 1949, for ex­ample, when the in­dustry on the man­u­fac­turer, dis­trib­utor, dealer, and con­sumer level was lit­er­ally torn asunder by the suc­ces­sive in­tro­duc­tion of the 33⅓ rpm disk by Co­lumbia and the 45 rpm record by RCA Victor, it was Capitol who led the way to­ward healing the breach be­tween the two bitter ri­vals, both Capi­tol’s competitors.

In April of that year, Capitol went 45. and in Sep­tember Capitol added 33⅓ to its line, thus be­coming the first com­pany to go all three speeds. There is no telling how long the de­struc­tive, costly battle be­tween RCA and Co­lumbia would have con­tinued without let-up if it were not for Capi­tol’s ac­tion at the time.”

While RCA can be de­clared to have been the victor in said battle from the mid-’50s through the mid-’60s, after that, it was the LP that be­came the format that dom­i­nated the industry—at least until it was re­placed by the cas­sette tape and then the com­pact disc.

If RCA Vic­tor’s claim that more than 90% of Pres­ley’s sales were 45s, that still means that the com­pany sold about a mil­lion Presley 78s in 1956 (plus an­other mil­lion or so of other artists). Nonethe­less, it ap­pears in hind­sight that they has­tened the demise of the older format in their battle with Columbia.

Now, back to RCA Victor 20-7410.

 

Last American Elvis 78: full-page ad in Billboard for RCA Victor 47-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, from 1958.
This full-page ad for Pres­ley’s new single ap­peared in the Oc­tober 27, 1958, issue of Bill­board. Note that “I Got Stung”—recorded just be­fore Elvis shipped out for Germany—was the fea­tured side and that the ad doesn’t even note the avail­ability of the 78 rpm ver­sion of the record!

The Avid Record Collector

De­spite the mi­nus­cule de­mand for 78s in 1958, all three of RCA’s pressing plants (Hol­ly­wood, In­di­anapolis, and Rock­away) man­u­fac­tured copies of 20-7410, al­though they didn’t man­u­fac­ture many! Since RCA Victor kept poor ac­counts of the ac­tual number of records pressed at their plants, any at­tempt at naming even an ap­prox­i­mate amount would be sheer guesswork.

The best we can do decades later is look at how often copies of the records have been sold—in this case, sold solely on the in­ternet. For this, I usu­ally refer to the Pop­sike web­site, which keeps track of all of the records that sell on eBay for at least $15. Below is a list of each of the 78s ver­sions of Pres­ley’s hit sin­gles on the pop charts from 1956-1958. (I did not in­clude the twelve non-hit singles.)

The list in­cludes each record’s cat­alog number fol­lowed by both sides of the record. In bold print is the number of copies that have sold on eBay for more than $15 since 2004.

1956

20-6420   Heart­break Hotel / I Was The One                                        430
20-6540   I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me   230
20-6604   Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel                                                    420
20-6643   Love Me Tender / Anyway You Want Me                             450

1957

20-6800   Too Much / Playing For Keeps                                                 230
20-7000   (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear / Loving You                           150
20-7035   Jail­house Rock / Treat Me Nice                                                230

1958

20-7150    Don’t / I Beg Of You                                                                       90
20-7240   Wear My Ring Around Your Neck /
                   Doncha’ Think It’s Time                                                                50
20-7280   Hard Headed Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why                             90
20-7410    I Got Stung / One Night                                                                23

Pop­sike reg­is­ters only those records that sold for a min­imum of $15. While it’s un­likely that many copies of Elvis 78s in VG+ or better con­di­tion sold for that little, copies in lesser con­di­tion could have sold for a nom­inal amount.

The folk who ad­ver­tise records on eBay often have little knowl­edge of the hobby and the busi­ness. A good ad should in­clude the com­plete cat­alog number (and for 78s, that means in­cluding the “20” prefix) and both sides of the record. Many ads do not meet these basic requirements.

I found the best re­sults for finding the most 78s was to type “elvis presley” plus the record’s hit side plus “78” into the search op­tion on Pop­sike. This led me to the amounts listed above.

Note that 20-7410 is under-documented among col­lec­tors so the dif­fer­ence in avail­ability of press­ings of the record from the Hol­ly­wood, In­di­anapolis, and Rock­away pressing plants is not known at this time.

 

Last American Elvis 78: photo of RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, from 1958.
De­spite the minis­cule de­mand for 78s in 1958, all three of RCA’s pressing plants (Hol­ly­wood, In­di­anapolis, and Rock­away) man­u­fac­tured 20-7410. The pressing above with “78 R.P.M.” above “New Or­th­phonic High Fi­delity” on the right side in­di­cates a Rock­away pressing.

The last American Elvis 78 on Popsike

Most of the se­rious col­lec­tors of ’50s pop­ular music (in­cluding rhythm & blues, country & western, and rock & roll) col­lect that music on 45s only. The market for 78s tends to be among older collectors—even older than me!—and jukebox afi­cionados. Younger col­lec­tors have shown little en­thu­siasm for the 78. That in­cludes most Elvis collectors.

Con­se­quently, the ma­jority of col­lec­tors today—most of whom are those younger folk—have pretty much ig­nored the 78 rpm record as a col­lectible, in­cluding Elvis collectors.

Using the search method de­scribed above, I found twenty-three copies of the US press­ings of 20-7410 (listed below). When listing the records’ grades below, I fol­lowed three rules:

•  If the ad in­cluded two or more records, I did not count it.
•  If records had two grades, I went with the lower grade.
•  If a record was graded EX, I changed it to VG+.

I used the grade given by the ad­ver­tiser even if the image in­cluded looked worse than the grade. In at least one case, a copy was not given a grade at all but was de­scribed as having “wear with var­ious scratches and marks on both sides.” I gave this a grade of VG-. An­other was de­scribed as “still shiny, but does show some sur­face scuffs and a few scratches.” I also graded this VG-.

2023

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $3,050.
 A copy graded VG- sold for $694.

2022

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $1,078.

2022

•  A copy graded VG sold for $1,225.

2019

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $407.

2016

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $474.

2017

•  A copy graded VG sold for $300.

2015

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $535.

2013

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $461.
•  A copy graded NM- sold for $800.
•  A copy graded VG- sold for $800.
•  A copy graded NM sold for $900
.

2012

•  A copy graded VG sold for $770.

2011

•  A copy graded VG- sold for $360.

2010

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for 716.
•  A copy graded VG sold for $393.

2008

•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $766.
•  A copy graded VG- sold for $329.

2005

•  A copy graded VG sold for $610.
•  A copy graded VG+ sold for $560.

I found one record without a grade and sporting a re­cy­cled image (re­member when photos with a crown in the lower right corner were every­where on the in­ternet?) that sold for $935—the highest price paid be­fore 2022—but did not in­clude it. An­other was graded M- on one side and G+ on the other, so I did not list it. One 20-7410 was sold with two other 78s, so was not included.

 

The Last American Elvis 78: picture sleeve for the 45 rpm single RCA Victor 47-7410, "I Got Stung" / One Night," from 1958.
This is the pic­ture sleeve to RCA Victor 47-7410 with the re­cently recorded “I Got Stung” as the fea­tured side and the 1957 left­over “One Night” as the flip-side. Even though the B-side peaked higher on the pop charts, it’s the A-side that RCA Victor con­tinues to list as the hit side

The last American Elvis 78 on Discogs

Only one copy of 20-7410 has been sold on Discogs—ever. In 2022, someone who hadn’t dis­cov­ered the full use of his in­ternet browser ad­ver­tised a VG+ copy for —are you ready for this?—$30. Discogs only gives the date for the sale of a record (here, Au­gust 10, 2022) but not the exact times. If they did, the record of the record’s sale might look a little some­thing like this:

Listed: 08-09/2022 1:04:05 PM EST
Sold:    08-09/2022 1:04:06 PM EST

Here is a list of the Elvis 78s that were pop hits with the number of copies cur­rently avail­able on Discogs:

1956

20-6420   Heart­break Hotel / I Was The One                                           36
20-6540   I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / My Baby Left Me        9
20-6604   Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel                                                       10
20-6643   Love Me Tender / Anyway You Want Me                                21

1957

20-6800   Too Much / Playing For Keeps                                                    11
20-7000   (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear / Loving You                               2
20-7035   Jail­house Rock / Treat Me Nice                                                     6

1958

20-7150    Don’t / I Beg Of You                                                                         5
20-7240   Wear My Ring Around Your Neck /
                   Doncha’ Think It’s Time
                                                                 2

20-7280   Hard Headed Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why                               0
20-7410    I Got Stung / One Night                                                                  0

So, if this is an ac­cu­rate ac­count of how many Elvis 78s are avail­able for im­me­diate sale on Discogs on any given day, then anyone col­lecting these records and doesn’t have all of them should start buying the ones they need from 1957-1958 as soon as fi­nan­cially feasible!

 

Last American Elvis 78: photo of RCA 1100, I Got Stung / One Night, UK pressing from 1958.
In Great Britain, I Got Stung / One Night was is­sued as a 78 with cat­alog number RCA-1100. As the market for this format was still thriving there (and lasted into 1960), it was much easier to find copies for sale on the in­ternet with al­most 100 copies sold on eBay.

The Avid Record Collector price guide

Looking at the re­cent past, only five copies have been sold on eBay in the past five years! That’s only one copy made avail­able for sale to thou­sands of Elvis col­lec­tors once a year! As the last copy was sold in May of this year, the next one isn’t “due” to show up for sale until early 2024. The last copy graded near mint (NM) was sold ten years ago!

The title of this ar­ticle asked a ques­tion: Is the last Amer­ican Elvis 78 pre­pos­ter­ously un­der­valued by collectors?

The an­swer? By most col­lec­tors, probably. 

But, if we take the three copies that sold just be­fore the last one—and the last one that sold for $3,050 and mo­ti­vated me to write this ar­ticle (refer to the post­script below)—and con­sider their con­di­tion (VG- to VG+) and the prices they fetched, then $3,050 for a VG+ seems about right. 

That is, should a well-known and well-respected dealer offer a copy of 20-7410 for sale in near mint con­di­tion, a price in the $5,000 neigh­bor­hood should be doable.

 

Last American Elvis 78: photo of June 24, 1957, issue of The Billboard.
This is the June 24, 1957, issue of The Bill­board that con­tained “Victor Price Hike Body Blow to 78’s” that is quoted above in this article.

Sound advice

My ad­vice about ac­quiring a copy of RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night, echoes the ad­vice I gave about all the Elvis 78s (above be­gin­ning with “anyone col­lecting these records and doesn’t have all of them”). 

That is, if you want a copy of this rather rare record in NM con­di­tion and you want it in a rea­son­able time frame—like, let’s say, this lifetime—then you should be pre­pared to bid thou­sands of dol­lars to ac­quire it!

Un­less, of course, that Discogs seller finds an­other copy.

 

Elvis art KingCreole BettyHarper 800

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is a photo of RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung / One Night. As an­other copy of the same photo is in the text of the ar­ticle and can be en­larged for viewing by clicking on it, I am placing an­other image here in the Fea­tured Image section.

This piece of art by Betty Harper is of Elvis from the 1958 movie King Creole. Copies of this print can be pur­chased at the artist’s web­site.

 

Elvis GoldSuit

Postscript

I wrote this ar­ticle in re­sponse to a post on the elvisrecords.com page on Face­book. The enor­mous dis­parity be­tween the latest (and only) copy of 20-7410 that sold on Discogs for $30 in 2022 and the more re­cent sale of the same record on eBay for one hun­dred times that amount ($3,050) caused sev­eral readers some confusion.

The ini­tial com­ment was posted by Ian Mc­Quillan. It has a photo of the top half of 20-7410 and reads, “C.1958. The Last Elvis 78. One Night / I Got Stung. VG+/VG+. In­di­anapolis pressing. This one goes for the big ones.” Now, click over to the elvisrecords.com page on Face­book and get in­volved in the conversation!

Fi­nally, thanks to Paul Combs (im­pre­sario of the Elvis Records web­site) and Bryan Bradley (finder of itty-bitty typos that Gram­marly missed) for proof­reading this article!

 


 

2 thoughts on “is the last american elvis 78 preposterously undervalued by collectors?”

  1. In­ter­esting the US killed 78s long be­fore else­where. As you men­tioned, the UK kept the format for a few more years and those last few Elvis 78s (1187, “Stuck on You,” and 1194, “A Mess of Blues”)fetch a pre­mium price if and when they do show up ...

    Reply
    • Well, if RCA Vic­tor’s claim that less than 10% of Elvis’s sin­gles sales in 1956 (they claimed 12,500,000 but it may have been more) were 78s, and the other major com­pa­nies were ex­pe­ri­encing sim­ilar re­sults, then the elim­i­na­tion of the format makes some sense. 

      Even though mil­lions of 78s were atill being sold in 1958, RCA Victor (and maybe other cor­po­ra­tion in­volved ion the record busi­ness) stood to make a lot of money when folks re­placed their 78 rpm-only record players with brand spanking new 45 rpm or multi-speed players!

      Plus, sev­enty years later, it gives col­lec­tors goals they amy never reach but will take joy in the search/hunt: finding ac­cept­able copies of those latte 78s ...

      Reply

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