unusual elvis “touch of marble” picture sleeve found

FINDING A NEW ITEM TO COLLECT in the world of Elvis records is a rather rare oc­cur­rence. After all, the man has been dead for more than forty years and RCA stopped mass-producing vinyl records more than twenty years ago. Nonethe­less, “new” things do ap­pear, such as a stash of un­usual pic­ture sleeves that re­cently turned up for sale on the internet.

The sleeve has four dif­ferent photos of Elvis (see below) with one in the upper left and lower-right quarter of each side. The rest of the sleeve is a blue field with the ti­tles of the songs on both sides of what ap­pear to be thirty sin­gles. The oddest thing about the sleeve is that in­stead of a die-cut cir­cular window in the center, there is a giant marble that reads “A Touch of Marble.” 

So, what the heck is Touch of Marble?

 

An un­usual Elvis pic­ture sleeve popped up on the in­ternet for sale. A little on­line spelunking turned up an ex­pla­na­tion for the sleeve’s origin.

 

Reg­ular readers of this blog know that I focus my at­ten­tion on the records that were is­sued while Presley was alive and those re­leased a few years after his death. The far­ther from 1980 we get, the less I know. So I can con­fess to a gen­eral ig­no­rance of Presley Product in the 21st cen­tury, es­pe­cially the spe­cial “lim­ited edi­tion” items sold to col­lec­tors. So I know nothing about Touch of Marble.

The ad­ver­tise­ments on eBay stated that the seller be­lieved this sleeve was in­tended for one of two reasons:

  They were to be used with the Gold Stan­dard Se­ries singles.
•  They were to be used to re­place the Gold Stan­dard Series.

I knew nothing about ei­ther of these and the ad seemed to in­di­cate that the seller knew nothing about them or about Touch of Marble ei­ther.

Un­less, of course, the ad was in­ten­tion­ally misleading.

 

Elvis TouchOfMarble sleeve B 600

Elvis TouchOfMarble sleeve A 600

The two sides of the sleeve have the same layout but fea­ture dif­ferent photos. Sup­pos­edly, the side with Elvis from Girl Happy and The Trouble With Girls is the front of the sleeve. In the blue back­ground are the ti­tles of the sides of the twenty-nine records in the Touch Of Marble set.

A rather rare occurrence

This un­usual sleeve caught the at­ten­tion of Dave Reynolds be­cause he was un­fa­miliar with it and un­fa­mil­iarity with an Elvis record is a rather rare oc­cur­rence for him. That it was being ad­ver­tised as a “test con­cept se­ries to re­place the RCA Gold Stan­dard Se­ries for only re-issue Elvis ti­tles” made it intriguing.

He and fellow Elvis afi­cionado John De­Salvo searched the in­ternet trying to track down the sleeve’s origin. When they did, it turned out to have nothing to do with the Gold Stan­dard Se­ries.

In fact, it has very little to do with BMG/RCA’s mer­chan­dising of any Presley Product!

But first, a little back­ground in­for­ma­tion about record sleeves for novices.

 

Elvis KissinCousins PS ComingSoon A 600

Elvis HeartbreakHotel 45 RCA sleeve 600

On top is a typ­ical pic­ture sleeve de­signed specif­i­cally for RCA Victor 47-9646, Kissin’ Cousins/ It Hurts Me. On the bottom is an RCA Victor com­pany sleeve that can be found with hun­dreds of the com­pa­ny’s sin­gles (here a copy of 47-6420, Heart­break Hotel / I Was The One).

Picture sleeve vs. company sleeve

In record col­lecting nomen­cla­ture, a pic­ture sleeve is usu­ally a paper sleeve with a pic­ture de­signed for use with one spe­cific 45 rpm, seven-inch sin­gles. Along with the pic­ture, it usu­ally fea­tures the title of at least the A-side of the record and the cat­alog number of that record. 1

A com­pany sleeve, or generic sleeve, is usu­ally a sleeve without a pic­ture that car­ries the name of the record com­pany and may in­clude the com­pany logo and even ads for other records. But it is de­signed and meant to be used with hun­dreds of dif­ferent records by hun­dreds of artists.

As the Touch Of Marble sleeve is def­i­nitely a pic­ture sleeve but as it was de­signed for twenty-nine dif­ferent records, it’s a sort of hybrid—a cross be­tween a com­pany sleeve and a pic­ture sleeve—and may be unique among Elvis record-related collectables.

 

Elvis Collectables LovingYou gray marble 600

This is one of the grey-marble vinyl Col­lec­tables records in­cluded in the Touch Of Marble boxed set. One of these records (here, Col­lec­tables 80019, Loving You) is the only record that the Touch Of Marble pic­ture sleeves are sup­posed to house.

A Touch Of Marble

Since the demise of vinyl records as a mass-produced medium, BMG’s Spe­cial Prod­ucts di­vi­sion (for­merly RCA Spe­cial Prod­ucts) has taken on projects with other com­pa­nies. For ex­ample, BMG has leased Elvis sides to Col­lec­tables Records (“Amer­i­ca’s largest oldies label”), who have is­sued an ex­ten­sive line of reissue Elvis 45s and a few LPs. 2

BMG has also worked with a few en­tre­pre­neurs on spe­cial projects making records for the col­lec­tors market. One such project was A Touch Of Marble, a boxed set put to­gether for Paul Dowl­ing’s World­wide Elvis site in 1997. It was a lim­ited edi­tion of 1,000 num­bered boxes, each con­taining twenty-nine Elvis sin­gles along with a cer­tifi­cate of authenticity.

BMG gave written per­mis­sion to Dowling to do ATOM. Paul had 5,000 boxes made, none of them num­bered. That is, the number is not stamped or printed on the box. In­stead, the limited-edition number was written on the cer­tifi­cate of au­then­ticity and a num­bered sticker was af­fixed to the back of the box. (Paul used the over-run boxes for ship­ping other records to cus­tomers of World­wide Elvis.)

Paul had the box, the cer­tifi­cates, and the pic­ture sleeves made lo­cally. This means that the pic­ture sleeve is not a BMG/RCA product in any manner. He pur­chased the records from Col­lec­tables and re­ceived the grey-marble pressings.

The two sides of the sleeve have the same layout but fea­ture dif­ferent photos. In the blue back­ground are the ti­tles of the sides of the twenty-nine records in the Touch Of Marble set. A careful ex­am­i­na­tion will show that there are, in fact, ti­tles for thirty records listed. This is be­cause If I Can Dream / Edge Of Re­ality was er­ro­neously listed twice in the lower-left field.

Dowling needed 29,000 sleeves but had to order more from BMG to get the unit cost down. This left him with ap­prox­i­mately 2,500 sleeves, all like new after the boxed set was com­pleted. These sleeves sit­ting in boxes for decades and only re­cently sold them.

 

Elvis TouchOfMarble box 300

Elvis TouchOfMarble box number 800 copy

This is the front and back of the Touch Of Marble boxed set. The graphics were de­signed by Jimmy Car­penter. The box con­tained twenty-nine sin­gles, each housed in the same pic­ture sleeve. With the co­op­er­a­tion of BMG Spe­cial Prod­ucts, a thou­sand sets were made for sale ex­clu­sively on the World­wide Elvis site in 1997.

Collector beware!

So, back to the Touch Of Marble pic­ture sleeves. We now know that these “test con­cept” sleeves aren’t from a test con­cept of any sort. They are the left­over sleeves from the Touch Of Marble project, which have found their way onto the col­lec­tors market years later.

The person selling these sleeves claimed that they were “au­thentic RCA 45 pic­ture sleeves,” which, as stated above, they are. So, Elvis com­pletists need to con­sider two points: 

1.  The sleeve was not man­u­fac­tured by BMG.
2.  There­fore the sleeve is not a part of the of­fi­cial BMG cat­alog. 3

The first point should make the sleeve at­trac­tive mainly to com­pletist col­lec­tors, of which there are many. If you are in­ter­ested in pur­chasing some of these sleeves in near mint con­di­tion, the person who may have the en­tire supply of sleeves has been selling them on eBay. The price?

Six sleeves for $9.99 but each pur­chase in­cluded two “bonus sleeves,” so it was ac­tu­ally eight sleeves for $9.99, which is a not-unreasonable $1.25 per sleeve. 4

As Dowling noted to me in an email, “They make great sleeves for records that never had any.” Al­though it’s prob­ably more ac­cu­rate to say that they make great sleeves for the twenty-nine records listed on them.

A stash of Elvis Presley pic­ture sleeves touting ‘A Touch of Marble’ turned up on eBay and stirred up the in­terest of a few col­lec­tors. Click To Tweet

Elvis TouchOfMarble sleeve 1500 crop

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of the page was cropped from the front side of the Touch Of Marble sleeve. Here is a crop­ping from the other side. To see all of the song ti­tles of the twenty-nine records in the box, click on the full image of ei­ther the front or back of this sleeve above. Note the re­dun­dant If I Can Dream / Edge Of Re­ality in the lower-left corner.

Thanks to John De­Salvo (CEO/Pricing at Elvis Rare Records, VP of All About Records, and eBay ID: Lot­sOfRecords), Paul Dowling (World­wide Elvis), Craig LaPine, and es­pe­cially Dave Reynolds (Director/Curator of Elvis Rare Records and eBay ID: Elvis-Rare-Records) for their con­tri­bu­tions to this article.

Fi­nally, to see a com­plete discog­raphy and price guide for the Elvis ti­tles re­leased on Col­lec­tables Records, click HERE.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Of the first four­teen Elvis Presley sin­gles that RCA Victor re­leased in 1955-1956, only one in­cluded a pic­ture sleeve, Hound Dog / Don’t Be Cruel.

2   A Touch Of Marble is hard to find with only seven copies sold on eBay in the past five years. The lowest price paid was $87 for a near mint set while the highest price was $167 for a still-sealed set. To see a photo of the box with the cer­tifi­cate of au­then­ticity and the sin­gles spread out on dis­play, click HERE.

3   The sleeve is what I call a man­u­fac­tured col­lec­table, which is an item man­u­fac­tured to be in­stan­ta­neously col­lec­table rather than an item that achieves col­lec­table status over time. For the latter, think of any Elvis record from the ’50s; for the former, think of all that crap that came out after his death in 1977.

4   The same seller has been of­fering copies of sev­eral Gold Stan­dard Se­ries sin­gles housed in one of these sleeves. The 45s used with the sleeves have black la­bels with just “RCA” at the top. These records are usu­ally worth about $2-4 each.

 

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