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 A Touch of Marble?
An unusual Elvis picture sleeve popped up and 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 A 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 A Touch of Marble either.
Unless, of course, the ad was intentionally misleading.
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.
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.
This is one of the gray-marbleized 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. (To see a photo of the box with the certificate of authenticity and the singles spread out on display, click here).
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 gray-marbleized 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3 The sleeve is what I call a manufactured collectible, which is an item manufactured to be instantaneously collectible rather than an item that achieves collectible 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.