when the world’s most valuable record was an elvis disc

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

FOL­LOWING HIGH SCHOOL GRAD­U­A­TION in June 1953, Elvis Presley set his sights on be­coming a recording artist. On July 18, he vis­ited the Sun Records studio on Union Av­enue in Mem­phis. There he paid $4 for the priv­i­lege of recording two songs onto one disc. Sixty years later, that disc be­came the most valu­able record in the world.

As a form of sec­ondary in­come, Sam Phillips ran the Mem­phis Recording Ser­vice out of the Sun of­fices. Artists could pay a few dol­lars and walk away with their own records. The day that Elvis came in, Phillips was else­where so the trans­ac­tion was han­dled by Sam’s as­sis­tant, Marion Keisker.


On his first record, Elvis sang in a rather gen­teel style but still sounded blue­sier than most white singers of the time.


The two songs were rea­son­ably well-known bal­lads, My Hap­pi­ness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. Both were sung in a rather gen­teel style, al­though Elvis sounded blue­sier than most white singers of the time. He ac­com­pa­nied him­self by gently strum­ming his guitar.

Both record­ings were cut di­rectly onto a ten-inch, 78 rpm ac­etate disc. It was a one-of-a-kind disc and there were no backups made. For years, it was ru­mored that he made this record as a gift for his mother but it’s un­likely that Gladys Presley ever heard it. 

In fact, for rea­sons un­known, the singer gave the record to his friend Ed Leek, ap­par­ently without playing it for anyone else. Un­less Ed lis­tened to his bud­dy’s record, the only person to hear those two sides over the next few decades was Marion Keisker, Sam Phillips’s as­sis­tant at Sun Records that oversaw the young singer’s en­deavor. 1


World's Most Valuable Record: photo of Elvis acetate "My Happiness" in paper sleeve.  

This is how the Elvis ten-inch ac­etate of My Hap­pi­ness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin looks today. The label has dried and turned yellow-brown with age, with a few pieces chipped off.

What is an acetate?

In the record in­dustry, an ac­etate is usu­ally an in­ter­me­diate stage in the pro­duc­tion of the ac­tual record. Ac­etates are made after the master tape but be­fore the master disc. They are cut di­rectly from the source and, one at a time. Rarely are more than a handful made for any record.

In the recording busi­ness, they are re­ferred to as lac­quers. They allow in­ter­ested par­ties to check the quality of the tape-to-disc recording process and make any nec­es­sary changes to en­sure that there are no prob­lems with the final master.

Record col­lec­tors refer to these discs as ac­etates so that is what I call them in this ar­ticle. Most of these discs never leave the studio and are dis­carded when no longer needed. Ac­etates that do sur­vive often find their way into the col­lectible record market and can fetch a pretty penny from collectors

In the 1950s, Sam Phillips made these one-off discs for local mu­si­cians as a side in­come. His main source of in­come was recording blues artists and selling the mas­ters to larger, more es­tab­lished record com­pa­nies. His own Sun Records was so tiny as to be barely no­tice­able to anyone out­side of Memphis.

Like lac­quers, Sam’s discs were cut di­rectly from the source, one at a time. Like lac­quers, only a few sur­vived through the years and each is collectible.


World's Most Valuable Record: photo of Elvis acetate label for "My Happiness."

World's Most Valuable Record: photo of Elvis acetate label for "That's When Your Heartaches Begin."

These are the two la­bels on the Elvis ac­etate. As Sun Records pinched every penny it could, the label used for the Presley disc were ac­tu­ally the la­bels for Sun 189, the Pris­on­aires’ Softly And Ten­derly. Marion simply turned the la­bels over and typed the song ti­tles and the artist’s name on the back of each. Then she glued them to the disc!

Most valuable record

In Jan­uary 2015, the My Hap­pi­ness / That’s When Your Heartaches Begin ac­etate was auc­tioned off and rock star Jack White was the win­ning bidder at $300,000. That was a record high price paid for any record of any kind, making it the most valu­able record in the world—a title it re­tained for al­most eleven months!

In De­cember 2015, Ringo Starr’s per­sonal copy of his old band’s 1968 album THE BEA­TLES was auc­tioned. It was a mono Par­lophone pressing (PMC-7067/7068) and the jacket was num­bered “No. 0000001.”

This ab­surdly low num­bered copy of “The White Album” sold for an as­tound­ingly high $790,000. 2


World's Most Valuable Record: photo of Elvis 45 rpm single "My Happiness."

Jack White al­lowed the ac­etate to be played and recorded. A limited-edition of fac­simile copies of the ten-inch 78 rpm record were made and sold on Record Store Day 2015. A seven-inch, 45 rpm single with a repli­ca­tion of the Sun Records label was also is­sued. Brand new copies of both records are still avail­able for sale on the internet.

That’s all right

Elvis re­turned to the Sun studio in Jan­uary 1954, forked over an­other $4, and cut an­other pair of bal­lads, It Wouldn’t Be The Same Without You and I’ll Never Stand In Your Way. Marion re­mem­bered the young singer’s ear­lier at­tempts and this time she made a back-up tape of him singing. She played this tape for Sam Phillips, who may or may not have been impressed.

When Sam found him­self with a good song and no singer a few months later, he re­mem­bered Presley and gave him a call. Un­for­tu­nately, the young singer wasn’t able to give an ac­cept­able per­for­mance of the song. 3

Nonethe­less, Sam was in­trigued by the young singer and wanted to know if he knew any other songs . . .

Elvis Pres­ley’s first record was a one-of-a-kind ac­etate disc he cut in 1953; sixty years later, it sold for $300,000—a record price for a record of any kind at the time. Click To Tweet

Most Valuable Record: photo of Elvis and Rosemary Baracco at Maywood Beach in 1953.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of Elvis with his high school class­mate Rose­mary Baracco at May­wood Beach in May 1953. If Elvis was as shy as the of­fi­cial legend says he was, then he was a heck of an actor! At least he was a heck of an actor when posing with mem­bers of the op­po­site sex be­cause this looks like the very op­po­site of shy! I found this cool photo on Pin­terest.



1   Ac­cording to Ms. Keisker, she asked the young man, “What kind of singer are you?” Elvis re­sponded, “I sing all kinds.” Ei­ther in­trigued or merely being po­lite, she then asked, “Who do you sound like?” And Elvis con­fi­dently replied, “I don’t sound like nobody.”

2   I did not count the $2,000,000 paid for the Wu-Tang Clan ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHAOLIN com­pact disc be­cause it was a man­u­factured col­lectible. I con­sider the man­u­fac­ture of only one copy of the CD and its sub­se­quent sale to be an ad­ver­tising effort.

3   The song Sam had was a ballad called Without You that had been given Phillips by the song’s pub­lisher, Red Wortham. Elvis never did record the song.


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