To some, Mid-Century Albums may come under the heading “Remember When”. Others may appreciate the great design possibilities offered by the best Mid-Century Albums. Collectors spend a lot of time mining auctions and garage sales in the hope of finding mint condition LPs and covers. What follows is a bit of primer on Mid-Century Albums in the hopes you may unearth an album to make one of those collectors drool over. There are a number of books on album cover art, but in my opinion The Art of the Album Cover is the most comprehensive. It is a great book and easy to find, used. Research on the internet, however, is my first go to, and should keep you busy for days.
Remember when everything from unmentionables to tobacco products came wrapped in plain paper to avoid prying eyes and to discourage sales…Maybe you’re not that old. Until Alex Steinwiess, records came in brown paper sleeves. Packaging them otherwise had simply not occurred to anyone. Mr. Steinweiss created the first illustrated album cover in 1939. Steinweiss was a visionary graphic designer who was the genius behind marketing music through the medium of visual communication. He was hired by Columbia Records in 1939 and within months, due mainly to Steinweiss’s record covers, Columbia’s sales increased by 800%. He designed over 2500 mid-century album covers, covering every genre.
Many of the young talents behind the design of records albums during the 1940s and 50s would become well respected and highly paid artists, illustrating covers of notable magazines such as The New Yorker, Time, Life, New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek.
Perhaps the most famous of them all was Andy Warhol who began designing records covers in 1949…. Maybe you’re not that old either. A Warhol cover in mint condition can set you back thousands. This rare Thelonious Monk cover and LP has a value of approximately $1000.00.
Sometimes album covers, whether LPs or CDs attract more attention than whats inside. A number of album covers, including those of David Bowie and the Beatles verged on the pornographic and were toned down by the record companies shortly after release. Mint condition originals remain very desirable and have considerable value to collectors.
Remember when this 1971 Stones album by Andy Warhol was released…. OK, you might be this old. The album came with a functioning zipper, underneath which was a pair of men’s underwear. The real zipper and simulated belt buckle caused damage to the record during shipping so it was discontinued and a completely photographed cover took its place. An alternative cover for the LP released on the Iberian Peninsula shows severed female fingers floating in a can of treacle…… eeew!! Not mild even by today’s advertising standards, but if you would like a look here you go. Values vary wildly on this one… depends on the eeew factor.
Opportunities for illustrators and photographers went downhill in the 70’s and 80’s. Remember 8 tracks…. maybe not. Surely you remember tape cassettes, the Walkman type. Tapes didn’t need art, just labels. The marketing gurus used other methods to draw attention to taped music, but vinyl records didn’t vanish entirely, they just faded into the background. With fame, artists had the ability to exercise not only artistic control over their music but the packaging as well. Enter a new, edgier breed of illustrator. Glen Wexler, Alan Aldridge, Storm Thorgerson, and Guy Peellaert. They designed covers for the likes of “The Who, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbeth, Chic Corea, Herbie Hancock and David Bowie” ….you must be old enough to remember these.
There were a few artists who designed and illustrated their own covers. Joni Mitchell and John Lennon immediately come to mind.
Vinyl is making a comeback, as are record players….turntables to those in the know. We have a few in the store and not surprisingly the men usually gravitate towards the turntables and record art. Admittedly, the digital age has reduced the quality and quantity of exceptional album cover art, but not the demand. In fact, demand has increased, causing skyrocketing values for mid-century designs. Original art can be expensive; posters soon become yesterday’s news, but quality illustrations on CD covers and vinyl record albums are a great investment.
There are many imaginative ways of displaying album art. Bear in mind whichever method you choose, album covers and their contents do not stand the test of time when exposed to sunlight and humidity. Acid free matting is a must.
If garage sales are not your thing, check out our store for a selection of great framed mid-century album covers. You may find yourself uttering the words “remember when” to the next generation of texters, but watch their fingers…ONNTA.