Posted by Kevin Boyd, 10 March 2013
(edited: 16 March 2013, 17 April 2017)
This is the first of a series of posts describing what to look for when buying rare Martin Carthy records, CDs and memorabilia. The posts are designed to give you a better idea of how to identify harder to find examples and what you should expect to pay. The valuations I suggest are purely subjective so it’s worth shopping around and remembering that any item is only worth what you are prepared to pay.
This first post concentrates on Carthy’s 1960s albums on the Fontana label. To avoid complicated explanations and in common with the standard across this entire site I consider ‘solo’ releases to include both Carthy’s purely solo issues and his duo albums with Dave Swarbrick. In terms of collectibility these releases can broadly be grouped together as they share a number of common characteristics which I’ll discuss here but there are also a handful of less common variations which distinguish the original issues from later pressings.
Packaging design and construction
The standard packaging method for vinyl albums from roughly the mid-1950s onwards was the ‘wrap-around’ (or ‘flipback’) sleeve. The front cover is printed in colour and laminated but the back cover is unlaminated with black text on a white background. The laminated front section wraps around the printed back panel which tucks under and fixes to three exposed ‘flaps’. In some cases the back card panel is blank and a single printed paper sheet is pasted over the entire back section, partly covering the laminated flaps. By the late ’60s fully laminated sleeves were more prominent, consisting of a single component part, printed in full colour and completely laminated. The back section was fixed outside the flaps allowing the use of seamless full-colour printing across the entire sleeve. This was the method generally used for all subsequent releases in the vinyl age.
Identifying original pressings
Examples of Carthy’s 1960s releases utilising all these construction methods exist and understanding them can be useful in determining when a particular pressing was produced. Carthy’s first album, Martin Carthy, issued by Fontana in 1965, was pressed in both mono and stereo versions and original examples have the wrap-around sleeve with a single paper sheet pasted over the back cover. Second Album (1966), Byker Hill (1967) and But Two Came By… (1968) were all originally issued with wrap-around sleeves without the pasted paper section (i.e. with the back cover info printed directly onto the card sleeve) and Prince Heathen (1969) was the only example to have originally been issued in a fully laminated sleeve.
I discussed matrix numbers in a previous post and all original Fontana releases have the first section of the matrix number printed under the catalogue number on the back sleeve. The number also appears on the record label under the 33⅓ and stereo (or mono) symbols and the labels themselves are all printed in black and silver on original pressings. Matrix numbers for the stereo releases all begin with 886 whereas my 1965 mono copy of Martin Carthy has a number beginning with 687 as does the mono copy of Second Album in Reinhard Zierke’s collection (see the relevant scans on Reinhard’s website).
In my collection I have what I take to be a later pressing of Second Album with a fully laminated sleeve and blue and silver Fontana labels. The matrix number doesn’t appear on the back sleeve but it is on the printed label. Fully-laminated versions of Byker Hill and Martin Carthy can also be found and although I’ve never examined copies in detail I do know that the labels on Byker Hill are black and silver. I don’t know when these versions were issued but I guess they date from the later ’60s or very early ’70s. Two other distinguishing features of these issues is the lighter vinyl which again suggests a pressing date some time after their original 1965/66 releases and somewhat lighter card used in the sleeve construction but these difference may only be apparent when compared directly with an original pressing.
As a general rule the value of collectable records, as with any collectables, is dictated by a combination of rarity and availability. A number of years ago it would have taken some effort, and the occasional stroke of luck, to track down decent copies of Carthy’s Fontana output and prices reflected this. With the recent ubiquity of eBay, Amazon and other online retailers these releases are now much more widely available to the average collector despite being technically no less scarce, but prices remain relatively high. Personally I would be reluctant to pay more than £25 for a mint condition stereo copy of any of the Fontana albums, with the value decreasing by degrees in line with the condition of the specific copy. A cursory review of eBay on any given week reveals prices for original pressings (rarely in mint condition) ranging from around £15 up to £50 or more with the majority sitting at the upper end of this scale. This general overpricing seems to be most common with Carthy’s first album, which is rarely offered for less than £25 and often starts at twice this price, which seems odd as its constant availability on eBay suggests that it is the least scarce of the Fontana releases.
Perhaps the rarest of the Fontana releases is the mono version of the first album so if any release warrants a value at the higher end of the scale it is this. The highest price I’ve seen quoted for this release is €100 (around £85) which seems excessively high and I’d suggest a more realistic value would be somewhere between £35 and £50. It may also be worth pointing out here that mono copies of the first album differ from stereo in that they have a greenish tint to the front cover photograph, whereas stereo copies have a more distinctive blue tint.
The later reissues with laminated sleeves and blue/silver labels may in fact be scarcer than the original black/silver label releases with wrap-around sleeves. But a combination of the laminated sleeve, the ‘wrong’ colour label in some cases, lighter vinyl and (most crucially) the simple fact that they are not the original pressings are likely to make them less desirable for most collectors. This will be reflected in the price, which I would expect to be anything up to 40% less than the original pressings.
Prices quoted are for mint condition copies only. The industry standard Record Collector grading system describes mint as follows: “The record itself is in brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality. The cover and any extra items such as the lyric sheet, booklet or poster are in perfect condition”. Lower quality copies will clearly warrant lower prices by relative degrees and since Carthy’s Fontana releases are now over 40 years old you’re unlikely to find many mint copies so this should be borne in mind when considering how much to pay.
Here’s a checklist of characteristics to look out for on original 1960s Fontana pressings.
Martin Carthy (1965)
Second Album (1966)
Byker Hill (1967)
But Two Came By… (1968)
Prince Heathen (1969)