LIKE COMIC BOOKS, TRADING CARDS AND OTHER POP CULTURE COLLECTIBLES, THE RECORD-COLLECTING MARKET IS GIVING ENCAPSULATION A SPIN
By Eric Grubbs
Everybody loves a comeback story. Which might explain why vinyl records – once declared dead and gone – raked in $1.2 billion last year, outselling compact discs for the first time since 1987. Now, with the vinyl revival in full effect, a handful of vinyl-grading services want to make sure collectors’ most loved records live forever – by encasing them in sonically sealed plastic.
It’s no secret that encapsulation of sports cards and comic books revolutionized those collecting categories and has helped bring record prices for slabbed-in-plastic cards and books. In 2021, a CGC-encapsulated copy of Spider-Man’s 1962 debut in Amazing Fantasy No. 15 realized $3.6 million at Heritage Auctions, making it the most expensive comic ever sold at auction. And, last summer, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card slabbed by SGC brought $12.6 million at Heritage, setting the record for the world’s most valuable sports collectible.
In recent years, video games, VHS tapes and Pokémon cards, among other pop culture collectibles, have also seen impressive results after getting the shielded-in-acrylic treatment. So it only makes sense that vinyl records would be the next category to be preserved in plastic.
So far, the vinyl-slabbing market looks promising. On June 25, during its Music & Entertainment Showcase Auction, Heritage offered its first two encapsulated vinyl LPs: George Harrison’s Cloud Nine and the Spencer Davis Group’s Heavies, both graded and slabbed by Dallas-based startup Tuned In Grading. The former Beatle’s last solo album released in his lifetime sold for $637, and Heavies, featuring a young Stevie Winwood, brought $325. Compared to the eye-popping prices realized for Spidey and Mantle, those amounts might seem paltry – until you realize the previous high price for each record was just $35.
Launched in 2022, Tuned In Grading is the brainchild of four friends-turned-business partners: real estate entrepreneur and avid music memorabilia collector Rogers Healy; radio personality and music producer Jeff “Skin” Wade; and Luke Sardello and Waric Cameron, whose Dallas location of their Josey Records retail chain is one of the largest record stores in the country.
According to Tuned In Grading’s press materials, the foursome hopes to create “the next record renaissance” by offering vinyl collectors a way to safeguard their most prized pieces. Or, as Healy describes it, their goal is to “preserve the music” – a mission that could eventually include 4-track tapes, 8-tracks and CDs, too. In addition to confirming a record’s authenticity, the company grades each record on a 1-to-10 scale and encases it in a tamper-resistant, clear plastic holder designed to prevent the wear and tear of storage while also displaying the album artwork.
Healy says it took a few years for Tuned In Grading to move from idea to reality, a journey prompted by the watchful eye he and his partners kept on various collecting categories. “People were encapsulating VHS tapes, laser discs, posters and video games, but no one had done that for records,” he says. “For me, being an active collector in the music space, it was bound to happen.”
While some audiophiles might bristle at the thought of encasing a cherished record in a piece of plastic – never listening to its tracks or poring over its liner notes – Ari Crane, Heritage Auctions’ Vinyl Consignment Director, says certain records are ripe for encapsulation.
“Vinyl is meant to be played and enjoyed, but when it comes to rare records, it’s important to preserve them in the best possible way,” he says. “I strongly believe that sealed records, acetates, test pressings, promos and historically significant records will do great with encapsulation.”
Vinyl is meant to be played and enjoyed, but when it comes to rare records, it’s important to preserve them in the best possible way.”
–Ari Crane, Vinyl Consignment Director, Heritage Auctions
Garry Shrum, Director of Entertainment & Music Memorabilia at Heritage and a former record store owner, concurs with his colleague: “There are quite a few exceptionally rare records I’ve come across over the years, and I’ve thought about how they should be properly stored and cared for,” he says. “Seeing an older record with solid corners on the sleeve is rare, so encapsulating is a great way to keep them that way.” Shrum adds that he would like to see picture discs, 7-inch singles and 10-inch EPs also get the encapsulation treatment.
Tuned In Grading is one of several new ventures in the vinyl-grading space. Superstar DJ Steve Aoki recently helped launch Audio Media Grading (AMG), which evaluates CDs, cassettes and 8-tracks in addition to vinyl. Other fresh-on-the-scene vinyl-grading services include Vintage Media Grading (VMG) and Audiophile Archive & Grading Services (AAGS), with more companies set to join the fray.
On August 4-5, during its next Music Memorabilia Signature® Auction, Heritage will feature more than 20 encapsulated vinyl records, including sealed first pressings, test pressings and promos, with several pieces hailing from Jim Copeland’s Crush on Vinyl Ultimate Audiophile Archive, a massive collection Heritage began auctioning in May of this year. And even more encapsulated records are set to appear in Heritage’s November 18-19 Music Memorabilia Signature® Auction.
“The vinyl record preservation market has massive potential,” Crane says, “and it’s just getting started.”
ERIC GRUBBS is a pop music cataloger at Heritage Auctions.