MANANGING YOUR VINYL COLLECTION
This guide is all about protecting your prized and hopefully valuable LP record collection.
I’ve witnessed how both LP jackets (the record cover with the graphics and text) and the vinyl can deteriorate without proper handling and storage, so over the years I’ve experimented with different techniques and have optimized the process of LP storage. The ultimate goal of the LP storage exercise is twofold:
- Your vinyl should remain devoid of added contaminants (primarily paper dust and fingerprints)
- The LP cover should retain a condition identical to the day of purchase
This written guide was prepared with the intention of delivering practical knowledge on record storage that will make you the beneficiary of my years of restlessness and perspiration!
Ardent record collectors will be quick to recognize that an LP should be protected by two record sleeves; the inner sleeve which houses the vinyl within the record jacket and the outer sleeve, which protects the LP jacket. I’ll address both entities separately.
Ok, so let’s begin with the basics. Why should I use an inner sleeve versus jamming my vinyl, sleeveless, into the LP jacket? Perhaps the most practical way to answer this question is by example. Take a trip to your local thrift store, wonder over to the random stacks of records and take a look through some LP’s. Since this venue generally doesn’t regard vinyl with a high degree of affection, you’ll notice that a significant portion of the albums will have their inner sleeve in absentia. Pull a few records out of this lot for inspection and chances are much greater than your odds of winning at Vegas craps, that your discerning eyes will detect visible scratches and dirt on the record surface. Shame to the heathens that would treat their vinyl with such disrespect. Why I’ll bet their kids are in reform school! :)
Simply put, the absence of an inner sleeve subjects a record to the vagaries of its environment. If we were to use an electron microscope and take a close-up view the grooves on an LP’s surface, we would essentially be looking at miniature ditches, which make great repositories for dust, fingerprints, pollen, pet dander and whatever else you can think of on this diminutive scale. In addition, the inside of an LP jacket is a goldmine of paper dust just waiting to be released. Keep in mind that the LP jacket is milled from paper mash containing hundreds of thousands of fine cellulose fibers, many of which are the perfect size to line tender LP grooves and have your expensive needle grind through them. Get the picture?
Now that we’ve determined that using an inner sleeve is a good idea, let’s consider our options. If there was only one type or brand of inner sleeve our choice would me made instantaneously, but the reality of course is to the contrary. Putting brands aside, there are 3 primary types of inner sleeve:
- 100% paper
- Paper exterior with a plastic inner liner
- 100% plastic
We’ve all had the experience where during a used record shopping spree, we eyeball a 30 or 40 year old album, pull out the inner sleeve to take a peek at the vinyl and we are exposed to a faded, browned paper inner sleeve. Then we examine the vinyl and it has inevitably lost its sheen in addition to having plenty of paper dust on its surface. Unfortunately, paper has electrostatic properties causing it to attract dust and it loves to share this “free” dust with vinyl.
If you’re getting the impression that I’m not a fan of paper sleeves then you have advanced to the next round.
At greater expense but better protection quality, paper sleeves with a plastic inner liner substantially lower the paper dust issue. The vinyl now has a thin layer of plastic separating it from direct contact with paper. The key here is that the plastic liner has lower electrostatic properties than paper, so it attracts less dust. The paper/plastic sleeve is far superior to paper only and many of today’s vinyl reissues use this type of inner sleeve.
Have I saved the best for last? You betcha!
Why would 100% plastic be best? Well first of all we’ve eliminated the electrostatic paper from the equation. Secondly, modern plastic inner sleeves are made with anti-static plastic, ergo, less dust to attract. Thirdly, and this point is important, plastic inner sleeves are thin, which minimizes pressure on the LP jacket seams (the side joints that hold the front of the jacket to the back). Keep in mind that with used collectable albums you will likely retain the original inner sleeve (only if it contains graphics or significant markings which contribute to the authenticity of the LP) so you will be adding another ‘container’ to the inside of the LP jacket. The added seam pressure is especially apparent with the paper/plastic combo sleeve. Also, some LP’s are sold with added inserts or posters which further exacerbate seam stress.
Of the various brands of plastic inner sleeves available, I prefer the Japanese, rounded bottom anti-static sleeves. The key here is the rounded bottom which makes insertion of the sleeve into the jacket easy and it eliminates the unsightly folded corners which are too common with square sleeves. A major hassle at used record stores is trying to jam the square record sleeves back into the jacket after inspecting the vinyl, sometimes causing you to split seams and then you quickly put the record back in the bin like nothing happened as you glance sideways to see if anyone saw you. I’m sure this has never happened to you, right? :)
Finally, this sleeve is less expensive than the paper/plastic combo so choosing it should be a no-brainer.
Few things in the life of a record collector are more disappointing then sifting through bins of used records and finding vinyl in fine condition, but the LP jackets are trashed. This situation can be prevented by the use of an outer sleeve which will virtually eliminate ring wear, faded luster, paper tears and minimize corner dents, creases, split seams and mildew. I can exemplify of the benefit of using outer sleeves by reaching into my collection and pulling out 25 to 40 year old LP’s stored with outer sleeves. These LP jackets still appear M to NM (grading abbreviations for Mint and Near Mint) confirming that this simple solution is consistent and lasts.
Outer sleeves are generally available in two formats, open ended and re-sealable. The open ended sleeves have seams on 3 sides and allow you to slide the LP jacket into the opening. The sleeve is slightly larger than the LP so that it can accommodate most double albums. It’s best to slide the open end of the LP into the sleeve first since this allows the spine of the LP jacket (which has the LP title/performer listed) to be revealed through the sleeve opening. This method also provides superior protection from airborne contaminants.
Open ended sleeves are often available in various thicknesses ranging from 2.5mm to 5mm and my experience consistently leans to the thicker, sturdier sleeve.
On the flip side, most open ended sleeves are made from polypropylene, which has excellent clarity when new, but quickly fades to become translucent and even browning in some instances. I’ve found that the polypropylene sleeves also have a greater propensity for attracting dust.
The best sleeve that I’ve found to date is the "Japanese" re-sealable. The term "Japanese" in this case, is not a generic term referring to the country of Japan. But, instead, that is the brand name "Japanese". This sleeve has a flap which folds over the otherwise open end of the sleeve and attaches to an adhesive strip. Although the re-sealable sleeve does not hermetically seal the LP jacket, it is the closest to this ideal. In addition, this sleeve is manufactured with Mylar; an advanced form of polyester which has two major advantages over the polypropylene products:
- The Mylar doesn’t fade. Whereas polypropylene has excellent clarity when new, Mylar has outstanding clarity which remains consistent over time.
- Mylar sleeves attract less dust vs. polypropylene sleeve.
The unfortunate thing is that these sleeves are usually in short supply or out of stock. I didn't write this eBay guide in order to sell archive quality sleeves or steer people to a site. My sole purpose is to inform record collectors of what the best 'archival' quality LP protectors are. Unfortunately, 99% of the people selling record sleeves are selling the 'polypropylene' type. On eBay, from time-to-time, you will be able to find the recommended 'mylar' type in 4mil thickness that I recommend. Usually, they charge extremely high prices for them, because savvy sellers know they are rare nowadays. If you are lucky enough to find a stash of them, you have really found something! In the eBay search, just type in "archival mylar record sleeve" in the search field/box. If you do some research, you will discover that collectors of rare comic books valued at hundreds and thousands of dollars always use 'mylar' protectors.
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