Collecting Record Cover Art — All or Nothing?

As Dave Haslam points out in his little book A Life in Thirty-five Boxes (subtitled How I Survived Selling my Record Collection), there are basically two classes of collector; the completist and the dilettante. The former strives to collect everything in his or her field of interest while the dilettante picks and chooses among items. A stamp collector might concentrate on collecting stamps with sports figures or butterflies and be happy with the most famous footballers or the prettiest butterflies. But being a completist in either of these fields would be nigh on impossible. The same, of course, applies to collectors of record cover art. The dilettante can pick and choose which record covers to collect. The completist wants every cover in a particular field of collecting.

My record collection started out as a library of popular music from the late fifties to today and grew to more than 5,000 records and CDs before I started to concentrate more on record cover design. The first designer I discovered and decided to collect was the late Vaughan Oliver and I collected a wonderful collection of his work before selling the majority of my collection almost ten years ago. I have now only one of the covers by his v23 design group — Pieter Nooten’s Sleeps With the Fishes, which is still one of my all-time favourite designs (by Chris Bigg).

When I sold the bulk of my collection, I kept my Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Klaus Voormann and Damien Hirst covers. These artists have only produced relatively limited numbers of covers; Andy Warhol produced about 65 covers during his lifetime, though many more have used his art since. There are only about thirty covers designed by Peter Blake and around eighty by Klaus Voorman and currently about seventy by Damien Hirst. And the artist I started collecting most recently is David Shrigley. Shrigley has designed a frisbee with the message “I collect records — I am obsessed by them”. Shrigley is a record collector and sometime DJ but his art seems seldom influenced by music. However, he has used his qirky writings on several record, cassette and CD covers. Thus far, he is responsible for about seventy covers, many very limited editions produced to accompany exhibitions of his art.

Then there’s Banksy. I started collecting Banksy’s record cover art around 2005 and collected almost fifty covers quite quickly. This is where I recognised that I am a completist. I wanted to include every cover in my collection.

There were several temporary “highs” when I thought I had completed a collection of one of my artist’s production only to find myself disappointed when someone found a cover that I had missed. I am responsible for reporting three previously unrecognised Andy Warhol covers and I can say I have a “pretty complete” collection of Warhol covers — note: not complete, but “pretty complete”. The same applies to my David Shrigley, Peter Blake and Damien Hirst collections and my Klaus Voormann collection (though I do lack two Voormann covers, but I know what they are.)

However, I am now beginning to realise that my collection of Banksy covers will never be complete as new discoveries are being made almost daily and my initial list of around fifty covers has now grown to almost one hundred and fifty, and still more covers are being recognised. Amazingly, many of these new “discoveries” were produced prior to 2010, when I thought I had found ALL of Banksy’s covers.

Banksy’s art is now so attractive to collectors and his early record covers, particularly his vinyl covers, have become prohibitively expensive. Most of the new “discoveries” are on CDs produced by relatively obscure bands, commonly punk or hiphop, in very limited numbers and are becoming impossible to find at reasonably prices as collectors compete for each available copy. There are a few nice vinyl covers, too and some more unscrupulous people are producing limíted edition vinyl 12-inchers with Banksy art covers simply to lure collectors. There are three recent releases in this category; two by a band called Boys in Blue — one using Banksy’s Rude Copper and one using his Strawberry Donut images, and another by Apes on Control that uses his Choose Your Weapon design. Unfortunately, I was taken in by the first Boys in Blue scam but have resisted the the others.

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