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What are the Catalog Numbers on Vinyl Records?

Vinyl records are back in style; some are worth a pretty penny.
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Vinyl records fell out of favor with the music-buying public after compact discs emerged in the mid-1980s. However, many people wisely held on to their old record albums, knowing they would become collector's items one day. Indeed, vinyl albums that are particularly rare or in mint condition now command high prices on the collector's market. In order to learn more about a vinyl record and its worth, you must first begin with the catalog number.

What Is a Catalog Number?

A catalog number is assigned to every release by the record company to identify that particular release. This is true for vinyl (33, 45 and 78 rpm) records, compact discs, cassettes, 8-track tapes and DVDs. The number is used to track sales through distributors and for the label's in-house accounting purposes. This little number might not mean much to your average record buyer—in fact, most people never even notice it. But to music sellers, disc jockeys, record collectors and music junkies, a catalog number is very important. This can identify whether or not a record is rare, imported, out-of-print or of a certain historic value.

Where to Find the Catalog Number

The placement of a catalog number usually varies depending on the issuing record company. As a general rule for vinyl record albums, the catalog number will either be found on the spine of the album or on the back cover. The catalog number is often found in more than one place, both on the outside of the album and on the disc itself. It is nearly always scratch printed into the runoff groove near the center of 33 rpm records and may also appear on the label. 45 and 78 rpm records nearly always will have the catalog number printed right on the label.

What a Catalog Number Looks Like

Catalog numbers are generally a combination of numbers and letters, although not always. Each record company has its own unique numbering system, so the styling of catalog numbers will vary from one label to another. Typically, any letters will be a part of the record label's name, and the numbers will identify the order that particular record was released in succession by the record company. Catalog numbers may vary by country as well, depending on the issuing label in that nation. For example, in England, the Beatles "Abbey Road" album was released by Apple/Parlophone with a catalog number of PCS 7088; in the U.S. it was issued by Capitol Records with a catalog number of SO 383.

What You Can Learn From a Catalog Number

Much information can be gleaned from an album's catalog number, such as the country of origin, issuing label and whether it is a 33, 45 or 78 rpm. Most importantly, a catalog number helps you determine whether an album is a genuine release, a counterfeit or bootleg. When it comes to vinyl record collecting, buying and selling, these are critical factors in determining a record's monetary value. For example, an original Sun Records 45 of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" will be worth far more than a later counterfeit version released in the 1970s. Because some counterfeits and bootlegs are cleverly packaged to look like the original releases, sometimes the only way to tell if it's the real deal is by the catalog number.

How to Cross-Reference Catalog Numbers

There are numerous websites that allow record collectors to look up catalog numbers and verify the provenance of an album. Most of these databases are available for free. By simply typing in the catalog number on your vinyl LP, 45 or 78 rpm record, you can verify if it is an authentic original release or re-release, counterfeit or bootleg. Most record catalog databases include additional information about the album and oftentimes a photograph of the record jacket and/or label for the sake of comparison and identification.

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