Vinyl record albums are no longer produced in the quantities they once were, having been replaced by magnetic then digital media. However, the original issues are now collector's items. It is important for collectors to identify the edition of a vinyl record album to assess the value. By comparing information and designs on the album’s cover to a reliable reference, you can easily determine the edition of the album.
Obtain a reference listing of vinyl album record catalog numbers. A good source for this is the "Rockin' Records" guide by Jerry Osborne. The guide, updated annually, is available at JerryOsborne.com. You can find previous years’ guides at amazon.com. Osborne’s resource is by far the best choice and most easily obtained.
Another source is the catalog issued by the record company that produced the vinyl album. If you are using this as your guide, keep in mind that you must have the catalog that was issued when the vinyl album was in print. In other words, once the record was no longer being manufactured, it would no longer have been included in the record company’s catalog. You can find record company catalogs on online auction websites such as eBay.com.
Locate the catalog number on the album cover. You can find the catalog number in the fine print on the label of the record itself. It is also usually printed on the back cover. Although some albums have bar codes on the covers, and these bar codes will probably contain the catalog number, it is best to use the printed number instead of the one incorporated into the bar code.
Look up the name of the album and artist in your reference guide. Compare the catalog number on the album cover with the listing in your reference. According to Kurt Lee of the Des Moines, Iowa, Record Collectors Show, if the catalog number is different on the cover than the one in the reference list, the record is considered second edition.
Compare the record company logo and label on the record itself to the reference. Albums that stay in print for many years, such as those by Elvis Presley or the Beatles, may have different cover and label designs, even if the catalog numbers remain the same.
See if the album is a record club issue. There will be small print indicating this on the cover. According to Lee, “Since the early 1960s, LPs have been offered through record clubs via TV and magazine offers. A record club issue will look no different, but the catalog number will be different (many times a number beginning with the prefix 'ST'). Note that sound quality may be slightly lower on these issues, in comparison to an issue direct from the record company.”
Compare the cardboard album cover to the original issue depicted in the reference guide. Second editions and later editions may have changes in cover design, such as the words “reissue,” “abridged version” or “previously released"; blank areas or pictures of other albums by the same artist where original liner notes were published on the original version; later publishing or copyright dates; or different record company names. Another change may be that the original “gatefold” album cover has been replaced by a single cover.
Attend local record shows and visit used record shops to educate yourself about vinyl album editions.
Note that each recording company has its own cataloging system, so the catalog number format varies according to what company produced the record.