is “street fighting man” the most valuable picture sleeve in the world?

On August 30, 1968, London Records pulled Street Fighting Man from the Rolling Stones’ recently released BEGGARS BANQUET album and issued it as the group’s follow-up single to Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The latter had been a big hit worldwide, reaching #1 on the Cash Box Top 100, although for some inexplicable reason it stalled at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

As Street Fighting Man was of a quality similar if not quite equal to Jumpin’ Jack Flash, I assume now that everyone assumed then that another top-tenner was on the way. Such was not the case: radio programmers around the country completely misconstrued the meaning of the song, relying on the title instead of the lyrics for the record’s ‘message.’

Certainly the song’s title—Street Fighting Man—could give anyone cause for pause: are the Rolling bloody Stones trying to incite a riot? For many of us who lived through that time, 1968 is remembered as a summer of riots*, beginning with those sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April (mostly in black neighborhoods) followed by the police riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August (mostly in white neighborhoods).

So, despite my political/cultural bona fides—which can be described as having formed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—I can easily see radio station managers quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing this record and dealing with the possibility of their station’s switchboard lighting up with irate callers (from mostly white neighborhoods). But the actual message of the song is not in the title, it’s in the lyrics:

Everywhere I hear the sound
of marching, charging feet, boy.
‘Cause summer’s here and the time is right
for fighting in the street, boy.

Well now, what can a poor boy do,
‘cept to sing for a rock and roll band,
‘cause in sleepy London town
there’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Hey! Think the time is right for palace revolution.
‘Cause where I live the game to play
is compromise solution.

Well now, what can a poor boy do,
‘cept to sing for a rock and roll band,
‘cause in sleepy London town
there’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance.
I’ll shout and scream!
I’ll kill the king!
I’ll rail at all his servants!

Well now, what can a poor boy do,
‘cept to sing for a rock and roll band,
‘cause in sleepy London town
there’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Rather than inciting riots, the song seems to concern the recognition and resignation of the singer to the fact that he’s not revolutionary, just a singer in a rock and roll band, perhaps a frustrated revolutionary wannabe at best.

Or, he could be saying that he is a revolutionary, but there’s just no place for him because no one else is interested. Unless Jagger intended a bit of irony beyond the grasp of all but a few record buyers, this song is NOT a call to arms against The Establishment.


London Records had ordered a run of picture sleeves for the single, which was the norm for any American record by the Rolling Stones. But the norm was usually a posed photo of the group, which ranged from the striking (19th Nervous Breakdown and Let’s Spend The Night Together) to the camp, tasteless. or just plain silly (Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows? and Jumpin’ Jack Flash). For a look-see at all the US sleeves, refer to a site apparently called Revelations on the Rolling Stones.

For Street Fighting Man / No Expectations, someone in London’s graphics department opted for another kind of image all together: the sleeve for London 45-909 was a plain black and white photo with a rather garish orange border. But it wasn’t the border that caused anyone’s eyes to turn to the sleeve. Here is how Bonhams described the sleeve in its catalog for a June 2011 auction:

Street Fighting Man was the first picture sleeve released by the Stones that did not feature an image of the band. The single was first released in August of 1968, just before the Chicago Democratic National Convention, where riots broke out between demonstrators and the Chicago police force.

The Stones’ picture sleeve used two images depicting police brutality taken from one of the many riots that had broken out in over one hundred U.S. cities [earlier] that year. The record company deemed the sleeve to be inappropriate and it was immediately withdrawn.

No one knows for sure how many examples of this sleeve have survived but most estimate the number to be between ten and eighteen copies, placing it among the rarest pieces of Rolling Stones memorabilia.”

I assume that whoever designed this sleeve either had a prescient sense of current events—the Democratic National Convention had not occurred when this sleeve was manufactured—or none at all!

SFM

The photo on the front of the sleeve (above) shows three cops standing over a downed man with a woman giving him aid. This makes it appear as though the three had beaten up the one, although that is an assumption, not a known. (If I wanted to be cynical, I could say it was a given, but I am not given to cynicism.)

Stones_Street_B_PS

The photo on back of the sleeve (above) has three different cops either subduing (holding down) or assisting (helping up) a man that seems to be resisting. This makes it appear as though the three had beaten up or were about to beat up the one, although that is an assumption, not a known. (If I wanted to be cynical, I could say it was a given, but I am not given to cynicism.)

Needless to say, neither photo makes the police officers look good . . .

No way in hell is that going out of here

The poor wanker in London’s art department—who may go forever unnamed and therefore unenshrined—could have been oblivious to his environment and simply thought the photo appropriate for a record with such a title. We will probably never know if any heads rolled or positions were terminated due to the ensuing fiasco. Certainly someone at London saw the sleeve prior to its general release and decided, “No way in hell is that going out of here!”

As far as we know, almost every copy was destroyed. Now, when a picture sleeve for a new single by a major record-selling artist is manufactured, it is not done by the handful. The term cheaper-by-the-dozen translates in mass-produced popular culture to cheaper-by-the-millions. So while we will never know how many were made, we can assume that it was a significant print run—at least in the thousands, if not the tens of thousands.

We can also assume that every one of those sleeves were rent asunder into smaller pieces than the cassette tape of the air-traffic controllers’ recollections on the events of September 11, 2001, that was destroyed by an unidentified supervisor mere hours after the event! (Another one of those amazing ‘little’ events that accompany the BIG event that begs us to question the ‘facts’ concerning event. But that’s another story . . .)

It is possible that not a single sleeve found its way onto the racks of retail stores anywhere in America in 1968.

The Avid Record Collector’s price guide

Nonetheless, a few copies of the picture sleeve for did escape the shredder (probably by alert if sticky-fingered London employees) and they are among the most collectable and valuable picture sleeves in the business. Daring to assign a number to how many copies of the sleeve escaped destruction is not something that the Avid Record Collector is up for.

On Popsike, a copy graded VG++++++ (although the image used on the ad is not VG+ but appears VG, as it is heavily marred by record indentation—and someone needs to tell the poor boy that advertised the item that multiple plus signs do not turn VG into NM) sold for $9,001 in 2008.

That is the only copy of the picture sleeve to London 45-909 to sell on eBay in the past ten years!

For the Bonhams sleeve above: the site I have linked to does not give a grade for the item (lot #2264), but if the picture used at that site is the actual item (and I assume that it is), then it appears to have been in DNM condition (damn near mint). It sold for $17,080!

High quality reproductions of this sleeve were manufactured in the ‘80s and usually sell as collectables. Alas, neither I nor the Avid Record Collector knows how to differentiate the high quality reproductions from the authentic sleeve, either visually or in how it was manufactured.

In 2012, six copies from one seller sold for $100 each in near mint condition. An obvious repro but not listed as such sold for $305 in 2012. Another repro that was listed as a repro sold for $203 in 2013.

“Having dreams are nice but let’s face it, you will never find a real one. You might as well hope to win Power Ball, too. Along with a purple and white stock copy of [London 45-9641, I Wanna Be Your Man / Stoned], the Street Fighting Man picture sleeve is the Holy Grail for Stones collectors. This reproduction was copied directly from one of the few remaining originals.” (Unnamed seller)

Unknown to Stones collectors for years was the fact that Decca of Denmark had also issued this single in 1968 with a picture sleeve as Decca F-22825 (below). It used the same black and white photo that appeared on the No Expectations side of the London sleeve, except the Danish art department added red and yellow washes to it.

Stones_SFM_Danish

Four copies sold in 2014: one in “great condition” for $85, a “nice copy” with writing on back cover for $156, a VG+ sleeve for $183, and the choicest one in VG++ for $221. (Vot’s mit der multiple plusses already?!?) As a group, these four are rather unreliable indicators for assessing the sleeve’s value, as they are not NM and appear to have been sold by people who did not know how to advertise them effectively.

A more accurate value for a NM copy is better derived from two copies graded M- that sold for more than $600 each in 2011 and 2013.

The most valuable picture sleeve in the world?

To determine the value of this picture sleeve, I have but two sales upon which to make an assessment: first there is the $9,000 paid for a less-than-NM copy, sold by a possible amateur—meaning that it may have sold for less than it could have—six years ago, which is nigh on a generation in the world of collecting. 

I also have the $17,000 paid for a NM copy, sold by an international auction house—which means that it may have sold for more than it should have—all of three years ago, still a long time by collectors’ standards.

Should a copy graded mint-minus (M-) turn up for sale on eBay in the hands of a reputable dealer, I would not be surprised to see it surpass the $17,000 price above. If the same sleeve turned up on an auction of the scale of a Bonhams, I would not be surprised if it sold for more than $20,000.

Therefore, I do not feel uncomfortable assigning a NM value of $12,000-18,000 on this rather rare record-related collectable. (I covered my bases with a big spread, nyet?)

If I and the Avid Record Collector are accurate—which, of course, we almost always are—then this makes the Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man the most valuable picture sleeve in the world?

(Please note that a truly mint copy sold by a truly reputable source could surpass my figure by thousands of dollars.)

PS: For the sake of the sometimes inept reader of my SEO by Yoast plugin, I need to repeat these words: Is Street Fighting Man the most valuable picture sleeve in the world?


7 Replies to “is “street fighting man” the most valuable picture sleeve in the world?”

  1. CA

    Good on you for having better taste than me and digging the Stones from the get go instead needing a few years to recognize bloody genius like I did!

    NU

    1. MARSHALL

      Thanks for the comment! The “Space Oddity” single and sleeve (Philips SFL-1244 of Japan) reputedly sold for $26,000, but I haven’t been able to find any reliable source proving the actual sale. Do you have a link to such a source?

      NEAL

  2. Great info. Thank you.

    I own most of the original artwork for this rare sleeve. Purchased more than a decade ago, it includes the front photo and overlays. All are in “production” form with spotting having been done and minor corrections on these working pieces.

    Included was a sample printing on what appears to be scrap paper of the “No Expectations” wording (obviously one part of a multiple layer art work up for final production prior to “shooting” a single image of the accumulated multi-layer art for production).

    Purchased from a major auction house that stated these were the original * production elements not items or parts used in either the official Danish or bootleg/pirate copies that were produced at later dates.

    BTW: It is unclear if this sleeve was produced by London or their distribution partner in the USA at the time. Just a side note given conversations I have had over the years with numerous Stones collectors and record company old timers.

    So all that being said, I am going to be putting these art dept pcs (no original sleeves or progressives, just the 3 layers of production art) up for auction this year (house unknown at this time).

    Thank you for the great article on this rare sleeve. Just one more part of the story for this 45 picture sleeve and Stones fans. Thank you.

    1. PAUL

      What can I say to that, except quote ol’ Frank What’s-his-name: WOWIE ZOWIE, BABY!!!

      You interested in working with me on an article about your artwork? I’ll submit it to major magazines for publication (Rolling Stone and MOJO come to mind). If they published it, it would probably boost interest in your auction down the line …

      Best,

      NEAL

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