is “space oddity” the world’s most valuable picture sleeve?

Estimated reading time is 7 minutes.

“STREET FIGHTING MAN” by the Rolling Stones—the US issue on London Records—is the most valuable picture sleeve in the world! At least, that’s what I wrote nine years ago. At the time, I was unaware of any real contender for the title. Then I learned about the Japanese “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.

When I published “Is Street Fighting Man The Most Valuable Picture Sleeve In The World?” in 2014, it was a rhetorical question. I noted that at least one copy had sold for $9,000 on eBay and that this matched pre-internet sales of this sleeve. (Several copies have sold for considerably more since then.)

The original Philips single for David Bowie’s Space Oddity in Japan may contain the world’s most valuable picture insert.

Then I received a comment from a reader alerting me to the sale of the 45 rpm single with the “picture sleeve” (the quotation marks will be explained) for the original 1970 Japanese pressing of Space Oddity for more than $20,000!

When I read about the sale, I was confused: what had fetched that large sum of money—the record or the sleeve? It turns out that both items are so rare that there are few sales on the internet of either from which to draw a solid conclusion.

And despite the many Bowie websites, there is little discussion about these rather rare record items on any of them! So, of course, I had to do some research, from which this article was derived.

 

Space Oddity: this is the picture sleeve for London 45-909, the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man," from 1968.
This copy of the picture sleeve for London 45-909, the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” was graded only VG and yet sold for $22,600 in 2022!

Japanese “Space Oddity”

In Japan, a small number of Space Oddity / Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Philips SFL-1244) were manufactured with red labels marked “見本盤,” which roughly translates to “Sample Disc.” Supposedly, these were shipped to Japanese radio stations where apparently they received little airplay from disc jockeys.

Philips followed this with a small pressing of the record with blue labels, indicating they were for commercial distribution. These are so rare it’s difficult to imagine they made it to more than a handful of shops to test the market.

In a brief piece titled “Japanese Space Oddity 45 Sets All-time Auction High,” the davidbowie.com website noted the sale of the promo copy that I had been alerted to (slightly edited for stylistic considerations):

“An extremely rare Japanese promo of Space Oddity / Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud [Philips SFL-1244-M] has sold at auction in Japan for a staggering ¥2,113,100 (approximately $26,120). And it didn’t even have the inner generic Philips bag. How mental is that?

The seven-day auction ran from April 13-20, 2011, and took place on the Yahoo! Japan auction site, which may have actually narrowed the audience to some degree. Who knows what it might have fetched had it been listed on eBay?

This [record] is now a contender for the most expensive commercially released single of all time, albeit a promo.”

This does not mention whether the auction was for the record and the sleeve or just the record. By “inner bag,” I believe the writer is referring to the generic company sleeve (see image below). It also states that the Bowie record is now a “contender for the most expensive commercially released single of all time, albeit a promo.”

So sorry, but if it’s a promo, then it was not released commercially so can not be a contender for the most expensive “commercially released single of all time.

 

Space Oddity: this is front of the insert for Philips SFL-1244-M, David Bowie's "Space Oddity," from 1970.

Space Oddity: this is back of the insert for Philips SFL-1244-M, David Bowie's "Space Oddity," from 1970.
This appears to be a genuine copy of the insert for Philips SFL-1244 from 1970. The front looks like a normal picture sleeve while the back has lyrics for Space Oddity. The rust-colored spots on both sides (called “foxing”) are from the oxidation of impurities in the paper-making process.

Inserts aren’t picture sleeves

In an article on this blog, “Just What Is A Picture Sleeve?” I explain what a picture sleeve for a seven-inch, 45 rpm record is and has been to most of the record-producing countries in the world since the 1950s. A picture sleeve is, essentially, a paper envelope with a picture on at least one side that holds a record in it.

Another article, “Japanese Picture Inserts For 45 RPM Singles,” addressed the fact that Japanese record companies have issued seven-inch singles with paper inserts rather than paper sleeves for more than fifty years. 

A typical insert was a single sheet of paper approximately 6⅞ x 6⅞-inch in size. It had two sides: a picture or artwork on the front while the back usually had song lyrics or liner notes. Those lyrics were usually in English but some inserts also provided a Japanese translation. Liner notes were almost always in Japanese.

While many collectors of these Japanese picture inserts refer to them as sleeves, they are not sleeves.

 

Space Oddity: this is red label promo of Philips SFL-1244-M, David Bowie's "Space Oddity," from 1970.

Space Oddity: this is blue label stock copy of Philips SFL-1244-M, David Bowie's "Space Oddity," from 1970.
This is the red promotional label and blue commercial label that Philips Records used in the early ’70s. Note the promotional code in Japanese figures (見本盤 means Sample Copy) to the right of “Space Oddity” on the red label.

Japanese record parts

Since at least 1970, many record companies in Japan often issued seven-inch, 45 rpm singles in four “parts”:

1.  a record
2.  a generic company sleeve
3.  a picture/lyric sheet
4.  a plastic sleeve

That is, the record was housed in a generic record company paper sleeve. Then the record and sleeve along with the insert were slid into a clear plastic protective sleeve.

Note: In the ’70s, Japanese seven-inch, 45 rpm records were manufactured with a plain spindle hole or with a three-prong, pushout center in the spindle hole.

 
 

Space Oddity: this is front cover of David Bowie's second album on Philips from 1969 featuring "Space Oddity."
David Bowie’s second album was released in the UK by Philips and in the US by Mercury. Both versions featured “Space Oddity” and both were commercial failures. The album was reissued by RCA Victor in 1973 with a Ziggy Stardust-era photo.

Recent sales

Most of the past sales of this record and copies currently available are on Japanese-language websites. There are no sales of the record or the sleeve on my usual sources going back at least fifteen years (Discogs, Gripsweat, and Popsike). I found one copy of each of the promotional record and the commercial record for sale, each with the picture insert, on Yahoo Japan:

•  At the time of writing this, a copy of the red label record with the insert is available for ¥668,000, which is approximately $5,045. The seller grades the insert Good, which might appear to be a bit of under-grading to most buyers.

•  At the time of writing this, a copy of the blue label record with the insert is currently available for ¥698,000, which is approximately $5,270. The seller grades the insert VG++ despite the front having a noticeable stain and a sticker affixed to it!

The ol’ Avid Record Collector dare not make any suggested value for a near mint copy of this sleeve as his trusted advisor in all things Japanese—at least involving record collecting—says that “Japanese dealers often use a completely different grading scale and if you’re buying something using our grading scale, the terminology they use can be very deceptive if you’re not careful.”

 

Space Oddity: this is front of the unauthorized reproduction of the insert for Philips SFL-1244-M, David Bowie's "Space Oddity."

Space Oddity: this is back of the unauthorized reproduction of the insert for Philips SFL-1244-M, David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
This is a numbered reproduction of the insert for Philips SFL-1244 in nearly mint condition. The back cover is hand-stamped 066. The likelihood of finding an original in this condition is very, very slim.

Reproductions exist!

At least one reproduction of this insert exists. It is a “limited edition” with each insert numbered from 001 through 100. I found a copy for sale on eBay at this time (February 2023) for $139.

Other reproductions may exist.

 

Space Oddity: this is red label promo of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in a Philips Records generic company sleeve.
This is the generic company sleeve that Philips used in the early ’70s that probably held copies of SFL-1244-M. It is this sleeve that one writer referred to as an “inner generic Philips bag” above.

The world’s most valuable picture sleeve?

So, let’s answer the question in this article’s title: is “Space Oddity” the world’s most valuable picture sleeve?

Hell, no! Both the promotional and commercial pressings for Philips SFL-1244-M included a picture insert, not a picture sleeve. 

The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man retains the title of the “Most Valuable Picture Sleeve in the World.”

But Space Oddity just may be the most valuable insert in the world . . .

The original Philips single for David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in Japan may contain the world’s most valuable picture insert. Share on X

Space Oddity: this is a crop from the photo used for David Bowie's second album on Philips from 1969.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is an outtake from the photo sessions used on Bowie’s second album (Philips in the UK, Mercury in the US). It was used in some advertisements for the album.

Finally, special thanks to Mikel Orsborn of Mighty Vinyl for his assistance with all things Japanese (at least involving record collecting).

 


 

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