There’s virtually no vinyl record in history more sought after by collectors than a genuine copy of Prince‘s Black Album. Warner Bros. pressed approximately 500,000 copies of the album in late 1987, but ordered them all destroyed once Prince decided it was “evil” and should never see release. The label worked extremely hard to destroy every single copy, even asking executives to bring back advance CDs so they could be crushed. In late 1994, Prince briefly allowed his label to sell it on CD and cassette, but no vinyl copies were created. Only three American copies from the original 1987 vinyl pressing have surfaced in the past 30 years. “It is easily one of the rarest records in the world,” says Jeff Gold, a former Warner Bros. Executive Vice President who now runs the music memorabilia store Record Mecca, “if not the rarest.”
Gold was therefore very skeptical earlier this month when he got an email inquiry asking about the value of a sealed Black Album. “I naturally assumed it was a fake,” he says, “but wrote a polite response back that one really couldn’t tell if it was genuine unless you opened up the record and inspected it, and that almost all of them were unfortunately not authentic.” But once he realized he was corresponding with someone he remembered from his days at Warner Bros. (whose name he doesn’t want to reveal) he knew they probably had a genuine item. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “In a few minutes we were talking on the phone for the first time in many years.”
The story he heard from his old colleague stunned him. It turned out the man’s daughter recently bought her first turntable and asked him to send her some records. He looked through some boxes that had been in a closet for 25 years and came across two sealed Warner Bros. mailers. Inside were five copies of Prince’s Black Album in pristine condition.
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Three of them were sent to Gold to sell for $15,000 each. “I sold the first one with a single phone call to a client,” he says. “I’m guessing the others will sell very quickly.” (They are for sale right now on his website.) The executive is keeping one and is contemplating selling another one at auction next year.
Now that Gold got his hands on multiple copies of the Black Album, his thoughts have turned to a Prince record that’s even harder to track down. “Recently two test pressings of another never-released Prince album, titled Camille, have surfaced and sold for huge amounts,” he says. “Not much is known about it – I think it was probably something Prince pressed up himself, not made by Warner Bros, his label at the time. None of my former WB co-workers know anything about it. But if you’re looking at actual finished records, The Black Album is right at the top of the list of rarest records in the world.”