BEFORE DELVING INTO ALBUMS from the ’60s that wound up in record store cut-out bins after 1968, I want to address the meaning of the term “cut-out.” It has nothing to do with the punched holes, clipped corners, and other defacements found on old album jackets. The term simply applies to a record that has been deleted—or “cut out”—from a record company’s catalog of in-print titles. Once an album is deleted, it is a cut-out, even if it’s in perfect condition.
As so many people turn to Wikipedia for information, I will quote their definition:
Cut-outs are typically wholesaled to retailers as non-returnable items, meaning that the store cannot send them back to the distributor for a refund; the reason for the cut or hole in the packaging is simply to clearly mark the item as non-returnable. The marking also serves to prevent the retailer from attempting to sell the discounted item at the original full price.
I have no disagreements with this statement as it stands, although it far from the whole story. What I have written below is mostly an elaboration on these facts. To understand certain terms that I use (such as the Great Deletion), please read the first episode in this column, “The Avid Record Collector (From the Cut-Out Bin).”
Several friends contributed their observations or opinions to this piece:
Frank Daniels (https://www.friktech.com)
Dave Reynolds (http://www.elvisrarerecords.com)
Lew Shiner (https://www.lewisshiner.com)
But all of the observations, conclusions, and statements in this article are mine based on my experiences in the ’60s and ’70s. Fortunately, most of the memories of my contributors are similar to my memories.
During the first twenty years of the 33⅓ RPM Long-Playing Record Album Era (1949-1968), few record or department stores wanted to clog up their valuable shelf space with inventory that wasn’t moving. These albums were returned to the manufacturers for a refund or credit against future purchases.
In a 1965 panel discussion among retailers about “when should slow-selling albums be closed out,” more than 40% said that they pulled an album from their shelves no later than six months after it stopped selling. Many pop albums were in and out of the marketplace in less than two years.
During this time, record companies did not routinely damage an album to designate it as a cut-out. It was written off their books and that was that. The vast majority of the records that were part of the Great Deletion were not marked as cut-outs in any manner—there were a few punched holes but no clipped corners or saw-marks, but that’s about it.
Grommets, holes, etc.
In the ’60s, several record companies began designating albums as cut-outs by defacing the albums in some manner. Related imprints for each company—such as sister labels (such as Columbia and Epic) and subsidiaries (such as Columbia and Harmony)—may have also been affected by the cut-out practices below.
• Cameo and Parkway actually stamped a large “NR” for “Non-Returnable” or “No Return” on the back cover of their album jackets. They also usually stamped the label on at least one side of the record. Related imprints include Fairmount Records, Wonder, and Wyncote.
• Capitol punched a small hole in the upper right corner of the jacket. (In the ’80s, Capitol punched a much larger hole in the upper left corner; supposedly, these were shipped to radio stations.) Related imprints include Harvest, Sidewalk, and Tower.
• Columbia stuck a large gold sticker that reads “Promotional Album / Columbia Special Products / A Service of Columbia Record” on the front of the jacket. I am uncertain as to what Columbia did with these albums—I assume that some were shipped to radio stations—but loads of them showed up during the Great Deletion. Related imprints include Epic and Harmony.
• MGM pressed an inkless “x” on the back cover. Most of the copies I have seen have the “x” in the lower-left corner. Related imprints include Lion, Metro, MetroJazz, and Verve.
• Reprise, as well as parent company Warner Bros. inserted a small metal piece in the upper left corner of the jacket which many collectors refer to as a rivet. As the piece is circular with a hole in the center (like a donut), it is more like a grommet than a rivet.
Promos and red tapes
If a specially manufactured promotional record found its way into a cut-out bin, it was by accident. The only records I ever saw among the cut-outs that could be considered promos were the Columbia albums with the gold sticker mentioned above.
Records previously owned by radio stations from the 1950s and ’60s are found with a small piece of red tape on the jacket’s spine. A small rectangular piece is cut out of the jacket and the tape, a mark similar to the so-called “saw marks” that appeared on albums years later. Except where the radio station cuts are small, the saw-marks are often large gashes.
Most red-taped albums are special promotional pressings but stock copies were also marked this way. I don’t know if this was some kind of universal practice that stations picked up and did themselves, or someone who distributed albums to radio stations did it before shipping the records to the stations.
Since we are addressing specially-manufactured promotional records (such as white label promos), they were never intended to be sold as new records in retail outlets. Ever. So promo records in jackets with punched holes, clipped corners, saw-marks, etc., are technically not cut-outs—they are just promos with defaced jackets.
Selling cut-outs as collectibles
So, cut-outs are singles and LP albums (if there were cut-out EPs, I have never seen one) that have been deleted from a record company’s active catalog. Since 1969, most cut-outs were sold at a deeply discounted price to retail outlets, many with defaced jackets. Retailers sold them to the public for 99¢ to $2.99 without the possibility of their being returned to the manufacturer.
When advertising an album with a cut-out mark for sale, the album should be noted as being a cut-out and the type of defacement should be mentioned: a punched hole, a clipped corner, etc. The size of the defacement should also be mentioned.
For example, a factory-sealed album with a clipped corner should read “Still sealed cut-out with 1 inch of corner clipped.” The more inclusive and accurate the grade and description are, the more pleased the buyer is likely to be.
Finally, the first cut-outs I saw were 45s with a small hole drilled through the record in the label area. (Collectors refer to these as BB-holes as the hole is about the size of the pellets fired by a BB-gun.) I believe I started seeing these records in the mid-’60s, usually packaged in plastic bags of three for less than a dollar.
I first saw these at a local drug store, one of the places I haunted looking for copies of the latest Marvel comic books in nearly mint condition. But that’s another story for another column!
Neal Umphred was the final author of the O’Sullivan-Woodside line of price guides for record collectors (1985-1986) and the original author of the Goldmine line of price guides for record collectors (1989-1996). He currently maintains two record and music-oriented blogs: Rather Rare Records and Elvis – A Touch Of Gold. If you visit either site, please leave a comment and tell me that you are a Sixties Music Secrets reader.