Vinyl Mourning

Over lunch at a midtown diner, my friend Mick Patrick of Ace Records told me about a worrying discovery—the PVC (poly vinyl chloride) sleeves he used to protect his 45s had caused visible and audible damage to his vinyl. As I listened to the bad news, I pictured my own record collection, so much of it housed in the very same sleeves he was speaking of. The urge to dash home to check on my collection’s condition was delayed by a combination of denial (“Not my records!”) and disbelief. But memories of the conversation continued to irk me, and recently I decided to take the plunge and investigate.

What I discovered was heart-breaking. As I pulled my 45s out of their PVC sleeves, I found the black vinyl surface sheen had turned a dull, matte dark brown, and worse, many looked like they had been splattered with an oily liquid that no amount of washing or cleaning could remove (see the Dana Gillespie 45 above). I spent day and night listening to the records, trying to hear if the visual decay had actually affected playback, but I just can’t tell. Sometimes I think I hear an underlying hiss that may not have been there before; other times I’m convinced there’s no change in sound.

A frantic internet search led me to this “Can PVC record sleeves damage vinyl?” thread on vinylengine.com, and an article by Bob Stanley, who wrote the following in The Times:

“Some people swear that the petrol-based PVC sleeves, designed to protect your precious first pressings of Led Zeppelin III, can actually cause irreparable damage to the vinyl—the theory being that vinyl is also made of oil and, given the wrong climate, the two can effectively fuse. This creates a “misting” on the vinyl, audible as hiss; sadly this has affected a percentage of the BBC’s gramophone library.”

Record Collector magazine also printed a few letters about this very issue:
http://recordcollectormag.com/letters/ruined-vinyl-the-sequels

shirleyabicairA close-up of the “oil spill” on my Shirley Abicair 45

After surveying the damage—nearly every single ’60s UK girl-pop record on Pye, most of my Philles 45s, a few on Capitol, Ellie Greenwich’s first single as Ellie Gee & the Jets—I couldn’t help but weep for my bad luck and for all the years I’ve spent trying to protect my records from tragedies like this one. Then I sent Mick an e-mail full of questions: Were all the 45s you had in the PVC sleeves damaged? Has that damage affected play? Have you replaced your sleeves with polyethylene sleeves or are you just keeping them in paper? He wrote back saying that those PVC sleeves “spoiled some of my most special records.” And that he now keeps his records in acid-free paper sleeves.

Interestingly, some of my records stored in the PVC sleeves look as good as new, leading me to question if it’s actually the reaction of the PVC with a certain type of inner paper sleeve. As I mentioned above, nearly all of my Pye singles have been damaged, whilst my Decca singles seem to have fully escaped the PVC’s wrath. I spent most of my weekend disposing of all PVC sleeves and wondering how to ensure that this will never happen again. I’d be grateful if any of you 45 collectors would let me know if you’ve had a similar experience. Have you found that the “misting” has affected play? If I’m not hearing an audible hiss, might the damage be visual only? Or will this chemical reaction continue to damage the vinyl despite my removing the PVC sleeve?

Also, I’m curious to hear how you store your records. Paper inner sleeves? Polyethylene outer sleeves or no outer sleeves? All tips would be welcome and greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
xo-Sheila

p.s. American collectors need not panic about this news, as PVC sleeves seem to be predominantly available in the UK (where I first started collecting records).

p.p.s. I’ve just found this article, which goes into dizzying detail and even advises against using paper sleeves. Geeeeeezzzz…… what to do, what to do.

blackbrownDulled, brown surface of the Crystals “He Hit Me” (kept in paper + PVC sleeve) vs. the shiny black Connie Stevens 45 (kept in paper sleeve)

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