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Record Awards As Art: From Mild To Wild

Posted by James Duncan on

Record awards in their earliest days were pretty plain, starting with simple dark-stained wood framed affairs with white matte boards in the 60s and early 70s. The period of 1975 thru the mid-80s brought silver and gold painted frames and charcoal-colored mattes. This was followed by a graduation to some pretty pedestrian black plastic-covered frame/black matte awards from the mid-80s through late 90s.


Just before the millennium, however, the RIAA loosened up its' previously strict design standards. This opened up the creative floodgates for award designers, who responded with an explosion of new designs. The companies that designed these new award creations were primarily those newly-licensed by the RIAA to make the awards at that time with the bulk being made by Ill-Eagle Enterprises, Fitzgerald Hartley, and Jewel Box Platinum, along with a few others.

Looking back, it would be a revolution of sorts in the awards industry. Early RIAA-licensee award makers New York Frame & Picture Co. and Creative Glassics no longer made awards at this point and a new era had begun.

For some who collect today it was not a welcome evolution. These collectors still prefer the simple, almost stately 1964-74 RIAA "white matte" awards. Or perhaps the versions made by Disc Award Ltd., a 60s-era company that made awards for the labels only, not the RIAA.

For these purist collectors, the surviving examples of those made by the early companies in the 60s and early 70s represent the apex of awards. There is certainly a great appeal to these classic awards. They are simple, even elegant, and certainly rare, since they were made in smaller numbers.

And it's true that the RIAA white matte awards and earliest label awards are typically the most valuable to collectors by a good margin. This certainly explains their collector appeal.

Here are a couple of examples as we compare them to newer awards. On top is a RIAA Gold® white matte, in this case a 1969 award for the Rolling Stones Beggar's Banquet. On bottom is a Disc Award Ltd. label award from 1972 for Elton John's Honky Chateau album:

Rolling Stones white matte RIAA award

For others, the glittering 80s-90s excess of the Multi-Platinum awards of the day were just the ticket. For example these, the top being a 3x Multi-Platinum RIAA award for the Stone Temple Pilots 1994 smash Purple, the bottom being a deliciously disc-laden label award for CCR's sales successes over several albums.

STP Purple RIAA 3x Multi-Platinum award

CCR multi-platinum label award

Another era of award designs, as cassette and then CD formats gained traction in the marketplace, involved mostly similar award designs focusing on album cover miniatures denoting the sales level. Here are examples of awards from this time including a 1991 8x Multi-Platinum award for Pink Floyd's epic album The Wall and a massive 1997 25x Multi-Platinum award for Michael Jackson's smash Thriller:

Pink Floyd The Wall RIAA award

Michael Jackson Thriller 25x Multi-Platinum RIAA award

But for yet another set of collectors the later award designs, with their artistic creativity and ingenious construction methods, merit their own special appeal.

Part of the reason for this might be that the designers usually key the awards to the artist's album themes or album art, better connecting the artist being honored to the award.

While there are dozens if not hundreds of uniquely interesting awards made in the past 20 years or so, let's take a look at a few examples of the newfound creativity that appeared from the late 1990s on.

Linkin Park became known for their ultra industrial designs for 2000 album Hybrid Theory, including this ultra-sleek Platinum® award that utilized mostly metal components:

Linkin Park Hybrid Theory Platinum RIAA award

Here's a detail of another creative use of a metal hardware in an award, this one for Powerman 5000's 1999 release Tonight the Stars Revolt! 

Powerman 5000 RIAA award

Like the Linkin Park award above, this large 1997 award for the Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album featured graphics printed on the plexiglass, a technique used more and more commonly from the late 90s on:

Smashing Pumpkins RIAA award

This 2006 John Fogerty award featured a real, stringed guitar fingerboard element: 

John Fogerty RIAA award

Designers for this 1998 Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album award went for a faux bamboo frame to compliment the group's signature artwork:

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy RIAA award

Sometimes the album art is the focus, such as this award for Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A, which highlighted artist Stanley Donwood's computer-manipulated cover painting:

Radiohead Kid A RIAA award

This 1998 award for the Foo Fighters The Colour And The Shape album employed sculptural elements reflecting the album art in a shadow box:

Foo Fighters The Colour And The Shape RIAA award

Designers of an award for Mer de Noms, the 2000 album from A Perfect Circle played on the group's name by including band info and lyrics on the award's disc: 

A Perfect Circle RIAA award

Specially shaped awards also appeared in the mix. Check out these examples for Lenny Kravitz's 1998 hit album 5 and Moby's 1999 release Play:

Lenny Kravitz 5 RIAA award

Moby Play RIAA award
This 2005 Martina McBride award took a plexiglass design to the next level, from its' "M" shape to metal bolts used to hold it together:
Martina McBride special plexiglass RIAA award

These detail photos show how these awards for Korn's 1998 album Follow The Leader (top), the Rolling Stones 1997 Rock 'N Roll Circus concert video (middle), and Green Day's 1994 breakthrough Dookie (bottom) made use of "3D" paper art elements:

Korn Follow The Leader RIAA award

Rolling Stones Rock N Roll Circus RIAA Video Award

Green Day Dookie RIAA award

This 1996 shadow box-style award for Radiohead's album The Bends blends many different cool design elements: 

Radiohead The Bends RIAA award

Finally, one of the most exotic we've seen, the masterpiece created for Fat Boy Slim 1998 release You've Come A Long Way Baby, complete with turntable in road case:

Fatboy Slim RIAA award

Fatboy Slim RIAA award detail

Fatboy Slim RIAA award presentation plate

Whether your interests as a collector lie in the early classic awards, the later wild designs, or a mix of both, see what you can discover out there in the world of awards.

We have one of the largest selections of record awards in the world -- check them all out here and we hope you enjoy exploring!

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Gold® record, Platinum® record, and Multi-Platinum™ record are registered service marks of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). 

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