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What Makes A RIAA Award More Valuable (Or Less)?

Posted by James Duncan on

People ask us all the time which awards have the most value to collectors, and what attributes make them most valuable. It first needs to be said, to mince a popular cliché, that value is in the eye of the beholder or, in this case, collector.

And despite our main article photo depicting rising stacks of gold, collectors cannot depend on any collectible increasing in value. With that disclaimer out of the way, we'll take a stab at some advice given what we have seen in our own extensive number of sales and the marketplace generally, focusing on the last five years of data.

We have definitely seen a marked overall increase in the values of certain RIAA awards over the last five years. However, it is important to note that some important factors are at play.

Some of these factors are what you'd expect, but some may surprise you. Also note that exceptions will always apply. So, while this is truly subjective topic, here's a look at the attributes of RIAA awards which affect values:

Most desired (and of course one must be sure any award is genuine--for more on that see our guides here):

Oldest awards: Simply put and speaking in generalities, oldest is best. 1958-63 RIAA "walnut plaques" (almost impossible to find), followed by 1964-74 "white mattes," continue to fetch impressive amounts. Following those are 1981-85 "floaters" and 1982-85 "strip plates", which both have gained in value the older they get. More modern awards follow these eras of awards. *Not familiar with the award types described? Check out our detailed guide here.

Well-known artists: Unsurprisingly, the current top group (in no particular order) probably includes the Beatles (who remain at the top of the pile pretty consistently), Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, Genesis, Guns 'N Roses, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Queen, Prince, Elton John, Buddy Holly, The Who with many other well-known artists also making appearances at times in top sales. Of late, rock, metal and "hair" bands of the 80s and early 90s have been surging in popularity as the age group of their fans have more disposable income and also want to celebrate that heyday of rock.

The Beatles Help! RIAA Award

Genuine Beatles RIAA white matte awards, especially those presented to the group, typically bring the highest values in the collector marketplace.

Recently deceased artists: Morbid as it may be, death sells. Especially as relates to major artists who left us in their prime or who experienced untimely deaths. For example, RIAA awards for artists such as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Nirvana/Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, Amy Winehouse, Prince, have all seen significant bumps in value. Elvis Presley still falls in the category as well (if you can find a genuine award, since they are hard to find).

Well-known, classic songs: Examples of top sales based primarily around the appeal of the song have certainly included "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Candle In The Wind", "Hey Jude" (or pretty much any Beatles classic), "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", "Magic Carpet Ride", "Born To Be Wild",  among many others. 

Queen "Bohemian Rhapsody" RIAA Single Award

Classic tracks such as Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" have broad appeal and garner high prices even when the award is not presented to the artist. 

Special Albums: Many of these awards fall into the "exceptions" category but examples of highly desired special albums are the awards created for the Live Aid album, or soundtrack awards for popular films such as Rocky

Live Aid RIAA 10x Platinum Award

Despite being a post-2005 RIAA award, these Live Aid 10x Multi-Platinum Album Awards have sold for high prices.

Special Multi-Platinum Awards: Elaborate Multi-Platinum awards for artists who have sold a large number of units a particular album have brought high values. Examples include awards for Guns N' Roses Appetite For Destruction, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Nirvana's Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication, several awards for Jay-Z albums, and there are numerous other examples.

Jay Z Roc A Fella Records RIAA Multi-Platinum Award

Special awards like this early 2000s combo album RIAA 16x Multi-Platinum Album Award for Jay Z have brought high values (even with the autopen/printed autograph as you see here).

Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction 18x Multi-Platinum Award

Elaborate RIAA Awards like this 18x Multi-Platinum Album version for Guns N' Roses Appetite For Destruction (above) or the 10x Multi-Platinum Album award for AC/DC's Back In Black (below) also have strong appeal with some collectors.

AC/DC Back In Black RIAA 10x Multi-Platinum Album Award

Presented to: The award presentations, ranked by most- to least-desirable seem to rank like this:

  • Solo artist name (Elvis Presley, Prince, etc.) or individual member of a group (Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, etc.) with the highest profile member of group fetching the most, typically. As always, there are exceptions such as deceased group members. Also note in that the oldest award eras, individual group member-presented awards are extremely rare and in some case do not exist at all.
Rolling Stones "Angie" RIAA Single Award to Mick Jagger
This Mick Jagger-presented RIAA Gold Single Award for the Rolling Stones classic track "Angie" is an example of a much-desired item for collectors.
  • Special celebrity. One example: An RIAA Gold award for "Gonna Fly Now", the theme from the movie Rocky by mostly unknown recording artist Bill Conti sold in 2015 for $8,125, likely because its' presentation plate read "presented to Sylvester Stallone"
  • Group (Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc.). Also pay attention to the details. For example, Eagles are not known as "The Eagles" and staunchly uphold this in everything they do, from album titles to awards. This an award presented to "The Eagles" is likely not genuine.
  • Producer, songwriter or engineer of note (Geoff Emerick, Quincy Jones, George Martin, Phil Ramone, Bernie Taupin, etc.)
  • Record label (Elektra, RCA, Columbia etc.)
  • Manager or industry executive of note (Peter Grant, Clive Davis, etc.)
  • Industry executive, lesser known
  • Record stores, radio stations, distributors, Hard Rock Cafe (since most of these were made later especially for HRC in a display deal they made with the RIAA)

Black Sabbath RIAA Award Signed By Tony Iommi

Artist-presented awards often bring premium prices. Special features, such as being signed by the recipient like this one autographed by Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, can also add value.

Condition: This is an important factor, but it is important to know that condition doesn't refer to how new an award looks. Sure, a collector doesn't want broken frame rails, a badly stained matte, or a badly tarnished record disc. But beyond those basics, condition should be thought of as: Is the award appropriately aged? Does it have "good wear" that makes sense for how old it is?

"Good wear" is our term for an award with condition commensurate to its' age. This doesn't mean an award that looks to be in pristine condition is necessarily not genuine. It just means you should look more closely into all the details of it. Carefully analyze the award's construction, aging, RIAA certification dates, provenance (if any information is available, often not the case for older awards), and source (seller) to assess an award.

Exceptions: All this said about condition, age, and the other aspects mentioned in this article, there are many exceptions of awards that for various reasons become desirable for collectors. We'll leave you with one such example: A brand-new, still in its' original shrink-wrap, Elton John award signed by and presented to Sir Elton, which was actually produced in a fairly large number (100, with each numbered as part of a limited edition). These are very desirable and have become hard to find, despite being very new awards.

Elton John Madman Across The Water RIAA Award

For more details on RIAA awards, including photo examples of all the eras and details of the awards, see our MusicGoldmine Record Award Guide here.

Also check out our current selection of genuine RIAA Gold and Platinum and other record awards for sale here. We typically have several hundred in stock.

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Important Notice/Disclaimer: While many record awards and music memorabilia items appreciate in value, others fall in value and makes no claims, express or implied, that any item will appreciate in value at any time in the future. Further, is not providing investment advice in any of its' content. 

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