RIAA Award Guide: Why Gold and Platinum Awards Are Popular With Collectors
New to collecting record awards, popularly known as "gold" or "platinum" records? Or have some knowledge and just want to know more about these fascinating pieces of music history? We created this guide to provide information and history on record awards. We hope you find it useful and don't forget to check out our current selection of RIAA Gold and Platinum and other record awards for sale here.
Record awards have been part of music history for decades. They have become part of the musical landscape, appearing in photos far and wide and even on fan collector cards. Here are the Beatles in the mid-sixties with some of their newly-presented RIAA Gold Awards on one of those collector cards:
And below is Elvis Presley pictured around 1972 with one of his record-setting total of 101 RIAA awards. With 146.5 million in U.S. sales alone (and still climbing) Elvis has earned the most Gold Album Awards of any artist in RIAA history.
To start off this guide, take note that there are various types of record awards out there in the marketplace:
RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) awards: The RIAA started its Gold® and Platinum® Sales Award Program to recognize and measure the sales achieved by recorded music releases. These are the only official, third-party-audited and limited production record sales awards out there. The RIAA has actually registered the terms Gold, Platinum, and Multi-Platinum™ as service marks. RIAA awards are the most valuable to collectors and are the focus of this article.
Record label awards (known as "in-house" awards): These awards are made for record labels at their direction only (not involving the RIAA) and can be identified by the record company name on the plaque instead of the RIAA logo. They are used to recognize label staff, artists and their managers and teams, and a myriad of other people involved in the production, marketing, promotion and distribution of their recordings, or essentially whoever the label wants to give them to. Most are nicely produced, often by the same manufacturers as RIAA awards, although they are typically manufactured in higher numbers than RIAA awards making them less rare. They are considered the second most valuable by collectors, with the older awards in particular being the most desirable.
Other World Music Market Awards: Other countries have organizations similar to the RIAA who have also created sales based awards. Examples include BPI awards (U.K.), CRIA awards (Canada) and BVMI awards (Germany). These awards are also strictly controlled by their respective organizations. To identify them it's best to get to know the official logos for the various country versions, which must appear on the awards for them to be genuine. Each of these awards have their own specific designs by era just as RIAA awards do.
Replica record awards: These are designed to look somewhat like actual RIAA, record label awards, or other territory awards, but on closer inspection do not contain the proper elements, labels, logos and so forth since they do not own those brands or "marks." These are desirable wall decorations to some, but have essentially no value to collectors since they are mass produced for consumer sale. They also are not typically produced at the time that the recording it features actually attained its recognized sales level.
Counterfeit RIAA awards: There are some counterfeit RIAA awards in the marketplace. These are awards that are designed to look like actual RIAA awards. They were made by manufacturers not authorized by the RIAA to make awards. Some are quite good copies, others not so much. Ultimately, the makers of these awards utilized the trademarks of the RIAA when not authorized to do so.
History of RIAA Awards
RIAA awards are created exclusively through the RIAA, a trade organization founded in 1952 that represents the interests of major recorded music sellers, i.e. record labels large and small. The organization lobbies for laws favorable to the industry, works to stop piracy (unauthorized copying of recorded works), and works generally to help the music industry.
They started their Gold® and Platinum® Sales Award Program to recognize and measure the sales achieved by recorded music releases.
<Several eras of RIAA awards on display at an auction house
In the earliest days, many less of these awards were created, making the earlier awards a rarer commodity and thus more valuable to collectors.
The first RIAA Gold award was issued on March 14, 1958 for the 45 rpm single “Catch A Falling Star” by Perry Como. On July 8, 1958, the first Gold LP was awarded for the cast soundtrack of Oklahoma! sung by Gordon MacRae.
The Platinum single award was first introduced in 1976 with the first award being earned by Johnnie Taylor for his 45 single “Disco Lady.”
The first Platinum LP award went to the Eagles on February 24, 1976 for Their Greatest Hits 1971-75. As of the writing of this article in early 2019, this album also now holds the distinction of being the biggest selling album of all time in the U.S. at 38 million units sold.
In terms of sheer number of RIAA awards, Elvis Presley holds the title for solo artists, while the Beatles hold the group record. They both stand a chance of retaining their top spots since in both cases their music is still selling.
Gold and Platinum Mean How Many Sales?
The number of records that needed to be sold or value of sales required for the various levels of certification has changed over time. Here's a simplified guide:
Gold for 45s/singles: 1 million copies sold
Gold for LPs/albums: $1 million dollars worth of sales. This actually can be a useful piece of information to determine authenticity of an award. i.e. If the presentation plate for a LP/album award issued from 1958-1974 does not read this way you know it can't be a genuine award.
Similarly, Platinum awards did not exist until 1976. So if you see for a 45/single or LP/album RIAA platinum award issued from 1958-1975, you know it can't be genuine.
Gold for 45s/singles: 1 million copies sold
Gold for LPs/albums: 500,000 copies sold
Platinum awards 1976-1981 (introduced in 1976):
Platinum for 45s/singles: 2 million copies sold
Platinum for LPs/albums: 1 million copies sold
Upon the introduction of the cassette in 1979 the language on the awards was changed to X number of "albums and cassettes" sold.
In 1984 the Multi-Platinum™ award was introduced (2x, 3x multi-Platinum, etc.) The song "We Are The World" by USA For Africa became the very first multi-Platinum song at 4X multi-Platinum in 1985.
Sales requirements for singles awards were reduced due to declining singles sales (at that time more consumers were buying albums):
Gold for singles: 500,000 copies sold
Gold for albums: 500,000 copies sold
Platinum for singles: 1 million copies sold
Platinum for albums: 1 million copies sold
Multi-Platinum single or album: 2 million or more copies sold
Upon the introduction of the CD in 1992 the language on the awards was changed to X number of "albums, cassettes and CDs" sold.
In 1999 the Diamond award was introduced, signifying 10 million in sales. This is not a framed award but rather a tall crystal statuette.
Digital sales, downloads, ringtone sales, and streams were added as unit sales to be counted in totals for award sales numbers at various times through the 2000's to reflect the addition of these music sales formats.
Replica Record Awards and Why Collectors Avoid Them
If you're a music fan or collector, you've no doubt seen the many gold and platinum awards being sold all over the Internet and in stores. Here's one slightly worn example featuring Electric Light Orchestra:
Some of them are fine looking pieces of artwork for fans of the artist featured, others not so much, but do they have any value for collectors?
The short answer is: Not likely.
The longer answer is that they are worth whatever someone wants to pay for them. This is not to criticize those who buy them to enjoy or those who make them. However, it is unlikely that buyers of these replica awards will be able to sell them down the road for any amount more than they bought them for.
Because they are mass produced and can be manufactured by anyone.
That is where RIAA awards differ. RIAA awards are manufactured under tight controls. In fact, only a record label that owns the rights to a recording can order a RIAA award for that recording. Further, they can only order them when they:
1) Prove with accounting data that a release has sold the required number of copies for the specific level of certification. This is often done using artist royalty statements. The required measure for this has changed over the years and ranged from a certain minimum dollar value of sales to physical copies sold to digital copies plus physical copies sold,
2) Authorize an award to be created for an individual or company that the label wants to receive one of these awards.
Only RIAA-authorized vendors are permitted to manufacture these awards and the RIAA endeavors to stop anyone making counterfeit awards. In the words of the RIAA:
"We regularly work with our member companies and outside agencies to ensure that counterfeits are not readily available on the market. Working together with Sotheby’s and other auction houses and in coordination with its anti-piracy division, RIAA has been able to identify and remove unauthorized awards from auction..."
Official Manufacturers Of RIAA Awards
The current makers of the awards in 2019 are: Dejay Gold/Products, Jewel Box Platinum, Milestone Awards, and Metro Pro LLC.
Past authorized RIAA award makers have included New York Frame & Picture Co., California Gold Record Co., Creative Glassics (not a typo, that's Glassics with a "G"), Fitzgerald-Hartley Marketing, Ill-Eagle Enterprises, J.F. Duke Marketing and Off The Wall Limited Inc. Nashville-based The Rite Angle also made some official RIAA awards in the past, mostly in the country genre. For visual identification, below are photos of labels from most of these companies, although note that many of the labels from these companies changed over time as detailed further on in the guide.
Who Can Get RIAA Awards?
Now we are getting to the reason why these awards are rarer than an off-the-shelf plaque made by anyone. This is because the only people that receive these awards are those authorized by the RIAA and the record label of the particular recording.
Per the RIAA:
Essentially, no one outside of the artist or their creative, executive or marketing teams (which in more recent years include radio station personnel, certain music retailers and distributors) can have RIAA awards made for them.
This is what makes RIAA awards so collectible. Not only are they beautiful, shiny pieces of art that pay tribute to our favorite artists' achievements, they also stand a chance, at least, of appreciating in value.
Here's where we have to add a disclaimer, of course, since no one can guarantee any return on an investment collectible. That said, returns cannot be guaranteed on a purchase of stock either, so collectibles can make excellent alternative investments that help to diversify a portfolio.
What Do Real RIAA Awards Look Like?
As for how the awards look through the years, note that just as the list of potential recipients has changed over time, so has the appearance of the awards. We'll delve into all the details on their distinctive features, history and construction further below but first here's a quick list of the different styles produced over the years, with the monikers that collectors have assigned to awards from the different time periods:
1958-63 "Walnut Plaque"
1964-74 "White Matte"
1981-85 "Floater" (Fitzgerald-Hartley)
1982-85 "Strip Plate"
1986-89 "Flower Hologram"
1990-97 "R Hologram"
1998-present "Bar Hologram"
In this section we'll provide details on how the awards from the various eras look, who award recipients were, and other information. Note that we'll give the most detail on the oldest era awards (1985 and earlier) since they are the most valuable to collectors.
While doing research for this guide we spoke with some of the craftsmen who actually created RIAA awards from 1964 through 1985. That included members of the family that ran the New York Frame & Picture Co., who were the only makers of RIAA awards from 1964 to around 1987, and a former employee of Creative Glassics. The latter was the second company to make RIAA awards that started manufacturing awards (in addition to NYF&P Co.) around 1975.
Every official RIAA award created from 1964 until around 1985 was made by one of these two authorized companies. Much of the information you see here was provided by them.
It's worth noting that one thing that both of them said is that at times there were sometimes subtle variations in certain components of RIAA awards that were made in the 60's through early 80's.
These included variations in:
- The fonts and the method the information was put on to the presentation plates (silk screened, acid-etched or engraved) since a variety of trophy shops were used to make the plates, or sometimes simply due to the same shop changing methods or fonts at their own whim.
- Frame materials and even colors due to custom orders that occurred or because of difficulties in finding supplies of previously used materials. The vast majority of frames are either naturally stained wood, or wood frames painted gold or painted silver, depending on the year the award was produced (see below). However, very rarely there are also white frames and even green frames out there due to special requests. Some of these awards are originals that were painted afterwards (for example to match the decor of the office/location of the person displaying it), but some were actually ordered with different finishes. There were also variations in other aspects of the frames due to simple supply issues experienced by the award makers.
- Mattes used, although there is fairly clear distinction that can be pegged to different time periods (see below).
The point is that it can be very difficult to determine the authenticity of an award based on just one of these elements, since an award could have been custom ordered or been made with alternate materials to that of those previously manufactured. For this reason, when attempting to ascertain authenticity, it's best to consider all the various attributes of a RIAA award to make a determination.
Were The Discs Actually The Artist's Record And How Were They Made?
The short answer is most of the time, no.
As to how they were made, until around 1985 nickel "stamper" or "mother" discs were used. The nickel stamper disc was thinly plated in real gold for Gold awards and left bare for Platinum awards due to their natural silver or "platinum" color.
The stampers were almost never, although occasionally, a disc of the actual record being recognized in the award. This is why you will often see that the number of tracks on the records ("bands") sometimes does not match the number of tracks on the label for the record being recognized. The former Creative Glassics staffer said that many of the records used on awards he made in the early 80's were actually salsa records.
He also relayed that when Bruce Springsteen learned that his records were not being used, "The Boss" insisted that all his awards that were to go to his closest friends and business team would, in fact, be made from his own records.
Post-1985 vinyl records instead of the metal mother discs were used for the awards, and they were gold and silver plated with a newer process.
Details By Awards Era
Here are other details of RIAA awards by era:
1958-63 "Walnut Plaque" period: In the earliest days, they were only made for a very small number of people, the artist and perhaps only 1-2 others. No one really knows the numbers created for each project in the earliest days.
The awards, as the nickname implies, were essentially a walnut plaque with a gold plated metal mother disc and an RIAA logo medallion affixed, along with a presentation plate.
1964-74 "White Matte" period: So named due to their distinctive white-colored matte materials, white matte awards were designed with a gold plated record from a metal mother disc that was cut into the matte, a matted-in album "miniature" that was a printed replica of the album cover, and a gold toned presentation plate with the RIAA logo. Here is Aretha Franklin and her husband/manager Ted White (R) along with her producer Jerry Wexler with some of her white mattes awarded in 1967:
The presentation plates on the awards were said to be acid-etched on white matte awards vs. the silk screened versions used on later floater-era awards. Note that only Gold awards were produced. There were no Platinum awards in the white matte period since that program was not launched until 1976.
The fonts used on the plates varied over the years. According to a former family employee of New York Frame & Picture Co., the exclusive maker of the awards from 1964-74, local trophy shops were used to create these plates and this is why over time the fonts varied somewhat. At some point in the 70's, the plates were pre-printed with the standard language below, and the album title, recipient and label information was then typically engraved onto the pre-printed plates, with other plate print processes used in later years (post-1981):
For Gold LPs/albums 1964-74
TO COMMEMORATE THE SALE OF MORE THAN ONE MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF THE
[XXX record label]
LONG-PLAYING RECORD ALBUM
(Note that the LP language would change on post-1975 awards).
For Gold 45s/Singles 1964-74
TO COMMEMORATE THE SALE OF MORE THAN ONE MILLION COPIES OF THE
[XXX record label]
SINGLE RECORD (sometimes POP SINGLE RECORD)
Construction Of White Matte Awards
As for construction, before 1967 these awards used off-white Bainbridge #14 matte board, with its distinctive color and criss-cross, burlap-like texture. The mattes were hand cut.
From 1967-74 white Miller board was used. This material also has a texture, but it is smoother and has a whiter appearance. Also, these mattes were die cut.
In both early and later white mattes, the disc and other elements were "matted in" as opposed to 1975-81 "floater" awards, in which the elements are mounted on top of the matte.
Here is detail of the "matted in" plate and record on an early Bainbridge board Gold single award for the Beatles "A Hard Day's Night," which was certified Gold on August 25, 1964:
Compare this to the smoother, whiter Miller board seen here on this award for The Doors track "Hello, I Love You" which was certified Gold on Aug. 28, 1968:
These awards also featured walnut frames with gold trim on the inner part of the frame. They had heavy brown craft paper backing (which often gets brittle with age and tears easily), and wire hangers (sometimes you will see these replaced with saw tooth or "wall security" hangers). Best for collectors is when the New York Frame & Picture Co.sticker is still affixed like the examples shown below.
Manufacturer Stickers And What They Can Tell Us
Let's pause on our description of white matte awards for a moment and talk about manufacturer stickers and how they can help collectors determine the age and authenticity of an award.
The address on the NYF&P Co. sticker is useful in determining when an award was made since the company moved locations at least once during the time they made white matte awards. Also, the sizes of the stickers used on 45 and LP awards were different.
Sometime in 1969 the New York Frame & Picture Co. (NYF&P) moved from 141 Fulton St. to 29 John St. in New York City. Knowing this helps to peg manufacture dates of awards that still have an original sticker affixed with these addresses. i.e. It can indicate that an award was made, or at least that its backing paper was installed, either pre-1969 or post-1969.
It's important to note, however, that the existence of a post-1969 NYF&P label on a pre-1969 award does not necessarily indicate that the award is inauthentic. In fact, more than half the pre-1969 "early" white matte awards sold by major auction houses today have 29 John St. stickers on them. Why is this? It's only speculation but it could be that early backing papers quickly disintegrated and had to be replaced by NYF&P. In some cases these white matte awards could have been restored by NYF&P post 1969 after being damaged or getting dirty.
Ultimately, the only thing the existence of a 29 John Street sticker on a white matte award proves is either that it was first manufactured from 1969 to 1974 or that it was rebacked during that time period. Since the same 29 John St. stickers were used on 1975-84 floater awards, the rebacking of a white matte could also have been done during that period. After 1985, the company changed the style of its stickers (see that new style below under the "flower hologram" award description).
The first image here shows the sticker on an LP award for War Live album from 1973, on which slightly larger labels were used. The 29 John St. address also dates it to post-1969 since the company was at other locations prior to 1969:
This third image shows the smaller sticker sometimes seen on 45 awards. Even though the sticker in this example is partially damaged, it's existence helps to indicate award authenticity. Note that this is a pre-1969 NYF&P Co. 141 Fulton St. address on this early white matte award. This is also an example of the simpler label design sometimes seen (this is from a 1968 Rascals award for "People Got To Be Free"):
Label-wise, second best is when an original backing paper has survived with the sticker having fallen off, as long as there is a sticker residue spot of the correct size and shape where it was once located. This was normally in the upper middle of the back.
For example, despite the tears, the condition of the award back below is more desirable to many collectors than a changed backing paper because you can see the proper location and size sticker residue near the top middle. The idea is that this unopened condition pretty much guarantees unaltered interior components:
That said, some prefer to simply replace a torn backing paper. If this is done, it is recommended to: a) Take good photos of the original backing, and b) Leave the original backing paper on and simply re-back over the original.
If repairs need to be done to the internals of an award (for example, re-attaching a presentation plate that has fallen off due to its glue drying out) and at least one side of the backing paper at the frame is intact, try and leave the intact side uncut. By doing this you can retain the original award backing paper. If it is still present, it's also best to try and retain the manufacturer sticker in its original location.
To close up the award, seal the three cut sides with brown paper tape. Performing a repair in this way can help preserve the award's value to serious collectors. Here's an example of a 1971 white matte RIAA award post-repair. Note that the backing paper has not been cut on the top side:
It Was The Summer of '69: Flipped Presentation Plates
One interesting anomaly in white matte awards occurred over a six month period from roughly February to August of 1969 when the position of the presentation plate and album miniature were flip flopped, with the plate located on the left of the award instead of the right. Here's a cropped close up of one of these unusual mid-1969 white mattes on the left/top for Led Zeppelin I, compared to a white matte made in 1967 on the right/bottom for The Byrds Greatest Hits:
In talking to the former NYF&P Co. family employee, he indicated that perhaps a batch of the mattes were die cut upside down and rather than discard them, they were used up until they ran out during this time period. However, this is only a theory and even though we spoke with those in the family business that made them, they were not sure. Not many of us who worked 50 years ago in a busy New York City frame shop would remember such a mundane detail either.
Other White Matte Details
Finally, the presentation plates in white mattes are reported to be acid-etched vs. the silk screened plates used in 1975-81 floater awards. This is not completely clear, however, given the variety of trophy shops that were used. There is certainly at least a handful of different fonts that were used on the awards from this time period.
As to award recipients, artists, studio musicians, label executives and producers typically received awards during this period, and only between 5-25 total per release were produced.
Here are The Cowsills getting a white matte single award for their song "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" in 1967 which was certified Gold on Dec. 19, 1967. Who knew that these same folks would score another Gold award for the single "Hair" a year and half later?
1975-81 "Floater" period: It is notable that a second maker of RIAA awards joined New York Frame & Picture Co. around 1975. New Jersey-based Creative Glassics was also named as an officially authorized manufacturer.
Both the companies began to make a new style of awards, nicknamed "floaters" by collectors. These awards are so named because the disc, presentation plate and album miniature (on album versions) were mounted such that they appear to "float' on top of the matte.
Black colored, slightly textured mattes were used and the presentation plates were silk screened, giving them a very slightly different appearance than the acid-etched ones on white matte period awards.
The frames were still made of wood but instead of having a natural dark stained wood appearance they were painted solid gold for Gold awards, and silver for the Platinum awards launched in 1976.
It is very common for awards of this period to have scratches and nicks in the paint on the frame. In some cases a red primer coating was used under the paint and you can see it exposed on the wear spots. However, due to different frame materials being used at times, it seems that red primer is not always present. The two companies did not actually make the painted frame material themselves, rather they ordered it in bulk lengths and cut it for their needs.
While NYF&P Co. stickers remained as found on post 1969 white mattes, newcomer Creative Glassics sticker was very different and also located in a different spot on the award backs. Here is a that company's sticker and note that their stickers were normally located on the bottom right corner, while occasionally they can also be found on the bottom left corner:
Floater Award Mattes
Back to 1974-81 floater era awards and their construction... Mattes used in "floater era" awards were made of black-colored, lightly-textured matte material. A common trait of these mattes is fading but as long as it is not too severe, it doesn't typically affect the award's collector value. It does make many of them look different from one another, however, since rarely does one award fade at the same rate as another.
Floater Award Recipients
Recipients of the awards added to artists and others involved in the creative process and label execs were radio stations, artist management, agents, and distribution and promotion figures. Between 25-50 awards total were produced per release.
As for the presentation plates, to reflect changing consumer record buying habits the RIAA changed the language on the floater awards to the following:
For Gold LPs/albums 1975-81
TO COMMEMORATE THE SALE OF MORE THAN 500,000 COPIES OF THE
[XXX record label]
LONG-PLAYING RECORD ALBUM
(Note that the LP language would change on post-1975 awards).
For Gold 45s/Singles 1975-81
TO COMMEMORATE THE SALE OF MORE THAN ONE MILLION COPIES OF THE
[XXX record label]
For Platinum LPs/albums 1976-81 (the Platinum program started in 1976)
TO COMMEMORATE THE SALE OF MORE THAN 1 MILLION COPIES OF THE
[XXX record label]
LONG-PLAYING RECORD ALBUM
(Note that the LP language would change on post-1975 awards).
For Platinum 45s/Singles 1976-81
TO COMMEMORATE THE SALE OF MORE THAN TWO MILLION COPIES OF THE
[XXX record label]
Here's a "floater" example celebrating Rod Stewart's Foolish Behaviour album going Gold on Jan. 14, 1981:
Here is a "floater" Gold 45 single award for Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love". Note that, just as with white mattes, the single award still did not contain the album artwork miniature:
On Platinum awards, the frame, presentation plate and of course disc on "floaters" were platinum (silver) like this example for the Eagles Eagles Live album, which was certified Platinum for one million copies sold on January 7, 1981:
One thing you may see on floater awards is that the presentation plate "presented to" and recording information has a different font and/or ages differently from the award level information. This is because the award level info is pre-printed on the plates and the recipient/recording information is added when the award is made. For example:
This is also an example of what was referenced earlier, i.e. that different trophy shops were used to make the plates so some variation can be seen in how the plates look.
1981-85 "Floater" (Fitzgerald-Hartley): Fitzgerald-Hartley, who became an official award maker after NYF&P Co. and Creative Glassics, started making awards from 1981-85 in the floater style (some claim without a license), making it possible to find this style on post-1981 awards. Here is an example of one of these awards, this one issued in 1983 for Prince's 1999 album going Platinum:
1982-85 "Strip Plate" period: In this era painted wood frames were still used, painted solid gold or silver, with also some black laminate-covered frames used in the later years of this period. The mattes were pretty much the same (charcoal colored). However, the presentation plates combined the "presented to" information with the album miniature on the album/LP awards so that all the components were on one "strip," thus creating their nickname.
Here is a "strip plate" Gold LP award for Elton John's Breaking Hearts album after it was certified Gold on September 12, 1984:
As for single/45 rpm awards in the strip plate era, there seem to be two types out there:
The first 45 award type of this era adopts the same strip plate style design as the LP award. It has a divider line between the RIAA logo and the presentation info, although it does not include an album miniature.
The second type is with a plate that looks essentially identical to that of a floater era award (with no line) except that instead of the disc and presentation plate being mounted on blocks that raise or "float" them off the surface of the matte, they lay flat on the matte. One collector dubs this second type "45 Strip Plate Type 2" awards.
It's unclear whether this was because there were two manufacturers by now (NYF&P Co. and Creative Glassics) or because there was a change in design mandated by the RIAA, but there are these two types of 45 awards out there from this time period.
1986-89 "Flower Hologram" period: In 1985 the RIAA decided to start using hologram RIAA logos for the awards. The first era of these were nicknamed "flower holograms" due to their appearance.
In terms of recipients, added to the previous recipient groups were others including record stores (primarily big chains) and specialty users like Hard Rock Cafe who were seen as helping to promote music. From here on out, the recipients of awards have been relatively stable but include all the industry groups mentioned.
Here's an example of a flower hologram award for The Cars Greatest Hits album, certified Gold on January 16, 1986. Note the addition of a cassette in the award for the first time in this era, reflecting the significant sales of this format:
In the flower hologram period, Platinum or higher awards were made with chrome frames, like this 4x Multi-Platinum example for Boston's Don't Look Back album, which was certified on October 20, 1986:
Another feature that appeared occasionally starting in the flower hologram award era was a metal plate with a Billboard chart position for a track, like this example for The Beach Boys "Kokomo" from 1989:
Also, the manufacturer stickers changed in later periods. Here's an example of a NYF&P Co. sticker from a "flower hologram" award. While the design has clearly changed, the address is the same as the post-1969 sticker. Note also the addition at that time of a statement referring to their RIAA-licensed manufacturer status:
1990-97 "R Hologram" period: During this time period, new companies began to manufacture the awards. While Creative Glassics still made some awards until ceasing in 1995, NYF&P Co. had stopped making them in 1987. New manufacturers included Fitzgerald-Hartley and Ill-Eagle Enterprises. The "R Hologram" awards are so named due to the large "R" shape of the new RIAA hologram design. Note also the addition of a CD to the record and cassette in these awards. This time period also marked a period of more freedom for award designers. Here's a more classic design on this "R hologram" award for Queensryche's Empire, which was certified platinum on Oct. 7, 1994:
Labels ordering awards in this period could also choose from more designs, from more traditional designs featuring records, to awards with a combination of records, CDs and cassettes or other versions. Here's a Fitzgerald-Hartley single award issued in 1990 for Great White's "Twice Shy". Notice the newly added feature of a plate stuck right onto the record reading "Gold Sales Award", which seemed to only appear on 45 awards and not on album awards:
In contrast, this "R hologram" award for Pearl Jam's album Ten utilizes album artwork in the design. It marks the album being certified 2x Multi-Platinum on Aug. 4, 1992. Note the 1 and 2 Million sales plaques on the bottom left and right:
Multi-Platinum awards in the R hologram era could feature an array including a cassette, a CD and a disc with multiple album miniatures, like this example for the Beatles Anthology I, certified 6x Multi-Platinum on April 2, 1996:
As seen previously, manufacturer stickers were continually evolving on the later awards. Here's a Creative Glassics sticker found on a RIAA R hologram award:
1998-present "Bar Hologram" period: While the recipients and most other factors stayed the same, rigid standards of design have pretty much gone by the wayside by this time. Award designers have pretty much free reign to create awards in whatever manner they like.
The one constant element for 1997 and later awards is the redesigned RIAA hologram logo with a "bar" and individual serial number for each award, which helps the RIAA eliminate replica awards being made (or at least creates a mechanism to take them out of circulation if they are discovered).
Here's an example of a "bar hologram" for The Fray's album How To Save A Life, which was certified Platinum on September 18, 2006:
Here's a bar hologram example showing how unique the designs of some of the newest awards can be. This all metal and plexi award is for Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory, which was certified Platinum on Jan. 10, 2001:
Here's an example of a modern era Multi-Platinum award, this one for Eric Clapton's Unplugged album, which was certified 10x Multi-Platinum on May 16, 1996. Note the blank CD which was added to recognize the addition of that format. Also, while it can be hard to distinguish from a regular paper label on the record in a photo, on many of the awards made in the 90s the center of the record actually also has a CD placed over it (shown in detail photo below full image):
Finally, in one of the most unique designs the RIAA ever came up with, here is a special 20x Multi-Platinum award made for Creed to recognize the combined sales of three of their albums and given to the group in the early 2000s. Amazingly, this one was designed to light up, with LEDs on the top and side:
More Detail On RIAA Presentation Plates Through The Years
In addition to the correct RIAA logo for the era of award (see a pictorial guide below) the notation on the presentation plate has changed over the years as referenced earlier. Here are two examples that illustrate this changing language.
From 1958-1974 the RIAA counted records sold for singles, but instead counted dollar amounts generated for albums. This was because very few LPs sold in large quantities in those earliest decades when the business was singles driven.
This would change dramatically with arrival of the 70's and advent of concept albums and Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio stations which played more and deeper cuts off of albums, thus piquing consumer interest in buying albums.
So, while an album/LP presentation plate from a white matte (1964-74) Gold award read like this:
A floater (1975-81) Gold award album/LP presentation plate read like this:
And a floater Platinum award album/LP presentation plate (made 1976-81 since the Platinum program only started in 1976) read like this:
It's worth noting that fonts vary somewhat across RIAA info plates from white matte and floater awards from 1964-1981, and also afterwards. While there is general uniformity, you will see some variation.
Later awards, like The Fray "bar hologram" award example above, could even include a logo of the recipient's company. In that example, the plate features a VH-1 logo since the music executive worked for the music video channel. Of course the main distinguishing feature of bar hologram awards is that each also bears a unique serial number for each award made inside the hologram logo.
RIAA Logos Through The Years
Initial Presentation Vs. Later Presentation
The RIAA will issue a new award for any certified recording any time the label who released the recording requests it. However, the award will be created in the design style that is current at the time of the request. That said, for orders made in very recent years, there are a range of styles available from the RIAA-authorized manufacturers. Some of the designs are throwbacks to earlier year styles, but none match them perfectly.
In terms of what era of award you will see in existence for a given recording, most typically the first time a project reaches a sales mark and the label has provided the appropriate documentation to prove the level of sales, the RIAA will authorize the creation of an award. This will normally be to create a Gold award and that will be referred to by collectors as a "First Presentation."
A subsequent request for an award at a later date after the award format has changed is known as a "Second Presentation," the third time a "Third Presentation" and so on.
For example, Led Zeppelin's first album was certified Gold on July 2, 1969, so the First Presentation award (if the label requested it at that time) would be in a white matte format. If the label requested another award for the Gold presentation in, say, 1977, it would be produced as a floater award. Then, if an award was requested in 1983 it would be a strip plate award, and so on.
Some interesting situations result when a label does not submit documentation at the time that a project initially sells to a certain level. This can result in a record being recognized the first time with a later format award. Here's an example:
The Beatles Abbey Road album was released on Oct. 1, 1969 and went Gold quickly, certified on Oct. 27, 1969. It also certainly had sold well over a million copies by 1976 when Platinum awards were first launched. However, the first Platinum certification for the record didn't come until Dec. 26, 1991. This is likely because the label had not filed the paperwork to document the sales until that date. In fact, it was certified Platinum and 9x Multi-Platinum that same day. Thus, the First Presentation RIAA Platinum award ever issued for the Beatles Abbey Road would have been a fairly modern "R hologram" 1990-97 style award.
How To Avoid Buying Fake or Replica Awards
First you should assess whether an award you find has all the right components for its era as per the above examples.
One way to determine right away if the components are likely to be correct is to inspect the backing paper. Original backing papers will be brittle, show some aging appropriate to the age of the award, and ideally include the original manufacturer's sticker. Some minor tearing is fine and in fact is very common but unless the entire original backing paper is torn, this most likely indicates that the internal components of the award have not been tampered with.
If an award has been re-backed, in some people's eyes it may lose value (at least for a hardcore collector) but it may not indicate a problem. However, it should cause you to inspect the award's internal components more carefully.
Here's what to look for when inspecting the components, and use the award descriptions, years and details above to check against the award you are assessing:
Check the certification date on the RIAA website for the award. The site features an easy to search database of all RIAA sales certifications. The date will tell you what style the award should be and also can provide clues as to what the other components, such as the record label and album miniature, should look like.
The style of award should be correct for the era of the award. For example, it would be impossible for Queen single "Bohemian Rhapsody," which was released on Oct. 31, 1975 and certified Gold on June 3, 1976 to be a white matte award since no white matte awards were made after 1974. Instead, it should be a floater style award with its typical charcoal-colored matte.
The record label should be correct for the era of the award. For example, it would be impossible for the Beatles earliest releases to have an Apple Records Ltd. record label on an pre-1968 white matte RIAA award since Apple Records was not formed until 1968. An early Beatles single like "Hard Day's Night" would have the label like the one on top/left below on its white matte award if it was produced pre-1968, whereas a 1975-81 floater award would have the label like the one on the bottom/right:
The album miniature (on LP awards) has the correct album cover for the date the award was produced since many later reissues of albums feature alternate covers.
The RIAA presentation plate should have the correct language on it for the era of the award. Refer to our section above on this for info.There should also be no spelling mistakes on the plate, especially in the standard language referenced above. The RIAA would typically ensure that awards with spelling mistakes were recalled and remade. That doesn't mean there aren't mistakes out there. Check out this award we spotted in an unnamed Hard Rock Cafe location (Pete Tonshend of The Who, anyone?):
The RIAA logo is correct for the era of the award. Refer to our images above for info. Also, let's go back to the replica awards you see on the market like our ELO example. While most aware buyers would not mistake them for real awards, it does happen. Note on this piece that the graphic on the metal info plate is designed to look suspiciously like an actual 1970's era RIAA certified sales award logo:
Compared to a real 70's era RIAA logo:
This is just one of many replica/artwork awards on the market. Nothing wrong with them, but just don't mistake them for real RIAA awards.
Final note on finding authentic awards: Due to manufacturing methods and inconsistencies in materials available in the 60's and 70's, there were certainly some minor variations in the awards produced over time. We learned this clearly when talking to employees of the only two companies that made the awards across those two decades.
Further, since the RIAA will not authenticate awards in the marketplace, it is up to collectors to sort things out and no one collector has seen every award out there. These factors combine to make essentially no one an expert in determining the authenticity of some of the awards in the marketplace.
Most moderately aware buyers can avoid the most obviously fake awards but if you want the most assurance that an award is real, use the info in this article and elsewhere to become an informed buyer.
What Awards Are Most Valuable For Collectors?
This is, of course, a subjective area with some of the advice being what you'd expect and exceptions will always apply. Here are a few of the highest prices fetched by RIAA awards in auction house sales over the last decade or so:
- The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Gold LP 1964-74 white matte* presented to the Beatles, $73,214 (£43,750), Christie's, 6/20/14
- The Doors, Morrison Hotel, Gold LP 1964-74 white matte presented to The Doors, $32,000, Julien's Auctions, 5/19/18
- The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour, Gold LP 1964-74 white matte presented to the Beatles, $30,880 (£20,000), Christie's, 6/12/12
- John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Plastic Ono Band, Gold LP 1964-74 white matte* presented to John Ono Lennon, $30,880 (£20,000), Christie's, 6/12/12
- The Beatles, Abbey Road, Gold LP 1964-74 white matte presented to the Beatles, $30,400^ (£20,000), Christie's, 6/26/13
- The Who, Live At Leeds, Gold LP 1964-74 white matte presented to Keith Moon, $25,133 (£13,200), Christie's, 11/21/06
For a look at the top 20 prices attained by awards in known auctions, check out our article here.
Now let's look at the attributes commonly seen as the most desirable among "serious" collectors.
Most desired attributes?
Oldest awards: Walnut plaques of course, followed by white mattes, which continue to fetch impressive amounts in auctions worldwide, then floaters which are gaining in value the older they get, followed by more modern awards.
Well-known artists: Unsurprisingly, the current top group (in no particular order) probably includes the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Prince, Elton John, Buddy Holly, The Who with many other well-known artists also making appearances at times in top sales.
Recently deceased artists: Morbid as it may be, death sells and RIAA awards of the recently departed Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Kurt Cobain, and Prince have all seen significant bumps in value.
Well-known, classic songs: Examples of top sales based primarily around the appeal of the song have certainly included "Candle In The Wind", "Hey Jude", "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", "Magic Carpet Ride", "Born To Be Wild", "Bohemian Rhapsody" among many others.
Presented to: The award presentations, ranked by most-to-least desirable seem to more or less be:
- 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.
- Special celebrity. Example: An RIAA Gold award for "Gonna Fly Now", the theme from the movie Rocky by essentially unknown artist Bill Conti sold in 2015 for $8,125, likely because its' presentation plate read "presented to Sylvester Stallone"
- Group (The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc.)
- Record label (Elektra, RCA, Columbia etc.)
- Producer of note (Phil Ramone, George Martin, Quincy Jones, 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)
Get Out There and Find Your Gold... and Platinum, and Multi-Platinum...
So there you have it, a detailed rundown on RIAA awards. There are always more nuances, details and stories to discover around these awards the longer you collect them. We hope you enjoy discovering these interesting pieces of musical history as much as we have. Happy hunting for record award treasures!
Check out our current selection of RIAA Gold and Platinum and other record awards for sale here.
Sources for this article and other info:
https://riaa.com - Official site of the Recording Industry Association of America, the organization that created RIAA awards.
http://honormusicawards.com - This is the website of a prolific collector of RIAA awards. He displays images of many of his personal collection of over 250 awards on his website.
https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7550080/chasing-history-the-world-of-collecting-gold-platinum-and-diamond-records - An interesting article from Billboard magazine about collecting RIAA awards.
https://www.ratherrarerecords.com/riaa-gold/ - Music writer Neal Umphred explores in this article the changing sales measures used over time by the RIAA
Photo credits (in order displayed):
Aretha Franklin group: Public Domain
All other photos: MusicGoldmine.com
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