It might be the most desirable pre-fame Prince collectible: the demo tape and promotional packet that helped him land his deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1977. And it's for sale.
"Based on our expertise and the immense significance of this historic demo tape, we estimate it will reach a pre-auction value of $35,000, if not more," said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.
The top bid as of late Wednesday (which would have been Prince's 65th birthday) was $11,389.
"In my business, provenance is very important, who owned something," said veteran music memorabilia maven Jeff Gold, who is selling the item. "The fact this is not just a Prince demo tape, it is the Prince demo tape. It is the reason he got signed and launched his career. That makes this the most important Prince demo tape."
Gold acquired the tape — featuring three songs, including "Jelly Jam," which Prince never released — with its stylish black-and-white brochure from the widow of Russ Thyret, who signed Prince to the label in June 1977.
After Thyret died in 2021, his wife asked Gold to go through memorabilia in their attic and figure out what to do with it.
"This attic was filled floor to ceiling with stuff, in boxes," Gold said this week. "Over two or three days, by far the best thing I found was this tape. I knew immediately what it was because I'd worked with [Minneapolis manager] Owen Husney when I was at A&M Records and he had TaMara & the Seen and Jesse Johnson and he showed me the first press kit he'd made for Prince."
After buying some of Thyret's stuff, Gold had the tape "baked" — a preservation process — and confirmed its quality. "I got very excited," he said.
A collector for five decades who runs recordmecca.com, Gold declined to assess the value of the demo.
"I'm always surprised at what things go for at auction. I had a pair of Prince shoes sell with RR [Auction] for $77,000," he said. "Prince is very collectible artist. To me, this [tape] is kind of fulcrum of his entire career."
Husney, Prince's first manager, had 15 promo packets made and sent them to major record labels. Ultimately, there was interest from three companies, and Warner Bros. agreed to let Prince produce his own record.
Gold, a Warner Bros executive from 1990-98, worked with Prince on "Diamonds and Pearls" and other albums in that decade.
He explained that the demo tape is an artifact and the Prince estate controls the intellectual property rights to it.
Also up for auction are memos Prince or one of his managers wrote to Warner Bros. executives as well as a sealed test pressing of "The Black Album," which Prince pulled from release at the last minute in December 1987, paying for destroying the original press run.
"A U.S. [pressing of] 'Black Album' is one of the rarest records in the world. There are maybe five U.S. surviving copies," Gold said.
This LP up for auction came from the Warner Bros. staffer who was supposed to destroy the original albums. Rolling Stone did a story in 2017 about the discovery of these five sealed records.
Top bid, as of Wednesday, was $6,748.
The auction at rrauction.com runs through June 22.