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How an L.A. Printer Kept the Art of the Album Cover Alive

As music media became digital in the ‘80s with CDs, and later on with MP3s and now streaming, many audiophiles missed the rich analog sound of vinyl albums. Along the same route, the smaller media lost the visual art of the album jacket. There was less room for art, and forget liner notes. We missed those, too. That’s why there has been a resurgence on the old-fashioned vinyl record album in the last few years. And the  Stoughton Printing Company is ready to print new album covers, just as they have since 1964. Founded by Jack Stoughton, Sr. the company carries on in the 21st century under the direction of Clay Stoughton and his brother Jack Stoughton, Jr., who tells us about the early days of the business.  

“The Old Style jackets—that’s our trademarked name—can be printed on a variety of papers, substrates of any sort, really.” Jack Jr. says. “It can be book cloth, paper, foil, lots of different things, which gives you the ability to create many types of looks. We have highly specialized machines that are strictly purposed to make the Old Style jackets, be it an Old Style single, an Old Style gatefold, a gatefold single, you name it.”

If there’s a secret sauce to Stoughton, one of the ingredients is certainly its people, many of whom have been with the company for a long time, which means the institutional memory at Stoughton runs deep. “Some of our employees have been with us for decades,” Jack Jr. says. “They’ve seen it all.” Just as important is the fact that for every Led Zeppelin or Jack White, there have been countless other musicians of lesser acclaim who have turned to Stoughton to print their album art and design the packaging encasing their vinyl.

“When we started out,” Jack Jr. says, “we appealed to independent labels and artists. That was our niche. We had one customer, way back when, who sold his car to help pay for his record pressing. We had printed his jackets, so he came out here on the bus from Hollywood to City of Industry, which was about 25 miles eastbound. He probably made five or six bus transfers to get here. All he wanted was one box of 100 jackets, which he was going to take to the record-pressing plant so they could stuff them with his records, which he wanted to sell at a show that night. The jackets were ready, so we drove him and the jackets to the record-pressing plant, waited for them to get stuffed, and then took him home. He called us the following Monday to say he had been able to sell around 240 records that night, which effectively paid for his entire project. I couldn’t tell you that young man’s name today, and I don’t even remember if he went on to have any hits. But that was the way my dad treated everybody. In part, it was because you never knew who was going to be the next million-seller, but it was also to honor the dreams independent artists brought to us.”

Stoughton Printing Company is such a historic part of the record industry that the International Printing Museum is readying an exhibition called “The Music of the Presses: The Stoughton Printing Company Vinyl Jacket Collection” to open October first. Read about the history and the art of record jacket printing at Collectors Weekly.

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