This Guy Owns Over 3,000 White Albums

His name is Rutherford Chang, and no, he’s not the biggest Beatles fan in the world.

He’s an artist and collector more interested in viewing the albums as unique historical objects, inspired by how each blemish offers insight into their individual journeys from blank canvas to storied artifact. Some numbers for you. 54-years ago, in 1968, over 3,000,000 copies of the Beatles’ iconic White Album were pressed and packaged in a plain white record cover with a serial number stamped on the right-hand corner.

54-years ago, each cover entered the world looking exactly the same. 54-years later, time has changed them, and Rutherford wants us to see the beauty in the scars they wear on their sleeves.

The story behind the album art goes something like this: The Beatles enlisted pop artist Richard Hamilton to design the cover of their self-titled album, but he accidentally mailed over a blank piece of paper. The rest, as they say, is history. Just kidding. The Beatles loved the minimalist concept, particularly after the psychedelic splendour of Sgt. Pepper’s cover art.

Rutherford started his collection by buying used copies on eBay, which evolved into exhibiting his growing collection as an art installation called We Buy White Albums. He now also runs an Instagram of the same name, posting the unique covers of each White Album he has acquired—some not so white anymore, covered in mould, stickers, and permanent marker.

In a way, We Buy White Albums is a group show, comprised of works by artists all over the world—some alive, some dead, and most whose names we’ll never know. Pretty genius if you ask me. But I’d rather ask Rutherford.

Hey Rutherford! First things first… of all the albums, why the White Album?

The entirely white serialised covers, designed by Richard Hamilton, went out into the world as blank canvases over half a century ago, and have since become artefacts, collecting dust, mould, scribbles, and doodles. I realised that every copy has become a unique object, telling the stories of their individual journeys, and decided to bring as many as possible back together.

How and where do you find copies to buy?

I started out buying albums on eBay. When I eventually had a sizeable enough collection, I began exhibiting them as an installation called We Buy White Albums, which is like a second-hand record store, except every album is the White Album. They’re all arranged in browsing bins by serial number and visitors are invited to leaf through and listen to the albums, and as the title suggests sell me more copies. The exhibition has been travelling and the collection has grown substantially.

Ringo’s White Album Pressing NO. 0000001

In 2015, Ringo auctioned the first-ever copy of the White Album for close to $1 million. Did you secretly buy it?

I put in a bid for 20 bucks but didn’t get it.

Does it hurt to know that someone else did?

If they want to sell it, my offer still stands.

What’s the most you’ve spent? A quick search shows #591 is up on eBay for $12,000. Too steep?

I don’t particularly seek so-called ‘collectable’ copies. Numbered albums in any condition are all part of this huge edition that comprise the collection.

Your collection count is currently at 2,952, is that right? When, if ever, will you stop?

I actually just passed 3,000 copies. The serial number runs to over 3 million, so there’s plenty more out there…

What’s your favourite song on the album, and why?

I really couldn’t say. It’s more the idea of Beatles’ fandom that drew me to collecting this album.

Some of the covers you post are so interesting because they tell a story about the era they came from and the past owners. You can’t know every story, but what’s one of the best you’ve been told or learned about?

I usually don’t personally know the previous owners, but every album conjures an imagined story of how it came to be in its current condition.

As an artist, have you ever added anything to a white album cover? A squiggle? A signature?

I keep them exactly as they are received.

Is your collection currently on show anywhere? If not, where does one store over 3,000 White Albums?

They were just part of an exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and will next be at Galerie Stihl in Waiblingen this summer.

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