A CPA who was tasked with valuing Sir Elton John’s record collection after it was auctioned to raise money for his AIDS charity said she found some hidden treasures in the collection 20 years later.

Jeanine T. Patrick, of Patrick & Patrick CPAs in Upland, Calif., said that a thorough inventory has revealed that not only is the collection much larger than originally expected, but a wealth of surprising treasures have been unearthed.

The Elton John Collection was sold at a Sotheby’s auction by the singer and songwriter to provide the inital funding for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The collection was originally believed to consist of 50,000 items, but in reality the collection, which John added to with the purchase of BBC producer Bernie Andrews’ personal collection; contains more than 70,000 items, including singles, albums, 8-track cassettes, compact discs and unique studio tapes.

The collection includes the artist's prolific personal record purchasing, personal gifts and material from his record company Rocket Records. Especially notable are singles from his youth, signed as Reg Dwight and in sleeves he customized with newspaper and magazine clippings from artists of the time.

“Really they had almost no idea what was in it, which was what made the valuation so difficult,” Patrick told Accounting Today on Tuesday. “We had virtually no information when it was purchased from Sotheby’s in the early ’90s. We had an approximate idea of how many individual items were in the collection, but knew very little about the specific items.”

The insurance company also asked for a current appraisal of the collection since it hadn’t been appraised in 20 years.

“The richness of the collection clearly reflects a passion and curiosity for all genres of music,” said Stephen M. H. Braitman of musicappraisals.com, the collection's appraiser. “It is not only comprehensive, but arguably a definitive portrait of the 50's through the 80's and possesses an enduring value and importance.  With the Collection's rarities, unique editions and historical releases, I can't imagine there is another collection quite like it in the world.”

Jeanine Patrick of Patrick and Patrick CPAs was tasked with valuing the collection, which arrived with minimal accompanying data, making a full inventory essential.

“Evaluating a collection of this size and historical significance is not something that's embarked on easily,” Patrick said in a statement. “Along with the necessary security requirements it is cumbersome, risky and labor intensive, and you can easily spend more on it than a collection is worth. Over the past two decades, I investigated many solutions that were simply unfeasible, flawed, high-risk or cost prohibitive, or all of the above.”

[IMGCAP(1)]That all changed when a discussion with a business associate resulted in them developing a system that began a modern day treasure hunt. Their solution, I-Stream, created a complete visual “virtual collection” that is accessible on the client’s desktop. The I-Stream process integrates asset protection, security protocols, layered processing and allows for remote live monitoring of the inventorying process in a fast, affordable, reliable and accurate way.

iStream was created by a third party, but it was developed for this specific application. “One of the problems we had as accountants was that we wanted to allocate the dollars spent on the project wisely,” said Patrick. “We had specific things that we had to overcome with the insurance company limiting access to the collection to certain people and being able to get enough detailed information, including multiple photos per item, so that an appraiser could use the collection almost as if it were a virtual inventory and then give us an appraisal from that, which is what he’s doing.”

“Being able to literally view the items brings the collection to life and also offers detail that cannot be accessed via a simple data inventory sheet,” Patrick added. “To see the quality of an item on screen and actually read a sleeve note or a signature is unbelievably exciting.”

From a business feasibility perspective, I-Stream allowed Patrick to provide an inventory and valuation in record time. The process uncovered some unexpected and previously undocumented rarities, such as 30-year-old studio reel to reel tapes of rough mixes and copies of Elton John's studio sessions.

Leveraging the archival expertise of Abbey Road Studios, the team at I-Stream transferred the reel-to-reel content into studio-quality digital files to be stored with the Collection, and created MP3 copies, which can be played on the virtual collection software.  

“The ability to manipulate, manage and catalog such a robust collection and make it accessible to archivists, scholars and collectors for further study and discography will be invaluable to pop historians,” Braitman said in a statement. “This collection is of profound historical significance. As a collector, I am insanely jealous to find so many of the touchstones of music history and its legacy in one collection. This work also begs another question: What other uncovered treasures are hidden in unevaluated collections?”

The collection is not for sale, according to Patrick. “At this point, we have no plans to sell it,” she said.

The collection was originally sold by Sir Elton and the proceeds from that original sale were used to start his AIDS foundation, she added. The inventory and appraisal were done for the same client who originally purchased the collection from Sotheby’s. Patrick declined to say who it was, but said it is a single investor.

The collection includes some unusual items, including decorations of the record sleeves by John himself, as shown in the photo. “This was during the time period when Sir Elton was living at home and was going under the name of Reg Dwight,” said Patrick. “As a young man, he would take the sleeve of a 45 and cut out pictures of his favorite artists and then tape the pictures he had found in tabloid magazines or from whatever source, and then tape his own fan pictures to the actual sleeve of the 45.”

Patrick started the project about a year ago, and finished the inventory part in about six weeks. “It was sitting in storage. The age of the collection brought us to the point where we needed to do something to safeguard it, to archive it, to do the complete database so that it could be adequately appraised.”

This is the first time that Patrick had to inventory a vintage record collection, but she has had some other unusual assignments over the years, she noted. “This is the first one that was this type of thing, although I will typically do things that are a little beyond the purview of normal accounting,” she said. “A lot of other people looked at it and ran.”