Chances are that you long ago abandoned any LPs you may have owned for compact discs or streaming services. Perhaps you donated your albums to a library book sale or to a church rummage sale. You might have put them out at a long-ago yard sale: 50 cents each/3 for a dollar.
On the off chance, though, that you still have a carton or two of the vinyl discs stored in your attic or basement, you may want to do a little research into their values in the collectors’ markets.
It was three years ago that we touched on the fact that LPs (long-play records) were staging a comeback, and the pace has only accelerated. So, it makes sense that interest in the medium would extend to all the material that has accumulated since the introduction of the LP by Columbia Records in 1948. (RCA Victor had issued its own version of a long-playing, 33 1/3 rpm record in 1931, but it was a failure due to a variety of reasons, mostly commercial rather than technical.)
In the aggregate, there is a LOT of surviving material, spanning every genre of music, from classical to rock to folk to jazz and everything in between. So, why do some LPs command big bucks, while the majority go begging?
The reasons are the same as any other collectible: rarity, desirability of content, and condition.
A properly cared for LP can last a century, and more. Unfortunately, many casual purchasers of LPs ended up storing their old records in their attics or basements, where the usually extreme climate conditions in those areas could cause mold, mildew, warping, and oxidation (yellowing) of the album cover and inserts. (Remember this mantra when storing collectibles: cool, dark, dry.)
Many people also wrote on, or handled album covers with dirty fingers; they tore or lost any special sleeves or inserts; or they mishandled the discs themselves by stacking them one atop another, used worn needles when playing the disc, or jostled the player, sending the arm skidding across the disc’s surface.
Then there’s the fact that an LP – even more so than a book and its dustjacket – is a package deal: a record without its cover, or vice versa, is usually considered worthless.
Whether the actual musical content of an LP appeals to a collector is somewhat more subjective. Some composers, singers, and musicians seem to have a longer shelf-life than others, while there are always a few who are “rediscovered,” either because they had once fallen out of favor for one reason or another, or because they’d never had sufficient promotion in the first place.
Rarity, by itself, does not necessarily translate to desirability, but in conjunction with the other factors, it can result in astonishingly high prices. The Beatles’ Yesterday And Today album is probably one of the most notable examples of the phenomenon.
When first released in June 1966, the album cover depicted John, Paul, George, and Ringo in butchers’ garb, surrounded by beheaded dolls and cuts of meat. There was an almost immediate backlash from retailers, and Capitol Records recalled the “butcher” cover to the factory where a new picture – of the group staged around a travel trunk – was pasted over the original. Needless to say, there are very few extant examples of the first state of the album, and even fewer in near mint condition.
Ultimately, there exist four “states” of the cover: (1) the “Butcher” cover, (2) the “Trunk” cover over the “Butcher” cover, (3) the “Butcher” cover with the “Trunk” sticker removed, and (4) the “Trunk” cover alone.
At the same time, record companies were transitioning from monaural (mono), single-track sound recordings to stereo, so some of the Yesterday albums were in mono, while others were in one of the several types of stereo being experimented with.
So, what does all this mean? It means that values for Yesterday And Today can range from less than $100 for the common “Trunk” cover, to about $1,000 for the second state cover, all the way up to the $125,000 final bid in 2016 for a first-state “Butcher”.
Of course, most other albums don’t garner quite as much interest, but here’s an exceedingly small sampling of recent online-auction results for records that you might have the good fortune to come across:
- John Coltrane Blue Train, Blue Note 1577, Mono, $463 (37 bids)
- The Beach Boys Summer Days (1965) Capitol Records T-2354, $320 (8 bids)
- Leon Fleisher Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, Columbia SAX 2526, $227.50 (24 bids)
- Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Tower Records ST-5093, $1314 (28 bids)
- Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, A&M Records MFSL 1-118, $162.50 (3 bids).
None of these are exceedingly rare, so it’s not impossible that you could come across one of these, or something comparable, at a yard or estate sale. If you’d like to find out more about collectible vinyl, check out the resources listed below, and
1000 Record Covers, by Michael Ochs
Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting, by Dave Thompson
Vinyl Age: A Guide to Record Collecting Now, by Max Brzezinski
Collector’s Corner: Collectible Vinyl – 45s (EcommerceBytes.com 2006) – About the LP’s smaller sibling.
Discogs – Music Database and Marketplace (Discogs) – One of the world’s largest databases of physical (LPs, CDs, etc.) music. Also hosts a popular marketplace.
How Much is an Album Worth in 2020: $3.49? $77? $1000? Maybe $0 – (New York Times) – A look at the business side of new releases.
Inside Beatles’ Bloody, Banned “Butcher” Cover (Rolling Stone) – Fascinating.
Is There a “50-Year Rule” for Jazz Vinyl? (JazzCollector.com) – Interesting discussion could apply to many collectibles.
Popsike’s Vinyl Records Price Guide (Popsike.com) – Searchable database of millions of online auction results.
Record Grading 101: Understanding the Goldmine Grading Guide (GoldmineMag.com) – By the leading resource for vinyl collectors in the U.S.
Variations for Beatles’ “Yesterday And Today” LP Cause Collecting Confusion (GoldmineMag.com) – This Goldmine Magazine piece explains the different versions and how they impact values.