Is there treasure in your vintage vinyl records?

LP Market Trends
In general, all specific peaks and valleys considered, the record market as a whole is flat. Many parts of the market have stabilized.

Though there has been much discussion of the vinyl LP and 45 market, essentially little has changed—these still see a lot of activity:

Near-mint, mint, and sealed LPs. One thing that the growth of eBay has shown is that albums in truly near-mint condition, especially original editions from the 1950s through the 1970s, are extremely hard to find.

Condition has always meant a lot when it came to records. Today, it means more than ever. Perhaps a new generation of record buyers has been spoiled by the quiet, efficient sound coming from a compact disc or a digital file and won’t tolerate the pops and ticks that sometimes are audible on even the best-pressed records. You’ll find that some of the prices in the “Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records, 1948-1991,” 7th edition, though still reflecting an average of many sources, may be low on certain items.
Along those lines, some of the prices I’ve seen for sealed vintage LPs border on the obscene.

There are sound reasons to be wary of sealed albums, especially older ones. But that hasn’t stopped prices from going sky-high on some of them: A couple years back, a sealed original mono copy of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys traded for over $1,500 and a sealed stereo copy of The Beatles (The White Album) has sold for over $1,400.

The only thing extraordinary about them is that they were, presumably, never opened. Like I say though, be wary. A sealed LP can be a re-seal, but even without that issue, even if a record is sealed, the cover could have any manner of damage from mashed corners to unreported delete marks, bends, and warps. Perhaps more necessary than with any other type of purchase, this is the type of transaction you want to conduct in person at a record show, given that average photography misses some of these things.

“Audiophile” LPs.

Albums that appeal to the audience that appreciates good sound quality are hotter than ever.

This does not only apply to the records of the 1980s and 1990s that were specially licensed and marketed to appeal to this small subset of collectors. True, albums on the DCC Compact Classics label from the 1990s are almost uniformly collectible, with near-mint copies of many titles trading for three figures routinely. And many albums on the Mobile Fidelity, Nautilus, and Direct Disc labels are in that range. Condition is even more important when it comes to these records, including consideration around stickers used to seal some of them, the plastic sleeves they came in, and, of course, the condition of the covers.

Today, many audiophiles are paying closer attention to more mainstream albums. Indeed, the work of certain cutting engineers—the people who “translate” the sound of a master tape to the record—are becoming sought-after by this group. Often the only way these desirable pressings can be identified is by checking the trail-off wax of the albums. So far, this trend hasn’t crossed over to the vast majority of record collectors, who still value a general first pressing over a specific one. But it’s something we are watching closely.

Albums from the 1990s and early 2000s. Some albums from the “dark ages” of vinyl are becoming very collectible and very expensive. It has also affected even more albums—some of which were still common in retail stores as recently as two years ago. We have seen no letup in demand for vinyl LPs released from about 1991 to the present day.

Indeed, many of the values listed for these records [in the “Standard Catalog of American Records”]—some of which almost never show up for sale anywhere—are conservative, even for those with three-figure values attached. The “hysterical” or “hype” element around some of these releases stems, unsurprisingly, from the fact that many of the new vinyl issues from the CD and mp3 age are pressed in very limited quantities. Huge acts such as Metallica, already have a complicated discography for their records re-visited since the big switchover to CDs in 1990.

Hot Genres. As one generation of record collectors passes the torch to the next, unsurprisingly, those new collectors collect what they connect with. Ergo, sort of pre-1965 artists continue to fall off the radar, even as hot spots continue to build to their record of established high prices, in some cases, continuing to march upward. Still, genres with more activity tend to begin with garage and psych, with progressive rock, punk and metal continuing to prove strong.

Commons. Quite simply, with the reduction of brick-and mortar stores out there, along with the fact that most folks who were inclined to do a record purge and switch to CD or mp3 have now done so years ago, even commons in good condition are selling for solid prices, to generalize, in the $6 to $15 range. Artists who have proven their worth, stood the test of time… their records are constantly finding homes, and stores price them accordingly, knowing they will move. This is more of an LP story than one for 45, however.

Bootlegs. In closing, board member Stephen Braitman chimes in on what he considers hot areas in LP collecting this year, namely bootlegs, late ’60s/early ’70s psych and folk Capitol releases, original vinyl releases from the late ’80s and ’90s that were missed the first time around (and are much cheaper than the “180 gram audiophile reissues”), and finally punk releases pre-1985.

45 RPM Market Trends
A few general comments are in order for the 45 RPM market.
In general, 45s remain the most avidly collected musical format in the world. And the condition of those discs is more important than ever.

We’ve taken the step of using only the Near Mint price as a space-saving device. But this change also reflects a continuing trend in the marketplace. More and more collectors are seeking copies of 45s that are as close to perfect as possible, and they are willing to pay for them. But they are less willing to pay the Near Mint price, or anything close to it, for records with any discernible flaws whatsoever. Even the VG+ price is more than they are willing to pay for a nice, but not quite perfect, record.

Only a small fraction of the 45s that survive today are in Near Mint condition. That fraction is somewhat larger with records from the 1980s and later; it is smaller with records from the 1970s; and it’s still smaller with records from the 1950s and 1960s. This is why the values for the records in the “Standard Catalog of American Records,” even for common artists, may seem high. Depending on the record, perhaps two to five percent of all copies are in Near Mint condition. In some cases, Near Mint examples simply are not known to exist!

I’m tempted to say that, if somehow one were able to find every copy of a 45 that still exists, the results would follow a bell curve, with very few Near Mint copies, very few truly trashed copies (these, by definition, have been trashed, i.e. gone to landfills), and most copies coming in around VG. But from experience, it seems that we’re on a downward slope, with most copies trashed; fewer copies in VG; still fewer in VG+; and extremely few in the Near Mint category. At the very best, the distribution might be a modified bell curve, with more space under the “poor” section than under “Near Mint.”

In other words: For many collectors, more so than ever before, if it’s not perfect, it’s not for me—at any price.

Going beyond condition, here are some of the areas of 45 RPM collecting that are hot since the last edition of the “Standard Catalog of American Records”:

Soul music of all kinds, especially from the 1960s and 1970s, especially the “Northern Soul” category. Look for a record label from Washington, D.C. called Shrine. It’s called “the world’s most collectible record label” by soul aficionados, as the 45s released by the label are almost uniformly rare, yet almost uniformly sought-after. By now, it may be the most collectible 45 RPM label, period.

Picture sleeves, especially from the 1950s and 1960s. This includes the often promo-only inserts that were included inside otherwise ordinary company sleeves. This is an area where documentation is just starting. Paper goods is a hot market, and this kind of completism crosses over into the paper goods [ephemera] area.

“Holy Grails,” or the rarest records by collectible artists. The most obvious example is Elvis Presley 45s on Sun, which remain hot as the more common parts of his catalog cool off. It’s hard to over-emphasize this. Dealers say, “People always want the best records.” Or “good records.” Weird statement, but it’s true. The high marks just keep getting higher, but the good, strong mid-to-high stuff can languish or see declines. Strange.

Punk. In more of a holding pattern, but holding up quite well. In fact, I might add that post-punk has taken over much of the buzz.

Surf and garage music of the 1960s. There is still plenty of demand for these.
The Beatles. The more unusual a record is, the better, but anything in near-mint condition will sell. We’ve even seen prices that far exceed those in the “Standard Catalog of American Records,” for the rarest items. And some areas that are trending in the opposite direction:

Doo-Wop. Very few 45s in this category have increased in value recently. There are still some die-hard collectors of the genre, but some are dying, and fewer new aficionados are coming in to replace them.

Elvis Presley. Unless it’s already rare, it’s not going up in value.

UK limited edition 45 pressings. Most UK pressings are between 500 and 1,000 and are sold out in the pre-order stage. An example of this is the latest Muse 7-inch, which had a wholesale of $4.50 and the demand is so huge that the item is commanding $30 in the marketplace.

Fan club 7-inch pressings by Pearl Jam, REM, etc. These are very collectible and sought after. Many bands are providing these goodies via their fan club sites to thank their fans.

Exclusive 7-inch releases to promote Record Store Day in the spring in North America yielded some great releases by Elvis Costello, Oasis, and Morrisey.

New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Although values have increased in many corners of the metal realm, prices for this very specific area seems to have peaked in the mid to late ’90s.

Funk and reggae continue to be hot!

In closing, one trend I wish would expand is that more of today’s music would appear on 7-inch singles. It may not be a huge market, but it is a market, and it is not being served right now. Sure, there’s a bit of life there in terms of supply, and undoubtedly, because there is really not much being issued, these records will trend upwards for many years to come.

Martin Popoff has written 30 books, conducted 1,500 interviews with rockers and record collectors, and has written articles for numerous music periodicals, including Goldmine magazine. He has a personal colection of more than 15,000 records.

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