One element of the ever changing music industry is that the sale of vinyl records has increased and that these audio treasures are still in demand. In our age of digital products and downloads, there are still millions who prefer the sound and experience of vinyl records. In this article, let’s explore how a person can ascertain just how much a particular record is worth.
There are many factors and variables that come into play, whether buying or selling records. The ‘grading’ of a record is very subjective and because no two people grade the record the same, many problems arise when reselling new and used vinyl.
The value of a record is, and this is putting it in a very simplistic way, is what a person is willing to pay another person or business for the record. But there are many other variables that must be considered to put a value on a record, let’s look at them:
There is a common misconception that because a record is old, that it is valuable. On the contrary, some records that are just a few months old have more value than some that are 50 years old. And, while it is true that some bands and artists are more sought after and command a better resale price, the condition of the record is paramount, whether the record is a week old or seventy years old; age is not a determining factor, but condition is.
There are several different methods of grading records and unfortunately there is no ‘standard’ that everyone uses. But let’s look at one of the more widely accepted grading methods, which is in the “Rockin’ Records” price guide, written by the genre’s leading authority; Jerry Osborne. In this method, the record are given a certain ‘grade’ as to their condition, here are the grades:
Mint (M)- an absolutely perfect record in every way-to allow for a tiny blemish or flaw, this record would be considered Near Mint, which is the highest grade used the in the Osborne record price guides and what the prices in the record guides reflect.
Very Good (VG) – records in this condition should have a minimum of visual or audio imperfections that do not detract from your enjoyment and listening pleasure. You may see a plus or minus after this grade.
Good (G) – From a practical standpoint, this grade may mean the record is a good enough copy to fill a gap in your collection until you can secure a better copy. This record will show obvious signs of wear and tear and play all the way through without skipping.
The prices quoted in the record guides are for records in Near Mint condition. Osborne explains what you can expect using the following formula. For very good condition, the record is worth 25-50% of the Near Mint price listed in his guides. For Good, figure 10-25% of the near mint price given in his guides. Another common mistake is that people take the price in the guides, grade the record and then do not ‘downgrade’ for the flaws and condition issues.
Another confusing aspect to this method is that some records might be listed as VG + or VG- or VG++ or NM-. But, what exactly is the person grading the record mean with these notations? Is it for the record, the sleeve, the LP jacket or the record itself? You can see why this way of grading can be very confusing to someone just starting a record collection.
Osborne also suggests a ten point grading scale and some feel that this system allows for a more precise description of the record than the mint, very good, good scale. Here is the scale:
9- Near Mint
8- better than VG but below NM
6- better than Good but below VG
4- better than Poor but below Good
2 and 1- why bother adding these to a collection?
I prefer the ten point scale, as it eliminates some of the confusion and provides a better description than VG- or VG++ or G-. One important factor that Osborne stresses is to be honest about the condition and grade, meaning apply the same standard to the record you want to buy or sell as you would want the seller or buyer to give. But, and this goes along with Osborne’s recommendation, is a TRUST factor. You must assume and trust that the person giving the grade to the record is honest and will be held accountable for the grade.
But just because a record is visually acceptable may not mean it plays that way, so one must take that into consideration as well. So if you are buying a record you may also ask if it plays the grade that it was given. A long time ago, these two went together, but it seems that we have gotten away from this.
Another element in the grading process, and I have seen this done several ways, is the condition of the LP jacket, picture sleeve, inserts and liner notes. Some sellers may give you two ratings, one for the record and one for the other elements. There are some very valuable album covers and picture sleeves (from 45 rpm records) and these must also be accounted for in the selling price or the value of a vinyl record.
As you can see, this is a ‘gray area’ when buying and selling vinyl and one that is very subjective. Condition is the most important factor when buying and selling vinyl and when buying records you must be able to find a trustworthy seller and ascertain which method they are using to grade what they have for sale. And, as previously stated, the record price guides lists the prices for records in near mint condition, so that must be taken into account. Obviously, this all can be a bit confusing for a beginner, but a little common sense and education can help any buyer in their quest to add to their collection.
Many, many millions of vinyl records are in circulation, with almost every household in the US, either having some vinyl records at one time or another. We even had a vinyl record ‘boon’ from around 1955-1980. But, how many of those records are still around and more importantly, what condition are they in?
For instance, rhythm and blues records from the 1950’s suffered from poor promotion and publicity, therefore there were fewer of these that were pressed. The record companies that produced these particular records were small and lacked the resources that the larger record companies enjoyed, some may have been limited to only one or two thousand being pressed, On the other hand, the Beatles records were massed produced and they benefited from much larger pressings and are a fairly common record (depending on the label) and some are not worth as much as one might think. This brings us to another element-demand.
Like any other commodity, vinyl records are subject to the old supply and demand adage that is prevalent in any free market society. Record values were affected by the Internet age, especially with the many online auction sites. Records that were thought to be rare and valuable suddenly came out of the closets and basements and were put up for sale and brought some prices down. But, that has evened out at this time and the record price guides and prices reflect that. If there is a demand for a certain genre or artist, chances are the price will go up, more people want these type of record and there is more competition for them. For instance, the music genre called Northern Soul (commonly known as Motown) enjoyed resurgence in sales in the past few years, driving up the prices. Conversely, there is not a lot of demand for classical music (in fact, there aren’t even any price guides for this genre of music); therefore you cannot expect to get much for the records.
This element of putting a value on a vinyl record goes hand in hand with the relative scarcity of the record. Many special musical genres in recorded music often command a higher price because of their place in music history. For instance, the early roots of country music from the early 1930s and 1940’s, early jazz recordings, the rock and roll ‘infancy’ recordings (including rockabilly, rhythm and blues, the ‘girl’ groups of the 60’s, ) are often highly sought after and therefore of more value. Some early Motown, psychedelic music, surf music, garage band rock and doo wop often command a higher price because these are records that have a prominent historical value in recorded sound.
Artist or Group
Obviously, there are some musical icons that sell better than others and are in command. Early Elvis records, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix just to name a few all command top dollar because there is always a demand for these records. But that is not to say that some obscure bands or artists are precluded from being valuable, on the contrary, there may be an artist that you have never heard of and the record may be selling for thousands of dollars.
LP Jacket, Inserts, Picture Sleeves
When issued, some records came with an added incentive and that is also collected and can add value to a record. LP’s came with fantastic artwork, inner sleeves with liner notes, lyrics, posters, cut out and all these elements are included when establishing a resale price. Again, the condition of these ‘extras’ must be taken into account when ascertaining the value of the record. 45rpm records came with picture sleeves and some of them are even more valuable than the record that they may hold.
The Year of Release
First pressings may be of more value than a reissue of the same record ten years later. For instance, a Beatles record that was released in 1965 is of more value to a collector than a reissue that was released in 1980.
The Record Label
Some record labels are also more collectible than others. Old R & B or jazz on the record label Bluenote is generally worth more than if the same music and artist are released on another label. Another example is Beatles’ records released on the Capitol record label as opposed to the Vee Jay label. For instance, if you were to own the record “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on the Capitol label, it will generally be worth more than the same record on the Apple label (which was formed after the record was issued). Certainly there are exceptions, but there are a lot of record labels that suffered from poor distribution and, quite frankly, there are not that many to be had.
Stereo vs. Mono
As a general statement, all 45’s manufactured by all record labels after 1970 were pressed in stereo. But there were labels that issued records between 1957-1970 that were issued in both formats, and you would have to check the catalog number of the record to find out which one you may have. Some mono versions may be worth more than there stereo counterparts, while some records in stereo may be worth more than mono; it all depends on the artist and label.
As we review this article, we see that there are many elements that can factor into ascertaining what a record may be worth. We have covered the basics, there are more like picture discs, colored vinyl, promotional releases, misprints, why even the color of the record label may affect the price; but this is a good starting point. One element we should highlight is what you get for a record can also be determined to who you are selling the record to, a dealer will probably give you only a portion of what the record may be worth, or you may be able to find a rare and valuable record at a garage sale for pennies on the dollar. And that is the fun part for record collectors!