All About Record Collecting

I spent most of my middle and high school years sorting through stacks of old records at various Atlanta record stores, working the floor at record shows, pouring over Goldmine magazine and burning up transatlantic phone lines with calls to record shops in the UK.

I was what you’d call a record collector, although I wasn’t much of one in the greater scheme of things. There are record collectors out there who have tens of thousands of albums filling their basements and garages, like John Cusack in High Fidelity. But I was never one of them. I kept my collection small, filling it with records I loved as well as records to “flip”. In fact, flipping records is how my love affair with Madonna started. Like most teenage guys in the 80s, I thought that she was super-hot, but I didn’t much care for her music. But I noticed that her records sold quickly and expensively, so I started buying the occasional Madonna picture disc just to flip it into a rare Cure record I wanted.

Although vinyl collecting almost died, it’s going through a renaissance of sorts lately. Many independent record stores are reporting that vinyl is now outselling CDs, although this has as much to do with people who used to buy CDs now using iTunes as it does people buying more vinyl records. Still, vinyl sales are up, and because of this, I thought I’d dust off this old post and spruce it up some.

By using the following guide, you should be able to suss out the value of most any disc, be it a CD you bought a year ago or a box full of your parents’ old vinyl records you found cleaning out the attic. And given the rise of the Internet – specifically, auction sites like eBay and online memorabilia retailers like GEMM – you can quickly sell those discs (if you choose) as never before.

The Glossary

Before I talk about what makes a record valuable, let me give you some terms so that we’re all on the same page here:

7″ single – These are sometimes called “45s”. 7″ singles are the default type of single, so if someone says “single” without any additional qualifiers, they more than likely mean a 7″ disc. These records are usually played at 45rpm and almost always have two songs, one on each side. When I was 12-14 years old, the “Holy Grail” of my record collecting world was a British copy of Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” 7″ single. This one is actually Portuguese:

duran-duran-planet-earth

10″ record (single) – These records are the same size as old 78s from back in the 40s and 50s and are actually somewhat rare. Only a handful of records were released in this format in the 70s and 80s. Such records may be played at either 33 or 45rpm, depending on how many songs are on the disc. A 10″ record typically contains two, three or four songs, but might contain a full album: The Police’s Regatta De Blanc was released in the USA as a “limited edition 10″ double album” with a poster:

the_police_regatta_10inch

Here’s one of my all-time favorite records, This Mortal Coil’s “Come Here My Love” on 10″ vinyl, with “Drugs” on the b-side:

This Mortal Coil - Come Here My Love

12″ single – These records are the same size as a full album, but are usually played at 45rpm and contain only 1 or 2 songs. Although the vinyl market has, until recently, seen better days, the 12″ single market never really went away, as most DJs still prefer spinning 12″ discs to CDs or MP3s.

blue_monday

Pictured above is New Order’s “Blue Monday”, the best selling 12″ single of all time. The single looks like an old floppy disk, and there were holes and notches cut into the sleeve to complete the illusion. According to music industry lore, the packaging was so complex and expensive that Factory Records actually lost money on every copy sold. That’s not true, although Factory did make a lot less money off “Blue Monday” than they could have.

Album – A complete album on one disc, almost always played at 33rpm. These are sometimes called LPs because at the time they were invented they were “long playing” discs (around 20 minutes per side) compared to 78 rpm records (4 minutes per side). So a copy of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony would require ten 78rpm discs, but only two LPs.

Double Album – An album that consists of two discs.

Box Set – A set of several discs that come in a wooden or cardboard box. Amusing story: I worked in the record department of Lechmere (a New England-based forerunner of Best Buy) from 1986-1987. One day, one of my co-workers was unboxing the latest shipment of records and CDs, which in this case included many, many copies of Bruce Springsteen’s Live/1975–85 box set.

Bruce_Springsteen_Live_75-85

The co-worker suddenly let out a gasp. One of the copies was autographed! The males of the department (including yours truly) questioned the authenticity of it, however. Even though the box had come directly from the distributor and although the signature was underneath the shrinkwrap, the handwriting looked a bit odd, as if a female were trying to imitate a male’s handwriting. The co-worker alerted the section manager, who called the record label. Sadly, we found out that it wasn’t genuine, and that someone at the Columbia Records factory had played a prank on us!

EP – This stands for “extended play”, a type of disc that has too many songs to be a single, yet too few to be an album. EPs can come in 7″, 10″, 12″ or CD format. EPs always have different songs on them, as opposed to a 12″ single which might have six versions of the same song.

Flexi – Sometimes called by their full trade name, “Flexi disc”, these are plastic records that were usually given away free with music magazines, as fan club material, with kid’s meals at fast food restaurants, or even glued inside cereal boxes. As the name implies, these discs are flexible and can be rolled into a tube (please don’t do that!).

nick_cave_flexi

Because they were so thin and light, Flexi discs often had to be weighted down with coins to keep them from slipping on the turntable. The circular text in the picture above often said something like “place nickels here”. Another of my all-time favorite records is the Psychedelic Furs “Dumb Waiters” 7″ single from the UK, which had a clear Flexi glued to the cover, so you could play the sleeve itself, which contains excerpts of tunes from their (then upcoming) Talk Talk Talk album:

dumb_waiters_single

Colored vinyl – Records come in a variety of colors, both transparent and opaque. On some records – like the ‘electric blue’ version of Madonna’s “True Blue” single – the coloring is immediately obvious:

madonna-trueblue-bv7

On other discs, the coloring can be quite subtle. Such is the case with a version of R.E.M.’s Reckoning album on purple vinyl so dark that it must be held up to the light to see the coloring:

reckoning

Colored vinyl can sometimes be a complex affair, like the legendary “marbled” version of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love album, which indeed looks like marble:

kate_bush_hounds_of_love-pd
Trust me, it’s much more impressive in person! And lest you think I’m stuck in the 1980s, here’s my most recent colored vinyl purchase, Asobi Seksu’s Fluorescence, which was released in February 2011.

asobi

Picture Disc – A picture disc is simply a clear vinyl record with a photograph placed inside before pressing. The pictures on picture discs usually fill the disc completely, like this “Like A Prayer” picture disc:

madonna-likeaprayer-pd

However, pictures could also be strategically placed, like this “Holiday” picture disc:

madonna-holiday-clear-vinyl

Shaped Discs – Records could come in any number of shapes, like this Madonna “Crazy for You” single from the UK:

madonna-crazy-for-you-picture

Far more extreme shapes were once available.

Etched discs – Sometimes designs would be etched into one side of a record. This wasn’t especially popular, as the etched side could not be played (and was thus made useless). You can’t even see an etched record whilst playing, unless pressed on clear vinyl. Here’s a copy of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” on 12″ vinyl which has been etched to show the band’s logo:

dm_silence_etched

Scratchings – The shiny area of a record between the end of the grooves and the inner label sometimes contains small etched messages called “scratchings”. Some bands made them a regular feature, like the British band Current 93. Records with such messages are considered to be more valuable than records without them, although the number of records where this might be an issue is, quite frankly, tiny.

CD3 – Sometimes called a “Mini CD”, these are CD singles or EPs which come on a 3″ CD, about the size of a GameCube disc. CD3 discs were launched worldwide in the 1980s, but were only popular in Japan, perhaps because they required an annoying “adapter ring” to play in slot-loading CD players. Here’s a Japanese 3″ CD version of Madonna’s “Cherish” single:

madonna_cherish_3

CD3s enjoyed a brief resurgence in the late 90s and early 2000s as data discs. They were the disc of choice for giving away promotional materials at trade shows, and some people created “digital business cards” with them. Few folks knew that these discs started life as music CDs.

CD5 – Sometimes called a “CD single”, these are singles that come on a standard 5″ compact disc.

Jewel case – the standard plastic packaging a compact disc comes in; jewel cases come in “standard” and “slimline” thicknesses. Most import CD singles come in slimline cases.

Digipak – an alternative to jewel cases, Digipaks are cardboard sleeves that have a plastic disc tray glued to the inside of the sleeve. This packaging is more sturdy than a standard jewel case, but is more subject to wear:

digipak

Gatefold – a single or album that opens up like a book. The records are usually retrieved from the outer edges of the sleeves, however some gatefold albums required you to pull the disc out from the inner edges of the sleeves.

Sleeve – A paper sleeve that holds the record and usually has printing on it, typically a photograph of the band or some other artwork. There are two types of sleeves: inner sleeves (that protect a record when it’s kept inside its cardboard album jacket) and outer sleeves (the paper sleeves that singles come in). Records that don’t come in picture sleeves are said to come in generic sleeves, which may be plain white or may have a graphic or logo of the record label printed on it. Records that were originally issued with picture sleeves are almost always worth more than later versions that came in generic sleeves. Because sleeves tend to tear on the edges, you might want to consider buying a stock of generic sleeves and keep the records themselves in those (replaceable) sleeves instead of the fancy printed ones. This will keep the value up.

B/W – You will sometimes see “B\W” in reference to a 7″ (or, uncommonly, a 12″) single. This means “backed with” and refers to the song on the “back” of the single. For instance, “Duran Duran – Girls on Film B\W Faster Than Light” means that “Girls on Film” is the single, and “Faster Than Light” is on the B-side.

180g – 180g (or 180 gram) is a type of vinyl sought after by collectors and audiophiles. Records of the early rock era were thick. If you were to take an old Rolling Stones album from the 1960s and try to fan yourself with it, you’d find that the record doesn’t bend at all. However, the Oil Crisis of 1973 led most American and European manufacturers to cut costs by reducing the thickness of their records. Records made after this time would “wobble” if you tried to fan yourself with them, and were much more prone to warping than earlier discs. Most new records are made with 180 gram vinyl, which is nearly the thickness of the old discs. If you intend on actually listening to a record and have a 180g option, buy that one, as it will sound better than a thinner disc. 180g records from the 70s and 80s tend to be smaller “audiophile” releases and were released in smaller quantities, so tend to be worth more than “regular” records.

Spine – the edge of the record sleeve, where the artist and title information are usually printed. Many German and Dutch albums and 12″ singles also have the artist and title information printed on the upper spine, so that you could easily find a particular disc if you stored your records in a milk crate.

“Punch hole” single – On most records, the hole in the center is roughly the diameter of a pencil. However, most American 7″ singles have a hole about the diameter of a half dollar. This was because of jukeboxes, which worked much better with larger holes than smaller ones. Many 7″ singles from Britain and the Commonwealth came with a “punch hole”, a small hole (like an album) that also had perforations that allowed the owner to “punch out” the center of the disc and make the hole the size of an American single if he or she chose:

duran_duran_planet_earthAs you might guess, a “punch hole” single is worth more if the center has not been punched out.

Promo – this designation applies to a wide range of records and CDs, and has varying degrees of meaning that impact the price. On the low end, you have albums, singles or CDs which look exactly the same as the ones you’d buy in a record store, except they have a sticker or gold stamp on them that says “For Promotional Use Only”. In perfect condition, these records are usually worth the same as the records you’d buy in a store; sometimes they’re even worth less due to the rough handling that they sometimes get. Another type of promo, generally limited to records from the 70s and 80s, has a gold stamp similar to the first example, but also has a serial number on it. This was an early attempt to track which radio stations or music stores were selling or giving away their promotional records. These tend to be worth a couple of dollars more than records with your basic promo stamp. And lastly, you have promo records or CDs that are completely different than ones you buy in stores. They have different covers, tracklists and\or mixes. For example, here’s the cover of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” US single:

madonna_lav_single

And here’s the cover of the promo version:

madonna_lav_promo

These last type of promo discs are sometimes pretty valuable – keep an eye out for them!

“White label disc” – This is usually a bootleg 12″ single of a remixed song released by a DJ, although record labels themselves sometimes create white label records in small quantities. These discs are called “white label” discs because the label on the actual record is plain white and often has artist\album information written on the label by hand. Note that “real” white label records (that is, records released by an actual music label) are often of much higher quality than the “standard” release and as such are often highly sought after by collectors.

Test Pressing – Once a record is complete – that is, it’s been recorded and edited to the artist’s satisfaction – production begins. However, before the record label moves to full production, several “test pressings” will be made of the disc. This is done to test the mastering, the quality of the vinyl, etc. Test pressings are made in only tiny quantities, so they are much ought after by collectors.

test_pressing

Acetate – Acetates were records made of “works in progress”. While a test pressing is a trial production run of a completed product, acetates were sometimes made for the use of the recording artist, his or her sound engineers, the album’s producers or maybe even impatient record company executives. Let’s say an artist is working on two very different versions of the same song. Back in the day, he or she might have requested an acetate to be made of each version to see how they sounded on vinyl. Acetates are extremely rare and are usually highly sought after, as they sometimes they contain earlier versions or mixes of songs that appear on any subsequent album. As their name implies, acetates are made from acetate, the same material used to create the film for overhead projectors. Here’s a famous acetate of The Cure’s “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”:

the_cure_acetate

Cut out – Albums that didn’t sell well were usually returned to the distributor. There they had a notch cut out of one side and were stacked into a corner until an amount sufficient to sell to a large chain was collected. The chain would buy them for peanuts and sell them in their “bargain bins” for as little as 99¢ each. Cut-outs are worth little compared to a disc that has not been cut-out, just as a “dinged” piece of furniture is worth less than a perfect one.

Obi – On Japanese records and CDs, the obi is a strip of paper or plastic that runs along the left side of the outer sleeve. The obi lists, in the Japanese language, the artist, album title, price and perhaps some promotional quotes. The obi is necessary because most Japanese records come with the exact same cover art as their American or European counterparts, even down to the song titles (the record company information is usually printed in English as well). So the obi allows Japanese consumers to know what they’re buying, especially if the band is new or if the album art doesn’t have a picture or recognizable logo of the band. While the obi might be thrown away after purchase by Japanese consumers, it is considered a vital part of the record for Americans or Europeans buying Japanese records… so don’t throw it away! Here’s a Japanese copy of Duran Duran’s Rio album with the obi:

duran_duran_rio_japan

The Value of Records

Why is one record worth thousands whilst another is worth only a couple of dollars? Here are the main things, in rough order of importance, that affect the value of a record:

The popularity of the artist – The value of any item, be it a record, used car, gold coin or half-eaten croissant, is determined by what someone will pay you for it. If you are the only person in the entire world who likes a particular band, then chances are that no one will give you any money for that artist’s record… which means that the record’s value is zero. Note, however, that “popularity” isn’t as cut and dried as it might seem. Many folks like The Beatles and Elvis Presley… in fact, from a collecting standpoint, too many do. The markets for Beatles and Presley are flooded with items, and have been for years. Only the rarest of rare Beatles items sell for any real money, and that’s because there are simply too many people buying and selling too many Beatles items. Also, remember that the market for current acts rises and falls according to what the band is doing at the moment. If no one’s heard from them in a couple of years, chances are that their records won’t sell for a lot. But if the band just released a new album or plans to go on tour, interest will rise and prices will go up. I’ve seen it happen on eBay several times regarding Madonna items: she hasn’t released an album in a long time, and so the total number of auction listings for Madonna stuff will be low. Lots of auctions end with no bids. What does sell sells for less than the seller probably wanted. But then she’ll release a new album or announce a tour and suddenly the number of listings explodes, most items sell and prices go through the roof. And although I’m using Madonna and eBay as examples, it happens with every band in every market… trust me. If you know that your artist is about to release a new disc or announce a world tour, it’s best to hang on the disc until the hoopla kicks in to high gear.

The popularity of the genre – Most people get in to record collecting because they fall in love with one particular artist. But record collecting is somewhat unique in that there are also genre collectors. These folks are more detached than fans of one artist, but they’ll buy the most obscure surf rock or punk rock albums around. For example, 99.999% of Americans have probably never heard of a punk rock band called “Dirty Rotten Imbeciles”, so at first glance one of their records might seem worthless. But the band’s “Violent Pacification” single might be worth hundreds to a punk rock fanatic. So even though a record might not be “popular” on the mass market, it can certainly be popular within its own genre.

The number of discs made – This is nothing more than basic economics: the more of something there is, the less valuable it will be. It doesn’t matter how good a shape your mom’s original copy of The Wall is in… there are 10 bazillion copies of The Wall out there, so it’s not worth much. And, in a cruel twist of fate, just about every record that says “limited edition” on the label is actually not a limited edition. Eddie Murphy’s 1983 album Comedian was released in a “limited edition” picture disc… which would have been great, except that the record company made 250,000 of them, so it wasn’t the least bit “rare”!

eddie_murphy_comedian
Not so limited after all.

What’s worse, CBS Records didn’t release the picture disc until after Comedian had peaked in the charts. So this disc was one of the few picture discs by a major artist to end up in the bargain bins!

Similarly, the American version of Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” 7″ single came with a “limited edition poster sleeve”… which wasn’t limited at all, because the entire run of those singles came in the poster. Don’t be fooled by people on eBay selling “limited edition” stuff; most of the time it’s just not worth it.

Check the record label – This is actually related to the previous tip, but I thought I’d separate it out because it’s easy to check. When an artist starts out, they might release an album on a small, independent record label. Then they’ll get signed to a major label, and the major might buy the rights to that first album and re-release it. For instance, Atlanta band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ released their first album, Scarred But Smarter, on the local 688 Records label. The band was subsequently signed by Island Records, who bought the rights to Scarred But Smarter and released it themselves. Although the two albums are identical in every way except for the record company logos, the 688 version is much more desirable to collectors than the Island version, mainly due to the low numbers of the 688 version vs. the Island version.

Sometimes the early versions of records have different versions of songs, too. Duran Duran’s Rio album was originally released in the US on Harvest Records, and was exactly the same as the British version. However, Harvest’s parent company (Capitol Records) became convinced that Duran Duran would be the “next big thing” and so bought out Harvest’s contract and released a remixed version of Rio. The “Capitol version” is the one that millions teenage girls (and a few weird dudes like me) had back in the 80s. The Harvest version is fairly rare and worth a few dollars, but there are millions of copies of the Capitol version floating around. Most aren’t worth much.

Is the music available elsewhere? – Most hardcore fans of a particular band want to collect every single song their favorite artist has recorded. If you have an old music magazine flexi or fan club single that contains some otherwise unavailable track from that artist, you might have a very valuable record!

True story: back in 1984, a record collector spotted an old Beach Boys fan club single selling for 25¢ at a garage sale; he bought it and later auctioned it for $5,200 ($10,768 in 2010 dollars!). He was able to do this because it was only the second known copy of that song anywhere. The master tapes had been lost for ages and only one other copy of that single was known to exist prior to his find. Score!

There’s a flip side to this, however. The Police’s first single was called “Fall Out”, and for years the only way to hear it was to shell out $75 for the import single at a record store. The track then started to appear on a few “Best of IRS Records” compilations, and so the price dropped to around $50. A few years after the band broke up, A&M released Message in a Box, a 4-CD “best of” box set. It included “Fall Out” and prices for the single fell to around $35. Of course, the record still held its value as a historical item for hardcore Police collectors, but now that anyone could walk into a record store and walk out with this previously rare track, it lost a lot of its cachet. The same thing happened to some early Cure singles released under the name “Cult Hero”. Prices for the original “I Dig You” single were once astronomical; once the track became available in Cure box sets the value of the single fell through the floor.

Geography – When it comes to popular bands, an English record in the United States will be worth more than a domestic version simply due to scarcity. An imported version of even the most common record should fetch at least a dollar or two more than a domestic release thanks to scarcity and transportation costs. Imports are especially more valuable than their domestic brethren when the imported version has additional tracks or different mixes or artwork than the domestic disc.

For years the only way that Americans could get the original, non-remixed version of Madonna’s “Into the Groove” on CD was to buy the British version of the Like A Virgin album CD. This made the British import especially valuable until 2001, when Warner released the digitally remastered version of Like A Virgin here in the US, which finally contained the original mix of the song.

Sometimes geography can pay off handsomely for the seller: the gothic-rock band Bauhaus released their second single on a new British label called Axis Records. Within a couple days of the single’s release, another label called Axis Records called the (new) Axis Records and kindly asked them to change their name, as they (old Axis) had been using that name for several years. All copies of the Bauhaus single on (new) Axis Records were recalled from stores and re-released a few days later under the label’s new name, 4AD Records. The scarce copies of “Dark Entries” on Axis were worth around £35 ($70) in the UK back in the mid-1980s, but that same record fetched around £75 ($150) in the USA. Flipping it around, many early R.E.M. singles were worth far more in the UK than in the United States. The “Driver 8″ promo 12” single was once worth around $30 here in the US but around £40 ($80) in the UK.

Also note that there is usually a special premium attached to Japanese records. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Japanese records always have awesome packaging, including a lyrics sheet. Since most Japanese people don’t speak English, Japanese buyers have insisted on having the lyrics available in both Japanese (so they can understand the words) and English (so they can sing along). Many albums simply have the lyrics printed on the album’s inner sleeve, but sometimes a completely different insert is added for the Japanese market – sometimes as a poster of the band – complete with color pictures and other fun stuff. The second reason for the premium on Japanese records has to do with the oil crisis of 1973, when most American and European record labels cut down on the thickness of their records as a cost-saving measure. The Japanese never did this, and as a result their albums were less prone to warping or other damage and usually sound much better than their American or European counterparts.

Record condition – Thankfully, something simple: the better shape the record is in, the more it’s worth. Records (or CDs) that are still sealed in their original shrink wrap are worth the most, followed by varying degrees of “used”, with records that have coffee-stained, written-on sleeves bringing up the rear. Do not be tempted to “clean up” any record sleeves you might have, as doing so will only devalue it further. Like most antiques, the emphasis in record collecting is on maintaining current condition of the the disc. To do this, you will want to have a stock of plastic “outer sleeves” to store the record in. If the record has a printed “inner sleeve”, you might seriously consider buying some replacement sleeves to store the record in. As anyone who owned records knows, the inner sleeve is prone to splitting along the edges due to the stress of the record being dropped into the sleeve. If the record came in a plain white sleeve, no buyer or seller will care if it’s split a little bit. If, on the other hand, the inner sleeve has pictures or lyrics printed on it, collectors will care if it’s damaged, and the best way to prevent further damage is to buy a stock of replacement inner sleeves. If you’re buying records, be on the lookout for dirty tricks sellers might pull on you. One of the most common back in the day was to use a paper cutter on the edge of the outer sleeve, so that a once-frayed edge now looked brand new.

Age – This category is both simple and complex. After all, it’s almost human nature to assume that “old = valuable”, but I can assure you that this is not always the case. There are records or CDs made two months ago that are already far more valuable than many records made 50 years ago. On the other hand, as time passes basements will flood, crates of records will get smashed, lost or tossed during moves, and bad memories of former loves will lead people to throw away once cherished records. In other words, as time passes, the number of copies of any given record will decline, therefore theoretically increasing the value of any given album. But here again, time might just be working against you: back when you were a carefree teenager, you might have had an all-consuming passion to own one hard-to-find Violent Femmes record. But now that you’re approaching 40, with a wife, two kids and a mortgage, the desire to own that disc is all but gone. Remember that there are millions of people like you, and while that Violent Femmes disc once sold for $50, it might now sell for $5. The Internet has actually helped increase prices for a lot of records however: back in the 80s, rare records were mostly sold at record shows or through specialist magazines, and finding a certain disc was a lot of work. Now that you can just type a record name into Google, prices for some discs have risen, because there are enough collectors to support the market.

The tech situation – Technology marches on, and you might not even have the capability to play the records you once held so dear. This is what killed the market in the 70s and 80s for 78rpm records from the 40s and 50s. Even though just about every home had a record player in 1983, very few of them were able to play 78s. It was for this reason alone that the value of most 78s fell to around $1 apiece, with obvious exceptions given for rare early rock and roll, jazz and blues 78s.

Of bootlegs and errors

There are two types of records I haven’t mentioned so far.

One is bootlegs, which are unauthorized copies of live concerts. These might be made by someone in the audience with a tape or digital recorder, or they can be made by someone tapping into the sound board. Sound board bootlegs often rival official record label releases in quality, and sound much better than audience recorded ones. Back in the 70s and 80s, making a bootleg was a lot of work. You had to smuggle a tape recorder into the arena or club, then find a pressing facility that would look the other way when making copies of your record. Because of all the risk, bootlegs often went for $40 or more back in the 80s. Nowadays, however, we have tiny digital recorders, CD burners and file sharing sites that let you share bootlegs with fans anywhere on the planet (and some bands often support the exchange of bootlegs between fans!). Because of this, the market for new bootlegs has all but disappeared. Older bootlegs often still have a market with collectors, but the thing is, you have to find those collectors to make the sale. The Internet’s made this a lot easier, but the bootleg you paid $50 for in 1987 might only be worth $20 now.

The other type of record is an “error disc”. Just as certain coin collectors covet coins with mint errors, so too a certain type of record collector covets error discs. However, this is the strangest market of all. If the error is minor, such as if a record company screwed up and put the “side 1” label on side 2 of a record and vice versa, the error disc might have some cachet with collectors of a particular band. For example, the first 4,000 copies of a 1977 re-issue of the punk band The Rezillos’ debut single contained the wrong song (it should have been “I Wanna Be Your Man”, but for some reason a demo version of “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures” was used instead, even though the record sleeve and label listed the song as “I Wanna Be Your Man”). This is valuable to Rezillos and New Wave\Punk collectors. However, most “big” errors attract the attention of people who don’t care so much about the band or genre, but rather the error itself. Famously, a Lawrence Welk record was accidentally pressed with a Sex Pistols’ record on side 2. The record didn’t appeal to either Lawrence Welk or Sex Pistols fans, just the oddballs who collect such things.

A Word of Warning

As mentioned earlier, most people get into record collecting due to a love for a particular band or artist. And that’s fine… that’s how millions of people got into record collecting too. But hear this:

“Be ye careful of that line, for across it, madness lies!”

What I mean is this: you need to know going into it that you can never collect every single record your artist has put out.

There are almost 200 member countries in the United Nations; if we assume that only half of them produce their own records, then you’re looking at nearly 100 different copies of each album your artist puts out. Madonna, for example, has had eleven studio albums, six compilation albums, three soundtrack albums, three live albums, three extended plays and three remix albums. So you’d then have to track down 2,900 albums just to have one copy from every country. And while it might be easy to find American, British and Japanese copies of those albums, I wish you the best of luck when it comes to tracking down Nepalese and Libyan copies.

Madonna has also issued eighty-four 7″ singles, and although some of these were issued in some countries but not others, you’re still looking at least 7,500 singles you’re gonna have to track down. And, given the poor quality of many records released in the Third World, you’re gonna have your work cut out for you just finding a Peruvian copy of “Open Your Heart”, much less one in good condition.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned 12″ singles, 3″ CD singles, 5″ CD singles, promotional copies of all of the above, picture discs, flexi discs, fan club discs, bootlegs, compilations, collaborations, acetates or test pressings. It’s hard enough just to do this for one country, much less the entire world, so take a deep breath and just know that you’re never gonna own it all.

There’s also the rarified air of the “super collectors”. If you ever visit the Madonna Tribe forums, you’ll probably be shocked by their “Madonna Collectibles” forum. Most folks there don’t even bother discussing the kind of mundane records I’ve talked about here. They’re much more apt to discuss how they spent $27,000 for a dress Madonna wore in the Dick Tracy movie or the $9,000 they spent for Nile Rodgers’ personally autographed platinum copy of Like A Virgin (Rodgers, a member of the 1970s band Chic, was a successful producer in the 80s, producing Like A Virgin and Duran Duran’s “The Wild Boys”). It’s both breathtaking and humbling.

If you’re the type of person who just might sell his or her car to buy something like that, then maybe record collecting isn’t for you. I have known record collectors through the years who would shoot their own mothers for a copy of The Beatles’ “butcher album”:

beatles_butcher_album
Recalled. Guess why.

Others would do anything for the British 7″ single of the Sex Pistol’s “God Save The Queen” on A&M Records:

sex_pistols_god_save_queen
The rarest British record. For reals.

This version of “God Save The Queen” is considered to be the most valuable record ever produced in Britain. The Sex Pistols signed with A&M on March 10, 1977 and were fired by the label for unruly behavior on March 16, 1977… less than a week later. 25,000 copies of the single were made. Most were destroyed, and only 9-12 copies remain. They usually fetch around £13,000 (around $24,000) at auction. For the record, the Sex Pistols got £75,000 for a week’s work, or around $652,000 in modern dollars. Not bad for them, eh?

Anyway, although you rarely (if ever) hear about it, record collecting can be as addictive as gambling or alcohol… so be careful out there, OK?

9 thoughts on “All About Record Collecting”

  1. Stumbled across this article. I’m a fellow vinyl enthusiast and blogger. Great article! Thanks for sharing all of this information.
    Cheers,
    Bret.

  2. Great article/entry! Very exhaustive. Been getting back into the vynil thing, and stumbled on your well-written and thorough treatise… Nice work.

    GJ

  3. I’d Really Liked This Article. Boy How Did You Ever Thought About Doing A Report About Record Albums & How You Found All This Informantion; About A Singer [Like Madonna]. Would Like To Know How Much If [HaHeHa,For I’m A Yankees Fan]A Record Made By The ’69 World Series Mets Would Go For?. Or One By Barbi Benton [Hef’s X GirlFriend. An A Dream Girl Of Mine When I Was Younger Of Course].I Have Other Albums That Some Might Have?. I HAve To Go Through My Collection Soon. I Would Like To Stay In Touch ,If Possiable,Thanks.

  4. I have a 2 record special of Lawrence Welk autographed ….. I tried selling it and not many people think its valuable….. Do you??

  5. @Kim: Honestly, probably not. Well, not on the general record collector’s market any way. Welk just isn’t that popular with most people, and so few people would give you any money for it. There might be Welk collectors out there (heck, people seem to collect almost anything!), and you could probably get decent money from them for it… if they exist, and if you can find them,

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