Record collecting is the hobby of collecting music. Although the main focus is on vinyl records, all formats of recorded music are collected.
Record collecting has been around probably nearly as long as recorded sound. In its earliest years, phonographs and the recordings that were played on them (first wax cylinders, and later flat shellac discs) were mostly toys for the rich, out of the reach of the middle or lower classes. By the 1920s, improvements in the manufacturing processes, both in players and recordings, allowed prices for the machines to drop. While entertainment options in a middle to upper class home in the 1890s would likely consist of a piano, smaller instruments, and a library of sheet music, by the 1910s and later these options expanded to include a radio and a library of recorded sound.
After the fall of the phonograph cylinder, the record was the uncontested sound medium for decades. The number of available recordings mushroomed and the number of companies pressing records skyrocketed. These were 78–rpm, originally one-sided, then later double-sided, ten-inch shellac discs, with about two to four minutes of recording time on each side.
Growth in the recorded sound industries was stunted by the Great Depression and World War II, when some countries were hamstrung by a dearth of raw materials. By the time World War II ended, the economy of these countries began to grow again. Classical music (which was a large portion of 78–rpm releases) was slowly edged into a minority status by the influx of popular and new music, which was less costly and thus more profitable to record.
The introduction of both the 331⁄3 rpm, 12-inch LP record and the 45–rpm, 7-inch record, coming into the market in 1948/1949, provided advances in both storage and quality. These records featured vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or polystyrene), replacing the previous shellac materials. Further groups of small labels came into existence with the dawning of the rock and roll era in the early to middle 1950s, and the growth of a market among post-war teenagers with disposable income to spend on 45–rpm singles. Rock and roll was much less costly and more profitable to produce than the big band jazz and professional singer/song-craftsman music that it replaced in popularity.
In the United Kingdom, rare 78–rpms were traded, usually American rock and roll, such as Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Labels such as London-American, RCA and Capitol were priced at a premium. One of the earliest UK record collectors was Mike Adams, who was first known for trading in 1958 on Merseyside. He later became a DJ on the BBC and broadcasted on collecting records for many years. He wrote several books on collecting including Apple Beatle Collectables. In the UK, labels considered collectible, such as Atlantic Records, Stateside, Motown, and Parlophone (EMI), turned into mainstream major record labels later on in the 1960s.
The record collecting hobby probably did not take shape as such until the 1960s. With the folk music boom in the late 1950s to early 1960s, there was suddenly a demand for archival material. Record collectors fanned out in some countries, searching small towns, dusty barns and mountain cabins for older discs. Initially, the most-desired items were pre-World War II shellac discs containing "race records" (that is, blues, country blues and hillbilly music), the precursors to then-current rock and roll and country styles. Later generations of record collectors found their passion in digging up obscure 45s in the genre of doo-wop, or LPs from the late 1960s "garage rock" and "psychedelic" genres.
The pop music scene changed forever in January 1964 with the arrival of The Beatles in the United States. In their wake, thousands of musical bands inspired by their fresh, lively take on rock music with a sharp British sensibility, picked up guitars, and many released records. Many of these acolytes released 45–rpm records in small batches to sell at local concerts and to their friends and families. Due to their relatively small pressings, these obscure local records became highly prized and valuable.
The "collector's item" with the most notoriety in record collecting is not a record at all, but merely an album cover. The Beatles themselves accidentally contributed what is probably the most well-known and valuable "collector's piece" of the rock and roll era: "The Butcher Cover". This is an informal title for the piece, which was an album cover for the album Yesterday and Today. Until 1967, the LP releases of the Beatles in their home country of the UK were substantially different from the LP releases in the USA. These American albums were shorter, had different songs, album titles and artwork.
A Holy Grail of some collectors is Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963 pressing that has four songs that were deleted from subsequent pressings), known to fetch up to $35,000 in stereo and $16,500 in mono in excellent condition.
One collectible record format is known as a test pressing. Test pressings are exactly what the name implies; 5-10 copies of a record pressed for the purpose of checking the mix or levels on a record, or to ensure that the die is cutting properly. Though usually meant for the band, producer, pressing plant, or record label to keep as reference, they are often placed in special packaging (such as a photocopy of the real record sleeve) and given out to friends or devoted fans.
Records with the most value are almost always the first pressing original commercial releases. These are the records that people purchased when the record was first issued, and on the “charts” if very popular, and played on Top 40 radio. Many of the original 45s had “picture sleeves.” Original LPs/12"/CDs often had inserts and other features not on later (2nd or other) releases. These are the records collectors want and will pay the most for.
Promotional, or "promo" records were free records sent to radio stations (and others) to announce a new release (45 or LP) that would be coming soon from the record company. They were identified by the label (often plain white in colour) and were marked “Promotional” or “Audition” or "Demonstration". Most promo labels also state “Not for Sale.” Promo copies of best selling records generally have a slightly lower value than the 1st pressing originals. Occasionally promo copies were pressed for records that were never released. Obviously these records are extremely rare and obtain a very high value for the most sought-after artists or music.
Second (and later) commercial pressings were made after the records were off the charts and Top 40 radio. These records most often have the same label and number but can be identified by dealers and collectors because of differences from the 1st pressings in the cover or colour of the label. These pressings of popular records usually have no more value than the original purchase price.
“Reissues” of popular records usually have a different label and number than the original release and also have no more value than the original purchase price.
“Bootlegs” are not legitimate commercial releases that collectors want. Most bootlegs have little value. Bootlegs come in several categories. LPs/12"/CDs often feature not commercially released (stolen) tracks or recorded live concerts. 45s include re-releases of rare or valuable 45s. Some bootleg 45s are exact copies of rare records with the original label graphics and numbers - these are known in the industry as “counterfeits.”
In the 1970s, the record collecting hobby really took off with the establishment of record collecting publications such as Goldmine, Discoveries, and Stormy Weather, and in the UK, Record Collector. Price guide books were published, codifying exactly how much certain "rare items" were supposed to be worth. The "grading" of records based upon condition became more standardized across the hobby with the publication of these price guides.
With the introduction of the compact disc in the middle 1980s, there began a stratification in the hobby; commonly found vinyl specimens that had been pressed in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies became relatively worthless, while the rarest of specimens became ever more valuable. These rare items included 45–rpm discs in the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, doo wop, garage rock, progressive rock, and psychedelic rock. Other rare and highly valued items include pieces from highly collectible artists such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, U2, Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, or James Brown. Some of these are items that were pressed for promotional purposes only and sent to radio or television stations. Some are pressings from nations other than the USA or UK where they were pressed in very small quantities.
Even in the 21st century certain contemporary bands have a following of record collectors. This is most prominent in the punk and alternative genres. For example, the special edition of NOFX's 1999 release, The Decline, on transparent vinyl has already reached prices of $350. Due to the DIY ethic and constrained budget of many punk bands and labels, releases by lesser-known bands tend to be in limited edition. Specific pressing runs of records are sometimes printed on different colored vinyl, have new or different songs, contain spelling or mixing errors, or may be in lower quantity than other pressings. All of such factors increase a specific record's collectibility. For instance, in 1988, New York hardcore band Judge attempted to record their debut Bringin' It Down at Chung King Studios. The bad experience and low quality result left the band so disappointed that they scrapped the session and re-recorded the LP elsewhere. The older sessions, however, were pressed onto 110 copies of white vinyl entitled Chung King Can Suck It! and sent to fans who had pre-ordered Bringin It Down to reward them for their patience, as rerecording caused a major delay in the release. Copies of the record have been sold for up to $1,700 on sites like eBay.
Other music genres also have their fervent adherents. Classical music, for example, has its own dedicated following. The first wave of collectors concentrated on early stereo orchestral recordings on labels such as British Decca and EMI, and US Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo. Some of these records still sell at auction for hundreds of dollars. However, the focus of the top collectors has now shifted to earlier material, and rare European monos from the fifties by top artists have become highly sought. The Far Eastern collectors who dominate this market tend to prefer chamber music, and solo violin and cello.
As of 2011 many pressing plants have been reactivated and new releases in vinyl are appearing on an increasing basis. The volume of product seems to confirm the continuing interest in the format with the failure of competing formats such as CDs and cassette tapes.
The intended audience of a collection may include
- the collector himself
- family and friends
- the general public
or a combination thereof.
Scope of collection
The scope of a collection may include:
- particular genres (or sub-genres), e.g. Classical, Soul, Funk, Country Music, Go-go, Modern Jazz, Detroit Techno, Broken Beat, Elevator Music,etc.
- particular artists (or producers, remixer, conductor, or other performer), e.g. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Sir Simon Rattle, Larry Levan, Berry Gordy, James Brown etc.
- particular recording labels (or sublabels), e.g. His Master's Voice, Motown, Tamla, Philadelphia International Records, Salsoul, Apple Records, etc.
- particular periods (or music scenes), e.g. 1920s, 1960s and 1970s, those played at The Loft, Northern Soul, Philadelphia soul etc.
- particular formats, e.g. 78s, 7"s, LPs, Mono, Vinyl, 8-track cartridges, Reel-to-reel, Cassettes, CDs, Digital downloads etc.
or combinations thereof.
Notable record collectors
- Ray Avery, jazz record collector.
- Joe Bussard, 1920s and 1930s blues collector.
- Pat Conte, New York area collector of 78s from around the world and host of The Secret Museum of the Air on WFMU-FM.
- Josh Davis aka DJ Shadow, known for the album Endtroducing..... which was comprised entirely from samples.
- Dave Freeman, collector of early country and rural string band records from the 1920s and 1930s, who compiled Echoes of the Ozarks, Mountain Songs, and other compilation albums on his County Records label.
- Paul Mawhinney, founder of music store and record archive Record-Rama, who is known for probably having the world's biggest record collection across contemporary music genres.
- Scott Neuman, owner of Forever Vinyl - Record Search Service and Music Appraisal Service, one of the first online record stores.
- John Peel, BBC Radio 1 DJ, renowned for his barns containing hundreds of thousands of records across genres.
- Gilles Peterson, club and BBC Radio 1 DJ. Major jazz, funk, soul, and modern dancefloor music collector.
- Greg Shaw, creator of the Pebbles series, Who Put The Bomp magazine, and Bomp! Records.
- Joel Whitburn, author of the Record Research series of books catalogueing Billboard Magazine chart data. Whitburn's collection contains a copy of almost every record to chart on Billboard.
- Thurston Moore (& Byron Coley), collectors of noise, free jazz, and avant-garde jazz.
- Jerry Osborne, publisher of the first Record Price Guide in early 1976; the first of over 150 music and entertainment publications for his company, Osborne Enterprises Publishing.
- Harry Smith, compiler of the Anthology of American Folk Music.
- Bob Harris, Radio 2 Presenter.
- Tony Prince, ex Radio Luxembourg presenter and owner of DMC International.
Most valuable records
The following is an attempt to list some of the most valuable recordings. Data is sourced from Record Collector magazine, eBay, Popsike, the Jerry Osborne Record Price Guides, and other sources.
- The Quarrymen – "That'll Be the Day"/"In Spite Of All The Danger" (UK 78–rpm, acetate in plain sleeve, 1958). Only one copy made. Copy always owned by Paul McCartney and never offered for sale. Record Collector magazine lists guide price at $180,000. Others have valued it closer to $200,000.
- John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (Geffen US Album, 1980). Autographed by Lennon five hours before Mark David Chapman murdered him. Sold in 1999 for $150,000.
- The Beatles – Yesterday and Today (Capitol, US Album in ‘butcher’ sleeve, 1966). $47,500 for mint "first state" stereo copies. Other pressings/states are also available, in both mono and stereo with prices ranging from $150 to $10,000.
- Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (CBS, US album, stereo 1963, featuring 4 tracks deleted from subsequent releases), $35,000.
- Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull – "Original Stack O’Lee Blues" (Black Patti, US 78–rpm in plain sleeve, 1927). $30,000 offered to Joe Bussard.
- Frank Wilson – "Do I Love You?" (SOUL#35019, US 7” 45–rpm in plain sleeve, 1966). One of two known copies fetched over £25,000 (approx. $37,000) in May 2009.
- Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico (US Album acetate, in plain sleeve, 1966 with alternate versions of tracks from official release). Estimate $40,000+. Sold on eBay, December 9, 2006, for $155,401. However bids were fake and record was relisted. Final selling price was $25,200.
- John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Wedding Album - USA Capitol LP acetate with handwritten sleeve notes, 1969 and offered for $25,000 at Forevervinyl.com. Recent find and possibly the only acetate available of this record. Over 40 years old.
- Elvis Presley – "Stay Away, Joe" (US, RCA Victor UNRM-9408, 1967). Single-sided promotional album of which only one well-publicized copy is known to exist, and it came directly from Presley's personal collection.
- The Five Sharps – "Stormy Weather" (US, Jubilee 5104, 78 RPM, 1953). $25,000 offered to David Hall of Good Rockin' Tonight.
- The Hornets – "I Can't Believe" (US, States 127, 78–rpm, 1953). $25,000.
- Sex Pistols – "God Save the Queen" (UK A&M 7” 45–rpm with mailer, 1977). $22,000.
- Bach, Cello Suites, Andre Levy, French Lumen 3.447-449, signed by Levy on all three records, $20,000.
- Blind Joe Reynolds – "99 Blues" (Paramount, 78 RPM 192?), $20,000.
- The Quarrymen – "That’ll Be The Day"/"In Spite Of All The Danger" (UK 10” 78 RPM and 7” 45 RPM, in reproduction Parlophone sleeve, 1981 reissue, 25 copies of each), $18,000.
- The Beatles – The Beatles (Parlophone UK album, 1968, numbered below 000010, black inner with poster and four colour prints), $18,000. A copy numbered 000005 sold on eBay for £19,200 British pounds sterling (over US$27,000).
- Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (as #4 but mono version), $16,500.
- Billy Ward & His Dominoes (Federal, 295-94, US 10” album, 1954), sold at Good Rockin' Tonight's August 4–5, 1999 'Ultra Rarities' auction for $24,200.
- Nirvana – "Bleach" test pressing (Sub Pop, 1989). Currently, only four copies are known to exist. One was offered on eBay in 2010, the first copy offered to the public in 10 years. An offer of $14,000 was declined. More information on this record can be found at: http://crimson-ceremony.net/pr3/testpressings/sp34_test.html.
- Charlie Patton – "Screamin’ and Hollerin’" (US 78–rpm), $11,550.
- Judy Garland – Two unreleased acetates from March 1935, $22,500 bid for the pair, failed to meet reserve.
- Elvis Presley – "That's All Right" (Sun#209 Records, US 7", 45–rpm, 1954).
- Mozart á Paris (Conducted Fernand Oudabrous) – (Pathe France, 7-album box set, 1956), $11,300 (eBay, April 3, 2007).
- John’s Children – "Midsummer Night Scene" (Track, UK 7” 45–rpm, 1967), $11,000.
- Willie Brown – "Future Blues" (US, 78–rpm, 1930), $10,200.
- The Beatles – The Beatles (Decca, 1968 Contract export pressing), $9,800.
- Basco Vs The Electroliners – ""The Beat Is Over" (Sm:)e US 10” red vinyl 45–rpm, 1996), $9,400.
- The Beatles – "Please Please Me" (Parlophone, UK 7” 45–rpm, 1963, signed by all four members of the band), $9,500.
- Billy Barrix – "Cool Off Baby" (Chess #1662). Only three known copies exist on 45–rpm, 1958. Last copy sold for $15,000 on Ebay.
Resources about record collecting
- ^ "Today's Hottest Collectibles at Affordable Prices". Bottomlinesecrets.com. 2003-09-01. http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com/blpnet/article.html?article_id=33769. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- ^ a b c Record Collector 100 most valuable records Rocklist.net, accessed 2007-07-21
- ^ Summerlin, Barry (2008-02-05). "The World of Rare Records: Lennon and McCartney's First Recording". Luxist.com. http://www.luxist.com/2008/02/05/the-world-of-rare-records-lennon-and-mccartneys-first-recordin/. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- ^ [dead link]
- ^ a b Scrap that recording, it'll become an instant classic, Guardian Unlimited, accessed 2007-07-21
- ^ Desperate Man Blues bubbaguita.com, accessed 2007-07-21
- ^  the soulsurvivor.co.uk, accessed 2007-21-07
- ^ a b c d e f g h Popsike.com Most valuable records, Popsike.com, accessed 2007-07-21
- ^ "Forever Vinyl Record Store". Forever Vinyl. http://www.forevervinyl.com. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- ^ Jerry Osborne picks valuable records, Spirit magazine, accessed 2007-07-21
- ^ Ultimate Doo-Wop record Doo-Wop Society of Southern California, accessed 2007-07-21
- ^ Good Rockin' Tonight Good Rockin' Tonight
- ^ eBay item number 230187288018, sold on Nov 2, 2007. Will probably appear in Popsike soon.
- ^ "Google Answers: Highest Price For Music Record Ever Paid in U.S.?". Answers.google.com. http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=336787. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- ^ Early Garland recordings fail to sell USA today, accessed 2007-21-07
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