The world is currently experiencing a shift away from digital. Film is making a comeback and, right in front of it, vinyl records are surging in popularity. Collectors, audiophiles, enthusiasts, and the large swath of us that want to know what all the fuss is about are buying record players and vinyl records.
This vinyl comeback means that all those record collections packed in dusty basements are quickly appreciating. And it also means that, as more vinyl fans surface, they want to get their hands on these vintage relics before they experience bitcoin-like inflation. In which case, what do vintage records usually cost?
In this vintage record price guide, you can expect to learn:
- How vintage records are priced
- Their general pricing
- What to be aware of when buying/or selling
How Are Vintage Records Priced?
It should not surprise you to learn that there is no one single formula for a vintage record’s value. They are a collector’s item, meaning that value can be subjective, with multiple factors contributing to their price-point. Also, the production of vinyl evolved over the years, which further added to the multiple variables that can influence pricing.
Below are the factors that most collectors and enthusiasts adhere to when pricing a vintage record. Some of them might just surprise you.
The artist plays perhaps the biggest role in a vintage record’s pricing. Why? Because no matter how rare a record might be, if the artists aren’t popular, why would anyone want to buy it? Likewise, sometimes a popular artist sold records for a high value, only for it to depreciate over time. Inversely, an artist that was not popular but became so later will have records that appreciated immensely.
Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other iconic musicians and bands have highly priced records even after they stopped recording. This is due to their widespread popularity and has been what many consider “trendsetters.” If these records were rare, unique, or scarce during the time of their release, the price appreciates immensely. Which brings us to:
Scarcity is a dynamic subject when discussing vintage records since there are various factors that contribute to its definition. It is only common sense that, for a collector’s item, the less there are the more they’re worth. To a degree, that’s true with vintage records. Take Spirit In the Night by Bruce Springsteen, for example, which is a 7” single released by Columbia records in 1973. This album, due to its extreme scarcity—and The Boss’s later popularity—now goes for upwards of $5k.
Yet, record albums that sold in the ‘70s and ’80s, which is a time where millions could be distributed, can still be considered scarce. Why? Their condition. While these records were widely available, it’s only in the recent few decades that people started treating their vinyl with care. Meaning finding one in decent condition, which hasn’t been played to oblivion, renders the record to be “scarce.” This drives up the value.
Age of Record
Another interesting dynamic to a vintage record’s pricing is age. Why? Because unlike wine, time passed does not equate value creation. A common misconception is that the older the record, the more it’s going to cost. That’s not the truth, seeing as an old record from an artist that did not retain popularity, nor had it in the first place will not be a collector’s item.
Additionally, the inverse of what we spoke on regarding scarcity occurs here. Sometimes a record is sold in abundance, is well-kept throughout the years, and does not experience a notable appreciation. Mainly, it is the uniqueness of a given album that truly drives value; why they were produced, the time and place, etc.
There are many factors that fall beneath this category. Essentially, it’s anything that sets the album apart from simply being from a popular artist and scarce.
- Autographed: an autograph can greatly increase the price of a given record, especially if it’s nonpersonal (meaning no “dear person, this is for…”). Often, collectors will want a picture to prove the signing or an authenticity certificate.
- Sealed: being that the condition of a record contributes to its value, if it’s sealed this can be the driving force for appreciation. It’s on par with an autograph, being that rare originals that are also sealed are worth significantly more than their opened and used counterparts.
- Promotional: some records were pressed specifically for promotional purposes, meaning they were meant for radio stations prior to the album release. Not only are they few (can be as few as 100 promotional records vs 1 million commercial records) but they were often pressed differently than their commercial siblings. They even changed the entire record’s aesthetics.
- Limited Edition: you would think that limited edition is a major factor regarding value, but until recent times, record companies and labels did not care to label, number, or produce less than what they intended to sell. However, the limited edition trend has been at work since the 2000s, and newer records that are numbered and given a catalog number will often appreciate upon purchase.
- Mono or Stereo: another factor is whether the record was formatted for mono (1957 and prior) or stereo (1968 and on). From 57’ to 68’, records were often sold in either format. However, closer to 57, the market was inundated with mono, rendering stereo format to be less produced. Later, towards 68’, the inverse occurred. If the format is appealing to the buyer, it can drive the price upwards.
- Made for Foreign: typically sought out by the most dedicated vinyl enthusiasts, if a record was pressed in a foreign country it can contribute to value. Record collectors typically enjoy vinyl that was produced in their homeland but, if they want to own the full range (especially for a particular artist) then a foreign edition will attract them. Additionally, they can have:
- Different cover art
- Different paper slips
- Different titles
- Different coloring (colored vinyl was, at a time, more of a “norm” for foreign countries)
Curious to know how a vinyl record is made? Read our related post to find out!
What Are Some General Prices I Should Expect?
While you should have a strong grasp on what factors contribute to a vintage record’s pricing, you might be wondering exactly how many dollar signs to expect. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all, meaning they vary dramatically.
For instance, Jack White (The White Strips) bought a one-off vinyl of “My Happiness” by Elvis Presley for a whopping total of $300,000. And “The White Album” by The Beatles, an original owned by Ringo Starr, was sold in an auction for $790,000. It’s generally thought that:
- Rock n’ roll, blues, and jazz records produced from 1960 to 1970 are the most valuable.
- A “valuable record” can range anywhere from $500 to $3000.
- Anything over $3000 and we’re migrating more towards the “rare” albums which are valuable because of unique characteristics (see the above section)
Then again, the price is up to the seller. If there’s a certain record you’re after, try and find it listed in multiple places and then cross reference the prices. If they tend to differ, are there any standout characteristics that contribute to the price divide? Or is it merely subjective?
Being that albums are sold on eBay, Amazon, public auctions, private auctions, and in open record sales at a store, it’s important to do research to ensure the price is right.
But, one thing we need to touch on before letting you go is what not to buy. That’s pointed at you, con artist.
Counterfeit Records, Beware
Counterfeit articles became a thing in the 1970s when shady individuals wanted to make a quick buck replicating common records. In those days, it was easy to tell the difference between an original vinyl and a fake. As time rolled on, both types of records were lost in the fray, leading us to now, where counterfeit vinyl can be found in upscale auctions. There are three types:
- Bootlegs: these are albums that are not counterfeit, nor are they pirate pressings, but contain music that was never supposed to be released. They might contain music that was recorded in a studio but the artist ended up discarding. These can be valuable or invaluable, but they’re often used when defining counterfeit records. Beware, as they’re not the same thing.
- Pirate Pressing: you’re probably familiar with Pirate Bay or other pirating schemes, and the same phenomenon exists with records. Pirate pressings are not meant to fool the buyer into thinking their hands are on an original. They just replicate the music and package it differently.
- Counterfeit Records: these records are indeed created for the sole purpose of fooling a buyer into thinking they’re purchasing an original. To the novice, they’re easy to fool. To someone who works in the industry and has seen the original record, typically they’re easily identifiable.
If you’re considering buying or selling (yes, even sellers list their records without knowing they’re fake), then make sure to have a professional or someone that owns an original take a look at your vinyl.
Go Buy or Sell
No matter if you’re on the purchasing or buying side of vintage records, the pricing rhetoric remains the same. In a collector’s market as unique as vintage vinyl, it’s important that you take the time to research pricing, identify the many characteristics of the record in question, make sure it’s in good condition, and to ensure it’s not a fake.
If everyone read this article, we’d be willing to bet that plenty of individuals would be rummaging through their parent’s old record collections, made up of a variety of grooves and vinyl record speeds, determined to find some valuable albums and possibly even start their own record collection. If this happens to be the case for you, be sure to read our blog, Tips for Starting a Vinyl Collection and Tips For Choosing the Right Victrola Record Player, as you’ll be needing a machine to play the records on too!
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