By Kristine Hansen
Vinyl records are one of those collectible items that can involve a fair amount of digging (as a tour of local garage sales or an estate lot might reveal) or are highly curated (i.e. someone else is sourcing the hard-to-find, mint-condition, albums for you since most collectors aren’t snapping up records just to keep them in the plastic sleeves and out of direct sunlight).
Despite the advent of streaming music, there’s solid proof that records aren’t ready for their last spin at all. If you’re sitting on records that you wish to sell, or starting to dip your toe into the market as you build your own collection, it’s important to know that the value of vinyl has surged tremendously in recent years. Their ability to captivate a wide audience filled with 20-somethings as well as those who recall turntables in their bedrooms as a teen is part of what makes this sector of collecting so intriguing. Below are a few notable examples of the prices that certain vinyl records have commanded at auction, including the most valuable vinyl records. According to Statista, 27.5 million vinyl records were sold in the United States in 2020 – a 46% increase over the previous year.
The current market for vinyl records
First off, don’t fret, great bargains are still to be had. For example, in June of this year, Invaluable.com hosted a vinyl-record auction featuring the debut 1989 album, Pretty Hate Machine, by industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails, with the starting bid at $25 and from EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale, Arizona.
But collectors know that the winning bid usually soars much higher. In fact, several auctions in 2021 commanded very high bids, like a signed copy of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which eventually sold for £28,000. Obviously, having a signed album spikes the value, as does any limited-edition artwork from a well-known name like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy or Shepard Fairey. In fact, Basquiat’s artwork that adorned The Offs’ first album in 1984 was auctioned on Invaluable in October 2020 for $1,400 with an estimated $2,000 to $2,500 value. It came from a private collector in New York City and was handled by Stanford Auctioneers. Around the same time, eBay was auctioning off the same record, with a buy-it-now offer of $9,075.
It’s also not uncommon for multiple vinyl records to be sold as a lot, and narrow in scope, such as all within one musical genre, such as this lot of 35 jazz records, which sold for ¥380,000 ($3,458) in March 2020. This “job lot” approach can be a great opportunity to score some gems.
The most expensive vinyl record sold at auction – bought by hedge-fund manager (and later convicted felon) Martin Shkreli, who subsequently had to forfeit it – is Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for $2 million in 1995, through auction house Paddle8. One reason it cost so much? It’s the only remaining copy (in other words, an extremely rare vinyl record) and dubbed a “secret” album by the band itself.
Another means for a vinyl record to command a high price is if it was previously owned by an important person. Ringo Starr’s copy of the Beatles’ The White Album sold for $790,000 in 2015 – the highest price paid for a commercially released album.
How to determine a vinyl record’s worth
Curious to know how much a vinyl record you own may be worth? Before getting into condition, you need to know what you have, information that’s revealed through the catalog number. Next, find the barcode number. If it turns out you have neither, don’t fret. This handy checklist walks you through a few other ways to classify the record. To see how much this record has sold for in the past, plug it into this online Marketplace, a free service from Discogs.com. (There’s a “sales history” link with each entry.)
Next, you want to examine the condition. Know the terminology, just as you might if selling a car. Is the record in mint or condition or slightly damaged? Categories often used – and clearly spelled out by DustyGroove.com – are:
- sealed (never opened)
- near mint
- near mint- (minus)
- very good+ (plus)
- very good
- very good- (minus)
- good+ (plus)
Vinyl record storage and preservation
Put simply, and just like any other collectible item, if you don’t take care of your vinyl records their value will quickly plummet. Examples of damage can include warping and scratching on the record or the cover. When you’re ready to sell, you want to fetch the best price after all, and not bemoan the fact that you didn’t take proper care of them all these years!
Maintaining their value is very important. It’s all about storage. The most important thing to know is that you absolutely should not stack your records. Instead, store upright (vertically), either in wood crates, in storage boxes (lidded bankers’ boxes will work), or on shelves. You may also want to consider outer sleeves to protect the cover from dust.
Ensure the records are kept in a climate-controlled room that hovers between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and is also of low humidity (the sweet spot is between 35% and 45%). You don’t need to rent out a storage locker but do ensure they are kept out of direct sunlight. Too much sun exposure, just as with art and fabric, can cause colors to fade.
You might laugh at this next tip, but consider adopting it: keep a pair of lightweight cloth gloves near your record collection. Just as if you were handling a precious artefact, oils naturally inherent in your skin, along with food or grease stains, can damage the covers over time. Hands should always be dry. Try to avoid touching the records all over. You really should only be handling them on the edges or on the label areas. For records you plan to store but perhaps not access often, there are even clear plastic totes like these for storing many upright at once.
Where to buy vinyl records
The answer to where to find records isn’t quite that simple. Where you shop for records—whether online or a brick-and-mortar store – may depend on the genres of music you prefer. Then, when you really get into collecting within a genre, you’ll find some areas of a country boast significant collections your chosen genre. E.g.Cajun music (New Orleans), bluegrass (Appalachia regions in the American South) or surf rock (Hawaii).
Pick any day and you can likely find plenty of records available at auction online. But also consider lending your support to local record and music stores, and going so far as to communicate with the owner and managers about what exactly you are seeking. You can also click away from the comfort of your own house on the sites of any of these 10 online-only, second-hand record shops.
A very unassuming place to pick up second-hand vinyl records are at estate sales as well as thrift, vintage and resale shops in your town or during your travels. News of estate sales takes a little more time to find via sites like Craigslist.org and EstateSales.net but the effort may be worth it.
Looking for more? Browse vinyl records for sale at auction now on Invaluable.
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