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How and Where to Sell Old Phonograph Records
Have you studied your ABCs lately – are they attics, basements and closets? They could provide some extra cash and free up valuable space in your home for other purposes. LPs (long-playing 10- and 12-inch discs, played at 33 1/3 rpm), 78s (breakable discs, played at 78 rpm with a tune on each side), and 45s (7-inch discs played at 45 rpm) can be valuable.
Record collecting as a hobby is just beginning to grow after many other collectibles have become prominent in antique shops and the media. It is not an expensive hobby to establish, but it can be expensive in many ways to get rid of them.
HOW DO YOU RECOGNIZE VALUE
Many people think that just because a record is old, it has great value. Very few records have any real value to collectors or dealers. The value is based on a combination of three factors –
(1) Supply and demand. How accessible is the post? If millions were originally sold, it’s likely that many will turn up in thrift stores, used record stores, and in many homes. The scarcity factor must be present. There must be a demand for that record because of the artist featured (eg a great talent who died young and before he could make many records), the record label it was recorded on (the original recording as opposed to from a “reissue”) , or an oddity about the record (eg a V-disc, wartime government recording or aircheck taken from a radio broadcast, an original picture disc or a 10-inch LP). The scarcity factor can also be affected by whether an item is “out of stock” (no longer available from the manufacturer) thereby reducing supply. “Bootlegs” (records illegally produced from live concerts or broadcasts) are also valuable to collectors.
(2) State of record. Those with surface noise and scratches will be of little or no value. If it is in “mint” condition (perfect) or “near mint” condition, it will have the highest possible value. A record in “very good” condition should have no distorted sound or loss of sound quality. “Good” means it may have some imperfections, but it’s easily enjoyable. “Fair” means it can play, but it will have obvious sound degradations and detract from your enjoyment and value of the record. Some retailers may have a slightly different grading scale.
(3) Content of the recording. In general, there is more interest in music than in spoken word or comedy records, and the value would therefore be greater. Certain types of music recordings command high sales prices. Jazz, original Broadway cast and movie soundtracks tend to provide a more active market and greater value. Also, early rhythm and blues records and the doowop sound are also highly prized and collectible. Among classical records, the most valuable are orchestral performances, then solo instrumental, chamber music and concertos, and solo vocal and operatic arias, and finally complete operas. For some collectors, whether a record is mono or stereo affects value. Recently, a market began to develop for early vintage rock records, especially those of late cult figures such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Likewise, there is now a brisk trade among collectors of 45s, especially among 1950s rhythm and blues and early rock artists. There is great interest in rare and unusual (foreign items, etc.) Elvis and the Beatles. However, most of their plates have little value because so many were produced without any hallmarks. In other words, they were all the same.
WHO WILL BUY YOUR RECORDS?
Records are bought by collectors, mail order dealers, used record stores and the general public, sometimes on a nostalgic impulse or because of a favorite artist. For truly rare records, the best prices will come from dealers who know the market and how much they can resell them for. Collectors are emotional and sometimes fanatical when collecting their specialties. They can pay top prices for special idiosyncrasies. It is unusual to get top dollar for a rare record from the “general public” where only the performance value is recognized, not the resale or trade value. Careful research and knowledge of the recording industry and its artists is required to determine the value of a particular recording. It may be possible to determine a value for a “rare” item once you have determined that it is truly rare.
WHAT WILL THEY PAY?
Most items that aren’t “rare” can only bring pennies — 25 cents to a dollar — from dealers. The “general public” can pay $1 or $2. Rare records can bring from $25 to thousands. A number of price guides have been published, but the values quoted are generally highly inflated or based on an isolated sale. Obviously, collectors and dealers will like to read that records can fetch high prices. Remember, value rests in the buyer’s mind.
HOW DO YOU FIND A BUYER?
A buyer for every record you want to sell probably exists somewhere in the world. How to find that person is a big problem. It is not uncommon for people to discover old records in their homes and proceed to spend many dollars (well above any email) and countless hours chasing a buyer. It can become very frustrating and sometimes obsessive. Expectations almost always exceed reality.
Records can be sold by advertising – in local classifieds or collectors’ publications, by selling to local used record stores, by selling at flea markets or bazaars, or by promoting a garage sale. Start by cataloging the records. List the artist, title of the record, LP, 45 or 78 rpm, the record catalog number and its condition. Take the list to a record librarian and some used record stores for deals and indications of rarity. Talk to friends and acquaintances.
Selling involves potential buyers visiting your home. Or you may need to package and transport the items to a store for a quote and no sale. Transport damage can render them worthless. Out-of-town prospects require postal correspondence, packing, insurance, driving to the post office, placing postage and cash on delivery. Buyer may refuse to accept upon receipt.
©2007 Howard E. Fischer
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