No matter how hard they tried, the killjoys and technophiles of the world simply could not kill off vinyl records. Every time a new audio technology hit the market, predictions of the Death of Vinyl would follow — and when Compact Discs arrived 40 years ago, it seemed like that death had finally come. Who wouldn’t want perfect digital clarity over the fussy, pop-and-hiss-prone sound of vinyl?
Plenty of people, as it turns out. 2021 saw record sales of vinyl albums — a whopping 41.7 million. Vinyl is actually the best-selling physical music format going right now. And it’s not just curmudgeonly middle-aged music fans — Gen Zers and millennials buy a lot of vinyl albums. Vinyl’s evergreen popularity means that a lot of people have amassed huge record collections — and some of those collections are worth a lot of money.
If you’re sitting in a home bursting with vinyl albums, you might wonder if you’re also sitting on a goldmine, if you could commit to streaming and sell off your records and retire. The answer is: maybe? Vinyl records can be very valuable — a few years ago Ringo Starr sold off his personal copy of The Beatles — otherwise known as The White Album — for a whopping $US790,000 ($1,096,678). Most records won’t be that valuable, but your record collection certainly might be worth something. Here’s how you can figure out if you’re going to retire on all that vinyl.
What types of vinyl records are valuable?
It’s worth noting that the record-setting money Starr got for The Beatles comes with a few caveats. First of all, the provenance: This was the personal copy of Starr, the man who literally helped make the record. He reportedly kept it in a safe for decades, so it was in pristine condition. And it was stamped with the catalogue number 0000001, meaning it was the first copy printed. And it’s a famous, celebrated record by a famous, celebrated band. So unless you’ve got some records in your collection that have those kinds of bona fides, chances are your records are worth a lot less.
The most valuable vinyl records are rock and roll, blues, soul, jazz, and country, generally in descending order. So your obscure filk records from the 1960s may not have more than curio value. As a reality check, keep in mind that the average sale price of old vinyl records on eBay, for example, is just $US15 ($21).
What makes a vinyl record more valuable? Assuming the genre of the record is one of those listed above and is in good condition, there are a few things to look for:
- Autographed. An autographed record is more valuable because you double the market for it: Both record collectors and autograph hounds will be willing to pay for it. There has to be a certificate of authentication, however, or no one will buy it.
- Rarity. The harder it is to find a copy of that record, obviously the more collectors will pay for it. Have a copy of Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You” on 45 (of which only six pressings were ever made, and only two are known to have survived, and only one is in playable)? You might get $100,000 for it. Records that were withdrawn from the market, had their cover art changed, or represent oddball special editions are generally more valuable, as well.
- Sealed. If a vinyl record is already valuable, having it still sealed in the original plastic will also increase its value, because in the world of collecting, things aren’t meant to actually be enjoyed, apparently.
If you’re a normal person who actually played their records, you might still have some money sitting in that coat closet you converted into a vinyl library. Here’s how to figure it out.
How to figure out how much your vinyl records are worth
The easiest and most reliable way to assess the value of your records is to hire an appraiser. A formal appraisal for insurance purposes will be expensive and thorough, but you can also ask an appraiser for a fair market value estimate, which is less “official” but gives you a decent idea of how much your records might be worth.
If you don’t want to go through that trouble and expense, you can estimate the value of your vinyl yourself. It’s a bit of work, but if you hit gold, it could be well worth it. Here’s how to do it:
- Examine your records. It might seem obvious, but find a space with good light and examine your records individually. Note the general condition — there’s a standard way to determine this called the Goldmine Standard, which you should follow, categorising your records into Mint, Near-Mint, Very Good Plus, Very Good, Good Plus, Good, Fair, or Poor. Keep in mind that even records in Good condition are only worth about 15 per cent of what a Mint version would be worth, and Fair or Poor records are pretty much worth nothing.
- Note the release info. Vinyl records have release and catalogue info stamped on them, and this is important information. The famous example here is Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, which spent a record 917 weeks on the Billboard charts. The album has had nearly 400 vinyl pressings over the years. The more recent the pressing, the less valuable it is.
- Confer with a database. Record collectors have been hoarding their precious records for decades now, so it should be no surprise that there are online databases providing a decent guide to how much a particular vinyl record is worth. Discogs and Popsike are good places to start, and eBay sells enough vinyl records secondhand to offer a decent glimpse of the market value. These valuations aren’t perfect, but they’re a good back-of-the-envelope valuation.
When we think of vinyl record collections, we tend to focus on the 1950s, 60s, and 70s — but if you inherited a bunch of Johnny Ray 45s from your parents or have some ancient blues 78s from the 1920s, you might still be sitting on a goldmine (Charley Patton records from the 1920s can go for $20,000 depending on condition), so don’t discount them.
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