Pink Floyd – The Division Bell 1994 original UK LP

Pink Floyd - The Division Bell 1994 original UK LP

Offered for sale is a beautiful example of a first pressing of the UK LP, EMI EMD 1055, complete with the custom lyric inner sleeve.

Unlike the U.S. copies, the UK pressings wee not issued on colored vinyl.

About this copy: Both the record and cover are M-; the record hasn’t been played more than once or twice.  While the blue vinyl American copies turn up for sale from time to time, the UK pressings are rarely available.

A beautiful example of a truly scarce LP by an iconic band.

Background: Pink Floyd’s 1994 LP, The Division Bell was their second album without founder Roger Waters, and as it happened, their final studio LP.  Critics had mixed opinions about the album, but the public liked it and it sold well and was followed by a successful tour.

The LP was issued on vinyl in the United States, the United Kingdom and South Korea, and the U.S. and UK copies featured different cover photos from one another.

Unlike the American copies, the UK pressings were on black vinyl.  The UK pressings are also considerably harder to find than their American counterparts.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

paypal credit

Country of origin: UK
Size: 12″
Record Label: EMI
Catalog Number:
7243 8 28984 1 2
Year of Release: 1994
Format: Stereo
Share: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Richard Wright – Wet Dream 1978 Japan Mastersound LP with obi

Richard Wright - Wet Dream 1978 Japan Mastersound LP with obi

Offered for sale is a Japanese pressing of Pink Floyd founder Richard Wright’s 1978 solo LP, Wet Dream, complete with obi.

About this copy: The copy offered for sale is an original Japanese pressing of the album, issued in Sony’s Mastersound series and pressed on high quality vinyl.  A custom Mastersound inner sleeve is included, along with a catalog of other titles in the Mastersound series and a lyric insert.

The cover is VG++, with just the smallest traces of wear on the corners.  The record is M-, and has very little, if any evidence of having been played.  The obi is M- and fully intact.

A rather difficult Pink Floyd related item to find and a pretty good record, too.

Background: Pink Floyd took a bit of a break in between 1977’s Animals and 1979’s The Wall and during that break, guitarist David Gilmour and keyboard player Richard Wright took time to release solo albums.  Gilmour’s album got a fair amount of airplay, but Wright’s album more or less disappeared without a trace and soon went out of print.  That’s a pity, as we think it’s a pretty good record.  It’s similar in style to the songs Wright wrote for the group, with an occasional jazzy feel to it.

Side 1:

Mediterranean C (3:52)
Against The Odds (3:59)
Cat Cruise (5:15)
Summer Elegy (4:53)
Waves (4:20)

Side 2:

Holiday (6:12)
Mad Yannis Dance (3:19)
Drop In From The Top (3:26)
Pink’s Song (3:27)
Funky Deux (4:57)

 

Billy Joel – The Stranger Japan half speed mastered Mastersound LP with obi

billy joel - the stranger japan mastersound lp

Offered for sale is a rare Japanese “Mastersound” half speed mastered pressing of The Stranger by Billy Joel, including the original obi.

This is the rare half speed mastered first pressing that was pressed from American stampers; the later and more common pressing was digitally remastered.

Unlike the later pressings, this one says “Half Speed Mastered” on both the obi and the record label.

About this copy: This copy of The Stranger is a limited edition “Mastersound” pressing from Japan, issued in 1980 on the CBS label.

This copy includes the original obi, lyric insert, custom inner sleeve, generic Mastersound booklet listing other titles in the series, and generic posterboard Mastersound sleeve.

The cover is M-, with trace corner wear.  The obi is M-.

The custom inner sleeve is VG++ with a few wrinkles, but no splits.  The lyric insert is M-.  The generic Mastersound catalog is missing.

The disc is M- with a couple of faint sleeve scuffs.  There are a few spindle marks on the labels, but no marks on the vinyl.

A nice copy of a terrific LP and the best-sounding version of this LP that we’ve ever heard.

Background: Columbia Records had a short-lived series of audiophile pressings in the early 1980s that they called their Mastersound series.

These were high-quality pressings mastered with extra care and pressed on premium quality vinyl, and sold at a premium price.

Probably 90% of the records issued in that series in the United States were half speed mastered, while the remainder were digitally mastered.   Most of the digitally mastered titles were of classical music.

That wasn’t the case with the Japanese Mastersound series, however.  Nearly all of the titles in the CBS Mastersound series from Japan were digitally remastered, and most of them don’t sound as good as their analog Japanese counterparts.

In fact, there were only five pop/rock titles in the Japanese series that were half speed mastered:

  • Billy Joel – The Stranger (first issue only; second issue was digitally remastered)
  • Earth, Wind & Fire – Greatest Hits
  • Electric Light Orchestra – Discovery
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees

All are quite rare, and all sound great.

Released in 1977, The Stranger was the fifth studio album by Billy Joel, and his commercial breakthrough that made him a star.

The LP reached #2 on the U.S. charts and has sold more than ten million copies to date.

Allmusic.com gave The Stranger a 4 1/2 star review:

Billy Joel teamed with Phil Ramone, a famed engineer who had just scored his first producing hits with Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years for The Stranger, his follow-up to Turnstiles. Joel still favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and clean up the production. The results aren’t necessarily revelatory, since he covered so much ground on Turnstiles, but the commercialism of The Stranger is a bit of a surprise. … Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

paypal credit

Country of origin: Japan
Size: 12″
Record Label: CBS
Catalog Number:
30 AP 1874
Year of Release: 1980
Format: Stereo
Share: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Billy Joel – The Stranger rare Japan Mastersound LP with obi

billy joel- the stranger japan mastersound lp

Offered for sale is a rare Japanese “Mastersound” digitally remastered pressing of The Stranger by Billy Joel, including the original obi.

Note: This copy is unusual; while every copy we’ve previously had said “Half Speed Mastered” on both the obi and the label, this one says, “Digital Mastering” on the obi but says “Half Speed Mastered” on the label.

This copy appears to be a different mastering from the copy in our own collection that says “Half Speed Mastered” on both the obi and the disc, as the stamper numbers are significantly different.  We suspect that this copy is indeed digitally remastered to bring it in line with the rest of the Mastersound catalog, almost all of which were digital remastered LPs.

About this copy: This copy of The Stranger is a limited edition “Mastersound” pressing from Japan, issued in 1980 on the CBS label.

This copy includes the original obi, lyric insert, custom inner sleeve, generic Mastersound booklet listing other titles in the series, and generic posterboard Mastersound sleeve.

The cover is still in the original shrink wrap and is M-, but there’s trace corner wear at the mouth.  The obi is M-.  There is a hype sticker attached to the shrink wrap.

The inner sleeves are M-.  The lyric insert and booklet are M-.

The disc is M- with a couple of faint sleeve scuffs.  There are a few spindle marks on the labels, but no marks on the vinyl.

A nice copy of a terrific LP.

Background: Columbia Records had a short-lived series of audiophile pressings in the early 1980s that they called their Mastersound series.

These were high-quality pressings mastered with extra care and pressed on premium quality vinyl, and sold at a premium price.

Probably 90% of the records issued in that series in the United States were half speed mastered, while the remainder were digitally mastered.   Most of the digitally mastered titles were of classical music.

That wasn’t the case with the Japanese Mastersound series, however.  Nearly all of the titles in the CBS Mastersound series from Japan were digitally remastered, and most of them don’t sound as good as their analog Japanese counterparts.

In fact, there were only five pop/rock titles in the Japanese series that were half speed mastered:

  • Billy Joel – The Stranger
  • Earth, Wind & Fire – Greatest Hits
  • Electric Light Orchestra – Discovery
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees

All are quite rare, and all sound great.

Released in 1977, The Stranger was the fifth studio album by Billy Joel, and his commercial breakthrough that made him a star.

The LP reached #2 on the U.S. charts and has sold more than ten million copies to date.

Allmusic.com gave The Stranger a 4 1/2 star review:

Billy Joel teamed with Phil Ramone, a famed engineer who had just scored his first producing hits with Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years for The Stranger, his follow-up to Turnstiles. Joel still favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and clean up the production. The results aren’t necessarily revelatory, since he covered so much ground on Turnstiles, but the commercialism of The Stranger is a bit of a surprise. … Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a new window)

paypal credit

Country of origin: Japan
Size: 12″
Record Label: CBS
Catalog Number:
30 AP 1874
Year of Release: 1980
Format: Stereo
Share: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

(Porcupine Tree) Blackfield – Welcome to My DNA sealed 2011 UK LP

blackfield - welcome to my dna lp

Offered for sale is a still sealed numbered limited edition UK pressing of Welcome to My DNA by Blackfield, featuring Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.

About this copy: This copy of Welcome to My DNAis a still sealed numbered (488/2000) UK pressing on 180 gram vinyl, issued in 2011 on the Kscope label.  This was the first vinyl release of this LP

As the album is sealed, the records are presumably new and unplayed.

The wrap is fully intact, with no rips, tears or holes.

A beautiful copy of a terrific LP.

Background: Welcome to My DNA, released in 2011, was the third of several collaborations between Israeli singer Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.

Allmusic.com gave Welcome to My DNAa 3 1/2 star review:

On Welcome to My DNA, their third studio album, Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson of Blackfield continue to pursue their neo-progressive Pink Floyd-meets-Tears for Fears sound, overlaying it with doom-ridden imagery. The Pink Floyd influence is overt in the slow-paced soundscapes and echoey vocals, though at times Blackfield pick up the pace and even rock a bit, notably on “Blood,” which has a Middle Eastern rhythm at times. … The album is, thus, something of a downer, but the music aims toward a majestic simplicity that it sometimes achieves.

 

Country of origin: UK
Size: 12″
Record Label: Kscope
Catalog Number:
817
Year of Release: 2011
Format: Stereo
Share: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Porcupine Tree – On the Sunday of Life sealed UK orange vinyl 2 LP set

porcupine tree - on the sunday of life orange vinyl lp

Offered for sale is a still sealed orange vinyl UK pressing of the 2 LP set On the Sunday of Life by Porcupine Tree.

About this copy: This copy of Up the Downstair is a limited edition 180 gram orange vinyl pressing on the KScope label, issued in the UK in 2008.  This is a reissue of an album that was originally released in 1992.

The double album is still sealed; the records are presumably new and unplayed.

A beautiful copy of a terrific LP.

Background: Originally released in 1992, On the Sunday of Life was the debut album by Porcupine Tree.  The album received relatively little notice at the time and did not sell well.

Allmusic.com gave On the Sunday of Life a 3 star review:

Porcupine Tree’s debut is really one big in-joke, which actually makes for a better reason to record something that pretends to be profoundly deep through and through. As released, it doesn’t make mention of the tracks’ origins as the supposed product of a mysterious cult psych/prog rock band, but the packaging and artwork (even the fonts) would make the Dukes of Stratosphear proud. …Meanwhile, the many instrumental pieces are simply wonderful, pastoral, ambient rambles, drum solo jams, and more. It may all be ’70s-era Pink Floyd for a more knowing time, but as a genre exercise and on its own, On the Sunday of Life is still a great debut.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest (conditions apply.) Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a popup window)

 

Country of origin: UK
Size: 12″
Record Label: Kscope
Catalog Number:
801
Year of Release: 2008
Format: Stereo
Share: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Vinyl Records Value – What Are Your Records Worth?

Vinyl Records Value

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
vinyl records value
Are your records valuable?

What are my records worth? That’s a common question these days as record albums are making a comeback among both casual music fans and hard core collectors. People are aware that some records are valuable, but most people don’t know exactly which records people are looking for or why they’re looking for them.

Establishing vinyl records value is an inexact science, and there are a number of factors that go into determining whether a given record is something that will bring a lot of money from a collector or something that would best be used as a place mat.

In this post, we’ll go over a number of factors that may determine the value of a particular record. Keep in mind that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, and it’s quite rare for a record to be valuable based on one factor alone. It’s usually a combination of things that add to a vinyl record’s value, and other factors can sometimes turn a valuable record into one that isn’t worth all that much seemingly overnight.

The list of qualities that can affect a vinyl record’s value is constantly changing, and the list shown below should not be considered to be definitive. As this post on vinyl records value is going to be fairly lengthy, we’ll divide it into sections.

Vinyl Records Value Categories

Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

Age of the Record
Who is the Artist?
Overall Scarcity
Sealed Records
Autographed Records
Commercial vs. Promotional Issues
Small Label vs. Major Label
Label Variations
Mono vs. Stereo vs. Quadraphonic
Colored Vinyl and Picture Discs
Picture Sleeves
Acetates and Test Pressings
Foreign Editions
Limited Editions
Withdrawn Releases
Counterfeit Records
Reissues and Falling Prices
Condition of the Record
Finding Recent Prices
Conclusion

Featured Items

Click here to visit our rare records store. (new window)

Age of the Record

old records
Are old records valuable?

Many of the people we’ve spoken to about records over the years have the impression that “old records” must be worth more than new ones. While the age can have an effect on a vinyl record’s value, it’s one of the less important factors. Releases from early in the career of a famous artist may have more value than those from later in their careers, particularly if they didn’t become famous right away. A good example of this would be the recordings of Elvis Presley. While his first five records for the Memphis-based Sun label sold reasonably well for their day, their sales figures were minuscule compared to those of his later releases on RCA, making the Sun versions fairly valuable.

On the other hand, records by artists that are not of interest to collectors will have little value, regardless of age. There are many records in the easy listening genre from the 1950s, such as those by Ray Conniff or Percy Faith, that are now some 60 years old, but they still sell for only a couple of dollars in most used records stores, provided they bother to offer them for sale at all.

“Old records” may have some value, but as a rule, it’s not because they’re old. It’s because of something else.

Who is the Artist?

This should be obvious, but the artist in question will be a big factor in determining the value of a record. While tens of thousands of artists have released records since the invention of the medium, not all of them interest the public in equal measure.

Some artists are simply more popular as well as more collectible than others. Artists in the rock, blues, jazz, classical and soul categories tend to be more collectible than those in the easy listening, country, spoken word or comedy categories.

Famous artists' records tend to be more valuable
Famous artists’ records tend to be more valuable

Some artists tend to have a longtime following, while others are popular only while they are actively recording. With the former, such as Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, blues singer Robert Johnson, or the Beatles, many of their records remain both valuable and highly collectible long after they stopped recording or even after their deaths.

Other artists may have had records with high values only during the time they were recording, with prices in the collector market dropping considerably after they finished their careers or when they passed away.

In the late 1970s, for example, Todd Rundgren and the Cars were highly collectible, but these days, there’s little interest in their recordings. On the other hand, records by the Beatles are selling for the highest prices ever and prices remain steady more than 50 years after they released their last album.

Exceptions to that exist; that can come in the form of artists who were never particularly popular, but who were influential in the industry. That’s true of artists such as Robert Johnson, the Velvet Underground, or the Stooges. None of these artists were very successful and their records sold poorly when new. All three were enormous influences on other musicians, however, and as a result, their records sell for surprisingly high prices today.

Still, as a rule, popular artists will have records with higher values than obscure ones.

Overall Scarcity

This factor is pretty straightforward when it comes to vinyl records value; records that sold well and are quite common are going to be less valuable than records that sold poorly or are hard to find. A lot of albums sold in the 1970s and early 1980s sold millions of copies when new, and as such, it isn’t difficult to find copies in nice, playable condition.

That being the case, such records aren’t likely to sell for very much money in the collectors market.

Even best-selling records can get scarce over time
Even best-selling records can get scarce over time

On the other hand, even records that sold well when new can become scarce in time, especially when one takes the condition of the record into account. Albums by Elvis Presley and the Beatles sold millions of copies when they were first released, but finding nice original copies of those records now can be difficult, as many have been thrown away or damaged through heavy play or abuse.

People have tended to take better care of their records in recent decades, so it’s a lot easier to find a nice copy of a 1980s album by Bruce Springsteen than it is to find a near mint 1960s album by the Rolling Stones, for example.

“Common” is also relative; records that sold well in the 1950s and 1960s still sold in substantially smaller quantities than those sold in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1950s, it was rare for even a popular album to sell much more than a million copies. By the 1980s, albums selling more than 5 million copies were relatively common.

What the “common vs. scarce” factor means is that the most valuable record by a particular artist may not be their best-known title, but rather one that was disregarded by the public and/or critics when originally released, making it relatively scarce today. A good example of this would be Music from the Elder by Kiss, released in 1981. Released after a string of best-selling albums, Music from the Elder had a different sound from their previous releases and offered no hit songs and no songs that regularly received airplay. As a result, the album sold poorly and soon went out of print.

The group went back to making records that were similar to their earlier releases and sales of subsequent albums were brisk, making the now hard-to-find Music From the Elder a collector’s item.

Sealed Records

One factor that’s of vital importance in determining a vinyl record’s value is condition, which we’ll discuss at length later. Because the condition of a record is held to be important by collectors, the ideal example of a record to own, in the eyes of many collectors, would be one that has never been played at all. Because of this, collectors will often pay a huge premium for sealed, unopened examples of records they are seeking.

sealed recordsWhen record albums were first offered in the late 1940s, they were sold without any external wrapping on the cover. Customers in record stores could remove the records from the cover and many stores would even allow them to play the records to help them make a buying decision. This led to problems with both theft and damage, and by the early 1960s, a number of large retailers started sealing their albums in plastic bags. Eventually, this practice was picked up by the major record companies, who began protecting their covers with shrink wrap.

In general, a copy of an album that is still in original, unopened shrink wrap will sell for a lot more money than one that is in opened condition, even if the opened copy has not been played.

The difference in price can range from modest to quite significant, depending on the artist and title. A sealed copy of a relatively recent release may carry a small premium over an opened copy, but older and/or more desirable titles may exhibit a substantially larger premium. Sealed copies of older albums by the Beatles might sell for as much as ten times the price of an opened example, for instance.

This is a case where age can affect vinyl records value, as the older an album is, the harder it is to find a copy that has never been opened or played.

Autographed Records

autographed record
An example of an autographed record.

One factor that can influence vinyl records value is having the autograph of the artist on it. While autographed albums and single aren’t particularly common (while forgeries of them are), they usually do command a premium over regular copies of the record that are not signed.

Autographed records that are personalized, such as “To Jane, best wishes…” tend to sell for less money than those that simply have the artist’s signature on it. When it comes to musical groups and autographs, albums that are autographed by the entire group will sell for substantially higher prices than those with the signatures of some, but not all, members.

Autographed records with provenance, such as a photograph of the artist signing the record, tend to bring the highest prices of all.

Commercial vs. Promotional Issues

One factor that can affect vinyl records value is if the record in question is a promotional issue, as opposed to a commercial, or “stock,” copy of the record. Promotional, or “promo,” copies of a record are often identified in some way, and they often have a special label that indicates that the particular records was made for promotional, or radio station, use. While the labels on most records are colored, many promotional issues have white labels, which has led to the term “white label promo” being used among collectors.

promotional recordPromotional copies of records are usually pressed before retail, or “stock” copies to ensure that they reach radio stations prior to the commercial release of the record. They are also pressed in relatively small quantities compared to stock copies of the same records. While an album may sell in the millions, there may be only a few hundred promotional copies made of that same record, making them collector’s items.

Sometimes, promotional copies of a particular record may be different from the stock counterpart. The promotional copies of the Beatles’ single “Penny Lane” had a different ending than the version of the song on the stock copies of the single, making these rare copies quite valuable in comparison to the million-selling stock counterpart.

On other occasions, a record may be issued only as a promotional item. Such albums may be live recordings, made for radio broadcast, or perhaps compilation albums, again intended to stimulate airplay. These “promo-only” releases are usually sought after by collectors, though the interest in them will be directly related to the interest in the artist. A promo-only Rolling Stones record, for example, will attract far more interest from collectors than one by Andy Williams.

As a rule, a promotional copy of any record will command higher prices in the collector’s market than the stock counterpart, though there are occasional situations where the opposite is true. Some records have sold so poorly in  stores that the promotional copies are actually more common than the stock counterparts. A good example of this is the Beatles’ first single, “My Bonnie,” which was credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. Promotional copies with a pink label, while relatively rare, are probably ten times more common than the stock copies with black labels, of which fewer than 20 copies are known to exist.

We have written an extensive article about white label promo records; you can read it here. (new window)

Small Label vs. Major Label

Jim Reeves first album on the small Abbott label.
Jim Reeves first album on the small Abbott label.

This issue of scarcity comes into play when one looks at whether a particular record was released by a small, regional label or a large national one. Larger labels have national distribution and multiple pressing plants, and popular records might be pressed in the millions. Smaller labels might press only a few hundred or several thousand copies of a particular record.

There are examples of records being initially released on small labels and then later released on larger labels when the small record company negotiated a distribution deal with the larger label in order to sell more records. An example of this would be the 1963 surf album Pipeline by the Chantays, which was originally released on the California-based Downey label. When the song became a hit, Downey struck a deal with the nationally distributed Dot records to have them release the album instead. Today, copies of the album on the Downey label are far harder to find than their Dot counterparts, and sell for higher prices.

Sometimes an artist will release records on a small label and then move to a larger one. In these cases, their earlier releases tend to be more collectible than their later ones. The country group Alabama released a couple of albums on the small LSI label under the name “Wild Country” before changing their name and moving to the large RCA label. As the records by the group issued by RCA sold quite well, they tend to sell for modest prices. The two albums on LSI, on the other hand, are quite rare and sell for several hundred dollars or more when they’re offered for sale.

Another example, also in the country genre, is the first album by Jim Reeves. His first album, Jim Reeves Sings, was issued in 1956 on the small Abbott label. When that album began to sell well, Reeves moved to major label RCA. While his RCA albums sell for modest prices, his lone album on Abbot has sold for as much as $1000.

Label Variations

One album, 6 labels. One is worth $10; one is worth $10,000!
One album, 6 labels. One is worth $10; one is worth $10,000!

A significant factor in determining a vinyl record’s value is the label on the record itself. A given album or single might have been released with several different labels on the disc itself, even among releases by the same record company.

Record companies often change the appearance of the labels used on their records. While it has happened less often in recent decades, changes in label art an appearance were quite common among the major labels during the 1960s and 1970s.

Records by the Beatles, for instance, were released by Capitol Records on a black label with a rainbow colored perimeter, a green label, a red label, a custom Apple label, an orange label, a purple label, and a new version of the original black label, all over a period of about 20 years.

As a rule, collectors tend to favor original pressings, so for a given title, the most desirable label variation would be whichever one was in use on the day the record was originally released for sale to the public. There are exceptions to this, however. The red Capitol label mentioned above was commonly used in the early 1970s for a number of titles, but was never intended to be used for records by the Beatles. A few copies of the band’s Revolver and Yesterday and Today albums were accidentally issued with that label, and despite not being “original” issues, they do sell for quite a lot of money on the collector’s market.

Sometimes, minor differences on labels can make a difference, as well. The first copies of Meet the Beatles to be sold in America were rushed to the stores without including publishing information for the songs on the record. While later copies had either “BMI” or “ASCAP” after each song title, the very first issues of the album sold in stores lacked this text. While this might seem to be a minor matter, the difference in value between a copy that lacks the text and one that has it can be more than $1000, depending on condition.

As many albums by popular artists have remained in print for many years, or even decades, the label on the record in question is often a significant factor in determining that vinyl record’s value.

Mono vs. Stereo vs. Quadraphonic

mono record stereo recordA significant factor that can affect a vinyl record’s value is the format. Until 1957, records were sold only in mono. Between 1957 and 1968, records were usually sold in both mono and stereo, and between about 1972 and 1976, a few records were available in 4 channel quadraphonic sound. During the time when records were sold in more than one format simultaneously, one of the formats was usually pressed in smaller quantities than the other. Mono records were more common than their stereo counterparts in the early 1960s, for instance, but were the harder variation to find by 1968. Quadraphonic pressings were always intended for a niche market, and never sold in large quantities, except in the few cases where all copies of a particular title were encoded in quadraphonic sound.

While the value of a mono record in relation to its stereo counterpart will depend on when the record was released, quadraphonic copies are almost always worth more money than the same album in stereo.

The topic of mono vs. stereo is a complex one, and we have previously cover that in detail in another article which you can read here. (new window.)

Colored Vinyl and Picture Discs

picture disc recordsWhile most records are pressed from black vinyl, sometimes other colors are used. On rare occasions, a special process is used to create a picture disc, which has a photograph or other graphics actually embedded in the record’s playing surface. With few exceptions, colored vinyl and picture disc pressings are limited editions, and are usually far harder to find than their black vinyl counterparts.

Both colored vinyl pressings and picture discs have been issued as commercial releases and as promo-only releases. In the early 1960s, Columbia Records would occasionally press promotional copies of both singles and albums on colored vinyl (we’ve seen red, yellow, blue, green, and purple) in order to grab the attention of radio programmers.

In the late 1970s, picture discs were often pressed as promotional items and became quite popular among collectors. Most of these were pressed in quantities of only a few hundred copies.

More often, colored vinyl and picture disc records are issued as limited edition pressings, created to spur interest among buyers. Most of these titles are also available on regular (and more common) black vinyl.

As with everything else on this list, there are occasional exceptions to the rule. Elvis Presley’s last album to be issued while he was alive was Moody Blue, which was pressed on blue vinyl when originally released. A couple of months later, RCA Records began to press the album on regular black vinyl as a cost-cutting move, which would have made the blue pressings rare and desirable. Shortly after this decision was made, Elvis passed away, and the label made the decision to return to blue vinyl for that album, and all pressings for the next ten years or so were issued blue vinyl. In the case of Moody Blue, it’s the black vinyl pressings that are actually the rare ones.

We’ve written articles about colored vinyl and picture discs, and you can read it here:

Colored vinyl article (new window)
Picture disc article (new window)

Picture Sleeves

A rare Can't Buy Me Love picture sleeve.
A rare Can’t Buy Me Love picture sleeve.

While vinyl record albums usually include printed covers, most 45 RPM singles do not, as they were generally issued in plain paper sleeves. It was not uncommon, however, for singles to be issued in special printed sleeves bearing the title of the song, the name of the artist and perhaps a graphic or photograph. These are known as picture sleeves, and most of the time, these picture sleeves were available only with the original issues of the records. While not intended as limited edition items per se, picture sleeves were designed to spur sales and were often discontinued once sales of the record began to pick up.

For various reasons, some picture sleeves are harder to find than others, and there are a number of records, some by famous artists, where certain picture sleeves are rare to the point where only a few copies are known to exist. Some picture sleeves, such as “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones, which was withdrawn prior to release, can sell for more than $10,000.

Others are rare, but not to that degree. The picture sleeve for the Beatles’ single “Can’t Buy Me Love” were commercially available, but were only printed by one of Capitol Records’ pressing plants, making it available only for a short time and only in the eastern United States. It’s one of the rarest commercially available Beatles picture sleeves, and mint copies have sold for more than $1000.

This is one of the factors that pretty much has no exceptions; a record with a picture sleeve is always more valuable than the same record without one.

Acetates and Test Pressings

test pressing recordWhile the majority of records are standard issues that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold in stores, some are pre-production versions that were made for in-house use at the record companies prior to making the stock pressings.

Acetates, or lacquers, as they are more properly known, are records that are individually cut on a lathe by a recording engineer. The recordings are cut on metal plates that are coated with soft lacquer. Acetates are the first step in the process of making a record, as they can be plated with metal and used to make stampers for production of the copies sold in stores.

They can also be played on a turntable and are often used to evaluate the sound of a song or an album prior to putting it into formal production. While acetates can be played as one would play any regular record, they don’t wear particularly well and will become quite noisy after only a few plays.

On rare occasions, acetates have been sent to radio stations as promotional items when regular pressings were not yet available.

As acetates are cut one at a time, they are understandably rare, and command a high value in the market place as they are both rare and unusual.

Test pressings are a bit more common than acetates, and are made to test stampers prior to mass produced production runs. They are usually the first pressings made from a set of stampers, and can be distinguished by their labels, which will differ from those used on stock pressings. Test pressings may have blank white labels or they may have special labels that indicate that they are test pressings. These custom labels usually have blank lines printed on them so that the people working with them can write the title and artist on the labels by hand.

As with acetates, test pressings are usually used for evaluation purposes by record company personnel, though they are occasionally sent out as promotional items. As they are rather unusual and limited in production to just a handful of copies, test pressings are highly regarded and sought out by collectors. Sometimes, test pressings may contain different versions of one or more songs from the commercially released albums. This can also add to their value.

Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a cover that had the album title in a different font from commercial releases. These so-called “Script Cover” pressings of the album have sold for more than $1000.

We have written a more in-depth article about test pressings and acetates. You can read it here. (new window)

Foreign Editions

A unique Beatles album from Denmark.
A unique Beatles album from Denmark.

Records pressed in foreign countries are often of interest to record collectors. While most collectors are interested in records from the country where they live, a lot of them are interested in owning anything unusual by the artists that interest them.

Most record albums are designed by record companies in either the United States or Great Britain, and most releases from either country are nearly identical. Other countries, however, have been known to create dramatically different versions of records from the U.S. or UK counterparts.

Sometimes, foreign pressings may have different titles, or different covers from the more common versions from the U.S. or UK. On other occasions, record companies in other countries may choose to press albums on colored vinyl.

Many albums from Japan from the late 1950s through the early 1970s were pressed on dark red vinyl. Japanese pressings were also issued with a paper sash, or “obi,” that wrapped around the cover and provided information for the buyer in Japanese.

These pressings are highly regarded by collectors for both their unusual appearance and their sound quality.

If an artist is not from the United States, collectors will often seek out records from the artist’s country of origin. While many American Beatles records are worth a lot of money, so are those from Great Britain, as the band released records there prior to releasing them in the U.S.

Prices for foreign (non-U.S.) records can vary widely, depending on age, condition, and all of the other factors mentioned in this article. In general, collectors in the United States will always be interested, to some degree, in any foreign record by artists whose records they collect.

We’ve written a detailed article about Japanese records. You can read it here. (new window)

Limited Editions

A numbered, limited edition Beatles album.
A numbered, limited edition Beatles album.

While scarcity can be a major factor in a vinyl record’s value, intentional scarcity can affect it even more. While limited edition pressings of albums are a relatively new thing, they are now quite common, with record companies intentionally limiting releases to a few hundred or a few thousand copies.

In past decades, when records were the predominant format for selling music, record companies were content to sell as many copies as possible of a given title. In recent years, records have become more of a niche item, and record companies are somewhat hesitant to spend the money to master, press, and distribute them. By producing only a limited number of a given title, and by making it publicly known that production will be limited to xxx number of copies, the record companies have a greater likelihood of having a particular title sell out quickly, rather than sitting on a shelf for a period of months or years.

Sometimes, these limited editions are individually numbered, while most are not. Sometimes, a limited number of copies of a given album will be pressed on colored vinyl, with a larger number pressed on black vinyl. In some cases, such as with the soundtrack album to the 2010 film Inception, all copies are colored vinyl and they are numbered as well.

Limited edition pressings by most any artist will have some value above the original selling price, as record companies are unlikely to issue limited edition pressings if there is no established market for them.

The exception to this would be records from companies that do not ordinarily release records, such as the Franklin Mint. Over the years, the Franklin Mint has released a number of recordings as limited edition sets, usually spanning many volumes. Most of these recordings were also pressed on colored vinyl and the sets were marketed in mass media to consumers who were not record collectors. These recordings have little value unless they are offered in complete sets, some of which came with as many as 100 records.

Withdrawn Releases

The original withdrawn "Butcher cover" version of Yesterday and Today.
The original withdrawn “Butcher cover” version of Yesterday and Today.

Occasionally, record companies release an album or single, only to change their mind and withdraw it from general release. This can happen for a number of reasons, ranging from a corporate decision that may or may not have anything to do with the record itself, a decision by the artist to change the product after release, or even an announcement by prominent retailers that they will refuse to sell the record as released.

Regardless of the reason for withdrawing the record from circulation, such releases will naturally be scarce, hard to find, and in demand among collectors. More often than not, withdrawn releases will also command substantial prices on the collector market.

Listed below are a few examples of record albums which were withdrawn from the market shortly before or shortly after being released to stores.

Angel – Bad Publicity – The 1979 album Bad Publicity had a cover that depicted the band having a raucus party in a hotel room. After only a handful of copies had been issued as promotional items, the album was withdrawn, retitled to Sinful, and released with completely different artwork showing the band in white suits against a white background.

Prince – The Black Album – In 1987, Prince intended to release an untitled album that had an all-black cover on which neither a title nor the name of the artist appeared. The so-called “Black Album” was withdrawn prior to release by Prince himself, for reasons that remain unclear to this day. A few copies have leaked out over the years, and they have sold for as much as $25,000.

The Beatles – When retailers complained about the original cover art for the Beatles’ 1966 album Yesterday and Today, which showed the band sitting on a bench with broken dolls and raw meat, Capitol Records ordered all copies returned from stores and radio stations. The cover was replaced by a picture of the band sitting around a steamer trunk.

This so-called “Butcher Cover” is perhaps the best known record in all of record collecting, and copies have sold for thousands of dollars.

We have written an extensive article about the Beatles Butcher cover. You can read it here. (new window)

Counterfeit Records

Original (color) and counterfeit (black and white)
Original (color) and counterfeit (black and white)

Whenever there’s a commodity that is worth money to people, there are unscrupulous people who try to take advantage of them by forging that commodity. Paintings have been forged, currency has been counterfeited, and unfortunately, so have many rare records.

While there are many factors that go into determining vinyl records value, perhaps none is more important than the need for the record to be an original pressing and not a counterfeit pressing created at a later date to resemble the original issue.

Counterfeit records first appeared on the market in the late 1960s or early 1970s and while the early attempts were rather obvious and fairly crude, technology has improved in recent years, making many counterfeit records difficult for the layman to identify. The practice isn’t limited to rare or valuable titles, either, as a number of mass-produced titles were counterfeited in the late 1970s. These titles were sold by chain record stores alongside the legitimate record company issues.

If a record routinely sells for a lot of money, there is a good chance that the title in question has been counterfeited. Many albums by the Beatles, along with other popular artists such as the Yardbirds, Elvis Presley, and Pink Floyd, have been counterfeited. In a few cases, such as the Beatles album Introducing the Beatles, counterfeit copies may actually outnumber the real ones.

It goes without saying that a counterfeit copy of a rare record will have limited value when compared with an original pressing.

We have written an extensive article about counterfeit records. You can read it here. (new window)

Reissues and Falling Prices

One factor that can significantly affect a vinyl record’s value is the availability of reissues. In the 1950s through the mid-1970s, record companies kept close tabs on whether an album was selling well or poorly. Poor selling albums were usually removed from the catalog and existing copies were sold at a discount. Starting in the 1980s, record companies took a different approach, and reduced the prices of slow-selling records, keeping them in print but offering them for sale at a lower price point.

Collectors often become interested in records that have gone out of print, and the prices for these no longer available titles can get quite high, depending on the artist and title. In these cases, collectors are usually paying high prices simply to hear the music. Record companies do pay attention to such market trends, and today, it’s quite common to see newly-pressed reissues of albums for sale that haven’t been available on the market in decades.

In the case of some albums, which may have only been originally for sale from small record companies, these reissues might actually sell more copies than the original album. When an album is reissued, the original vinyl record’s value usually falls in the marketplace. While some collectors remain interested in owning an early or an original pressing of a recently reissued album, there are others who are only interested in hearing the music, and will be happy to own a reissued version of the album instead.

Reissues can often affect a vinyl record’s value dramatically, and sometimes, the price of original pressings can drop as much as 90% when a formerly rare album again becomes available as a newly-released record.

Condition of the Record

While all of the factors listed above are important when it comes to evaluating a vinyl record’s value, perhaps none is as important as the condition of the record. Most mass produced records sold over the past 60 years or so have been poorly cared for by their owners. They may have been played on low-quality equipment, stored outside of their covers, and handled by their playing surfaces, rather than their edges.

Record changers, which were phonographs that were capable of playing up to a dozen records in sequence, were popular in the 1960s and 1970s and were particularly prone to adding scratches and abrasions to a record’s playing surface. Many covers were poorly stored, leading to ring wear or splits in the covers. Furthermore, owners often wrote their names or other information on the record’s cover or label.

Condition matters a lot.
Condition matters a lot.

Collectors are interested in buying records in the best possible condition, and ideally, they’d like to own copies of all of their records in the same condition in which they were originally sold – mint and unplayed, with pristine covers.

Finding a copy of any record that is more than 20 years old in such condition is quite difficult, and the value of a record can vary widely depending on its condition. In the case of many records from the late 1950s and early 1960s, finding worn and nearly-unplayable copies of a particular record might be relatively easy, while finding one in mint condition may be nearly impossible.

In the case of such records, a mint copy might sell for 50 times as much money as a worn-out copy of the same record.

When it comes to a vinyl record’s value, condition is paramount, and worn copies of a record usually sell for modest amounts of money except in the cases of items that are rare to the point of being unique.

In the case of records that are common to moderately rare, anything copy that isn’t in something close to new condition may have little to no value at all.

While some collectors are willing to accept “filler” copies of a rare record in poor to average condition until they find a better copy, most buyers prefer to buy only once, and will hold out for the best possible copy they can find.

What does all of this mean? It means that if you’re someone who has a box of “old records” and you want to know about those vinyl records’ value, you’ll likely discover that they’re common titles in average to poor condition and they’re likely not worth very much money.

On the other hand, if you have a rare record that is also in exceptionally nice condition, you’ll likely be able to sell it for a premium price.

Finding Recent Prices

Starting in the late 1970s, the easiest way to find out about vinyl records value was to consult a price guide. Over the past 40 years, a number of books have been published every other year or so that list the value of certain types of records. There are price guides for rock albums, jazz albums, classical albums, 45 RPM singles, country records, and soundtrack and original cast recordings. There are also specialty price guides for records from Japan, records by the Beatles and records by Elvis Presley.

A record price guide.
A record price guide.

While these guides have served collectors and sellers fairly well, the books are bulky, somewhat expensive, and have a tendency to become outdated rather quickly. That’s not to say that they aren’t useful; on the contrary, they serve as valuable references. Furthermore, even the outdated price guides can offer insight as to how a vinyl record’s value has increased over time. It’s amusing to look at price guides from the late 1970s to see how albums that might sell for $1000 today were once listed as having a value of $35 or so.

Record price guides are still published today and they’re still useful tools. On the other hand, there are also some online tools that can provide some more accurate and up to date information regarding vinyl records value. Several sites, for example, monitor the sales of records on the eBay auction site and archive them, making it possible for you to see what a particular records might have sold for yesterday, or last month, or even five years ago.

As there are millions of records for sale on eBay, including multiple copies of most records at one time, the marketplace is somewhat of a buyer’s market, which means that the prices of most records sold on the site are somewhat lower than they might be in a record store or in a private transaction between two collectors.

Still, the millions of record sales on the site each year do provide some good insight into overall vinyl records value, and can also show trends over the past decade or so. This makes it easy to see if a particular record is increasing in value over time or going down as interest sometimes wanes.

While there are a number of different sites that track and archive record sales on eBay our favorite is:

Popsike.com – This site is free to use for a limited, but unspecified, number of searches. After a certain number of searches, you’ll be asked to register, which is free. If you exceed a further (unspecified) limit, you’ll be asked to subscribe. Currently, the cost of subscribing to Popsike is about $35 per year, though most users will never use the service enough to reach the threshold that requires paying a subscription fee.

Popsike’s home page has a few lists of popular searches, as well as lists of recent sales in certain popular categories, such as blues, Beatles, classic rock, jazz, and classical. You can search by artist or title and you can sort results by price or date of sale. Popsike has listings for record sales on eBay going back to 2003, though they note that their database is neither definitive nor exhaustive.

Vinyl Records Value Conclusion

We hear from people all the time – “I have some records. What are they worth?” With most commodities, the answer is a fairly simple one. If you have an ounce of gold, it’s worth a certain amount of money. The same applies to a barrel of oil.

That’s not the case with records, however. Vinyl records value is determined by a number of factors, including condition, scarcity, the name of the artist, and a host of other things, both obvious and obscure.

Because the value of a particular record is tied to so many factors, it’s difficult to give a general answer as to its value without knowing all of the particulars about that particular pressing.

The quickest way to find out is to check with Popsike or Collector’s Frenzy for a quick glance at recent sales. Keep in mind that these prices reflect retail sales, and not the amount of money that you’d receive if you’re selling to a store or a reseller. Keep in mind that the highest prices are paid for copies in near mint condition, which may or may not apply to the records you currently have in your possession.

Record collecting is a fascinating hobby, however, and the many factors that can go into determining vinyl records value are among the things that keep the hobby interesting to collectors.

Click here to visit our rare records store.

Vinyl Records – Why People Collect Them

Vinyl Records – The Appeal of Record Collecting

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

collecting vinyl recordsDespite the predictions of many just a few short years ago, vinyl records are still selling well in the twenty-first century. This would have surprised a lot of people in the late 1980s, when vinyl records were in serious decline as a working format, partly due to the introduction of the compact disc earlier in the decade.

Like many things in popular culture, vinyl records have gone out of style only to become popular again.

It’s pretty obvious that records are back in a big way, as many stores that only sold compact discs a few years ago have replaced almost all of them with vinyl records. Not only that, but the selling prices of collectible records have not only remained steady, but have actually increased at a time when most people get their music via digital downloads.

Why are vinyl records making a comeback? What is the source of their appeal? Why are record collectors so passionate, and what, exactly, do they collect? In this article, we’ll cover the history of the phonograph record, including its decline and resurgence and explain the many reasons why people are once again lining up to buy vinyl records.

Browse by Category

Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

33 1/3 Long-play Vinyl Records
Popularity of Vinyl Records in the 1950s
Stereo Vinyl Records
Decline of Vinyl Records
Vinyl Records Resurgence
Collecting Vinyl Records
Types of Vinyl Records That People Collect
Artists
Audiophile Records
Bootleg Records
Colored Vinyl Records
Monaural Records
Original Pressing Records
Picture Disc Records
Promotional Records
Sealed Records
Singles
Soundtrack Records

Featured Items

Click here to shop for vinyl records in our store. (new window)

33 1/3 Long Play (Lp) Vinyl Records

Columbia LP logoIn order to avoid writing a novel, we’ll skip the early history of vinyl records, as the early ones were made from wax, celluloid, and shellac. The modern “vinyl” record as we know it dates to the late 1940s. Record companies were looking for a format to replace the 78 RPM record, which had the limitations of fragility and a short playing time.

A collection of similarly-themed 78 RPM records, known as an “album”, was bulky, heavy, and expensive to produce, and the record companies were looking for more viable, cost-effective alternatives.

RCA opted to go with the seven inch, 45 RPM record, which had one song on each side, and they developed a special player that would allow listeners to cue up a stack of them to be played in series. These “albums” were sold in small boxes that were quite a bit smaller than their 78 counterparts and were cheaper to make and ship and were far less prone to breakage. Consumers were still expected to handle a stack of records in order to listen to a collection of songs from the same artist, which was a bit of a nuisance.

Columbia Records went with an alternative format, which they trademarked as the Lp®, for “long-play.” This format, which we’ll refer to from now on as the LP, played at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, using a ten inch (and later, twelve inch) disc. The LP format offered much longer playing time; they typically played for about 12-15 minutes for a ten inch disc and up to 25 minutes for the twelve inch size.

The records were made from various materials early on, but the industry eventually settled on polyvinyl chloride, which came to be referred to as “vinyl.” With that, vinyl records as we know them were born and the first long-play albums were released in 1948.

Each company was committed exclusively to their own format, but Columbia’s LP format won the format war fairly quickly, and both Columbia and RCA soon licensed their technology out to other interested parties. The 45 RPM record did eventually replace the 78 RPM disc, and by the late 1950s, production of 78 RPM singles ended.

It took a few years for the industry to move from the ten inch disc to the twelve inch format that remains popular today. Part of this had to do with the manufacturing process, which was largely geared towards pressing ten inch 78 RPM discs. It was only logical to continue to make LPs in that size, but by 1954, nearly all U.S. record companies had phased out their production of ten inch LPs.

Popularity of Vinyl Records in the 1950s

vinyl records in the 1950sThroughout the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, record albums were somewhat of a niche item, with most music being sold in the form of singles.

Part of the reason for this was the price; new albums in the mid-1950s sold for about $4, which equates to about $35 today. By 1960, some stereo records were being sold for as much as $6.98, which works out to about $56 in present-day dollars.

There’s a reason why so many albums from the 1950s are hard to find today – they sold in minuscule quantities, due to their price. If you were a lucky teenager in the 1950s, you might have received an album as a birthday or Christmas gift, but if you wanted to actually buy music, you likely bought singles.

Record companies knew this, which is why a lot of rock and roll artists of the 1950s didn’t release any albums at all. Most of the albums sold in that decade were of the jazz or easy listening variety. The emergence of Elvis Presley in 1954 would soon change that, and by the time the Beatles arrived in a big way in early 1964, albums began to be big sellers.

Stereo Vinyl Records

Record companies had long been trying to find a way to commercially sell recordings in stereo. In 1956, commercial reel to reel tapes came to market, and introduced stereo to the consumer marketplace. The tapes and the equipment to play them were quite expensive, and the pre-recorded reel to reel tapes had to be duplicated one at a time, which made mass production tedious. The major record companies began to aggressively pursue technologies to allow them to manufacture vinyl records in stereo, as they could be more easily mass-produced.

stereo vinyl recordsThe first stereo records came to market in late 1957, though for the next ten years, monaural (or “mono”) records continued to dominate the market. Stereo records were sold for a dollar more than their mono counterparts, making them more suitable to well-heeled buyers of jazz and classical recordings.

Most of the stereo albums released in the 1950s were in those niches, and popular and rock and roll titles in stereo from that decade are rather scarce today and usually sell for a significantly higher price than their mono counterparts.

An added expense for stereo record buyers was the fact that they also had to buy a new record player that was equipped to play the stereo vinyl records as well as a second (or replacement) amplifier and an additional speaker. This was beyond the financial reach of a lot of buyers, who continued to buy records in mono, and that is one of the many reasons why so many early stereo records are quite rare today.

Throughout the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, record companies were quite conscious of the quality of their products, taking great care in every step of the process from recording the music to pressing the discs to printing the covers. Most of the major labels produced a product made from high-quality vinyl that looked great and sounded great, too.

Decline of Vinyl Records

Over time, the retail price of vinyl records didn’t really keep up with inflation, making albums more affordable by the early 1970s. By this time, the format of the stereo LP had become universal, and nearly every home had a stereo player. International problems involving the petroleum industry in 1973 led to some manufacturing issues, and consumers noticed a significant decline in the quality of the vinyl records on the market.

The quality of the vinyl used in the manufacture of records declined noticeably, with many companies using recycled vinyl that often contained visible impurities. Warped records were common, especially with the short-lived “Dynaflex” vinyl records produced by RCA that weighed little more than half as much as their records of just a few years before.

Changes in technology, as well as strong interest from the public in a higher-quality product, led to the development of the digital compact disc. The CD, as it became known, was both smaller (at 5 inches) and thinner than a record album, and less prone to problems in sound quality as a result of mistreatment by the user. Introduced in 1982, the CD began much as the stereo LP did, with high priced media and playback equipment.

The record companies weren’t sure how much the public would be willing to pay for compact discs, but they know how much they cost to make and how much they’d have to charge retailers who wanted to buy them at wholesale. Rather than set a suggested retail price for the compact disc, they allowed the market to set the price, which quickly settled in the $18 range (about $44 in 2017 dollars.) Given that the suggested list price for a record album at that time was $9.98, the record companies realized they were sitting on a potential goldmine, and quickly went about trying to phase out vinyl records altogether.

compact discsThey did this by aggressively promoting the compact disc format and taking advantage of the CD’s longer playing time. Albums would be released in both formats, but the CD would often contain one or more extra songs that were not on the LP counterpart.

In addition, the record companies started refusing to accept returns on defective LPs, forcing retailers to absorb the cost. In time, the combination of these two factors caused many retailers to stop stocking vinyl records altogether.

By 1990, vinyl record albums were available almost exclusively through subscription record clubs, and by 1995, the format was declared by the industry to be virtually dead, with total sales worldwide in the range of just a couple of million units. Considering that in the mid-1980s, some titles had sold more than ten million records alone, this was effectively the end of vinyl records, and after more than a century, many people felt the medium’s time had come.

Vinyl Records Resurgence

The record companies enjoyed a lot of success after they succeeded in removing records from the marketplace, but in the late 1990s, the popularity of the digital and easily-downloaded mp3 format, nearly destroyed the industry. People were buying CDs, “ripping” them to their computers and sharing them online with the whole world. Consumers no longer saw a reason to buy music when they could simply download it from the Internet for free. The rise of file sharing sites such as Napster caused industry profits to plummet.

Over time, the record companies realized that people would also pay for digital downloads, and Apple’s iTunes store and streaming Websites such as Spotify proved that it was possible to get people to pay money for downloadable music. In the meantime, something odd happened – the small companies that were licensing titles from the major labels and releasing them on vinyl started to see an increase in sales, as did stores that sold used vinyl records. It seemed that people who bought music missed the ability to buy a piece of music and actually hold their purchase in their hands.

young people with vinyl recordsOver the past decade, the major labels have slowly returned to releasing titles in the form of vinyl records, and today, oddly enough, virtually every new release from a major artist is available in LP form, and much to everyone’s surprise, they’re selling.

In fact, sales of vinyl records in 2015 reached totals that hadn’t been seen since the mid-1980s, with some 40 million units sold. Pressing plants worldwide are running at capacity, often running 24 hours a day in order to meet demand.

In addition, audio equipment manufacturers are once again selling mass-produced turntables and people are buying them. Many of the buyers are under the age of 30, and were born at a time when it was nearly impossible to buy new vinyl records at all. Demand is there across the spectrum, and out of print and collectible titles are selling for more than ever. Ringo Starr’s personal copy of the Beatles’ 1968 LP known as the White Album recently sold for $790,000. That’s a lot of money for an artifact of a format that was regarded as dead a few decades ago.

Collecting Vinyl Records

It’s surprising to see how many new fans are coming to record collecting today and that includes relatively young collectors who are seeking out vinyl records that were made before they were born.

People have been collecting records since they were invented. Though most people who collect vinyl records today are interested in the modern-era LP or single, there are still collectors who are interested in early 20th century cylinder records and 78 RPM singles.

Most of the interest in 78s is in the area of rhythm and blues and early rock and roll. The former didn’t sell particularly well when they were new and are thus fairly rare today. The latter were pressed at a time when the industry was phasing out the format. For most singles pressed after 1955, the 78 version is harder to find today than the 45 RPM equivalent.

There are a number of reasons why people collect vinyl records; there’s no “one size fits all” answer. Still, there are a few explanations that seem to apply to the majority of collectors.

Vinyl records are tangible – Obviously, there’s some appeal to buying something and being able to physically handle it. Buyers are more likely to regard their purchase as something of value when it’s a physical object than they are if it’s merely something that they downloaded.

Advantages of physical size – Vinyl records are bigger than compact discs, which makes it easier to read song titles, lyrics, and liner notes than it is on a compact disc. Even people with exceptional eyesight have long complained that reading the small booklets enclosed with compact discs is difficult. The larger size of record albums also allows for better appreciation of cover photos and graphics, which often represent a lot of time, money and effort on the part of the artists who created them.

album with bonus posterBonus items – Vinyl records occasionally included bonus items such as stickers or posters, which are generally too large to fit in a compact disc case. Back in the 1970s, albums often came with posters, and millions of teenagers had the posters from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon hanging on their wall. With the resurgence of vinyl records, buyers can once again enjoy that experience.

Visual appeal – While vinyl records pressed from black vinyl aren’t particularly interesting, record companies occasionally press records using colored vinyl or even press albums as picture discs, where the record is made from clear vinyl covering a photo or image.

Improved sound – This argument has been going on for decades, but a lot of listeners prefer the sound of vinyl records to that of digital downloads or compact discs. We’ve found that in blind tests, where the listener doesn’t know which source they’re hearing, they usually choose the record over the compact disc as the one that sounds the best to their ears.

Many listeners have felt this way ever since the compact disc, and during the decade or so when records were largely unavailable, a lot of these listeners simply didn’t purchase new music anymore. With the resurgence of vinyl records, they’re buying again. Some of the titles that were issued in the 1990s as CD-only releases are now being issued as vinyl records for the first time ever and they’re selling well.

Improved sound, even for records – With vinyl records selling for a premium price today, record companies are now showing an interest in producing a quality product that they haven’t shown since the early 1960s. Great care is now being taken in transferring the master tape to the lacquers used to make stampers, a process called “mastering.”

When reissuing titles from the 1950s through the 1970s, the record companies are making an effort to use the best-available tape sources, rather than digital copies made for compact disc use. Finally, the companies that press the records are making an effort to use quiet, high-quality vinyl compounds that allow the records to be played with a minimum amount of surface noise. As a result, the vinyl records produced today are among the best every made in the nearly 140 year history of the medium.

Attachment to an artist – While most buyers of vinyl records are interested in hearing the music recorded on them, many collectors are interested in a particular artist. These collectors often seek to obtain a copy of every single or album by their favorite artists, including foreign versions that might have different song lineups, different covers, or some other visible difference from the version sold in their home country.

For collectors of very popular artists, such as Elvis Presley or the Beatles, this type of collecting could potentially result in a collection consisting of thousands of albums if the collector sought out every conceivable variation.

Types of Vinyl Records That People Collect

While most collectors are interested in albums, there’s a lot of interest in singles, too. In the early days of rock and roll, many artists released singles that were never issued on albums. A few artists released singles exclusively, and there are some genres of rock, such as rockabilly and 1960s garage rock, that are represented almost exclusively by 45 RPM singles.

While albums are popular with collectors, some genres are more popular than others. Rock and roll is far and away the most popular, followed by jazz, classical and soul and rhythm and blues. While there is a bit of interest in other areas of music, such as country or movie soundtracks, interest in those areas seems to be on the wane.

Although the most popular titles in jazz and classical music are still available today as current releases, collectors seek out original pressings, as they generally sound better than modern reissues. The reason for that is that many of the original tapes used on albums in the 1950s and 1960s are long lost, and current pressings are made from tapes that are several generations removed from the original tapes, resulting in a loss of sound quality.

Certain classical titles, usually stereo pressings from the late 1950s and early 1960s, regularly sell for hundreds of dollars. A number of jazz titles from the 1950s, particularly those on the legendary Blue Note label, sell for thousands of dollars in mint condition.

The specific types of music that people collect does tend to shift over time as collectors become older and new ones start the hobby. In the 1980s, rare rock and roll records from the 1950s brought premium prices, while many rare titles from the British Invasion era of the 1960s could be purchased at affordable prices. Now, as the collectors of 1950s rock have grown older, the prices for those recordings has dropped, while the prices of many 1960s rock LPs, particularly those of the Beatles, have risen dramatically in price.

While the kinds of vinyl records that interest collectors are often defined by the kind of music they offer, there are certain types of records within those genres of music that attract particular attention in the collector market:

Artists

collectors like artists People collect all kinds of vinyl records, and they collect them for all kinds of reasons. The primary reason, however, is an interest in a particular artist. Most collections start out based on interest in one artist in particular, though many collectors are interested in more than one artist. From there, many collectors seek to obtain a copy of every album or every record by that particular artist.

Each individual collector defines what will comprise their collection. Some might be happy with a copy of every one of the artist’s albums so they can listen to them. That comprises a basic collection.

Others might be interested in owning a copy of every album, plus a copy of every album from every country that released that album, plus a copy of every different variation (mono and stereo, or black vinyl and colored vinyl, for example) of that album known to exist.

Still other collectors might want simply anything related to their chosen artist, whether it’s an album, a single, an 8 track tape, a magazine, a gold record award, or an autographed copy of an album. There’s no single set of rules for what makes up a particular collection, but it almost always stems from an interest in a single artist.

By far, the most commonly collected artists are the Beatles and Elvis Presley. While Elvis isn’t as popular as he once was, rare and unusual Elvis records still sell for thousands of dollars. The Beatles’ popularity seems incapable of waning, and a surprising number of people who weren’t even born when the band broke up collect Beatles records.

Audiophile Records

audiophile recordsThe early days of stereo in the late 1950s introduced us to “audiophiles”, who were people who were interested in well-recorded sound and who went out of their way to purchase records that produced a realistic, you-are-there listening experience.

In the late 1950s, record companies made an effort to produce vinyl records that emphasized stereo separation in their recordings, and these recordings often in the classical genre, are highly sought out today.

Many jazz and rock records are also well-recorded, but the listening experience of these recordings was often marred by the fact that the records themselves may have been poorly pressed, either due to errors in mastering or in the use of poor quality vinyl in the pressings themselves.

Beginning in the late 1970s, a few small companies sought to correct this problem by licensing the master tapes of highly-regarded titles in the rock, jazz and classical genres and releasing them as high-quality pressings made with improved mastering techniques and better vinyl. These records, produced by such companies as Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and Quality Record Pressings, are collectively referred to today as “audiophile records.”

Another trend in audiophile records that became popular in the late 1970s was direct-to-disc recordings. These limited edition pressings were recorded live in the studio, direct to the cutting lathe, without the use of recording tape. Bypassing the tape completely resulted in a much better sounding finished product, though direct-disc recordings could not be mass produced since only a limited number of pressings can be manufactured from the finished lacquer disc produced by the cutting lathe.

In addition, few artists are interested in recording live in the studio without overdubs, and the need to record an entire side of an album without stopping makes the entire process rather time consuming. Most direct-disc recordings have been by jazz artists.

Audiophile records are usually intentionally produced in limited quantities, restricted by relatively limited demand in the marketplace and by time-limited contracts with the record companies.

Due to the limited-edition nature of the products and the extra care involved in their manufacture, mass-produced audiophile records tend to sell for a premium price when new, and often for substantially higher prices once they go out of print and are no longer available for general sale.

Bootleg Records

Bootleg records are vinyl records produced without the consent of either the artist or the artist’s record company. While bootleg recordings have existed since the 1930s, the modern industry started in 1969, when a few enterprising individuals discovered that the copyright laws then in effect in the United States did not prohibit anyone from releasing any previously unreleased material by any artist.

bootleg recordsThis led to the release of thousands of albums over the next five years by hundreds of different artists, usually in the form of previously unreleased studio material or live, “in concert” recordings, with the quality of these records varying dramatically based on the quality of the source tapes used.

Some bootleg records were sourced from tapes made from high-quality FM stereo broadcasts, while others were made from recordings made at live concerts using smuggled tape recorders or copies of copies of copies of studio recordings that had been passed around for years by collectors.

Several manufacturers became well-known for their quality bootleg records, including the Trademark of Quality and Amazing Kornyfone labels, both of which were operated out of California.

When bootleg records first appeared in the late 1960s, many mainstream stores carried them, but Congress quickly changed the copyright laws, which sent the manufacturers “underground.” After that, bootlegs, as they came to be known, were mostly sold via specialty stores or mail order, and by the end of the 1980s, the market for bootlegs as vinyl records effectively came to an end as compact discs took over that market..

Collectors are interested in bootleg records, as they often provide an opportunity to hear recordings that their favorite artists, for whatever reason, have declined to release legally. Many bootleg records were issued on colored vinyl, and all of them, by definition, were limited editions, making them fairly rare once they became unavailable. Certain titles on the Trademark of Quality label have sold for more than $1500, and many routinely sell for $100-$300 today.

Colored Vinyl Records

Most of the vinyl records ever pressed are black in color. While the vinyl compound normally used to manufacture records isn’t naturally black, it can vary in color and all of the variations are relatively unattractive. Pigmentation is added to make the records black, and the reason that most records come in that color is because it’s the cheapest way to make them.

Vinyl records have been occasionally manufactured using colors other than black over the years, and when RCA first introduced the 45 RPM record in the late 1940s, their original intention was to use different colors for records in different genres. Country music records were pressed with green vinyl, and classical records were red. This didn’t last long, and within a year or so, RCA was pressing black records, just like everyone else.

colored vinyl recordsIn the early 1960s, Columbia Records, then the nation’s largest record company, began occasionally pressing records on colored vinyl for radio station use. Radio stations often received dozens of records per month with the hopes that they’d play them, and the record company decided that anything that drew attention to their product would be helpful. Columbia and associated labels pressed hundreds of colored vinyl 45 RPM records in the 1960s, representing artists as diverse as the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, Andy Williams, and Eydie Gorme.

In the late 1970s, a few record companies began pressing copies of some of their best-selling titles on colored vinyl as limited edition releases, which sold for a premium price. Titles by Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Rush, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and dozens of others became available for a short time on vinyl in a wide variety of colors – blue, red, orange, yellow, white, purple, green and even multicolored “splatter” vinyl.

While collectors liked these pressings, they didn’t sell well enough to justify continuing to press them this way on a regular basis, though record companies have continued to occasionally offer colored vinyl records as limited-edition releases. With very few exceptions, colored vinyl records will generally sell for more money than their black vinyl counterparts. They often sound as good or better than black vinyl pressings, due to fewer impurities in the vinyl, which would be visible in a colored vinyl disc.

Many collectors will purchase both a black vinyl and a colored vinyl pressing of the same album and use the black one to play. They’ll just put the colored vinyl copy on the shelf as part of their collection.

Monaural Records

Prior to 1957, all records were monaural, or “mono” as they popularly came to be known. All of the information recorded on the disc was contained in a single channel of information, and the records were intended to be played on a hi-fi system with a single speaker. In 1957, stereo records were introduced, offering two channels of information, and providing a more realistic listening experience.

Stereo records required a special stylus on the phonograph, a stereo amplifier, and two speakers for reproduction. Stereo records could not be played on a turntable or record player that was designed for monaural records without being damaged. Buyers who went shopping for albums at their local record store would have to not only look for the title they wanted, but also for the format, mono or stereo, that their own playback system required. Stereo records cost more than mono records, and retailers hated having to stock multiple variations of the same titles, as it added to inventory costs.

In the late 1950s, mono records outsold stereo records by a ratio of about 50:1. Over the next decade, however, that ratio changed, and by 1967, stereo records were outselling mono records by a similar ratio.

mono vinyl recordsIn the early days of stereo, most amplifiers were powered via vacuum tubes, which were relatively expensive. Starting in the early 1960s, these tube amplifiers were slowly replaced in the market by transistorized, “solid-state” equipment, much of which was imported from Japan. As the equipment became more affordable and more widely available, more buyers began to buy stereo records instead of their monaural versions.

Retailers of vinyl records hated the fact that they had to stock most titles in both mono and stereo, and in the early days of stereo records, that format was often available on a special order basis only. By the late 1960s, a switch had taken place and as fewer people were buying mono records, they eventually became special order items themselves.

It took about ten years for the sales of stereo records to overtake the mono versions, but by 1968, the sales of mono albums in the United States had dwindled to the point where the record companies no longer regarded them as commercially viable. The last mono releases by major record labels in the U.S. came in mid-1968, and some titles by major artists released at that time, such as the first three albums by The Doors and the first two by Jimi Hendrix, are highly sought after today in their mono versions.

Every since the decline of mono records in the late 1960s, collectors of artists who were issuing records at that time have sought out the mono pressings of their albums, which became increasingly scarce as the decade went on. Mono albums by the Beatles from 1964, for instance, are fairly common today, but their two releases from 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, are both quite rare in mono.

In the past five years, a number of mono titles by major artists that were originally released in the late 1960s have been reissued, but collector interest remains strong for original pressings.

Original Pressing Records

While there are exceptions to this rule, original pressings of a particular album often sound better than later issues. This has a lot to do with the tapes used to master the record, as magnetic tape tends to deteriorate over time, both from age and from repeated use. With popular albums from the 1950s and 1960s, the master tapes have often been archived, with current pressings made from copies of those tapes or even copies of copies. In some cases, the original tapes are damaged to the point of no longer being useful and in a surprising number of cases, the master tapes are simply lost.

original pressing recordsWhen the tapes aren’t useful or are no longer available, record companies have to find alternative sources to master their records and the result is usually a record that doesn’t sound as good as the original pressing. Because of this, collectors are often willing to pay a premium for original pressings of classic or highly regarded albums, as they sound better than later pressings.

There are some exceptions to this, particularly if the album was originally release by a record company that wasn’t known for using quality vinyl, but as a rule, original pressings will sell for higher prices than later issues of the same title.

Picture Disc Records

Picture disc records were introduced as somewhat of a novelty in the early 1930s, as an attempt to attract the attention of the buyer by way of changing the appearance of the record itself. A picture disc is a record that appears to have an image or graphic on its very surface.

Picture discs are produced by taking a round graphic or image and laminating it with colored vinyl using a traditional record stamper. While the resulting product may look like a photograph, it will play on a turntable just like other vinyl records, though the sound quality may not be as good as traditional pressings.

Picture discs first appeared on a few 78 RPM records in the 1930s, but weren’t particularly common at that time, probably due to the difficulty in manufacturing them. A company called Vogue Records brought them back in the 1940s, and every record Vogue produced was a 78 RPM picture disc. Financial issues soon forced the company out of business, and picture discs disappeared until the early 1970s.

picture disc recordsBy the 1970s, production methods had improved, and in 1977, picture disc albums returned, though they were usually issued only as promotional items. As some of these promo-only titles began to change hands among collectors for sizable sums of money, the major record companies began to issue titles commercially, usually as limited edition releases.

Titles issued as promotional releases in the 1970s include Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Willie Nelson’s Stardust. Commercial releases from that era include The Beatles’ Abbey Road and the debut album by Boston.

While there were a lot of titles released in the late 1970s in this format, consumers balked at paying prices that were 50% higher than those of regular pressings for records that were relatively noisy and often prone to warping. Since that time, American companies have only occasionally released picture discs, though the format has remained popular in Great Britain all along, particularly for singles.

While most picture discs are round, a few have been issued over the years cut to unusual shapes. The grooves on the records are round, of course, so the records are still playable, but shaped picture discs, while infrequently issued, are usually popular with collectors.

Promotional Records

white label promo recordsPromotional records are those created to generate sales of a particular album, usually be being pressed especially for radio use. In the 1950s, a few record companies began to send copies of records to radio stations, usually with special labels that were marked “promotion copy – not for sale.” These vinyl records were marked this way in order to distinguish them from the inventory that was intended to be sold to the public.

After a few years, the industry more or less settled on a standard practice of using white labels to distinguish their promotional issues, and such copies of a particular record are often referred to by collectors as “white label promos.” Promotional copies of any record were usually limited to a few hundred copies, where commercial, or “stock” copies of an album might eventually number in the millions.

Because promotional copies of vinyl records are relatively rare, collectors will often pay a premium for them. As a bonus, promotional copies of any record are usually pressed before the stock copies, so they’ll often sound as good, or better, than the copies sold in the stores. In some cases in the 1980s, promotional copies of albums were actually pressed on high-quality vinyl that was better than that used for for stock copies.

Occasionally, record companies will press special editions of a single or an album for radio use only, with no stock equivalent. These “promo-only” releases are usually sought out by collectors and they have a tendency to sell for prices that reflect their relative scarcity.

Sealed Records

sealed recordsUntil the mid-1960s, records sold at retail in the United States were not shrink-wrapped at the factory to protect the vinyl prior to purchase. In fact, in the 1950s, many record stores allowed customers to listen to a record prior to purchase in order to determine if they wanted to buy it.

Problems with theft and damage led to the introduction of protective plastic packaging for albums. Initially, this packaging consisted of a loose-fitting plastic bag that was heat-sealed, but later the industry switched over to tight-fitting shrink wrap.

By shrink wrapping their records, stores were able to assure buyers that the product they were buying was new and untouched by human hands since it left the factory. Of course, most records purchased at stores were immediately opened and played by the buyers as soon as they got home from the store.

Today, many collectors of vinyl records will pay a premium, and sometimes a substantial one, for an example of an out of print title that is still sealed in the original shrink wrap, in order to own an example of an unopened, never-been-played record by their favorite artist. The amount of the premium that one might have to pay in order to acquire a “still sealed” example of any album will vary according to how hard the album is to find in general and how much demand there is for that particular artist.

A still sealed copy of an easy listening album by Ray Conniff from the 1960s, for example, will likely sell for no more today than it did when new. On the other hand, a sealed original 1960s pressing of some titles by the Beatles have been known to sell for thousands of dollars.

As a general rule, a sealed copy of any album will sell for a minimum of twice as much as a used copy in mint condition.

Singles

45 RPM singleA lot of collectors are interested in collecting singles, whether they’re the common 45 RPM variety or the less common 78 RPM version. Many music buyers started out buying the songs they heard on the radio as singles before graduating to buying albums.

Part of the reason for that was price; singles are a lot cheaper than albums. Although the market for 45 RPM singles has mostly gone away in the age of compact discs, a lot of collectors are interested in the format.

A surprising amount of recorded music to have been released in the past 60 years was only released as a single. Many of these are obscure releases from small, independent record companies, and these records usually fall in the genre of rockabilly, country, and 1960s-era garage rock, where a band scraped up a bit of money, recorded a single song, and pressed a few hundred copies for friends and relatives. Some of these obscure singles sell for thousands of dollars today.

Another aspect of collecting singles is that many of them were issued with picture sleeves, which usually depicted a photo of the artist along with the song title. Over the years, many of these sleeves have been lost or they might have only been issued with the first few thousand copies of a particular title. Because of this, many picture sleeves from the 1950s and 1960s are quite rare today, with many of them commanding prices in the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

Even picture sleeves by popular artists such as the Beatles or Elvis Presley, while not rare in the absolute sense, can sell for quite a bit of money due to collector demand exceeding supply. While some collectors are interested in singles exclusively, most collect both albums and singles.

Soundtrack Records

soundtrack recordsWhile not as popular as they were a few decades ago, soundtrack albums are a niche in which a few collectors of vinyl records specialize. Most of them are interested in the music of specific composers, many of whom did the bulk of their work writing scores for films and stage musicals. Composers such as Bernard Hermann, Alfred Newman and Max Steiner have long been popular with collectors.

The soundtrack albums that tend to attract the most attention are those by well-known composers for films that weren’t popular with the public. This usually led to a relatively short time in print for the soundtrack album, making them hard to find a few years later.

The soundtrack albums for popular films, which were likely to sell well, such as The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady, on the other hand, are quite common as used records and don’t draw much attention on the collector market. On the other hand, soundtracks for obscure foreign films, many in the horror genre, are quite popular.

Perhaps the most valuable soundtrack album ever was the 1954 release of The Caine Mutiny, featuring a score by Max Steiner, which was withdrawn from the market shortly after (or possibly shortly before) its commercial release. Only a handful of copies are known to exist, and copies have changed hands for as much as $6000 in recent sales.

Collecting Vinyl Records Conclusion

As with any other area of collecting, there’s no set of rules regarding what kinds of vinyl records people collect or why any particular individual collects them. The one common factor, of course, is the music, and the love of music is what usually drives people to the hobby in the first place. One of the nice things about record collecting, unlike stamp or coin collecting, for instance, is that vinyl records can actually be played and enjoyed as they were intended to be enjoyed – to reproduce the music itself. Any other enjoyment that one might derive from collecting vinyl records is a bonus.

Click here to shop for vinyl records in our store. (new window)

 

Vintage Vinyl Records – 9 Reasons Why Collectors Like Them

Vintage Vinyl Records

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

vintage vinyl recordsAfter a twenty year period of relative scarcity and public indifference, sales of vinyl records are back and have been increasing annually for more than a decade. Nearly all new releases by popular artists are now available in vinyl format, as well as in downloadable form or as compact discs.

While sales of new vinyl records are increasing as more people become familiar with the format, buyers are also turning towards vintage vinyl records as a way of adding to their record collections. In fact, there are currently more than five million records for sale on eBay, and most of those are vintage vinyl records.

The appeal of new records would be immediately obvious – you get a pristine copy of your favorite artist’s newest release. But why would people want to buy vintage vinyl records? What is the appeal of vintage vinyl records to the average buyer or collector?

In this article, we’ll explain why so many buyers are interested in vintage vinyl records and why, for many collectors vintage vinyl records are the only kinds of records that they will buy.

Browse by Category

Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

Sound Quality
Extra Features
Different and/or Better Artwork
Different Versions
Availability
Increasing Scarcity
Collectability
Price Advantages
New Discoveries
Vintage Vinyl Records Conclusion

Featured Items

Click here to view our selection of vintage vinyl records.

Sound Quality

There are many reasons why the average record buyer or collector would be interested in vintage vinyl records, and we’ll get to all of them in this article.

Any reason for preferring vintage vinyl records over new ones is valid, of course; buyers are free to buy whatever they personally like. For many buyers, however, the main reason for buying vintage vinyl records rather than new ones is the sound quality.

The source material for nearly all commercially released recordings is magnetic tape. While a lot of recordings made in the past 30 years were made using digital tape, which can be copied repeatedly without degradation, most of the recordings ever made (and many new ones) used analog tape.

simon and garfunkel vintage vinyl recordsAnalog tape does not age well; over time the sound can degrade due to improper storage. Poor storage can cause the coating on the tape that contains the recording to flake off, rendering the tape useless.

Of course, copies of analog tape can be made, just as with digital tape.

Unlike digital tape, however, the sound quality of analog tape gets worse with each subsequent copy. A copy of an original tape will not sound as good as the original. A copy of that copy will sound worse, and so on.

The appeal of vintage vinyl records in this regard is that original pressings of albums were made from tapes that were new at the time the records were pressed. Newly-pressed copies of those same records may be mastered using tapes that are copies of copies of copies.

In the case of some older albums from the 1950s and 1960s, the original master tapes may no longer even exist, and new pressings of these older albums may have been mastered from the best source that’s currently available. While those sources may be quite good, they’re likely not as good as the tapes that were used to press the albums when they were first released 40 or 50 years ago.

While current record manufacturing techniques are quite refined and the quality of the vinyl used in modern pressings is quite good and is capable of producing exceptional sound, the final product is only going to sound good if the record was mastered from a good source.

In the case of some classic albums, the record companies have taken good care of the original master tapes, and current pressings of albums by a lot of artists from the 1950s and 1960s sound just fine. Albums by the Beatles, for example, still sound great, as EMI Records has taken good care of the tapes over the years.

In other cases, the results can vary widely. Columbia Records did not take particularly good care of the master tapes for Simon and Garfunkel, for example, and even though their albums stayed in print for many years after their original release in the 1960s, their albums tended to sound worse and worse over time.

If you’re buying vintage vinyl records and get early pressings of whatever albums you’re seeking, you’ll know that the records were mastered from tapes that were new at the time the records were made and that the tapes used to master the albums were not copies of copies or copies.

In many cases, vintage vinyl records simply sound better than new ones.

Extra Features

vintage vinyl records with poster
A copy of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon with one of the posters that came with it.

Many classic albums are again available in the vinyl format, making it easy for buyers to grab albums by the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, or the Beatles. With the rise of Internet marketing, you can even have new copies of albums these and other artists delivered to your door.

While those new pressings have their advantages, many of them will not include the extra features that once accompanied albums. It was once fairly common for albums to include such extras as postcards, lyric inserts, custom inner sleeves with liner notes or lyrics, or even postcards.

Here is a partial list of albums that originally included a poster when they were new:

  • Beatles – The Beatles (aka The White Album)
  • David Bowie – Space Oddity
  • Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
  • Jimi Hendrix – Smash Hits
  • Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  • George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
  • Cream – Goodbye
  • Grand Funk – Live Album
  • Ricky Nelson – More Songs by Ricky
  • Jimmy Clanton – Jimmy’s Happy/Jimmy’s Blue

Other vintage vinyl records included different sorts of inserts. The 1977 Kiss album Love Gun, for instance, included a special insert that could be assembled to form a cardboard gun. The second album by Country Joe and the Fish included a board game. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon came with two posters and two stickers.

We’re an American Band by Grand Funk included a set of stickers and the record was pressed on yellow vinyl, as well. Tim Buckley’s Greetings from L.A. had a section of the cover that was removable and could be used as a postcard. This was also true of Duty Now for the Future by Devo.

the who - live at leeds
A copy of Live at Leeds by The Who, with the inserts that were originally included.

Live at Leeds by The Who came with a set of 12 different paper inserts, including a reproduction of their contract to perform at Woodstock.

While vintage vinyl records often included these sorts of interesting extras, most recent reissues do not, usually because of cost concerns. That was also true years ago; many vintage vinyl records that included such things as posters often included them only for a short time after the record was originally released, making them somewhat scarce today.

Even original copies of vintage vinyl records that did include such extras as posters can be hard to find complete today, as many of those posters were removed from the album cover and hung on the buyers’ walls. Eventually, those posters all came down from the walls, but they rarely found their way back into their album covers.

Part of the fun of shopping for vintage vinyl records is to find those albums that came with extras and trying to find a copy that’s complete.

Different and/or Better Artwork

bob dylan = blonde on blondeAlbum art is another reason why a buyer might prefer vintage vinyl records to new ones. Of course, an album, by sheer advantage of larger size, will provide better artwork than a compact disc, and certainly better than a download, which comes with no artwork at all.

But there are advantages of vintage vinyl records over new pressings when it comes to artwork, as well. We’ve previously discussed how master tapes can be lost, forcing record companies to settle for not-as-good reproductions. The same is true of album artwork.

Artwork gets created, and then stored in file cabinets, and sometimes the artwork in those file cabinets gets misplaced, thrown away or accidentally destroyed.

When that happens, new artwork has to be created, usually by using an existing album as source material. This can result in new pressings with album covers that have poor quality artwork. The cover art may be the wrong color, or the images may be blurrier than they were on the original.

A good example of this is Bob Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. At some time in the past, the original artwork for the album was lost, and copies of the album made since the 1970s have a blurry, faded photo of Bob Dylan on the cover. Collectors of vintage vinyl records would likely prefer to find an original pressing that had better artwork. In the case of Blonde on Blonde, original 1966 pressings included a photo of actress Claudia Cardinale on the inside of the cover which was later removed for legal reasons.

Most albums sell best when they’re first released, and as sales tapered, record companies would often change cover art to save money. In some cases, vintage vinyl records were released with gatefold covers that were eliminated in later pressings due to cost concerns.

The album that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks made before joining Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham/Nicks, is a good example. When first released in 1973, the album had a gatefold cover and then went out of print due to poor sales.

Another example is the 1970 LP Let It Be by the Beatles. That album was originally issued with a gatefold cover, but the album went out of print in the mid-1970s. When it was reissued in the 1980s, the album was released without the gatefold cover. Collectors of vintage vinyl records will likely prefer the original version.

The 1971 LP L.A. Woman by the Doors had a cover with a cellophane “window” on the front with the images of band members on it. The yellow paper inner sleeve gave the clear cellophane a yellow appearance. Newer pressings of this LP simply have the image of the band printed on the front cover against a yellow background.

A few years later, after the duo became famous, the album was reissued, but without the gatefold cover. There are many similar examples, and while some current reissues of such albums do include the original cover art, collectors tend to prefer the gatefold covers that often came with vintage vinyl records.

Different Versions

santana abraxasWhile a surprising number of classic albums are now available again in the LP format, they’re not necessarily available in all of the different versions that may have previously been available. Vintage vinyl records released between 1958 and 1968, for example, were usually released in both mono and stereo. In the early to mid-1970s, many albums were also briefly available as four-channel quadraphonic pressings.

Mono and stereo versions of the same album usually had different mixes, and the two albums often sounded considerably different from one another. Sometimes, the mono version of a particular record might lack backing vocals that could be heard on the stereo version, such as in “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by the Monkees or “Blue Jay Way” by the Beatles.

Sometimes, the mono and stereo versions of the same album might feature different versions of one or more songs. The quadraphonic pressing of Volunteers by the Jefferson Airplane has different versions of several songs from the stereo version. This is also true of The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East, a 1971 live album that has two different versions of songs on the quadraphonic version than those found on the stereo version. One of those songs, “Whipping Post, takes up all of side four!

Record companies discontinued releasing albums in both mono and stereo in 1968. Over the previous three or four years, more people had been purchasing stereo turntables and began to show a preference for stereo records over mono records. When sales of mono LPs reached the point where making them as a separate product from stereo records was no longer economically feasible, record companies discontinued them.

Since the elimination of mono records in 1968, most albums that were originally available in both stereo and mono have only been available in stereo versions. There have been a few mono reissues in recent years of titles by prominent artists, but for the most part, collectors who are interested in having albums by their favorite artists from that era in both mono and stereo are going to have to find the mono version by buying vintage vinyl records.

Some vintage vinyl records were originally available as limited edition colored vinyl pressings or picture discs. While it’s true that some of these records have been reissued this way, most vintage vinyl records that were originally sold that way are not available in those formats as new pressings today.

Availability

the j's with jamie
One of thousands of vintage vinyl records that you cannot purchase new today.

Sometimes, the reason people are looking for vintage vinyl records is a simple one – a matter of availability. While there are lots of albums currently available in the vinyl format as new releases (one large retailer currently lists 19,802 new vinyl titles in stock) that hardly represents the entirety of what collectors or music buyers might be seeking.

When companies choose to reissue older albums, they’re interested in sales. If they aren’t sure that they can sell several thousand copies of a given title, then they’re not going to spend the money to press the records.

That’s fine, if you’re interested in albums by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, or Rush, or Led Zeppelin. But if you’re interested in any one of a thousand other artists, you may be out of luck and vintage vinyl records will likely present your only opportunity to buy that music in the vinyl format.

Fortunately, not all artists are equally collectible, and finding vintage vinyl records by the majority of artists isn’t that difficult, nor is it that expensive. It would be nice if every album ever released was currently available for purchase as new vinyl, but market economics make that highly unlikely. If you’re a fan of Rosemary Clooney, Martin Denny, or Gary Lewis and the Playboys, you’ll likely have to settle for vintage vinyl records.

Increasing Scarcity

It’s a mistake to assume that if something is readily available, it will always be readily available. That’s certainly the case with vintage vinyl records. There was a time, not all that many years ago, when one could usually find boxes of records at yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores.

la woman doors
A copy of L.A. Woman by the Doors with the original “window” cover

While vintage vinyl records still occasionally show up in such places, they do so far less frequently and in far smaller quantities. It’s been several years since we’ve seen vintage vinyl records for sale at any yard sale. While we do still occasionally see them at thrift stores, we don’t see them as often, and certain genres, such as jazz and rock, rarely turn up there anymore.

There was a time when we used to see albums by Led Zeppelin or the Beatles at thrift stores, for example, but these days, everything seems to be easy listening. Part of the reason is that people who have such records usually don’t want to donate them to charity; they’d rather give them to friends or family members or sell them on eBay.

Buyers are aware of this, and they know that you’ll have better chances of finding the vintage vinyl records that you want if you buy them now, rather than waiting until later. We know many buyers who would rather spend their limited funds on vintage vinyl records than new ones, simply because the older titles they’re looking for may not be available a year or two from now.

Collectability

introducing the beatles
Some vintage vinyl records will always be collectible

As with any other limited commodity, people collect records, just as people collect stamps, coins, or Picasso paintings. While there are certainly new releases that are collectible, particularly as many new releases are limited editions, most record collectors have collections that consist largely of vintage vinyl records.

That’s certainly going to be the case with anyone who collects any major artist – the Beatles, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, or the Rolling Stones, for example. These are artists that are well-established and who released their first records decades ago.

Collectors who are interested in those artists and others of the same era will almost always be interested in obtaining original pressings of at least some of those records. Sure, you can buy the entire Beatles catalog, right now, in the form of new, still sealed records.

But purchasing or owning a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that was pressed and released in 2018 isn’t the same thing as owning a 1967 original pressing. There’s an indefinable quality to vintage vinyl records that appeals to collectors, and we’ve met many collectors who were interested in owning original copies of rare albums, even if they were in poor condition.

They might have a new copy to play, but the still like having original copies of vintage vinyl records on their shelf and they might very well have a beat up 1967 pressing of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the shelf, right next to a new one that they bought last year.

Price Advantages

Sometimes, vintage vinyl records can be a bargain

There can certainly be price advantages to buying vintage vinyl records rather than buying new ones. For the most part, second hand records will cost less than new ones. A new copy of just about any album is likely to be priced at $20 or more, where used records can often be purchased, even in stores, for less than $10, and sometimes for $5 or less, depending on title.

Furthermore, it’s still possible to buy vintage vinyl records at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales, though as we mentioned above, vintage vinyl records are less common in such places than they used to be.

It goes without saying that collectible vintage vinyl records are not going to be less expensive than new ones. A mint original pressing of that Sgt. Pepper LP by the Beatles is certainly going to cost a lot more than a new copy of a current reissue.

That’s true of many collectible albums, but the truth is that most of the records ever made are not particularly collectible, and records that are not particularly collectible usually comprise the bulk of anyone’s record collection.

We personally own about 2000 albums, and while we do own a number of rarities, we also own hundreds of vintage vinyl records that would likely sell for less than $5 in any marketplace. That’s not to say that we don’t like those records, but not all records, not even all good ones, are valuable.

That might be because they’re records that are largely unknown, records by artists who have mostly been forgotten, or albums that sold so well when they were new that no copies of them are particularly valuable today.

If you’re buying collectible records, you’ll pay more for original pressings than you will for new ones. But if you’re just buying music in general, buying vintage vinyl records will likely save you a lot of money over buying new ones, and that’s assuming that new copies of the titles you’re seeking are even available.

New Discoveries

vintage vinyl records moog
You might find new and interesting things.

A final advantage of vintage vinyl records over new ones is the ability to affordably discover new music by artists you might otherwise not have heard.

With the price of new vinyl records averaging about $20 per title, few buyers are likely to grab a title by an unknown artist on a lark, just to see how they sound. Most buyers don’t have enough disposable income to buy records by artists with which they are unfamiliar, so they stick with what they know.

But as we have previously mentioned, most vintage vinyl records are priced affordably, and any well-stocked store that sells second hand records will likely have hundreds or even thousands of affordably priced vintage vinyl records.

The same is true for thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales. When you find records that are for sale at more affordable prices, you are in a better position to buy something with which you aren’t familiar just to see if you like it.

We’ve purchased countless records over the years that were unknown to us at the time, but had covers that suggested that they might be interesting and prices that were reasonable. Some turned out to be great finds and others not so much. But that’s part of the fun of buying vintage vinyl records – you never know what you’re going to find and sometimes, you end up discovering new artists and genres of music that you might never have bought new.

Vintage Vinyl Records Conclusion

There are reasons for why people buy anything and that applies to cars, houses and vintage vinyl records. While there are lots of good reasons to buy new ones, there are also a lot of compelling reasons to buy vintage vinyl records.

Vintage vinyl records are often more affordable than new ones. There are thousands of titles that aren’t available new anymore and are only available for purchase as vintage vinyl records.

There are many cases where vintage vinyl records offer better sound than newer releases, and that’s particularly true of older recordings where the master tapes may be damaged. Some vintage vinyl records may have originally been sold with posters, booklets or other extra features that newer reissues don’t include.

And finally, vintage vinyl records can offer you the opportunity to find and discover new music and artists that you previously knew little about.

There are times to buy new records, and you’d certainly want to do that if the album in question is a new release. After all, there aren’t going to be any “vintage” versions of an album that came out for the first time last month. But for many buyers, vintage vinyl records offer a lot of advantages over new ones.

While we do have a few new titles in our store, most of the records that we sell are vintage vinyl records.

Click here to view our selection of vintage vinyl records.

Picture Discs – Records With an Image

Picture Discs

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

picture disc recordsPicture discs are records that appear to have pictures, images, or graphics on their playing surface. While most phonograph records are black, except for the label in the center, picture discs may display a photograph or artwork over the entire playing surface.

Picture discs look like round photographs, though unlike photographs, they can also play music.

From a manufacturing standpoint, picture discs consist of a solid core, made of plastic, paper, or metal, that has a paper image placed over it. The core and photo are then covered with clear vinyl and the grooves are pressed on top of them using traditional record presses.

This process necessarily uses less vinyl in the grooves than standard records, and often yields less-than-optimal sound quality. Because of their substandard sound quality, most picture discs are produced as limited edition products, generally targeted at collectors, and are intended to supplement the supply of standard black vinyl records.

Browse by Category

Click any of the links below to jump to each category:

History of Picture Discs
Vogue Picture Discs
Children’s Picture Discs
Cardboard Picture Discs
Picture Disc Albums
Prototype Picture Discs
Bootleg Picture Discs
Interview Picture Discs
Shaped Picture Discs
Picture Discs Today

Featured Items

Click here to view our selection of picture discs.

History of Picture Discs

jimmie_rodgers_picture_disc2While picture discs of albums date from the early 1970s, the technology isn’t new. Postcards laminated with playable records appeared during the first decade of the 20th century.

As these postcards were constructed differently from later versions, they are not normally considered as picture discs in the contemporary sense. The first commercial examples of picture discs using standard core-photo-vinyl construction date from the early 1930s, where they appeared in the form of ten inch, 78 RPM singles using a paper core with a shellac playing surface.

One of the earliest commercially released picture discs was a 78 RPM record by country singer Jimmie Rodgers – Cowhand’s Last Ride/Blue Yodel No. 12, released in 1931 by RCA Records.

The record is quite rare today, and sells for several thousand dollars when it turns up for sale. These early picture disc examples were quite fragile, and one rarely encounters a copy of the Jimmie Rodgers record that doesn’t have cracks or chips in the playing surface.

Early examples of picture discs had numerous problems – they were hard to manufacture, had a higher than average defect rate and suffered from poor sound quality. The sound quality issue wasn’t all that noticeable in the era of 78 RPM records, however, as most players were also of poor quality and a relatively high noise level during playback was pretty common for all 78 RPM records.

The various problems associated with the manufacture of picture discs, including the higher manufacturing costs, made them a relative rarity in the marketplace during the 1930s. During the Depression, few people had much in the way of disposable income, and the higher retail price of picture disc records made them a tough sell in a depressed economy. As the 1940s arrived, wartime rationing made producing anything but a standard black record impossible, as materials of any kind were relatively scarce through the end of 1945.

Vogue Picture Discs

example of vogue picture discsShortly after the end of World War II, a company called Vogue Records, from Detroit, Michigan, started a record label with the unique business model of selling only picture discs.

Their product was of a much higher quality than earlier pressings, and included much better sound quality than had been seen with the format.

Part of this had to do with the company’s manufacturing process, which used a solid aluminum core which was covered with a playing surface that was not too different from modern vinyl.

Unlike RCA’s early picture discs, which featured black and white artwork, Vogue’s products used eye-catching, bright, colorful graphics, making the product difficult to ignore in the record store.

Vogue was only in business for a year or so, releasing roughly 70 different titles during that time. In addition to those 70 titles, a number of “prototype” examples of unreleased Vogue titles have surfaced over the years. While Vogue picture discs were reasonably popular then and remain so today with collectors, several factors hindered the company’s success:

Their records cost more to produce than that of their competitors, and thus carried a retail price that was almost twice the price of their competitors’ products.

The company’s roster of talent was modest, and they didn’t have any big stars signed to the label. Most of the best-known recording artists of the day were locked into contracts that required them to record exclusively for their record labels, and Vogue found it difficult to sign artists who were likely to have hits.

The company’s location in Detroit, far from the music centers of New York or Los Angeles, likely contributed to the problem with a lack of talent at the label.

While Vogue Records was in business for a short time, their picture discs are surprisingly popular among collectors today, with several titles regularly selling for more than $500 on the collector’s market. Several unreleased prototypes have sold for as much as $8000.

Their appeal today is much as it was in the 1940s – they are attractive records offering colorful examples of period art and music in a single package. Due to their high manufacturing quality, quite a few Vogue picture discs survive today, and more common titles can be purchased for as little as $10 or so.

The demise of Vogue in 1947 more or less brought an end to the commercial manufacture of picture discs, at least those intended for the adult market. Nearly 25 years would pass before a record company again attempted to sell picture discs as anything other than a novelty item for children.

Children’s Picture Discs

Voco children's picture discWhile we are not aware of any picture discs for the adult market that were offered for sale in the 1950s, we do know of several companies that marketed them to children during this time.

Voco Records and the Record Guild of America produced picture discs of children’s music using a rather odd format – their records were seven inches in size, like a standard 45 RPM single, but they played at 78 RPM.

While not all of the company’s titles were released as picture discs, many of them were. To save costs, these picture discs were manufactured without a reinforcing core, simply laminating a playing surface over a printed image, which was probably cardboard.

A few Record Guild of America titles survive today and they tend to sell for modest prices on the collector’s market, probably due to the fact that they were products for children, leaving many surviving examples in poor condition.

Another company called Voco Records made picture discs for children in the 1950s. These were seven inches in size and appear to have been manufactured at both 45 and 78 RPM speeds. Not much is known about this company, other than the fact that they were made in Toronto, Canada. The few examples we’ve seen were quite attractive and colorful, and reminiscent of the Vogue Records from a decade earlier.

red raven children's picture discOne other unusual variant on picture discs for children that appeared in the 1950s was a product called Red Raven Movie Records. These were picture discs that had a series of 16 still images printed on the disc around the record’s perimeter.

Each of the images was one frame of a short animation sequence that repeated every time the record (which played at 78 RPM) made a rotation on the phonograph. In order to view the animation, a small device with 16 mirrors had to be placed on the spindle of the phonograph.

Red Raven’s picture discs were short-lived, probably due to the high cost of manufacturing. After a short time of making picture discs, the company cut costs by producing colored vinyl records with an oversized label. The labels had the animation sequence printed on them, though the playable part of the record was simply colored vinyl.

Red Raven records are not to difficult to find today, though the mirrored device that’s necessary to view the animation sequence is quite hard to find. Without it, you’re just looking at an interesting design that’s spinning around while the record plays.

Cardboard Picture Discs

motown cardboard picture discIn the late 1960s, there was a short-lived revival of sorts regarding picture discs for the teen market. In 1967, Motown Records released a set of 16 different 7” 45 RPM cardboard picture discs through Topps, the company that was then best known for producing baseball cards.

These picture discs had a photo of the artist on one side, which was the only side with a playing surface. The other side had text information about the artist and the song.

These are the only picture discs of this type that we’ve seen that were sold at retail during the 1960s.

Artists and titles in this series were:

#1 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Baby Love
#2 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Stop In The Name Of Love
#3 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
#4 The Temptations – My Girl
#5 The Four Tops – I Can’t Help Myself
#6 Marvin Gaye – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
#7 Martha & The Vandellas – Dancing In The Street
#8 Stevie Wonder – Fingertips – Part 2
#9 Four Tops – Baby I Need Your Loving
#10 Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
#11 Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Shop Around
#12 The Marvelettes – Please Mr. Postman
#13 The Temptations – The Way You Do The Things You Do
#14 Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – Love Is Like A Heat Wave
#15 Diana Ross & The Supremes – Come See About Me
#16 Diana Ross & The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You

A couple of years later, cardboard picture discs were given away free by Post Cereals as an incentive to get customers to buy the cereal. It was common practice at that time to include a small toy or trinket in a cereal box as an incentive, but these records were actually printed on the back of the box itself.

archies cereal picture discAdding to the incentive to buy was the fact that there were usually several different records available, which were numbered on the label.

This gave buyers reason to purchase more than one box of cereal. Over the years, we’ve seen titles by the Monkees, the Archies, the Jackson 5ive, and Bobby Sherman.

There were usually four different picture discs available for these promotions, and most of the titles included multiple songs. While the sound quality was poor, the opportunity to get four or five songs by a popular artist at no extra charge when buying a box of cereal was a pretty good deal.

A surprising number of these cardboard cereal box picture discs survive today and they tend to sell for relatively modest ($10 or so) prices. There are exceptions, however – surviving examples that included the complete cereal box with the record still attached have sold for upwards of $100.

Picture Disc Albums

curved air picture discAfter a period of a quarter century in which no picture discs appeared on the market for adult audiences, the first “modern” picture discs began to appear in 1971.

The first of which was the debut album by British progressive rock band Curved Air, Air Conditioning. This album, released as picture discs only in the United Kingdom, was certainly eye-catching, though it, like its predecessors, suffered from poor sound quality.

Due to complaints from buyers, the picture disc edition was limited to a pressing of 10,000 copies, at which time it was replaced by a standard, black vinyl edition.

In 1973, a second LP picture disc appeared, again from the UK, entitled Magical Love by the progressive rock band Saturnalia. This disc also had a holographic label in the center that was attached using glue. Over time, most of these have fallen off, and finding a copy of the Saturnalia disc with the label intact these days is somewhat difficult. Again, these picture discs were plagued by sound problems, and didn’t sell particularly well. As far as we know, that particular album was never reissued on vinyl, making it possibly a picture disc-only release.

In the late 1970s, American record companies began to send out picture discs as promotional items to programmers at radio stations. These picture discs were largely produced by an independent company called Fitzgerald-Hartley, under contract to the major record labels. Most of the picture discs produced in the United States in the late 1970s carry a Fitzgerald-Hartley “PicDisc” logo.

You can see a short video of picture discs being manufactured below. (Caution!: Video includes loud music!)

These promotional picture discs, unlike most records sent to radio stations, weren’t really intended for airplay, as the sound quality wasn’t good enough for that purpose. They were eye catching, however, and record companies hoped they’d get enough attention from radio station personnel to get the records played on the radio.

It isn’t known as to whether they actually helped in that regard, but these picture discs, including titles by Meat Loaf, Bob Welch, Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen, along with long-forgotten bands such as Liar, Fandango, and The Cryers, caught the attention of collectors, who were soon paying up to $100 (in 1970s dollars) for records that the record companies had been giving away for free.

A few of the titles released in the late 1970s as promotional picture discs include:

Joe Cocker – Luxury You Can Afford
Elvis Costello – My Aim is True/This Year’s Model (tracks from both albums)
Peter Frampton – I’m in You
The Jacksons – Going Places and The Jacksons
Elton John – A Single Man (later released commercially)
Kansas – Point of Know Return
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (black cover; burgundy cover copies were sold commercially later)
Molly Hatchet – Molly Hatchet, Flirtin’ With Disaster, Beatin’ the Odds, Take No Prisoners
Willie Nelson – Stardust
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town
Starcastle – Citadel
Toto – Toto
Bob Welch – French Kiss
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London (12” single)

starcastle promotional picture discThe record companies quickly realized that they had a product for which buyers would gladly pay a premium, and by 1978, commercially released picture discs began to appear on the market.

The first commercially produced album picture disc was released in early 1978. Titled To Elvis: Love Still Burning, the disc, issued on the tiny Fotoplay label, featured a painting of Elvis Presley on the disc, though the material on the album consisted of other artists performing Elvis songs.

The record, which was, as far as we know, the only record that Fotoplay ever released, was deemed significant enough to merit a cover story in Billboard magazine in August of that year.

Shortly thereafter, Mushroom Records issued a picture disc edition of Heart’s Magazine LP in a “limited” edition of 100,000 copies, along with another 30,000 copies in Canada. Each copy was numbered on the back cover, with the number expressed as a fraction, like this: 15355/100,000. Magazine was the first commercial picture disc album that was widely available for sale, as the album was available for sale by all of the major record chains.

The record sold so well that Mushroom actually pressed more than 100,000 copies. We once saw one that was numbered at 105,000 or so, making the numbering on the cover look rather strange: 105,857/100,000.

Not surprisingly, picture disc copies of Magazine, despite Heart’s decades of success, are not particularly hard to find, nor do they sell for a lot of money today. At any given time, there are 50-75 copies for sale on eBay, and most of them are still sealed and unplayed, nearly 40 years after their initial release.

The success of the Elvis and Heart LPs led to a number of releases in picture disc form by the major record companies, including titles by a number of then-famous artists. While all of these titles were manufactured as limited editions, not all of them were numbered.

Titles released between 1978 and 1980 in the United States included:

The Beatles – Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Bee Gees – Spirits Having Flown
Blondie – Parallel Lines
Boston – Boston
The Brothers Johnson – Blam!
Cher – Take Me Home
Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive! (single album edition of the two record set)
Heart – Dreamboat Annie
Jefferson Starship – Gold
Kiss – solo albums by Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley
Barry Manilow – Greatest Hits (an unusual two record picture disc set)
Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (burgundy cover; black cover copies were promotional)
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Elvis Presley – A Legendary Performer, Volume 3
Linda Ronstadt – Living in the USA
Rush – Hemispheres
Bob Seger – Stranger in Town
Steve Miller – Book of Dreams
Rod Stewart – Blondes Have More Fun
Styx – Pieces of Eight
The Who – Who Are You?

pink floyd dark side of the moon picture discFor a short time in the late 1970s, bins at records stores everywhere were full of picture discs, and the stores that sold imported pressings from Europe usually had a few titles for sale that weren’t available in the states.

At a time when record albums had a suggested retail price of $7.98, picture discs of the same titles had a list price of nearly double that, at $13.98. That equates to about $46 in 2015 dollars, and this high pricing, combined with the relatively poor sound quality of picture discs, soon came back to haunt the record companies.

Many consumers returned their expensive picture discs to the stores as defective, some due to sound quality issues and others because they were warped.

Part of the warping problem had to do with the die-cut covers used to sell the records; most were sold in cardboard covers with an 8” circle cut out to allow the record, which was enclosed in a clear plastic inner sleeve, to be seen by potential buyers. These covers weren’t as sturdy as regular album covers, and the combination of poor cover design and tight shrink wrap led to a lot of warped picture discs.

The record companies temporarily worked around this problem by printing a disclaimer on the cover, usually with some variation of – “Limited Picture Edition – Sound quality may not be comparable to conventional edition.” The record companies then refused to take returns on picture discs, and stores began to sell them on an “as-is” basis with no return privileges for buyers.

By 1980, picture discs could often be found in the cutout bargain bins, usually with holes punched in the cover or with a corner of the cover clipped off to indicate that it was a clearance item. We recall seeing hundreds of solo album picture discs by members of Kiss in the bargain bins, often with prices as low as 99¢. Ironically, those titles that were remaindered several decades ago are commanding premium prices today as collectibles.

Since 1980, record companies worldwide have occasionally released picture discs, though they are usually limited in production to a few thousand copies. In the United Kingdom, the format is usually used only for singles, rather than albums.

Prototype Picture Discs

xanadu prototype picture discCollectors eagerly seek out picture discs of records by artists they collect and admire, and some of these records can sell for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, particularly those items that exist only as prototypes.

These would be records which were intended to be issued either commercially or as a promotional item in picture disc form, but for whatever reason, were not. These titles are often pressed in very small quantities; in some cases, perhaps as few as ten.

One of the rarest such examples is a ten inch record of the single, Xanadu,by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra, intended to be created as a promotional item, but ultimately rejected by the record company.

As such, fewer than 50 of these were produced as prototypes, and copies have sold for as much as $10,000 at auction.

Another example was the single “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police, which exists as a prototype picture disc depicting only a few colored squares. Another Police prototype is an odd square picture disc depicting the CBS logo. This is odd, as the Police had no association with CBS Records.

This particular disc was probably made as a test of cutting shapes, and the employees at the pressing plant simply used whatever stampers were available at the time, leading to the creation of a rare Police collectible.

A 1976 LP by Dolly Parton, All I Can Do, was pressed as a picture disc for then-RCA executive Jozsef Bellak at his request. While rumors exist that 2-3 of these were made, only one is currently known to exist – it was Bellak’s personal copy and it was sold for $1500 in 2012.

Bootleg Picture Discs

beatles bootleg picture discBootleg records, or records containing music that has been released without the knowledge or permission of the artist whose music appears on the record, have been around for decades.

Bootleg records became quite popular in the early 1970s, when a number of individuals discovered that the copyright laws then in effect didn’t prohibit them from releasing live and unreleased material by popular artists such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones.

Starting in about 1979, bootleg picture discs began to appear on the market, offering much of the same material that had been previously released by labels such as the Trademark of Quality, The Amazing Kornyfone Record Label (TAKRL), Wizardo and Rubber Dubber. Early bootleg picture discs by the Beatles included the Beatles Decca demo recordings, an LP called The Beatles in Italy, and a live recording of their 1966 performance in Japan.

Other bootleg picture discs to be appear over the years include titles by Madonna, Metallica, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, among others. As is usually the case with bootleg recordings, the sound quality of these releases varies widely from title to title. Adding to the suspect sound quality is the noisiness of the picture disc itself. Still, collectors usually flock to buy these releases, as they are both unusual and limited in production.

While bootleg picture discs aren’t terribly common, they have appeared regularly over the past 35 years or so and are still manufactured to this day.

Interview Picture Discs

pink floyd interview picture discAn interesting variation on bootlegs were the interview picture discs that began to appear on the market in the mid-1980s.

While it is illegal for someone to release music recordings of an artist with whom they do not have a contractual agreement, it is not illegal to release recordings of that artist simply speaking.

This led to several companies releasing “interview” picture disc albums that featured nice photos of the artist or band on the record itself but only included recorded interviews with the artists within the grooves. This allowed companies to sell picture disc albums by famous artists without having to be concerned with violating copyright laws.

Because these records do not contain any actual music, they draw less attention from collectors than authorized releases that contain music, though some older ones, particularly those by highly collectible artists such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd, or Madonna, often sell for $40 to $60 when they turn up for sale.

Shaped Picture Discs

motley crue shaped picture discAfter the success of promotional picture disc albums in gathering attention for artists’ new releases, the practice of releasing promotional picture discs was extended to singles.

A few promotional titles were released in picture disc form as 12” singles and after that, a few were sent to radio stations as 7” picture discs.

The next step in the evolution of the modern picture disc was the development of die-cut, or “shaped” picture discs. These were manufactured at a full 12” size, but then cut to a shape that was something other than round. The grooves were still round, of course, so the record could be played, but the outer edge might be cut to all manner of intricate shapes.

The first of these shaped promotional picture discs was a record of about 10” in size that was shaped like an octagon for the Toto single “Georgy Porgy.” This was soon followed by “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, which was cut to the shape of a star-shaped police badge.

Commercial shaped picture discs soon followed, though the format has always been far more popular in the UK than in the United States. As the records are pressed at a 12” size before having material cut away, these picture discs are always used for singles, rather than albums.

A few examples of shaped picture discs to have been released over the years:

AC/DC – Danger (fly-shaped)
Heart – Nothin’ at All (heart shape)
Elton John – I’m Still Standing (piano shape)
Madonna – Into the Groove (heart-shaped), Lucky Star (star-shaped)
Motley Crue – Smokin’ in the Boys Room (comedy and tragedy masks shaped)
The Police – Message in a Bottle, Don’t Stand So Close to Me, Roxanne (all badge-shaped)
Prince – Purple Rain (motorcycle shape), Paisley Park (balloon shape)
Rush – Countdown (space shuttle shape)
Toto – Georgy Porgy, Africa (Africa-shaped)
ZZ Top – Gimme All Your Lovin’ (car shape)

There have been hundreds of shaped picture discs sold over the years from record companies around the world. As these are usually limited to a few thousand copies of any given title, shaped records by major artists usually command respectable ($50-$100) prices on the collector market.

Every now and again, copies of a picture disc that was intended to have been cut to a shape but have not actually been cut and are still at the original 12” size, are offered for sale. These are usually prototypes or test pressings that were saved by record company employees before the cutting process. The prices for these can vary widely, based on the artist, but uncut shaped picture discs by U2, Madonna, Iron Maiden, Queen, Prince, and the Police have all sold for $1000 at auction.

One must be careful when playing a shaped picture disc, as it’s possible to damage the needle on your phonograph if you miss the grooves when cueing the record for play.

Picture Discs Today

While they’re not as common today as they were a few decades ago, picture discs are still produced today. They’re generally released as limited edition pressings alongside their black vinyl counterparts and are intended for the collectors who just want to have everything by a particular artist.

In the United States, the format is almost always used for albums, but in Great Britain, picture disc singles, including shaped ones, remain popular as limited edition collector’s items.

Picture discs aren’t much good for everyday play, but they look nice on display and make a nice addition to any record collection.

Click here to view our selection of picture discs.

Share this:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail