Conspiracy theories help us understand a world we recoil from to fantasize about a much more preferred world. Let’s use the vinyl record collectors’ market, for example. Music corporations predetermined the value of music based on the medium the music was recorded on. This clandestine business model commoditization of vinyl happened a long time ago. How can I prove it? You may have tried to determine the value of your vinyl record collection many times. You will be lucky to find one collector’s treasure in your collection. Meanwhile, the record company got your money long ago while having a large vinyl collection with largely sentimental value.
Now, the only way you might recoup a fraction of what you originally paid for your vinyl collection is to find a rare, valuable record in your collection.
But tap the breaks and curb your enthusiasm. You need an extensive collection, understand what makes a vinyl record valuable, or supernatural luck to find a valuable one.
Keep hope alive but be realistic.
Before exploring the music commodity conspiracy I mentioned earlier, let discuss some examples of very valuable vinyl. It’s a primer on how to determine the value of your vinyl record collection.
Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
Bob Dylan’s second album was creatively tweaked slightly before its 1963 release. Four songs on the original tracklisting for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan were replaced with new songs.
Someone forgot to tell the vinyl pressing plant workers.
They pressed multiple copies of the old album version before the mistake was realized. A stereo version of the original album recently sold for $35,000. Any existing mono version may be worth $15,000.
If your cover copy has a “Stereo/360° Sound” stamp logo and an advertisement sticker saying, “Singing His Sensational Hit, Blowin’ in the Wind, then it is worth a lot of money.
(What is the difference between mono and stereo? More on that later).
Acetate Pressing of Velvet Underground and Nico (1966)
The first album by the Velvet Underground, featuring German model and singer Nico, was ahead of its time when it was first released.
Its cover, a painting of a banana by Andy Warhol, is legendary. And the group later became rock and roll icons.
Music critics of the era were severely unimpressed, and the album barely sold 30,000 copies. Warhol, who was also the group’s manager at the time, pressed several pre-release acetate copies of the album to promote at music stores. (What is acetate vinyl? More on that later).
Only one acetate copy of Velvet Underground and Nico probably exists. Someone bought it, and two other vinyl records, at a New York City apartment clearing sale. The acetate album sold for $25,200 in 2006
The pre-release version of this debut album is valuable because it is rare, features a different demo version of a song, and a different track sequence listing.
You must know what to look for or have obscene lottery luck to find rare and valuable vinyl records.
But it is in your best interests to determine the value of your vinyl record collection. It’s unlikely you have a fortune hidden there, but why not check.
After all, you probably spent a fortune paying record companies for the vinyl the music was pressed on.
The Music Business Commodity Conspiracy
Before the advent of the internet age, music was sold via cassette, vinyl LP, 8-track, and so on. This conspiracy is buttressed by the idea that the 20th-century music industry was created to sell commodities. Music corporations sold you as much vinyl and plastic and the tiny metal screws that held cassettes together as much as the music.
Probably more so.
The average person owned almost 130 albums in 2005.
The only way to make an economy strong as an American is to be a consumer, right? Don’t you buy mattresses and new cars on Memorial Day?
Music corporations realized long ago that they could only sell you compressed globs of vinyl if they put music on it.
In 1978, 341 million vinyl records were sold in the United States alone. That number shrank to 5 million albums by 1991 (but 22 million vinyl singles.) 1.1 billion vinyl records were sold in 1981. About 3 million vinyl records were sold in 2006.
Vinyl records are making a bit of a comeback. About 27 million were sold in 2020, but to niche nostalgia markets, collectors, and DJs.
Value is in the Eye of the Collector
The point is that the advent of the digital age and streaming means that more people aren’t paying for music. That is why record companies aggressively market to fans of superstar musicians now; music is now inherently worthless.
Music may have eternal sentimental value. But maybe music, absent the physical medium upon which it is consumed, was always worthless.
Do you have a vinyl record collection collecting dust in a basement or attic? Do you desperately try to sell vinyl records at flea markets, yard sales, or on social media?
Real conspiracy? Maybe, maybe not. But the record company got you to pay them for a glob of pressed vinyl that you now can’t resell or give away.
However, if you know what to look for and know what collectors want, your vinyl record collection may contain hidden treasure.
And there are billions of vinyl records out there, some of them rare and valuable, waiting to be discovered.
Still, you need to determine the value of your vinyl record collection. And the standards are precise, exacting, and prohibitive if you haven’t taken care of your collection.
How to Determine the Value of Your Vinyl Record Collection
Here’s what to look for.
The recording artist should be insanely popular or insanely influential. Old albums by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, or Elvis Presley are bound to be more popular than unknown artists.
Still, there are always caveats to that rule. The Velvet Underground and The Stooges were highly influential in shaping the sound of later artists but were never commercially successful in their careers.
“Scarce” is a relative term. An album may be scarce because a mistaken pressing made them so.
Is it a foreign-pressed version of an original album? Limited editions and withdrawn pressings are also going to be valuable.
Many factors can help you determine the value of your vinyl record collection. Rarity must always be at the top of the list.
Unopened Mint Condition Copies
If you have a rare vinyl record that is sealed, unopened, unused, and in perfect condition, it could be valuable.
Depending on the artist, and their popularity with collectors, an autographed album should be valuable.
Some vinyl records are vibrantly colorful, feature non-circular shapes, or some other novelty that differentiates them from traditional vinyl. If they are also rare, they could be valuable.
Before vinyl records were mass-produced, prototype and test pressings were made to evaluate the sound or fine-tune marketing strategies. Acetate records were the prototype “mold” (for want of a better term upon) used for the manufacture of millions of vinyl records.
These records are known as acetate records and are made of metal with an acetate lacquer covering. Acetate records are used to evaluate sound and creative quality before final mass vinyl pressing.
If the final version was changed, that only made the acetate version rarer.
Sometimes the copies are given to record stores or people as a promotion.
Every acetate record ever made is inherently rare since each one is individually created by a recording specialist on a special lathe.
In Jamaica, acetate records were called “dub plates” and were used for promotional purposes.
If you own an acetate record, it could be valuable.
Mono, Stereo, and Quadrophonic Vinyl
In the mid-20th century, sound converted into an electrical signal on one channel was called “mono.” There is no variety in the sound mix, and all sounds sound uniform.
In stereo, the sound signals are converted into two channels. If you put on headphones and hear different sounds switching or fluctuating between earbuds, creating a richer audio mix, then you have stereo sound.
Some early albums were pressed in mono, with later pressing in stereo. The value of such albums depends on rarity, the artist, and the collector’s market.
If you own a quadrophonic sound album, have it appraised just in case. Quadrophonic vinyl albums feature signals on four channels but require sound systems with speakers in four corners. The format became obsolete in the 1970s.
Determining Vinyl Value
There are a few ways you can determine the value of your vinyl record collection.
You can use these sites to find the collectors market value of your vinyl:
Look up local lawyers, vinyl album music appraisers, and collector market brokers in your area who could help you. You are better off giving a percentage to someone who could help you find and sell to a serious collector than trying to sell on your own on eBay.
You could walk into some local vinyl stores and ask too. But you are better off knowing the value of your collection beforehand instead of asking a stranger who might rip you off.
After all, someone cleaning out their apartment sold the only acetate version of Velvet Underground and Nico in existence for 25 cents.
It would be nice to live in a world where every vinyl record you own had collector’s market value, especially considering the expense you paid to collect them.
But we don’t.
You probably don’t own any valuable vinyl. But the only way to know for sure is to know exactly what to look for.