We may live in a world of streaming music, but thanks to a growing number of people buying record players, especially budget turntables (a market that has exploded in the past few years alone), the vinyl resurgence shows little signs of slowing down.
In fact, figures released by the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) in 2018 showed that over 4.1 million vinyl records were sold in 2017. That’s the highest level of sales since the early 1990s, and this year is on track to top that; the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)’s 2019 mid-year report stated that vinyl records earned $224.1 million in the first half of this year alone.
So where are the bulk of these sales coming from? For the most part its reissues of classic albums from legendary artists that are still impacting music today, and unsurprisingly rock is the dominant genre. The Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd are among artists driving the juiciest vinyl records sales, with smaller bites being taken by more modern bands like Panic! At The Disco and soundtrack juggernauts such as The Greatest Showman.
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Record Store Day, which takes place in April each year, produces a noticeable spike in vinyl record sales, but our appetite for wax is ever-present now. Little surprise, then, that more of us are investing heavily in our vinyl collections by shelling out for valuable vinyl records that include original pressings and coveted special editions.
If you’re keen to get started with collectible vinyl records, or you think you own one but aren’t sure how to verify it or sell it, we have answers. Or rather, Martin Hughes, auctioneer and vinyl expert at Wessex Auction Rooms, which holds specialist auctions of vinyl records and music memorabilia throughout the year, has answers. Here are Martin’s pro tips on how to buy and sell valuable vinyl…
You recently sold a Sex Pistols single, God Save The Queen, for £15,990 at auction. What other records have sold well under the hammer?
"Whenever people come to the auction house with vinyl to sell, they usually have their Beatles records at the front of the collection, but what most people forget is that those four guys sold quite a few records! So whilst there will always be some value in original Beatles records, it is pretty unlikely that you are going to have a genuine rarity.
"The Beatles Debut, Please Please Me, was a huge success and was very quickly pressed multiple times. Therefore the very earliest pressings can command big money. We recently sold a Stereo first pressing of the album for £4,200. The other very collectable Beatles album is the White Album, and quite simply the early copies were all numbered on the front – the lower your number, the higher the value.
"We sold number 66 recently for £2,400. The best thing about that sale was that the gentleman who sold it had just walked in with a small box of records and said 'These are probably all rubbish, but get what you can for them'."
Broadly speaking, which are the most valuable vinyl records in terms of genres or labels?
“It depends on a number of things: some people collect a certain record label. Early Island Records and Vertigo Records, are good examples, and more recently original Factory Records releases have spiked in value.
"Scarcity is always going to have a positive impact on value, but first and foremost that record will need to be the right genre/label/artist because even the rarest of Perry Como records is going to struggle to hit the high notes.”
The condition of the record is important, right?
“Condition is absolutely key to achieving the best prices. Punk records continue to rise in value because they are already coming from a starting point of being pressed in much lower quantities, so when you add to that the lower likelihood of finding punk records in nice condition, it’s a recipe for some big numbers.
“In our specialist auction that ran on Nov 1, we sold what many consider to be the holy grail of punk record collecting and one of the rarest records in the world. When Sex Pistols were dropped from their record deal after only six days of being signed to A&M Records in 1977, all 25,000 copies of their God Save The Queen single were ordered to be destroyed. It’s thought that only nine copies survived the cull.
“A copy of this single, which has never been played, went under the hammer along with a letter from John Kennedy [Chairman] at A&M, stating that it is a gift to the receiver to thank them for their time with the company. This was a parting gift from the vaults when Polygram closed their London A&M offices in 1998.”
Are any other genres of music becoming more collectible on vinyl?
“Something that surprises a lot of people is the value of 90s vinyl, particularly indie rock. The reason it sells for so much at auction is because very few people were buying vinyl in the 90s, and if you did buy it you were usually a megafan of the band, and that means you probably still are and don’t want to sell it.
Finding a genuine collectible vinyl record is massively exciting, but unfortunately counterfeit records (not to be confused with bootlegs) being passed off as the genuine article are annoyingly common – and some of them are quite convincing unless you know how to spot such fakes. Rare Records has put together an excellent guide to spotting counterfeiting records, detailing its history, the most popular counterfeit vinyl records in the world, and how you can avoid getting ripped off. Bottom line: be very careful when buying a record if the price and condition seem too good to be true.
“For that reason, you rarely see original 90s pressings come to the market, which is why even an album that sold millions like Definitely Maybe by Oasis  can sell for over £100 when it comes to auction on vinyl.”
If a person thinks they own a valuable vinyl record, what should they do?
“There are lots of online resources for valuing vinyl, and probably the best, in terms of ease of use and amount of available information, is Discogs. Unfortunately, it can often be very labour intensive and overwhelming for a novice.
“Certainly if you feel that the record is something you might want to sell, I’d recommend taking it to a specialist auction house as they are going to be able to offer expert advice with no ulterior motive.
“If someone brings me something to sell at auction, it’s in my interest for it to sell for as much as possible because auction houses get paid via a commission of the selling price. This eliminates the fear of someone offering you money for a record and you accepting the offer in good faith, only for the purchaser to then sell it on at a huge premium.”
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How can they protect themselves from being ripped off or from buying a record that isn’t in the condition it’s listed as?
“The reason specialist auctions have become so popular is that you are buying from an expert with a reputation and who is responsible for the accuracy of descriptions. Always check that the record has been catalogued with an official condition grading. On more expensive vinyl records, the sleeve, inner sleeve and record itself should all be graded separately.”
What advice would you give to people who are just starting to collect valuable vinyl records?
“Begin by collecting artists that you like rather than trying to find the rarest or most expensive records, because ultimately there’s no guarantee that what you have bought will be a good investment for the future. If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, start with collecting each of the band’s albums from the time of release. Once you’ve got them all, perhaps move on to finding first or second pressings of each.
“You can get a nice 1969 second pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut album for anywhere between £30-80, but if you want a first pressing in ‘collector’s quality’ condition you’ll have to spend anywhere from £500 to £1,500. Other variations such as mis-credits and production changes could also be on your list of must-haves… You can see how easily a collector can end up with five or six copies of the same album."