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An Interview With a Collector: Vintage Vinyl

On Christmas morning in 1993, I received a gift that would change my life forever. The very last present I opened was Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden on vinyl, and I would never look at music the same again. That morning also marked another significant milestone; it was the first time my dad let me touch his beloved stereo.

Fun Fact: I’m writing this article on June 18th, the 48th anniversary of the release date of Elvis: As Recorded At Madison Square Garden!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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There was something about dropping the needle on that record, hearing the crackle in the speakers as Elvis’ orchestra started playing Also Sprach Zarathrustra (Theme From 2001: Space Odyssey.) I knew at that exact moment music would never sound better than that. Over the years, I added vinyl records to my music library here and there but never became an avid collector.

Until the early 1980s, vinyl was at the top of the heap in media consumption, with an estimated $2 billion in revenue from 300 million records sold in that decade alone. However, with the growing popularity of cassette tapes and CD’s, record sales began to take a big hit. According to The Vinyl Revival, by 1988, collectors were the only thing keeping the vinyl industry afloat.

Fun Fact: The first record ever was produced in 1889 and wasn’t music at all. It was a recording of the inventor of the phonograph, Emile Berliner, reciting a German ballad.

Much like everything else that’s considered vintage at some point, vinyl became cool again in the late 2010s. Independent artists began releasing their music on vinyl. More and more record stores began to open, and it was considered a novelty to start collecting your parents music on vinyl. I must have done something right in the parenting realm because my 14-year-old daughter absolutely loves listening to vinyl.

When it comes to estate sale finds, I consider vinyl records to be in the same category as comic books as far as quantity goes. If there are records at a sale, you are more likely to find crates of them rather than single pieces. It can be a little overwhelming when you are faced with hundreds of records, but I hope after you read this article, you’ll spend some more time at the tables and do a little more digging.

This week, I have enlisted the help of Walter Cuje, a collector and enthusiast from Little Silver, New Jersey. Walter has a wealth of knowledge and is going to give us some background on his love for vinyl as well as a few tips to help you know what to look for the next time you find a collection at your next sale.

What got you into collecting vinyl?

I got a cheap record player for Christmas when I was about ten years old. I took over my parents small collection, and I loved music from the start. My collection grew and grew. I paid for college by selling records at flea markets. When I got a real job, the inventory became the collection.

What was your first vinyl?

After the parents collection (mostly 50s pop), my first LP was by an integrated surf guitar band…The Duals called Traveling Guitars. My first 45 was Let It Out by The Hombres (but as a little kid, I preferred the cheesy pop B-side, Go Girl Go).

Why do you think vinyl has grown in popularity so much over the past several years?

Based on what younger collectors tell me, since most of them still access most of their music via the internet (streaming and downloads), on the less common occasions when they want a physical version of the song or album, the better looking and sounding vinyl format is preferred.

Audiophiles with expensive high-fidelity stereo equipment have always preferred the analog vinyl source over digital.

That reputation for better sound fidelity, the better artwork, and the cool/hip factor is probably the drivers.

What makes a particular vinyl valuable?

Simple supply and demand. There are records that are in high demand, but which were supplied in such large quantities that they are readily available and thus not valuable. Similarly, there are records that are very rare, but of which very few (if any) collectors care to own and are also thus not valuable. Records that did not sell in large quantities (particularly first pressings), which have high demand, are the priciest. Examples of how this may happen are artists whose early work did not sell; but who subsequently were successful after their early material became unavailable. Or artists who were unsuccessful, but whose work was later discovered to be desirable. But whose records are long out of print (this is magnified if the pressings were on a small or independent label and thus of small quantities). Certain genres, like classical and jazz, do not sell in as large quantities as rock and pop; but the better recordings tend to have stable demand over time, which causes the value of the early pressings to rise. In the audiophile world, certain records have a reputation for having been so well recorded that they are sought for the sound quality. NOTE: condition is a major factor in a record’s value. Records that are scratched or noisy tend to have little value, even if rare or otherwise, in high demand. This is a BIG topic that could itself be a book.

What would you like to add to your collection that you haven't yet?

I generally only collect American first pressings. There are many privately pressed psychedelic rock records from the late 1960s and early 1970s that I would like to find, but that are quite scarce (the hunt is half the fun).

What are your top 3 favorite vinyl's in your collection?

Out of ten thousand plus? Impossible to answer. Probably changes from day to day. I will admit that there are certain artists whose records are completely worthless because there is no demand (easy listening/elevator music, for example) but that have something special in the recording that makes it enjoyable (to me anyway). Have recently been enjoying LP's by the Texas psychedelic rock band The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the New York pre-punk noise of the Velvet Underground, and a great bluegrass fiddler named Vassar Clements.

While the list of which vinyl records will bring in the big bucks with collectors is a mile long, I found a great article on Louder that outlines the Top 10 most valuable records that are still hiding out there. I’ll give you a small hint as to who you might find on that list, though. Go check out my article on bobblehead collecting, and you’ll see them there too!

I hope this article has inspired you to thumb through that giant stack of vinyl records you come across at your next sale. Adding “Vinyl” to your EstateSales.NET Treasure Tracker is a great way to know when sales in your area could be hiding a few of these valuable vinyls. Happy Hunting!

Love all things estate sales? Us, too! Head over to our blog to learn about all things vintage, DIY, and more!

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