Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Investing: old vinyl's top of the pops"

from - by Toby Walne

Vintage records are shooting up the investment charts – if you know which ones to buy.

Vinyl can provide record returns for investors willing to take a musical spin with their money.

The Holy Grail is That'll be the Day, a seven-inch single recorded exactly 50 years ago by the Quarrymen – the group that later became the Beatles. On paper it is worth £100,000, but experts believe it might fetch more than double this at auction, if the only known disc could be wrestled from its owner, Sir Paul McCartney.

The acetate 78rpm was cut in a booth in 1958 by a five-man combo that included John Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison.

The Beatles are the giants for collectors as they hold universal appeal, but there are still plenty more which can prove to be great investments," says Stephen Maycock, a rock and roll memorabilia consultant for Bonhams, the auction house.

Other British blue-chip bands that command thousands of pounds for rare and earliest pressings include the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who and The Smiths. David Bowie and Marc Bolan also have a huge fan base.

Across the water, Elvis is among the most sought-after rock and roll innovators. As a 19-year-old truck driver he walked into Sun studio and sang That's All Right in 1954. The single shook up rock and roll forever and an early pressing with a £3,500 book price can now hit five figures at auction.

"The record market is still a relatively new kid on the block compared to more traditional investment areas such as furniture and paintings," Maycock says.

"It only really became recognised with the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s. However, it wasn't until the 1980s that vinyl really started to be viewed as collectible. In the past few years some records have soared tenfold in value, but when first released they could have been picked up for pennies."

Bernard MacMahon, a 37-year-old record investor from west London, believes a key reason for the rise in vinyl values is that the quality of sound easily beats CDs or MP3 players.

MacMahon, who is head of A&R for Lo-Max Records, says: "You don't have to be an anorak or vinyl junkie to love records; you just have to want the best from your music. Some great quality stuff is from the mono recording era of the 1960s. Rich fat acoustic sounds on vinyl turn to tinpot tunes when transferred to CD."

He says his best value vinyl was picked up for a few pounds in the 1980s. A favourite such as a 1965 My Generation album by The Who cost just £10 second-hand but is now worth £400, while an ultra-rare version of Velvet Underground's third album – which he also picked up for a tenner – might now fetch thousands.

But MacMahon's most valuable record is a 1926 shellac 78prm of Rabbit Foot Blues by Blind Lemon Jefferson. It cost £1,800 a couple of years ago but its unique appeal means it might sell for £5,000.

"The best advice I can give for anyone interested in investing in vinyl is to befriend the dealer at your local second-hand record store," he says.

"Trade fairs and eBay are also great sources for the unusual."

The Rare Record Price Guide, produced by Record Collector, is seen as the industry bible for those interested in vinyl. It puts the Beatles top of the pops, with a limited reissue of the Quarrymen single and the first numbered White Album copies at £10,000 each.

Next come a God Save The Queen single by the Sex Pistols, cut just before they were dumped by the A&M label in 1977, and a 1975 limited edition blue vinyl disc of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, both valued at £5,000. However, these are probably conservative estimates. For example, a copy of God Save The Queen recently hit £12,000 on eBay.

Ian Shirley, the editor of the Rare Record Price Guide, points out that rarity – and not just the musical value – is key for the investor. But he warns that it is vital to bone up on the value of vinyl if you are ever to turn an interest into a money-making concern; remember that you are competing with dealers who make a living out of buying and selling vinyl at a profit.

"If you go into charity shops you will find thousands of records that can be picked up for a few pence – but that doesn't make them investments," says Shirley.

"It is a question of knowing what to look out for. Pick a niche – whether it is early rock and roll, punk or old blues – and then knuckle down and do your homework."

This is where books such as the Rare Record Price Guide become invaluable, listing a rule-of-thumb price for British issues and specific disc information.

For American releases, investors should check out the Goldmine Record Album Price Guide and Goldmine Price Guide to 45rpm Records. The most sought-after vinyl is typically a first pressing. The record company name and issue code on the disc and sleeve can help to reveal the exact identity but there may be other subtle changes around the platter that require an expert eye.

Reissues tend not to be sought after. Condition also has a huge impact on value, with good-as-new mint condition being the best investment quality, although near mint is typically the best you will find.

A badly scratched disc with a torn cover will fetch less than a 10th of the value of a top-notch example, while even a few surface scratches on a well loved but looked-after prize record usually halve its worth.

Other considerations include whether the disc was a commercial release or promotional, whether it was recorded in stereo or mono and whether it included any freebies or had a picture sleeve.

Whether it is a single, album or EP is not the most important consideration – it is the collectable cachet that matters. When records were first produced, many were discarded as worthless novelty items or endlessly played before getting destroyed over time. But as the historic significance and appreciation of their music have grown, so has the demand among investors. And despite the near-extinction of vinyl in the late 1980s, when CDs became the format of choice, the market not only survived but now appears to be enjoying a resurgence.

It is not just a nostalgia market: many new bands have embraced the format, such as Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys. It is not just sound quality that has driven this trend: vinyl remains more tactile than CDs or downloads, and many albums have great cover art. A common misconception is that 78s are more valuable than 45s, because they are older and made of more brittle – and breakable – shellac.

The reality is that during the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s there were actually more 78s on the market than 45s. However, in pre-rock genres such as the blues you can pay up to £10,000 for recordings from some of the seminal artists of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson, who paved the way for modern music. With tunes such as Jefferson's Matchbox Blues and Patton's Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues you are also investing in history.


1. THE QUARRYMEN: That'll Be The Day/ In Spite Of All The Danger (1958): £100,000

2. SEX PISTOLS: God Save The Queen (1977) Value: £7,000

3. SEX PISTOLS: Anarchy In The UK (1976) Value: £6,000 (double-sided acetate)

4. QUEEN: Bohemian Rhapsody (1978) Value: £5,000

5. JOHN'S CHILDREN: Midsummer's Night Scene (1967) Value: £4,000

6. TOBY TYLER: The Road I'm On (Gloria) (1964) Value: £3,000 (acetate)

7. DAVID BOWIE: Space Oddity (1969) Value: £3,000

8 JOHN LENNON WITH THE PLASTIC ONO BAND: You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) (1969) Value: £3,000

9. XTC: Science Friction (1977) Value: £2,500

10. JACKIE LEE COCHRAN: Ruby Pearl (1957) Value: £2,500

List compiled by Record Collector Magazine

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