By Jon Dennis 17 December 2022 • 12:00pm
Chris Heard recently sold an early mono pressing of the Beatles’ White Album Credit: Jay Williams/The Telegraph
In 1977 I bought my first vinyl record: Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon. It cost me 37 pence; 45 years later it has tripled in value – to the princely sum of £1. Since then I have bought thousands more records, but most have proved to be even worse investments.
So what makes an old record valuable? It depends on a multitude of factors including pressing, condition and provenance.
“Buy with your heart,” advises Katherine Schofield, at Bonhams auctioneers. “Purchase something that you want to own, that you want to keep. If it does increase in price over the years, then that’s fantastic. But it’s difficult to say what will keep its value.”
Bonhams recently sold records from the late BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel’s archive, including signed Beatles and Rolling Stones records.
“One of the lots was an early Nirvana single,” said Ms Schofield. “Nobody knew who they were but he thought their music was great and that it deserved to be played on the airwaves. Who would have known that such items would be worth such a significant amount?”
Chris Heard runs Carnival Records in Malvern, Worcestershire Credit: Jay Williams/The Telegraph
At the top of my “wants list” is a record worth a significant amount: an early mono pressing of the Beatles’ White Album. The first few million copies had a unique number on the sleeve, and the lower the number, the greater the value. One of these was recently sold by Chris Heard, who runs Carnival Records, in Malvern, Worcestershire.
“It was in mint condition and numbered below 350,” he said. Mr Heard paid £500 for it; he won’t tell me how much he sold it for. As I reflect on this, he runs through some of his other greatest hits: “The ‘dress’ sleeve by Bowie, The Man Who Sold The World, £2,000 … a laminated Hunky Dory, there’s probably 3,000 of them, £700. We had a copy of the first Led Zeppelin album, the very first pressing, with a turquoise Atlantic Records logo. It’s worth about £1,500 to £2,000. The Velvet Underground & Nico, with the famous peelable banana. We had an East Coast press, that’s £2,500.”
Such collectables are not typical sales for Carnival Records, however.
“Common, abundant collections like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd are our bread-and-butter stock. They’re still collected and desirable. There’s a young generation of record collectors and they are seeking different and new things.”
Billy Edwards is always on the look-out for second-hand vinyl bargains Credit: Jay Williams/The Telegraph
Among them is Billy Edwards, 20. At Cardiff University he belongs to a student society of around 50 similarly-minded devotees.
“For young people, everything seems so infinite with streaming,” he said. “But you find loads of artists popular with young people have put records out. Taylor Swift has done a lot of good for getting young people to buy records again.”
He’s right: in 2021, UK sales of vinyl surpassed those of CDs and were the highest for 30 years. So far this year the music industry has earned £66m in profits from records, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association. But Mr Edwards is on the look-out for second-hand bargains.
“I don’t think it has to be an expensive hobby – going through bargain bins can be fun when you find something good, walking home with it under your arm and putting it on. The thrill of the hunt makes it even better. I found the first mono press of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper in a charity shop for three quid – brilliant!”
The ‘dress’ sleeve by Bowie, The Man Who Sold The World, sold for £2,000 Credit: The Telegraph
Even charity shops are alive to the possibilities of rare vinyl. Paul Hunter manages an Oxfam shop in Reading, one of five specialist music branches in the country. He recently sold a Beatles Christmas flexi-disc, issued to fan-club members in 1963, for £150. Oxfam’s Southampton shop sold Moonscape by the Michael Garrick Trio, a 10-inch British jazz record from 1964, for £1,500. Only 99 copies were pressed.
“We have a responsibility to the charity and the donors to make as much money as we can,” Mr Hunter said. “But we’re probably cheaper than your average second-hand record shop.”
Some best-selling records lose value over time – Mr Hunter once stocked 17 copies of No Parlez by Paul Young – but others retain cachet. “The one that’s really crept up over the 20 years I’ve worked for Oxfam is Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.”
At Carnival Records, said Mr Heard, whenever a copy comes it “goes within 48 hours. It’s our best seller of the year.”
So how should someone go about selling records they may have stashed in the attic?
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours has become increasingly popular on vinyl in recent years Credit: Warner Bros Inc Record Label
Oxfam’s Mr Hunter said: “Now’s the time to sell them. I think we’re at the top of the market. The way to do that is online. These days anyone can be an expert.”
Mr Hunter relies on his own expertise to price records for Oxfam. “We also refer to the Rare Record Price Guide and also online, especially a site called Discogs, which is a bit like the Amazon of second-hand music.”
He added: “If you want to get rid of them quickly, donate them to Oxfam.”
But would that mean missing out on a fortune? “You’re more likely to be disappointed,” said Carnival Records’ Mr Heard. “[Mike Oldfield’s] Tubular Bells is five or 10 quid realistically.
“Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf is not going to get you to retire – all day long it’s a fiver. We’ve got enough copies of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms to plaster the walls with.
“But if someone comes in with the first Spriguns of Tolgus album [Jack With a Feather, a 1975 folk obscurity – no, I’d never heard of it either], I’d give them a grand straight away for that.”
The records should be playable – but they don’t always have to be in perfect condition.
“Not jumps, obviously, but a bit of hiss, crackle and pops – egg and bacon, we call it – with any good reggae, soul or funk, from the 1970s particularly, it’s tolerated,” Mr Heard added.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must add Spriguns of Tolgus to my wants list.
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