Unfortunately, “value” of music memorabilia doesn’t always relate merely to the musical merits of an object
Unfortunately, “value” of music memorabilia doesn’t always relate merely to the musical merits of an object
A new auction house for records and music memorabilia is being established in the town of Newton-le-Willows, midway between Liverpool and Manchester in England. The small town (23,000 pop.) apparently sees an opportunity in the current economic climate to ferret out collectible music in the region and promote themselves as “enablers” between buyers and sellers. Certainly both major cities have significant music history producing artifacts ranging from Beatles-era rarities to classic rock concert posters. This regionalism may be a smart move, leveraging a local scene’s productivity for collectible material. Someone knowledgeable “on the ground” is more likely to uncover desirable material than someone at a major international auction house who simply waits for something to come in the door.
The headline above has the link to the original feature in the St Helens Star newspaper.
An article in the New York Times announces the debut of online access to 70,000 items of precious historical music memorabilia from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The article by Joshua Barone is here.
As more institutions realize the importance of their holdings, digitization of assets will increase. Deeper and deeper digging through storehouse boxes will unearth much that is precious, historically and culturally interesting, and valuable. That makes the cataloging and appraisal of collections all that more important. So many archives don’t fully understand either what they have or how significant their collections may be.
Here are some images of wonderful items in the Brooklyn collection.
One of the interesting recent developments in record collecting is the obsession with matrix numbers and pressing editions. As rare and desirable records become subject to market pressure from more savvy collectors and dealers, it has become a hot discussion topic. What constitutes a “first pressing” or first edition of a record?
Oldies collectors of doo-wop 45s have long been “wax” fanatics, looking up the numbers etched in the blank space between the end of the grooves and the label. Partly this was to reveal fraud, as many extremely scarce doo-wop and rhythm ‘n ‘ blues 45s of the 1950s were counterfeited. The other was to identify a re-pressing, a legitimate issue by the record company (or current licensee) but not the very first edition.
Now this level of detail is permeating the whole of record collecting. Used to be that knowing an LP’s catalog number and what kind of label the disc had was enough. Oh no. You may have an original first label (such as a Capitol rainbow label or an RCA “shaded dog”), but that’s only the start of the process. What pressing plant was used to press your disc? Was it the first run of vinyl manufactured, or later? For Beatles records, the level of detail can be boggling. Experts can identify whether a vinyl pressing of “Rubber Soul” was made on the East Coast, or the West Coast, and whether it was made the first week of manufacture, or the month after.
Such distinctions may matter only to a small number of serious record collectors. But as prices rise for the most wanted and rarest records, the details of matrix numbers – and other signifiers – will become more important. And the marketplace will respond to precise identification.
Discogs.com has been one of leaders in the discussion and dissemination of these details. Here’s a posting in one of their forums that is truly eye-opening – or boring – depending on your interest level: Welcome to the Master List of Runout Information.
It’s a noble gesture (usually) for people to donate for raising money for worthwhile causes. The musicians donating their custom Les Paul Guitars (“art pieces’) to help support the Save The Music Foundation is such a one.
However, the prices obtained at such charity auctions often do not square with the reality of the marketplace. People are not just bidding on a rare, desirable artifact; they’re making a donation. A custom guitar may sell for $5,000.00 in a Sotheby’s or Heritage auction, but for charity, who knows. It may sell for $50,000.00 or $100,000.00. The point is these charity auctions don’t reflect the Fair Market Value of the items. If you are trying to guesstimate the potential of your item, using these kinds of charity auctions as your guide are bound to bring disappointment.
We’re seeing this sort of article in regional and local presses more often. As Boomers take stock of their lives, they are often confronted with an accumulation of stuff that they need to deal with. Record collecting was easy to do, and relatively cheap, for a long time, particularly since the music was so much a part of the social fabric. But now, what to do, what to do. This man has my sympathy, but there’s probably no way he’s going to get close to a dollar a disc for over a quarter-million records. Given the details in this article, one can infer that this is an accumulation, not a collection. He probably just picked up anything he could get his hands on, and didn’t really concern himself with specific pressing editions (except those colored vinyl discs, apparently). Late 20th Century Western Civilization produced the largest amount of consumer goods in history; and now many people think they’ve got a gold mine. Well, there are a lot of “gold mines” out there. Don’t get your hopes up.
The 68-year-old Medford resident has 260,000 albums in storage, but he says age and illness is prompting him to part ways with his prized collection that includes everything from Little Richard and Elvis Presley to Brahms and Beethoven.
It’s inevitable that the groups of collectors who bolster specific niche categories tend to “finish” with their collecting at some point in their lives. Or deaths. The collectors of Elvis Presley records and memorabilia may have hit their wall, and as this article details, the value of the material is falling in the marketplace.
Many factors are at play here: The aging of the collector fan base for Elvis; the saturation of the market for Elvis material that is being given up by people who no longer want to collect “The King”; a phase of cultural history is passing into the limelight where the music and artifacts have less relevance to the fickle marketplace. Right now punk music is really hot, and prices are accelerating. Rockabilly has cooled down considerably. “Northern Soul” has plateaued. But for all the categories, including Elvis, the truly rare and the truly iconic material will keep its value. A near mint first original pressing of Elvis’ debut album will still command attention, though “Do The Clam” may pass into trivia territory.
As the King’s fans die of old age, and their collections hit the second-hand market, vintage Elvis records have never been cheaper
But what to collect is not always obvious. At one time, the thought of collecting comic books was absurd. Same with baseball cards. They were just kid’s stuff, right?
Now, collecting has become a global phenomenon, and, fortunately (or otherwise), civilization has produced a lot – a LOT – of stuff to collect. Some things just pass us by, though, until it’s too late to get in on the ground floor when they’re still cheap.
There are indeed plenty of things to collect right now that have the potential to be worthwhile investments. In terms of recordings and music memorabilia, it’s obvious that we’re on a sharp upward curve in original vinyl records. It’s also obvious that compact discs are on a sharp downward curve. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to collect CDs, only that a collector needs to be smart about it.
Let’s look briefly at DVDs. In the rush to downloading and streaming, DVDs are on a faster popularity descent than CDs. Like vinyl, there may be a resurgence of interest in physical DVDs at some point in the future. Probably, though, it will not be as large a wave as LPs are enjoying now because DVDs will not have the same kind of nostalgic hook. Still, there are some things a DVD can offer that simple streaming can’t (at least not yet).
Don’t discount the tactile, physical nature of DVDs, with their images and information. And, all that extra stuff probably won’t be ported to the streaming services, either.
The original Warner Bros. DVD and Blu-Ray combined release of Martin Scorsese’s classic concert footage of “The Last Waltz” went out of print quickly. There is a current Blu-Ray edition, but it lacks extra footage, a couple audio commentaries, and a new documentary, “Revisiting The Last Waltz.”
The excellent U2 concert captured in the documentary, “Under A Blood Red Sky,” is out of print, and prices on Amazon currently range from $25 to $90 for copies in its original deluxe plastic case. There a nice booklet that comes with the DVD, and the director commentary is sure to be missing from the streaming options.
Virtually unknown in the country, Slade were one of Britain’s biggest and best bands of the ‘70s before punk. Their very worthy dramatic film, “Slade In Flame,” was released on DVD in the U.S. by Shout Factory in 2004. It is OOP but still found relatively inexpensively. For now. Streaming, yes, but no poster insert, and no 50-minute interview.
Classical music on DVD is perhaps even more ephemeral than pop music. Three superb versions of Alban Berg’s masterful expressionist opera “Lulu” were all released on DVD around the same time in 2010-2011. Two are still in print, or, rather, you can still buy new copies. The Deutsche Grammophon DVD with Patricia Petibon is cheap at $22.00 new, while Opus Arte’s Royal Opera House performance with Agneta Eichenholz is $32.00. But the ArtHaus Musik release with Laura Aikin is OOP, and there’s currently one copy on Amazon for $88.00. Now, these may or may not be available for downloading or streaming, but the DVDs have very nice cover designs and each has extensive booklets with notes and photographs.
The question is, of course, will the physical media matter? Will nice packaging and photographs and booklets and “extras” matter to someone in the future, someone who will want the actual DVD? That’s what makes collecting such an interesting challenge when gazing into the crystal ball. Who would have thought vinyl would come back? Why, even cassettes are being made again! The DVD may become a dinosaur format, but I’m willing to bet some of these boxes will be highly sought after. And valuable.
The British Library is launching a national preservation network – Unlocking Our Sound Heritage – to save almost half a million rare and unique recordings threatened by physical degradation or those stored on now defunct formats.
Read More Here:
Among all the problems facing archivists and collection librarians is one of selectivity. While they face issues of preservation, storage, and accessibility, one they may not have expected is the crisis of simply having too much stuff. Stuff is good, but too much can be a burden. A consequence of the Boomer Generation’s acquisitive nature is that now those same collecting Boomers are aging, and getting rid of their stuff. Donations are rising dramatically among libraries, institutions, archives, and other repositories of the cultural artifacts of our civilization.
Music libraries and archives, in particular, confront the dilemma of generous donations of records, CDs, and music memorabilia in – pardon – record numbers. There are a lot of people in their 70s and 80s who just don’t or can’t deal with 10,000 LPs or 5,000 CDs or 12,000 78 rpm discs… And they could probably use the tax deduction for a donation.
But the archive that opens its arms to such donations runs a few risks. Can they manage the volume of material in their existing space? Are the records already cataloged or do they need to do that from scratch? How much cleaning and preservation will they need? What will they do about digitizing the vinyl and providing access to different types of potential users?
As a consultant on these issues, I see one overarching concern about accepting large collections: How does the incoming material match your existing collection?
An archivist should ask if this is really a good thing or a bad thing for their particular needs. How will it alter or shape the essential purpose of your collection? I like to help librarians and archivists take a good, hard look at their collection and answer some of these questions. I love to help focus a collection to make it a better resource, a more impressive resource, and, potentially, a more valuable resource.
After all, there are only so many Mantovani, Monkees, and Madonna records one can handle.