Lost Treasures: Stories of Rare Vinyl
Claire Holton
4/19/2013


Last month, a copy of The Beatles’ 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band shattered sales records when it was auctioned off for an incredible $290,500.  The copy, complete with gatefold, high gloss cover, and signatures from each member of the Fab Four, is now one of the highest selling pieces of Beatles’ memorabilia in history.

It seems like every week we hear those stories, stories about priceless records and antiques, previously sitting in someone’s basement and gathering dust, selling for thousands at auction.  Stories like that might have you wondering about your own collection of old LPs.  What if the next long lost treasure of rare vinyl is sitting right now in your attic?

According to record store owners across the east coast, you never what vinyl rarities will sell for top dollar.  A Bob Seger sampler from his original label Hideout, Philly legends Lee Andrews & The Hearts' 45 “Long Lonely Nights,” Cream’s 1968 album Wheels Of Fire, 60’s group The ShaggsPhilosophy Of The World, and a copy of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” originally bought for 75 cents are just a few of the diverse records that have sold for hundreds over the years. 

Rarity is most important, but record quality and market demand also play a big part in determining a record’s value, according to some owners.  “Northern Soul, the lesser known R&B from Detroit and Chicago, is very sought after” says Brian Reisman of Hideaway Music in Philadelphia.  “Also, higher end jazz records are very desirable in Japan.”  Todd Fundaro of Flipside Records in Clawson, MI says, “In particular, condition is a major factor [in a record’s value], and original labels are always more valuable.”  

One of the most sought after records, and most noteworthy in the minds of record store owners, is that of another rare Beatles LP, the infamous “Butcher Album.”  Considered one of the holy grails of rare records, the “Butcher Cover,” as it has come to be called, is the original cover art for The Beatle’s 1966 LP Yesterday and Today.

The shocking cover features the foursome decked out in white butcher coats, grinning widely, and covered in baby doll limbs and pieces of raw meat.  The story behind the cover is pretty strange, too.  Photographer Robert Whitaker originally meant for the photo to be an artistic statement on the band’s over the top popularity at the time.  According to some accounts, it was Paul McCartney who pushed for the gory photo to be the album’s cover, claiming it was the band’s “statement against the war,” referring to the Vietnam War.  John Lennon, however, said in a 1980 interview that the photo was simply inspired by the fact that the Fab Four had grown bored of photoshoots, and wanted to change it up a bit.

The controversial cover only made it to the shelves for one day before being rounded up and replaced by the considerably tamer “trunk cover,” featuring the band posing nonchalantly by an open trunk.  A few Butcher covers made it out though, and as a result have become some of the rarest and most valuable around.  According to Beatles history site RareBeatles.com, a sealed, mint-condition copy of the LP with a letter of verification can fetch up to $25,000 at auction! 

John Solano, co-owner of The Record Museum in New Jersey and a collector of rare 45’s, has two copies of the Butcher album in his personal collection, one with an original sticker still attached. Stuart Freedman of Nuggets Records, Todd Fundaro, and Brian Reisman have also encountered the rare LP in their business.

Wondering yet if a certain record, perhaps a Beatles record, in your collection might be worth big money? According to record store owners, the best place to start your research is online. 

John Solano says eBay is his favorite site to check out the market and see what records are hot.  His business partner Doug Kepple of The Record Museum, however, swears by the website Discogs.com.  “Discogs is probably the best resource out there,” Kepple says. “You go on, match up the catalog number, see what it’s selling for, and price accordingly.” 

Going online might be a good place to start, but talking to your local record store owner is always best, according to Todd Fundaro.  “We really need to look at it in person, the average person doesn’t have the knowledge to know what a record is really worth,” he says.  “People come in here and have an artificial idea of what their record’s worth based on what they saw online.  But in reality, it can be a totally different condition or different pressing they were looking at.”  

Since 2007, US vinyl sales have jumped by almost 500% and 2012 saw a 17.7% increase in vinyl LP sales, 4.6 million records, compared to 2011, according to Nielsen SoundScan.  Brian Reisman says Hideaway Music has sold vinyl from the beginning, but because of a sharp decline in CD sales and the rise of the mp3, vinyl is up, and now half of his store is vinyl.  The story is similar for other independent record stores who are seeing an upswing in business in recent years thanks to the resurgence of vinyl.

With numbers like those, it’s safe to say that collecting vinyl and storing your records properly is a good idea.  Solano had this advice for collectors, “Always try to get originals.  You might spend a little extra, but for the sake of collecting, go for the first pressings.” 

And for storing your records so they stay valuable, Reisman gave this number one tip:

“Don’t put them in the basement!” Leaky or flood-prone basements can warp or damage your records and bring down their value.  Another big tip is to store your records vertically, not in stacks on the floor, and to put them in plastic sleeves to keep out dust and moisture.  It’s also important to make sure your turntable is set up properly, with the correct anti-skating and anti-weight settings used, so your records don’t wear unevenly.  

Rob Roth, owner of Vintage Vinyl Records in New Jersey, reminds us, “You should always take care of your records, one scratch or a crack can make a record worthless.  Records don’t heal.”


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