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The actual cost of collecting is not a topic that this column is going to delve into too far.

You alone know what a record is worth to you; whether you are willing to pay what a dealer is asking, or would prefer to hold on for a cheaper (or better) copy; you alone know how much of your disposable income is, in fact, that disposable.

Most collectors are, after all, what one might call “amateur,” with no more commercial connection to the hobby than is actually required by the act of buying what someone else is selling.

Yes, many of us like to think that, should the need ever arise, a well-cared for collection can be sold for at least what we paid for it, and maybe it can. At the same time, however, we are also aware that the amount we paid for something is often the amount that it is worth, and when was the last time a dealer handed over a check with no hope whatsoever of making a profit on the transaction?

Certainly there are some (even many) records that will never lose their value; that can be resold at any time with some expectation of profit.

Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, featuring the tracks “Talking John Birch Blues,” “Let Me Die in my Footsteps,” “Rocks and Gravel” and “Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand.


The Veejay label’s The Beatles and Frank Ifield Onstage, with a Beatles painting on cover; or the same label’s Introducing the Beatles featuring “Love Me Do” and “PS I Love You,:” with ads for other Vee Jay releases on the back of the jacket.

Ike & Tina Turner’s unreleased River Deep Mountain High on Philles, Frank Ballard’s Rhythm-Blues Party on Phillips Int’l, an original RCA pressing of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs with visible canine genitals. That’s a fraction of the true scarcities that lie awaiting that lucky dumpster dive, or mispriced auction sale… there are plenty more.

And a lot of them have retained their value for what feels like forever. There are others that haven’t… victims, for example, of anything from a well conceived reissue taking the edge off demand for the original; through to supply-and-demand finding an equivocal level.

Or even (and this was especially common in the early years of Internet auctions), perhaps the “value” was set not by market forces per se, but by two or more collectors caught up in the thrill of the auction, and bidding not merely beyond the record’s established value, but also beyond their rivals’ pocketbook?

“Auction fever” is, after all, as well-established a phenomenon as any of the hobbies that it is capable of afflicting, driven not only by the desire to possess an item (for who knows when another might come along?), but also by sheer competitiveness.

Among the hobby’s biggest hitters, however, it is rare for any to actually decline in value; and, once you move into the most rarified atmospheres of scarcity and value, another consideration comes into a play if the dollar signs should begin to falter.

Has a record stopped rising in price because nobody wants it any longer? Or because no further copies have appeared in the marketplace since the value was established?

There are a number of records listed in the price guides for which we might never see a rise in value, simply because only one copy exists and its owner is holding onto it.

Of these, the best-known is the solitary acetate of the Quarrymen (aka Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon)’s first ever recording together, a version of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day,” backed by McCartney and Harrison’s original “In Spite of all the Danger.”

Pressed in 1958, McCartney owns the only existing copy and, while bootleg releases have rushed in to plug the gap in the Beatles collector’s library, it is highly unlikely that this (admittedly not especially brilliant) record will ever see the business end of the auctioneer’s hammer, at least during our lifetimes.

Indeed, that single observation might well be the greatest downside to building a collection purely for its investment value… even greater than being unable to actually play your records, for fear of reducing their value.

The fact remains that only way to realize any profit that your hoarding has accumulated will be to physically part with your collection, and with it, all the joy and satisfaction that came from owning it in the first place.

There can be few people reading this, whatever their collecting passion, who do not still experience a pang of regret when remembering the records (or stamps or books or commemorative egg-cups) that they off-loaded on some now-distant day, and have been looking to replace ever since. Or have replaced, at a price at least commensurate with what they got for them in the first place.

Unless one is indeed a dyed-in-the-wool investor, with no more emotional connection to their collection than a banker to his stocks and bonds, it is safe to say that “future profit” is very much among the last things on a collector’s mind.

Even in those rare moments of triumph when you find a $50 album for $1 in the bargain bin, and exultantly detail your triumph to any friends or family who will listen, actually selling the record is probably off on a horizon so distant it has not even been mapped yet.

Owning it is reward enough; and, if you honor that ownership with the occasional gloating glance at its entry in the price guide, that too. Rare records should be celebrated not because they are worth a lot of money (because a lot of true rarities really aren’t), but because they’re difficult to obtain—which takes us back to the thrill of the hunt. And we’ll be looking at that next time.