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Is a cache of jazz records ordinary or extraordinary?

The million-dollar question is whether your artists and records match the “profitable” market, which is very difficult to determine without the specifics of each individual record
MIles Davis. Photo courtesy of Legacy

MIles Davis. Photo courtesy of Legacy

By Susan Sliwicki

Question: Hello, and thanks for taking time to read my e-mail. I was cleaning out a storage closet to store my lawn mower in and I came across 52 vinyl records ... some of the artists are Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones,Oscar Peterson, Getz/Gilberto, and so on they are mostly good to very good shape. Some have not been opened; I’m wondering am I sitting on something of value? Is there a profitable market out there for this genre of music? If you can help in any way possible, I will be eager to listen.

— Mikell D Smith, via e-mail

Answer: Well, Mikell, There’s always a market for records, but the resale value truly varies based on artists, rarity, condition, collecting trends, etc.

The million-dollar question is whether your artists and records match the “profitable” market, which is very difficult to determine without the specifics of each individual record, pictures of the albums, etc. That said, we’ll deal in some generalities, first in condition, and then in artist trends.

First and foremost, since these records appeared to be a surprise to you, we’d advise you to consider any money they might bring your way to be a bonus.

Since you found this box of records in a storage closet where you’re seeking to put your lawn mower, we’ve got to be honest — that doesn’t sound like ideal long-term record storage conditions. To prevent albums from becoming damaged, you need to avoid extremes in temperature and humidity. Unless your storage area is climate-controlled, chances are that the records have probably suffered at least some level of environmental damage, be it warping or otherwise. For your sake, I’m sincerely hoping it’s a great storage area that’s away from extremes of light, heat, cold and moisture.

Next is determining the basics of condition. When a person who isn’t a record collector finds a record and says it’s in “good” condition, a die-hard collector is generally going to turn and run the other way, unless you’re in possession of a true rarity. Most collectors also want the original sleeves, covers and inserts, too. Missing or damaged parts tend to reduce value.

The key grades collectors are going to seek, in order from most desirable condition to least desirable condition, are Mint, Near Mint, Very Good Plus/Excellent, Very Good. Still Sealed records, which is sounds like you may have, are another can of worms. First and foremost, DON’T open the record. Still-sealed records can bring higher prices than traditional guide values, provided the pieces are free from damage.

Mint is a record that’s absolutely perfect in every way. Unfortunately, it’s often rumored, but rarely seen.
The best grade of record you’re likely to see is Near Mint, which looks like it came from a shop and was opened for the first time. NM records are shiny and free of visible defects. Very Good Plus/Excellent records would be Near Mint, except for a couple of minor things, like light scuffs, slight warps or scratches that don’t affect the listening experience. Most collectors, especially those who want to play their records, will be happy with records in VG+ or E condition.

Records in Very Good condition have more obvious flaws than VG+/E records. They aren’t glossy, they show visible groove wear and tend to exhibit light scratches that are deep enough to feel with a fingernail. While the grades of good, poor and fair also exist, they typically aren’t considered desirable conditions for committed collectors.

Provided your records have been safely stored and meet the criteria to be VG or better, it’s time to start doing some sleuthing about your records.

It’s hard to tell from your description whether any of your records match those criteria, and whether your expectations of what’s “profitable” may not match up to the records’ actual worth. Price guides, like “Goldmine’s Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1975,” can help you out. Or, you can check eBay to see how similar records by similar artists are bringing at auction (or, in some cases, not selling).

There are quite a few high-end albums for Miles Davis, notably issues on the Blue Note and Columbia labels. For instance, depending on the version of Miles Davis, Vol. 1, on Blue note, you could be looking at anywhere from $20 for a 1966 mono pressing on BLP-1501 that bears “A Division of Liberty Records on the label” up to $500 for one that is the “deep groove” version with the Lexington Avenue address on the label. Other albums of note in his catalog: “Miles Davis Vol. 2” on Blue Note ($100 to $1,000); “Miles Davis Vol. 3 on Blue Note ($1,000) “Miles Davis (Young Man With A Horn) on Blue Note, $1,000. Keep in mind, though, that there are plenty 45s and LPs ranging between $5 and $45 in his catalog, too.

Oscar Peterson is not nearly as collectible as Miles Davis, but Oscar has a few $50-and-up records to his name, notably those on the Clef Label, including “Oscar Peterson Piano Solos” and “Oscar Peterson at Carnegie Hall.”

Stan Getz clocks in with quite a few LPs worth $100 or more including “West Coast Jazz and “Stan Getz Plays on Norgran, as well as the Prestige release of “Stan Getz and The Tenor Sax Stars.”

For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• A great resource for record collecting is Goldmine's "Standard Catalog of American Records, 1950-1975, 6th Edition," in large paperback and DVD
• Check out an informative read in "The Everything® Rock & Blues Piano Book with CD, Master riffs, licks, and blues styles from New Orleans to New York City"
• Check out a download of the Top 50 Vinyl Records