Take a look around; chances are your phone is within arm’s reach and if this isn’t your music-playing choice of device, your iPod is tucked somewhere close. It’s a reality we take for granted. Our phones have pretty much substituted any other device, whether to listen to music, read articles or books, play games on the go or naturally, to stay in touch.
To millennials, who grew up with iPods and smartphones, vinyl or flat disc records might sound like something from a distant ancient era. To most people, a vinyl record is a dust collecting item in the basement or somewhere deeply hidden on the book shelves that needs some awkward looking turn table to listen to music. But most probably they don’t know that these flat discs revolutionized the entertainment industry since they allowed for the first time to record and play back sounds.
In 1877, the famous Thomas Edison invented the “phonograph” although the disc was at the time a cylinder and could not play back the recordings. However, it became the starting point for Emile Berliner who developed in 1889 the “gramophone” using flat discs with just 12.5 cm in diameter that were played on a hand-propelled machine. Early discs were manufactured from shellac and it took until the late 1940’s to see vinyl becoming the main material for pressing records, mainly due to lower surface noise and much higher durability. They became the standard for any kind of music or books records until the late 1980s when digital media in the form of compact discs heralded the vinyl countdown that reduced vinyl disc records to a niche product.
To this day though, there are still substantial amounts of them being produced, mainly for DJs or music connoisseurs and audiophiles who insist that the superior raw sound of a vinyl record can never be reproduced with digital means. The early 20th century led to a niche resurgence that saw vinyl sales increasing in such numbers that we still have over 40 record pressing facilities worldwide producing millions of records every year. Surely not comparable to the more modern means of taping music but certainly impressive considering the odds that vinyl records faced when digital media started to replace them.
Trillions of vinyls have been produced in the four decades of dominating the record market and inherently, it led to a collectors’ market that still strives to this day. I count myself as a collector with some 1,200 vinyls, that include many special editions and picture discs, stored nicely in the basement, a legacy of a decade as DJ at countless events, night clubs and bars. Since leaving my home town in the late 1990’s, the duty to turn the boxes regularly and making sure the storage stays dry was delegated to my brother, who is himself a collector albeit in a different music genre. Turning the discs in regular intervals is done to prevent them from bending, thus impacting the quality of the recording. To this day, it never occurred to us, that we could monetize some of the gems we have in our collections, nor will we probably ever do it. Too precious seems the stash of records to be for now. This might change when they will be handed over in due time to our descendants.
Comparable to some of our favourite vintage video games, there is undoubtedly a big collectors market for records with some achieving high four or even low five figure sums in sales and auctions. An undamaged sleeve and unscratched surface of the disc have the biggest impact on the potential price plus of course the rarity of the record. We know of some examples where less than 10 complete records still exist today, making them top of the list of highly desirable commodities.
Records from the late 1960’s and 1970’s seem to dominate the list of most expensive records, which coincides with the rise of the Rock’n Roll era and saw bands such as The Beatles or Sex Pistols storm to flaming hot stardom. What surprised me though is the amount of classical music records that kept on par with the famous bands and today populate the top list as well. Pieces of Bach and Tchaikovsky made it into the ranking when they were sold for more than $3,000. You might just want to check out that dusty collection of vinyls in the attic now. Who knows? You could be sitting on something akin to a golden jackpot, you know, the kind of money you never really saw coming.
Records might be outdated as a daily means to listen to music but they are destined to stay for decades or even centuries to come. The collector’s market is big and audiophiles hold on to this vastly important legacy of genius inventions that allowed us to listen to recorded titles for the first time since humans populated this planet. We took the liberty to display some of the most expensive records in a TOP25 chart in our latest infographic. We're pretty sure MrGamez will keep an eye out the next time he goes upstairs just in case he finds a treasure chest full of old vinyls in the attic.