The most rare and valuable jazz records londonjazzcollector relieve fluid in ear

Possession of truly rare records comes at a price, in the case of jazz, somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000. What you have to bear in mind is that scarcity is not the same as quality. There may be reason why something is rare – it didn’t sell, because it wasn’t very good, but to the collector, scarcity has a value of its own.

The word rare is also greatly misapplied in selling records. Records that are not at all rare are often described as such to boost auction prices. There is no objective test of “rare”, or at least not much of one, except for price and wily-collector know-how.

To bring some facts to bear on the subject, I have compiled some data from auction results, to identify the most expensive jazz records at auction, and how often they appear at auction, which are shown in the charts below.

The most frequently mentioned are first pressings of early titles of Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Sonny Clark, which come in at the $5,000 mark. Many of these will be located in Japan, the biggest market in collectable jazz today.

At this level the expectation is that the vinyl and sleeve are excellent to near-mint. Authenticity is paramount – all the details of first-pressing status must be present. Cover condition is highly important. As a listener, it is only the vinyl condition that matters to me, but for elite collectors it is the total artefact, especially the cover which must be perfect: no seam-splits, dinged corners, ringwear, or peeling laminate, and most important, no writing on the cover or labels – meaning no previous owners names, which includes unverifiable autographs. (Autograph-hunting was common practice in the 60’s , which encouraged many record owners to fake them and such records are often valued on the assumption that the “autograph” is fake).

Be warned, these most desirable titles have been repressed and reissued over many years. It is very common for children or partners to inherit a loved-ones collection, search the Internet and become very excited that grandpa had a copy of say, Hank Mobley Blue Note 1568, which turns out on closer inspection to be a Japanese reissue from the 1980s. High-end records have always been rare and expensive and the province of high-end collectors. They rarely found their way into the collections of those with more modest means.

In the era of the internet, prices can be established quickly with a little research on auction-tracking sites such as Popsike or for Blue Note, even here at Londonjazzcollector. Bear in mind that auction prices are the result of auctions, where collectors compete to buy a record, which is not necessarily the same as dealer or shop prices. There are many cases where, in a moment of madness, one bidder has got caught out with an inflated bid, and found themselves paying twice the next highest historical price, plus postage tracking insurance and customs charges. Ouch!

Some records come up for auction much more frequently than their alleged scarcity would suggest, Mobley 1568 a case in point, which is a frequently traded item. High-end collectable records can be a good investment, though some artists have drifted out of fashion and proved a poor investment.

There are investors, traders, and dealers in high-end records, who understand the insatiable desire of a few souls who lust for something almost no-one else has got, something that people in their circle of acquaintances will recognise as insanely rare, writhing in envy.

Outside of the jazz world, the truly rare and expensive records are associated with rock and pop history. For example, a test pressing of a Beatles recording that was never issued, only one copy exists, owned by Paul McCartney, valued near £1m. Another is the last autograph John Lennon gave on a record cover before being shot dead by Mark Chapman. But my favourite curio I read of was a record from the estate of Jimi Hendrix which Jimi had been playing when he cut his hand on a broken glass, leaving Hendrix blood in the grooves, verified by the DNA match.

“In his insightful book The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa, Evan Eisenberg wrote about the unique motivations that lie behind the collecting of “cultural objects” such as records, noting five motifs as particularly significant.

His second reason is related to the first: “the need to comprehend beauty” in that which is collected, which can become “more beautiful the better it’s understood… [and] certainly owning a book or record permits one to study the work repeatedly and at one’s convenience.”

Third, he discussed the “need to distinguish oneself as a consumer,” to become “heroic consumers” who “spend on a heroic scale, perhaps, or with heroic discrimination,” acquiring the rarest items or the most complete set, or going to the greatest lengths for a purchase.

The fourth motive has to do with nostalgia, a sense of belonging felt through collecting bits of the past; the collection itself serves as a bridge, and “each object connects its owner with two eras, that of its creation and that of its acquisition.